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A Trip to the Canary Wharf Wonderland by Jude Cowan Montague
Recently I published an article about Love on the Isle of Dogs, the latest work by writer, illustrator and broadcaster Jude Cowan Montague. I am delighted to say that Jude has produced a series of drawings that show Canary Wharf in a very different light. Canary Wharf may be the workplace for thousands of workers but there is no reason that children can turn it into something very different.
My daughter was born on the Isle of Dogs, in one of the self-builds on the Westferry Road. When she was young I would carry her to Mudchute Farm to see the animals. In the 1990s, Canary Wharf was not yet the glassy, chrome wonderland it’s become.
But I can imagine it as a strange kind of paradise for young eyes. There is the fairground ride of the DLR, the circuses, the huge towering, impossibly high mountains of buildings, so clean and crisp. It is a city that doesn’t obey ordinary suburban rules. And the docks, these wide expanses of water have a little magic of lakes, so deep, so close to the buildings. A touch of the Lake District here in London.
Thinking about Canary Wharf and surrounding areas from a child’s point of view took me back to my childhood, visiting places with my father that you wouldn’t expect a child to like. He was fascinated by military history and there are photographs of me sitting on tanks, eating lollies wearing a pretty dress with my smug brother looking as proud as if he had won a battle. I remember how industrial places felt too, the great abandoned factories of the north. I am originally from Manchester and Bolton.
I also thought of my childhood reading and the imaginary places of storybooks. Swallows and Amazons made me think of playing pirates. Even the word circus was evocative and I thought of tightrope walking on the guide rails. The fountains look like someone should be playing in them and I hope with time that more people do, especially children of workers and those who live locally.
Canary Wharf, with its dramatic scale, could re-engage with our inner child’s perception. It can be a tool to look at the modern world as a kind of unrealistic dream. There is a unrealism to the brassy image of shiny commerce. In these pictures I have used its dynamic environment as a trigger of wonder.
Many thanks to Jude for the drawings and text and if you like her work, she is currently raising funds to publish her latest work, Love on the Isle of Dogs – a graphic novel. If you would like to find out more or contribute, click the link here
Life on the Isle of Dogs 1981 – 88 by Chris Hirst (Part Two)
Glengall Grove Xmas 1984 (photo Chris Hirst )
Last week, I published a piece about Chris Hirst living on the Island in the 1980s. By the reaction to the article it seemed to bring back a few memories. In the second part, Chris is beginning to see signs of redevelopment especially with the building of the DLR. But there were far more important developments closer to home.
Christmas 1984 was a cold one. This picture above from Skeggs House shows snow on Glengall Grove, and you can also see that the Glass Bridge has now gone.
We still travelled everywhere by bike, despite the new addition that arrived in November 1984.
Skeggs Balcony 1985 (photo Chris Hirst )
By the summer of 1985, construction of the DLR was well underway.
DLR South Dock 1985 (photo Chris Hirst )
In early 1986 (February I think) it was cold enough to partly freeze Millwall Dock. There are more signs of redevelopment now, including the DLR although it was not yet open.
Millwall Inner Dock 1986 (photo Chris Hirst )
The cold winter didn’t stop some from enjoying their water sports. This next shot is from the bottom end of Millwall Inner Dock looking south west towards the Outer Dock. You can just see the remains of the McDougall’s silos near the centre of the picture, demolished but still recognizable on the ground.
Millwall Outer Dock 1986 (photo Chris Hirst )
Skeggs House was renovated in early 1987, with new double-glazed windows, central heating, and new kitchens and bathrooms. This was a massive improvement. They did all the work on our flat in just a few days, and we didn’t have to move out.
The DLR opened in August 1987. The following pictures were all taken on the opening day. The first one has Skeggs House in the background.
DLR Crossharbour 1987 (photo Chris Hirst )
DLR Crossharbour 2 1987 (photo Chris Hirst )
DLR Crossharbour 3 1987
The final picture shows the original elevated platforms at Island Gardens.
DLR Island Gardens 1987
We moved away from the Island in 1988. Every couple of years when we visit London we almost always take a look around the old neighbourhood. Despite the huge changes with Canary Wharf and the other developments it’s nice to see at least some parts of the Island are still recognizable, including the Mudchute and most of the old estates (at least for now).
Many thanks to Chris for his memories and the amazing photographs, the DLR transformed travel around the Island and it is really interesting to see the original elevated platforms at Island Gardens which used the old London and Blackwall Railway viaduct.
“Steering Christ” in Limehouse
When I am travelling past Limehouse station on the DLR , I am always fascinated by the statue of Jesus stuck aloft a tall chimney. Nobody else ever seems to take much notice but I always wondered how this particular Limehouse landmark came about.
The chimney or tower belongs to the Our Lady Immaculate and St Frederick that looks out upon Commercial Road.
The church’s origins lay in a mission founded in 1881 to serve the large Irish population that lived in the Limehouse area at the time. Using rooms around Limehouse initially , the mission progressed to a temporary church until a more permanent church was planned in 1925. However lack of finances delayed the project and it was left to the mission priest to supervise the five skilled workman and volunteers until they completed the church in 1934.
Whilst the church itself is quite traditional it does have number of features externally which are quite unusual.
The chimney like tower supports the ” Christ the Steersman ” or “the Steering Christ” , it was designed to be seen from the Limehouse Basin and from the Thames and even considering the amount of development if you know where to look you can see still see the statue.
The statue’s curious design is supposed to be similar to a ship’s figurehead and reflect Limehouse’s connection to the river and the Sea.
The north of the church has a small niche which contains a statue of the Virgin Mary and a clock, but in front of the church is a striking Cross showing Christ Crucified. The sculpture has a front and back view and was made in a local foundry.
On the west of the church halfway up the wall is a fibreglass sculpture of Our Lady with the Christ Child.
Once you know where the statue of ” the Steering Christ” is, it offers a reassuring presence as you wander the streets of Limehouse. And if you are travelling on the DLR , try to spot it when you pass Limehouse station.
“Failure of Humanity” – The South Quay Bombing 1996
For the thousands of commuters who walk past South Quay station on the Isle of Dogs every day, few would notice the small plaque at the front of the station. However this plaque remembers an incident of recent history that led to devastation and tragedy .
It seems incredible that an area that was devastated by bombing in the Second World War should be also a victim of bombing in peacetime. But that’s what happened on the ninth of February 1996 when a IRA Bomb exploded at South Quay.
Although London had suffered from many IRA bombings, the South Quay bomb took everyone by surprise due to the fact that in the previous 18 months there had been a ceasefire to allow the Northern Ireland peace process to develop.
The large bomb was in a small lorry parked about 80 yards from South Quay Station, although the station and the DLR was extensively damaged they were both operational within a few weeks.
Such was the power of the bomb was the effect of the blast was felt all over the Island with damage reported in areas some way from the blast site.
The damage to the South Quay area was considerable with estimates of damage costing between 80 to 100 million pounds. Tragically two people, Inan Bashir and John Jeffries who worked in a local newsagents died and 39 people were injured.
The IRA admitted responsibility for the bomb but described the deaths and injuries as “regrettable”, arguing that they could have been avoided if police had responded promptly to “clear and specific warnings”.
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Condon famously said at the time: “It would be unfair to describe this as a failure of security. It was a failure of humanity.”
Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Isle of Dogs 2
Another set of Eric Pemberton’s postcards, these include a set of early cards from the creation of Canary Wharf.
A postcard from the early 20th Century, this was a popular shopping area at the time.
Another early 20th Century postcard with trams, horse drawn wagons.
Postcards from 1991 showing the creation of the Canary Wharf district.
More from the 1991 series
An early DLR train coming from the old Island Gardens which went above the viaduct not underground as it does now.
DLR Car 30 at Crossharbour 3.35 pm 30.10.91. Still Short Platform Station and the London Arena Still Standing.
A comic postcard
This School was based on the East India Dock Road, George Green was a local successful shopbuilder who set up almhouses, seaman missions and especially schools in the East End.
The latest George Green school is now situated at the bottom end of the Isle of Dogs.
Other Post you may find interesting
Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Isle of Dogs