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With all the new development in the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf, it would have been easy to overlook the demolition of the Westferry Printworks. Although it was only built in the 1980s, the works played an important part in the modernization of the newspaper industry and led to the decline of Fleet Street as the heart of British Newspapers.
Whilst many people may remember the Wapping dispute, the newspaper revolution of the 1980s led to the introduction of new technology. Docklands played a major part in the story with printing facilities set up on the Isle of Dogs, the West Ferry Printing Works of the Westferry road were considered the largest newspaper print works in Western Europe when it was built in 1984–6.
The closing of the docks led to large expanses of relatively cheap land not far from the centre of London. Newspaper owners saw the opportunity to modernise the printing plants and introduce different working practices. This was not completed without conflict which was mostly focused on Wapping.
There is some irony that the decline of the newspaper industry has coincided with the rise of land prices in the Isle of Dogs. This led to the decision to close the West Ferry Printing Works in 2011, move the works to Luton and redevelop the site.
The 15 acre site will provide over 700 new private and affordable homes which will be available to buy or rent. There are plans for open spaces, waterside walks, two new parks and a waterfront promenade.
Some concerns has been raised about the future of the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre which is near the site and will be impacted by the development.
The West Ferry Printing Works has always been quite mysterious, when it was open, you seldom saw anyone go in or come out. The dark mirrored glass made it difficult to see inside. It seemed just the place where a Bond villain would hang out and rather bizarrely the works were used as Elliot Carver’s printing works for his paper “Tomorrow” in the film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), where James Bond fights with several henchmen.
The rise and fall of the West Ferry Printing Works is just the latest of a long line of businesses who have been located in the Isle of Dogs in the last 200 years that became internationally famous before they either closed or moved elsewhere.
Dr Lombard John Newman Tanner was born in Cork, the son of notable surgeon Dr William Kearns Deane-Tanner. In the early 1890s he moved to 451 Manchester Road, Cubitt Town, to set up a medical practice. For whatever reason he decided to end his life, this tragic event was widely reported in the newspapers due to his brother being a Member of Parliament and because he left an extraordinary suicide note. The following report gives the main details.
An Interesting Case of Suicide.
Dr Tanner, of Cubitt’s Town, England, committed suicide on April 28th last. At the inquest the following letter, written by the deceased, was read:- 5 April 28th, 1893. I am tired of life, and therefore have made up my mind to die. I think that suicide is quite justifiable, and in strict accordance with all economic laws. I think instead of being made an offence against the law every facility should be given to anyone desirous of ending his life, and of doing it in a comfortable, satisfactory, and painless manner. I have no religion, and abhor so-called Christianity, and therefore beg most earnestly that I may not be buried, but that my body may be sent or taken to any of the schools of medicine for dissection. I think Bradlaugh’s allowing himself to be buried was a mistake, and if by this action of mine I pioneer a movement against such barbarism sanctioned in the name of religion I shall not have lived in vain. We are brought into this world without our consent, and I therefore do not see why we should not leave it when we like. I have intended to do so for the last three months, as my energy is gone, and I cannot battle against the world as I used to. If there be another world, which I very much doubt, then I will take my chance and start afresh. But what I most need is rest. I am so wearied and tired of it all. The few effects I do possess should pay my hotel bill, £8, I owe the Queen’s Head, Theobald’s read, Hayhoe’s bill for drugs, and any small items that may be due by me. I apologise to the proprietors of this hotel if I have caused them any inconvenience, which, indeed, I know I shall: but what can I do? I thought of going to Richmond Park, but it would equally give trouble. I do not want to be selfish, but it is a fault of the State not to give us proper facilities, therefore I must apologise not alone for myself but my country.
LOMBARD J. TANNER, late of the National Liberal Club, Whitehall place, and at 451 Manchester Road. Cubitt Town.
Dr Charles Kearns Deane Tanner MP (Lombard’s brother)
The Inquest was not without incident, when his brother entered the court.
Dr Tanner MP, who seemed much agitated, here entered the court, and was accommodated with a seat. A hypodermic syringe was lying on the dressing table. It was produced. Dr Tanner (interrupting): It is mine. The witness, continuing, stated that there were a number of letters on the mantelpiece. Dr Tanner, M.P. for the Mid-division of Cork, identified the deceased as his brother, who was christened after the Protestant Dean of Cork. He was forty-one years of age. Witness last saw him alive before he went to Ireland prior to the meeting of Parliament. The last time witness saw him alive he bought him a practice in the East- End of London. Witness knew nothing that was pressing upon his mind. He differed from witness politically and also upon religion. The witness identified a letter in his brother’s handwriting which is as follows :—” Dear Charlie,— Goodbye. I shall be no more On the back of the letter were the words “March 3, 1893.—Received the sum of £2 on account of Messrs. Nathan and Co., 27, Chancery- lane, re Willows.” Some minor details having been brought out. Dr. Alfred Withers Green, of Bouverie street, Fleet-street, stated that he was called to the hotel at half-past 5, and found the deceased lying in an easy position. He had been dead about 24 hours. There were two marks of puncture on the left leg, the pupils were contracted, and all the organs were healthy but congested. Death was due to an overdose of morphia , which had been injected. The Coroner, in summing up, left it to the jury either to take the strong view adopted by deceased’s brother, and returned a verdict of felo de se, or to arrive at the opinion that the deceased had committed suicide while temporarily insane. Personally, the Coroner thought the letter which they had heard read was of such an extraordinary and incoherent description that it could only come from a person whose mind was unhinged. Dr Tanner MP again sought to address the Court, but the Coroner entreated him to remain composed. The jury consulted for about five minutes, and agreed to a verdict that Lombard John Newman Tanner died from the effects of morphine poisoning, and that such poison was self administered while he was in an unsound state of mind.
This case is extraordinary for many reasons, Dr Lombard Tanner’s plea that the state should allow people to commit suicide and anti religious stance was quite radical at the time and undoubtedly convinced the Coroner that he was mentally unstable despite the pleas of Dr Tanner’s brother. The Coroner description of the letter as a ‘ extraordinary and incoherent’ seemed rather strange considering it seemed quite rational and well thought out.
It is also extraordinary that no-one asked what had led the Doctor into this state and why a Doctor from a prestigious Irish medical family should be bought a practice in the East End of London. Despite their differences of opinion over religion and politics, the two brothers were very close.
When Dr Tanner’s brother died in 1901 of consumption, he was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery next to the grave of his brother.
Unfortunately this was not the only tragedy to affect the family , Dr Lombard Tanner’s nephew William Cunningham Deane-Tanner went to America changed his name to William Desmond Taylor and became a well known film director in early Hollywood. In 1922 he was found murdered in his bungalow, the murderer was never found and the case was considered one of great scandals of Hollywood.