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Memories of Prefabs on the Isle of Dogs

The recent post by George Donovan mentioned for a while he lived in a Prefab, I was made aware that not everyone knows about Prefabs, so I thought I would provide a short guide.

Prefabs (prefabricated houses) were a major part of a plan to address the United Kingdom’s post–Second World War housing shortage. The idea was to build 500,000 prefabricated houses, with a planned life of up to 10 years, within five years of the end of the Second World War. The plans changed because around one million new houses were built between 1945 and 1951 but only about 150,000 were prefab houses.

Stewart Street prefabs Stewart Street, Photo George Warren (Prefab Museum)

On the Isle of Dogs, a number of Prefabs were built to deal with the desperate shortage of housing on the Island. The main areas of prefabs on the Island were in North Millwall, around Stebondale St, and the Glengall and Samuda area.

George gives some insights into the joys and drawbacks of living in a Prefab.

Living in the pre-fab was quiet nice really, they were well designed and very functional. The kitchen’s had fitted units with a gas powered refrigerator made by The Press Steel Company of Oxford. They did have a couple of problems though that came to light on residence. One was that they housed rodents [Mice]. You could hear them scampering in between the walls. They may even have been there from the day of installation having nested whilst in storage. The remedy was two cats.

The other problem was flies. Now that was due mainly because of the derelict surroundings that were prevailing at the time. I found the solution to that too. Next door to the Police station on East India Dock Road at the top end of Chrisp Street-was this sort of ‘junk’ shop run by a man and his son named Wells. They got into selling ex WD army surplus stuff. I still have a Trenching Tool that I bought from them. You just walked into the shop and browsed around and I discovered these small canisters. They were shaped like a present day oxygen bottle about two and a half inches long. At its end there was this spur like nipple. I got to learn that they were issued to the army for use as personal hygiene. The contents were under pressure and you snapped the nipple off and sprayed [I suppose the contents were some form of DDT] under your arm pits etc:

So in the prefab, I would be the last to go to bed and I would use one of these in the kitchen to kill the flies. First one up in the morning would do the sweeping up.

I read some time back that there was a community living in South London still living in Prefabs and are fighting the council who want to demolish them. There is one as a museum piece at the BWM at Duxford, the same type that we lived in.

Debbie Levett, the Secretary for Friends of Island History Trust let me know recently that a number of members of the Trust have assisted Jane Hearn to record some of the history of the Islands prefabs. Jane is collating the history of the countries prefabs for the prefab museum website which is a fascinating look back to this post war phenomenon.

You can visit the Friends of Island History Trust website here and prefab museum website here

Island History Tapestries at Bancroft Road – Saturday June 1st 2019

Using tapestries to record history is nothing new, you just need to think about the Bayeux Tapestry and many other examples. However, many people would not know that some Isle of Dogs history has been recorded in this creative and decorative way. To find out more it will be worth making a visit to Bancroft Road to the Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives on Saturday June 1st 2019.

The Friends of Island History Trust will be hosting an event entitled Island History Tapestries which offers a rare opportunity to view the Island History Trust tapestries which are a series of wall hangings, designed and created in the 1980s and 1990s by lifelong residents of the Island. The tapestries include 75 hand-sewn pictures depicting moments in the Islands history.

Identity, 1988. Exhibition Flyer, Chisenhale Gallery.

The general idea behind the tapestries was to provide some banners for the popular Island History Open Days which was run by the Island History Trust. However, many volunteers thought that undertaking some arts and crafts was a great way to combat the stresses of the modern day. The Island History Trust Tapestry wall hangings were considered a good example of community arts practice and were viewed at various venues around Tower Hamlets including the Chisenhale Gallery in Bow in 1988.

A photo of the Island History Trust group, including The IHT Curator Eve Hostettler and Ada Price, their first Chairwoman and Bessie Boylett the second, they are shown working on the second 25 panel wall hanging. (c) FoIHT/Bessie Boylett 

The five wall hangings were created over a period of ten years at weekly group meetings starting in 1984. The first one is still held on the Isle of Dogs, in the history room at St John’s Community Centre in Glengall Grove.

Poster Image c) FoIHT/Ada Price 

Each wall hanging is made up of 25 separate panels portraying the Island from its earliest history, right up to its present day. Hop-picking, a favorite working holiday for many an East Ender was a popular theme but the panels give a broad perspective of late nineteenth and twentieth century Island life from Islanders themselves. The wall hangings were always a popular part of the Island History Open Days held at the Docklands Settlement and were always packaged with care ready for the next time they were used.

Photo (c) Friends of Island History Trust/ Sav Kyriacou  http://www.thamesdockers.org.uk/ History room portraits and first wall hanging made in 1984 on display in the FoIHT History room.

When the wall-hangings were complete, the IHT received a grant from Heritage Lottery, to take them to the Textile conservation Centre at Hampton Court. There they were repaired and provided with archival standard packaging. Bancroft Road was given the three larger tapestries and one that featured hop picking to safeguard on the closure of the Docklands Settlement in 2013 and they have been in storage with the frames and two files of material with photographs and information.

Photo (c) Friends of Island History Trust/ Sav Kyriacou  http://www.thamesdockers.org.uk – Today’s volunteers celebrate the work of the Island History Trust as well as being involved in and supporting projects on the Isle of Dogs and further afield.

These tapestries and materials will be available to view on the 1st June and visitors will be able to discuss with the  volunteers of Friends of Island History Trust of their own involvement with today’s Island community as they share the story of the Island History Trust and share their own memories and experience with today’s community.

With the rapid changes on the Island in the 1980s and 1990s, some residents on the Island knew the importance of preserving the history of the Island. This event illustrates that the Island History Trust and the Friends of Island History Trust often found and do find innovative and creative ways to preserve the history of the Isle of Dogs.

Many thanks to Debbie Levett, Secretary for Friends of Island History Trust for providing information and photographs about the tapestries and the event. If you would like to find out more about Friends of Island History Trust, visit their website at http://www.islandhistory.co.uk

ISLAND WOMEN: Experiences, Challenges, Impact at St John’s Community Centre – 9th March 2019

As part of International Women’s Week, the Friends of Island History Trust will host an exhibition which will be looking at the significant contribution of women living, volunteering and working on the Isle of Dogs from the 20th Century onwards.

The exhibition includes a screening of a short film entitled Island Girl, by the female students of George Green School and an exhibition of images of ‘Island Women’ by Designer Anna Lincoln and will include a presentation by FoIHT on the life of Nellie Cressall, one time Island resident and former Mayor and Councillor for Poplar. During the afternoon attendees will also be invited to reflect on and consider how the Equality Act and recent campaigns have impacted on ordinary women today and how further changes can be achieved.

The afternoon will start off with a fitness session in the main hall with Zumba for ladies 18 and over from 1.15 until 2.15, at the same time the presentation on the remarkable Nellie Cressall will take place in the history room.

There will be stalls run by local groups and refreshments and time to reflect on the event which will be rounded off at 4’oclock by centre user group TANGO E14 with a demonstration of Argentinian Tango

Invited participants include One Housing, George Green School, Tower Hamlets Sports Development and TANGO E14 and Exhibition Designer Anna Lincoln and local photographer Ioana Marinca

St John’s Community Centre,
37-43 Glengall Road E14 3NE
Saturday 9th March 1pm-5pm

Everyone is welcome.

On the Docks Film Premiere at the Museum of London Docklands

Last Friday, I was fortunate to be invited to the world premiere of a film called On the Docks which features the history of London’s Dock Workers from the 1930s up until the closing of the docks from the 1970s.

What was unusual about the film was that it was made by children from Riverside and Westminster Cathedral primary schools with support from digital:works which is an arts and education charity.

Using the resources of the Museum of London Docklands, historians, two local archives and the community of retired dockers. The children began to develop skills like filming, sound capture and interviewing skills while others will began to learn to write historical and creative pieces.

The Friends of Island History Trust supported the project and provided some of the interviewees that appeared in the film.

The end result is a fascinating history of the docks and the people who used to work in the docks. The film is a reminder that working in the docks was often a struggle with little financial security and dangerous, injuries or even fatalities were not that unusual.

Despite these issues or maybe because of them, many dockers spoke about the camaraderie amongst the dock workers both in work and in the local communities. It was this community spirit and sense of humour that enabled people to survive in the depression in the 1930s and during the Second World War.

The film is nicely balanced between the interviews and action from docks to give a rounded view of the whole experience.

There is often a difficulty when trying to explain some of the intricacies of history to later generations because lives have changed considerably, even over the last 30 years. However, by allowing children to use their technological and creative skills is a great way to keep them interested and willing to learn about other periods of history.

If you would like to watch the film, it is now available to watch on the Thames Dockers website here

Congratulations to everyone involved for creating a film and project that pays tribute to the thousands of dock workers that were a vital part of the workforce especially in times of peril like the Second World War.

The Mudchute Agricultural Show – 4th and 5th August 2018

We may be urban dwellers on the Isle of Dogs but it does not mean we cannot attend an agricultural show. The 2018 Mudchute Agricultural Show will take place on Saturday and Sunday, the 4th and 5th of August will lots of events and competitions.

Like many agricultural shows there will competitions like the Sheep Show, The Mudchute’s Agricultural Show will showcase some of the rarest and most ancient breeds of sheep in England.

The best sheep of each breed will go on to compete on Sunday in the Supreme Championship for the Best in Show title. Also on Sunday, a number of other classes for all breeds will be held, in addition to classes for City and Community Farm sheep only.

The show will welcome riders from all over the UK for their very own Equestrian Show, there will also be farrier demonstrations by Harry Morgan and a photo booth with Shetland Ponies.

There will be some bake offs with cakes, bread pudding and biscuit competitions and fresh produce will be judged.

There will be hanging baskets and vegetable boxes from Cubitt Town and George Green’s Schools, as well as entries from gardening enthusiasts from within and around London.

Games will include Stock punishment with wet sponges and Welly Throwing and you can visit stalls to find out more about the RSPB, Poetry in Wood, Woodland Trust, Friends of Island History Trust and Rare Breed Survival Trust.

In addition to the Equestrian demonstrations, there will be the following demonstrations:

Spinners – watch fleeces spun into yarn!

Bird of Prey Display from Avian Environmental Consultants

Horse Dentist – learn more about taking care of equine teeth

Farrier Demonstration – horse shoes and more with Harry Morgan

Fire Engine – learn more about the fighting fire

If that is not enough there will be Fairground Rides, International food stalls, drinks, picnic areas and donkey Rides.

Attending the show is a great way to support the amazing work of Mudchute Farm and have plenty of fun at the same time. For more information visit the Mudchute Farm website here

Craft Central Winter Market at The Forge – 24th to 26th November 2017

Regular readers will know that a few weeks ago, I visited the Forge which has become the new home for Craft Central. The Forge is one of the most interesting industrial relics from the time of shipbuilding on the Island.

I am delighted to say that the Forge will be open this weekend for visitors to enjoy their Craft Central Winter Market.

The seasonal market will be selling handmade products by over 50 talented craftspeople. Home accessories, fashion, jewellery, ceramics, stationery, prints and more will be on sale. The winter market will be a chance to meet and buy directly from designer-makers, take part in one of the family craft workshops and enjoy a drink in the pop-up café.

An added bonus will be Friends of Island History Trust will have a membership and information stall at the market, FoIHT books and calendar will be on sale and there will be displays of Mike Seaborne’s 1980s photographs of the Island and a collection of even older images provided by Frontispiece Antique Prints.

Opening Times

Friday 24 November 5pm – 8pm

Saturday 25 November 11am – 6pm

Sunday 26 November 11am – 5pm

Free Entry

For more information, visit the Craft Central website here

 

 

Queen’s 90th Birthday Street Party at Glengall Grove – 4th June 2016

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The Island has a long history of street parties and on the 4th June the bunting and plates will come out of storage to celebrate the Queen’s 90th Birthday.

The party is open to everyone and will be held on Glengall Grove close to the centre of the island.

The reign of Her Majesty The Queen has seen remarkable changes all over the country, but few areas have seen such rapid change as the Island. As well as celebrating the Queen’s Birthday, the street party will be an opportunity for the different parts of the Island to come together to share some time together. These type of events depend on the time and generosity of a wide range of individuals, groups and organisations.

This event has been supported by Canary Wharf Group, One Housing Group, the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Planning Forum, Cubitt Town Junior & Infant school, The Metropolitan Police, Tower Hamlets Council, Cafe Forever, The George pub, Friends of Island History Trust and St Johns Community Centre.

There will be plenty of activities for young and old at the party, so why not join in the fun in Glengall Grove. It will take place between 3pm and 6pm on Saturday 4th June.

The Launch of the Island Board Walk

island board walk

Anyone who has walked around the Island will have noticed the heritage-boards which at various points  give some information of the island’s industrial past. The boards were installed 20 years ago and have provided some insights of many of the key sites, unfortunately in recent times some of the boards are showing their age and in need of a revamp.

An exciting new East End arts project not only has revamped the boards but will feature unseen images and personal accounts of island life from the locals. The Island Board Walk offers a unique platform for visitors and locals living on the Isle of Dogs to explore the heritage of the Island.

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Of the 18 existing boards, 9 have been fully repurposed to feature a diversity of local voices, alongside unseen archival images and new accounts of island life from schools, individuals and local community organisations based on the island.

The Island Board Walk takes the form of an interactive walking trail which allows visitors to gain some historical insights about life in this famous but little known East London area.

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The Island Board Walk was devised by National Maritime Museum designer Anna Lincoln and audio trail component was devised and scripted by journalist Anna Savva, who also conducted the interviews for the project. Local groups who have made significant contributions to the project include the Friends of Island History Trust and George Green’s School pupils, who have spent half-terms and volunteering hours exploring the island using photography then enhancing their images using Photoshop skills acquired in workshops led by Island Board Walk volunteers.

Other notable accounts came from Volunteers on the Massey Shaw, Friends of the Portwey Steam Tug, Mudchute Farm manager Nick Golson and a number of George Green’s School pupils, who contributed predictions about future life on the island.

The Boards are a great introduction to the Island and this project provides plenty of interest, the new audio tour has been devised to coincide with the launch of the walk and will be available to download as a podcast from the website: www.islandboardwalk.com/audio-trail It is derived from exclusive interviews with those who live and work on the island and provides real insights into the past, present and future of the Island.

Canary Wharf Group PLC and Print Future Awards supported the printing of the ‘Free’ Leaflet/Trail Maps which are now available to download online and to collect from The Ship pub, The George pub, HubBub cafe bar and restaurant, Cubitt Town Library and the Great Eastern pub by the School Day’s board at start of the trail.

For downloads and more information visit:

www.islandboardwalk.com

Over the next two weeks, I will be walking the trail and will show some of the new boards and their unique locations in this little piece of the East End.