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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.

Life on the Isle of Dogs 1981 – 88 by Chris Hirst (Part One)


Bonfire Night 1984 (photo Chris Hirst )

Recently, I was chatting with photographer Mike Seaborne who is well known for the photographs he took of the Island in the 1980s. We both said there was for various reasons, very few photographs of the Island in this important period survived when the docks had closed and redevelopment had not really began. This is why, I was delighted when Chris Hirst got in touch with some memories of his time on the Island in the 1980s and produced a number of fascinating photographs. Both give plenty of insights into a place which was lamenting the loss of the docks and was looking forward to an uncertain future. Chris takes up the story which I will publish in two parts. 

My wife and I moved to the Island in the summer of 1981. Tower Hamlets were offering “hard to let” council housing to students, and friends of ours had a 3-bedroom flat in Skeggs House on Glengall Grove and wanted someone to share it. Cheap rent was the only thing Skeggs House had going for it!

The first picture shows the front of Skeggs House in 1981. Note there were no trees on Glengall Grove at that time. The old red telephone boxes are still there but would soon be replaced. The two people are on the balcony of our flat (number 7).


Skeggs House ( photo Chris Hirst )

Conditions in the flat were fairly primitive. The only heat source was a gas fire in the living room. The bedrooms were extremely cold in the winter (single-digit temperatures during a cold spell). The leaky windows let in all the street noise. The water heater was unreliable and exploded twice (once taking weeks to be repaired). The lifts never worked of course, but it was only two flights of stairs. 

The following picture was taken from the other side of Skeggs House. It all looks very much the same today!


  Skeggs Rear 1981. ( photo Chris Hirst )

Public transport on the Island was pretty much limited to the 277 bus, but we bicycled almost everywhere and only used the bus occasionally. At the time the 277 route ended at the south side of the Blue Bridge and the bus turned around on that little loop of Manchester Road. So it didn’t affect the bus if the bridge was up, as it was in this 1982 picture.


Blue Bridge Open 1982. ( photo Chris Hirst )

The next three pictures were all taken from or close to the Blue Bridge in 1982. The view towards South Dock was pretty barren, and nothing like it is today. I assume the three cranes near the middle of the picture are the same ones that now sit on the opposite side of the dock entrance.


Dock from Blue Bridge 1982. ( photo Chris Hirst )

Leslie’s Cafe was demolished when Preston’s Road was straightened. We never went inside, but cycled past that spot daily.


 Leslie’s Cafe 1982 ( photo Chris Hirst )

The dock entrance had to be dredged periodically, and that required the bridge to be raised. The next shot was probably taken on the same day as the one above showing the bridge open.


Dredging 1982, ( photo Chris Hirst )

This was before the Asda was built so we did a lot of our shopping off the Island, although Castalia Square was useful for many things (including the launderette). In the following 1982 picture note the old red telephone boxes, which are gone in Mike Seaborne’s 1984 pictures.


 Castalia Square 1982 ( photo Chris Hirst )

 The Glass Bridge was still standing when we first moved there, although I think it was already closed and soon afterwards it was demolished. This picture was taken from the balcony of 7 Skeggs House in 1982.


Glass Bridge 1982 ( photo Chris Hirst )

 Roffey and Cubitt Houses were also still there, although no longer occupied by 1982.


 Roffey House 1982 ( photo Chris Hirst )

Things started to improve on the Island with the Asda opening in 1983, the Enterprise Zone and the red brick road with the new D1 bus, and the announcement of the DLR in 1984.

On November 5th 1984 there was a spectacular bonfire between Skeggs and Thorne Houses. This picture was taken from the balcony at the rear of Skeggs House.


  Bonfire Night 1984. ( photo Chris Hirst )

Many thanks to Chris for his contribution and the use of his photographs.

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


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 Isle of Dogs Living Archive at St John Community Centre – 4th May 2016


The 1980s on the Island was a time of considerable unrest, the closing down of the docks threatened the livelihood of thousands of people. Many people on the Island believed politicians and policymakers were unable or unwilling to address some the concerns and began to hold a series of protests. The Isle of Dogs was the scene of some of most unusual and innovative protests which recently in 2014 became the subject of a short film entitled Hardworking People by Woodrow Morris. Out of this film has developed The Isle of Dogs Living Archive which is a community group set up to explore and celebrate the visual and oral history of The Isle of Dogs.

Dockland Poster Project

Photo : Mike Seaborne

Woodrow and Rib Davis, a professional oral historian are working on Heritage Lottery funded project that will train local people in oral history interviewing , sound recording and archival research methods. They will interview key players who were involved in the iconic 80s protests, and it will culminate in an exhibition presenting their research, which will hopefully highlight the creativity and strength of community at the heart of those protests.

Death of a Community march

Photo : Mike Seaborne

The project will be launched at an event at 7pm on Weds 4th May at St Johns. There will be a screening of Woodrow’s film,  as well as short presentations from some of those involved in the protests. The evening will celebrate the launch of The Isle of Dogs Living Archive and their first project which is ‘Island Protests of the 80s’. If you remember the protests or are interested in being an interviewer, an interviewee or a researcher, or just curious why not drop into the event.

Docklands Armada

Photo : Mike Seaborne

Launch Evening – 7pm on Wednesday 4th May at St Johns Community Centre, Glengall Grove, E14 3N

Eastern Wanderers – The Story of Arsenal’s First Match


Royal Arsenal Team 1888

Some football fans may realise that Millwall Football Club began on the Isle of Dogs but  less well-known is the fact that Arsenal Football Club played their first ever game on the Island.

Arsenal was formed by workers at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich in 1886, their first name was Dial Square, named after a workshop area in the Woolwich works.

It was under this name that they travelled to the Isle of Dogs on the 11th December 1886 and played Eastern Wanderers who they beat 6-0.

The following year 1887, the name of Dial Square was changed to Royal Arsenal and in the first game under the new name travelled to the Isle of Dogs again ,this time to play Millwall who beat them 4-0.

Although it has widely and officially been recognised that the 1886 game was Arsenal’s first game, in  recent years questions have been asked about the game due to the lack of any newspaper reports of the game and the scarcity of any details about their opponents Eastern Wanderers.

The only eyewitness report was from Elijah Watkins the Secretary of Dial Square many years later , it is safe to say he was not impressed with the pitch.

Talk about a football pitch! This one eclipsed any I ever heard of or saw. I could not venture to say what shape it was, but it was bounded by backyards as to about two-thirds of the area, and the other portion was – I was going to say a ditch, but I think an open sewer would be more appropriate. We could not decide who won the game because when the ball was not in the back gardens, it was in the ditch; and that was full of the loveliest material that could possibly be. Well, our fellows did not bring it all away with them, but they looked as though they had been clearing out a mud-shoot when they had done playing. I know, because the attendant at the pub asked me what I was going to give him to clear the muck away.

However recent evidence from an Arsenal History group has thrown more light on this game and provides documentary proof that the game actually took place.

Using evidence from the Referee newspaper from 12 December 1886 , there is confirmation of the score and where the match was held namely Millwall.

Other evidence to come to light was that Eastern Wanderers had two teams and their secretary was a D.W. Galliford who lived at 9 Marsh St , Cahir Street in Millwall.

Millwall football team had been formed a year earlier in 1885, the club was originally based at the Islander Public House in Tooke Street and played their games on a pitch near Glengall Grove and Tiller St.

However by 1886 the club decided to move to another pitch behind the Lord Nelson pub on East Ferry road, part of the attraction of the new pitch was they could start charging spectators who came to see the game.

Therefore in 1886 we have at least two teams playing on the Isle of Dogs, Millwall and the Eastern Wanderers and two pitches. Both teams were in existence a year earlier when they played each other on the Glengall Grove pitch.

We all know what happened to Millwall and Arsenal but little is known about Eastern Wanderers.


Their secretary D. W. Galliford being  based in Marsh St/Cahir St may offer a clue , for nearby was the Great Eastern pub (not the present day one) and considering that Millwall were based at pubs, there is a possibility that Eastern Wanderers were based there. It is also possible that they were a works team from one of the Engineering Works close by. It also seems likely that the match against Dial Square was probably played at the vacant Glengall Grove ground rather than Millwall’s new ground at the Lord Nelson.

But from there the trail runs cold, until we find further evidence. we can only speculate that  Eastern Wanderers was probably a short-lived  works team, however a team that will be long remembered   due to that fateful match in December on a cold muddy pitch in the middle of the Isle of Dogs.

For more information  at the Arsenal History Society site click here

Harry’s Games – An Island Childhood in the 1950s

Cubitt Town Library
I was recently contacted by Harry “Nobby” Sprackling , who having recently read a post about the Cubitt Town Library sent some of his reminiscences  about his childhood growing up on the Isle of Dogs after the Second World War. Harry knew the Library and surrounding area well and recalls that  “During our very early years it was necessary to walk around the bomb craters and falling down buildings to get to our schools.” This is the world that faced many children in the East End at that time.
I know the library very well as this building was used by us kids to open  our eyes to the rest of the world.
I would like to contribute to your story by giving information about the  Library neighbours.. To the right  the building in 1945 was a small  concrete hut where an elderly gentleman with a long white beard sat on a high  stool dishing out  disinfectant from 3ft high decanters which were enclosed  in straw. We had to keep it at arms length as it was so strong. He used to sit  there all day chatting away to all and sundry. We gave him any old containers  which he would fill and then we would take home for mum to do the washing and  cleaning.
Further down the street and to the left was a brick built First Aid Station  about twice the size of the library but on one level except for a belfry which  housed the siren.  It was decommissioned in about 1946 and remained empty  for some years. About 1950-54 it was used by us very untidy kids from Glengall  Grove Secondary school as our hide-out.  The teachers got wind of what we  were doing and tried to bar us from this building.. One day we heard that the  teachers were coming for us and about six of us climbed up into the belfry,  about 30ft up, and hid in the beams.  They were shouting and screaming and  making all types of dire threats which resulting in one bright kid deciding to  get his own back.. I wont admit I was party to this but the next thing I heard  was… Christ its raining.. Then another teacher screamed it aint raining we are  inside.  Once again we were in the headmasters office with a copy of the  Beano comic  firmly held between our buttocks but alas the pain still came  when that whiplash of a cane connected to our bottom.   Sad to say we  did not go to the hut many times after that and had to settle for getting into  Hawkins & Tipson Rope works and undoing the ropes from the spindles.
Hawkins and Tipson Rope works
At  this point we were hungry and made our way to the river to wade into the mud and  get aboard the peanut barges where we stuffed ourselves silly and then proceeded  to make our shirts into bags so we could take some home to mum.
Happy Go Lucky – Pre WW2
Getting back to the library:  Just before and to the left was an Off  License which I believe was called Happy go Lucky. It was a sacred site as it  sold the Beano, Dandy and the most desirable of the lot The Eagle, which came  out in glossy paper.  It was a double storey building but got clobbered by  a 500lb bomb compliments of the Luftwaffe which left just the first floor  operational.
Happy Go Lucky – After WW2
As it was made of the same material of the surrounding double  storey tenement houses it was demolished in the early 50s.. Two days after it  was gone we went on the site and found that the wreckers had left the cellar  intact. When we got into it we found about 100 threepenny bits which to us was a  fortune. Even after sharing 4 ways we were still able to  lots of sweets  and lots of comics.
Harry “Nobby”  Sprackling  can trace his family back on the Island back to the 1820s, his wife’s  maiden name was Joan Bailey.
Harry lived in a prefab at 32B Glengall Grove (The Banjo) and Joan lived in her fathers house at 125 Mellish Street. They got married at Christ Church in 1965 and then lived opposite the church in the maisonettes. At this time Harry had followed his father’s footsteps working as a stevedore in the Docks.
Nobby and Joan and their three children then moved to Hadleigh in Essex in the 1970s and then decided to move to Australia where they have lived for the last 38 years.
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