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On Saturday, we were fortunate to attend the first Open Day of the Friends of the Island History Trust. The new group succeeds the Island History Trust project which was responsible for collecting photographs, ephemera and relevant historical information about the Island.
The Island History Trust under the stewardship of Eve Hostettler was a charitable trust created in the 1980s to promote interest in the history of the Island and of the people and places within the Island. Some of the most popular events of the Island History Trust were the Open Days when visitors and Islanders came together to look at and discuss the many hundreds of photographs and documents.
The new Friends of the Island History Trust have decided to follow that tradition and a wide range of people visited the first Open Day at St John’s Community Centre.
Although a number of the original Trusts collections have been transferred to Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, many have been transferred into digital form and been put onto the internet.
The new group are hoping to expand this area, using the new technologies to give access to the latest photographs and information to interested people both in the UK and from all over world.
Listening and talking to many of the people at the Open Day shows there is a growing interest in Local History and many older people especially understand the importance of remembering and recording the past for future generations.
An important focus for the new group will be getting new Islanders and young people involved and celebrating their part in the story of the Isle of Dogs.
The Friends of Island History Trust will play an important part in providing a central hub in which people who want information about the Island will have access to a number of knowledgeable local people. The group have a history room in St John’s that has a number of old photographs, books and other information, at present it is only open once a week manned by local volunteers. Other initiatives are a production of a calendar full of old photographs of the Island and a membership scheme where you can be a member of the Friends of Island History Trust and receive regular newsletters.
The group is also keen to have feedback from people about the direction the trust should take, so if you have any ideas or wish to contribute in any way, please contact them by email email@example.com
In many areas , local history is kept alive by the often unsung work of volunteers who come together for their love of their area. We are sure, the new Friends of Island History Trust will be a great success and an invaluable resource for the Island.
Isle of Dogs
We are very fortunate on the Isle of Dogs to have some great websites and blogs that cover the Isle of Dogs.
The work of Eve Hostettler and the Island History Trust is well-known , but probably the website that has the widest range of photographs of the Island is the Isle of Dogs Heritage and History website.
The Isle of Dogs Heritage and History website was set up by three ‘ Islanders’ who have a shared passion for the ‘Island’ . Their mission is to capture images of the buildings , streets and landmarks of the ‘Island.’ They also capture important documents, reports and maps to make available to everyone.
Their site and the Island History Trust are important resources for anyone with an interest in the history of the Isle of Dogs.
Mick Lemmerman , one of the founders of the Isle of Dogs Heritage and History website has decided to create a blog that will tell some of the stories behind the photographs on the site.
His first post tells the story of the Waterman’s Arms, one of the most famous Pubs on the Island.
Mick’s reasons for starting the blog are sentiments shared by many who write about the Island.
The history of the Isle of Dogs is a remarkable story. Before the closure of the docks and the development of the shiny new financial centre around Canary Wharf, most people – including Londoners – had never heard of the place. Further back, before 1800, only a few people lived around the edges of this marshy wasteland. Yet, this small area of East London, hidden away behind high dock walls and the embankment of the looping Thames, was the birthplace of an uncountable number of industrial innovations and mighty enterprises. Its people, isolated from the rest of London for close to two centuries, had their own character, a character that is still there, if you know where to look for it.
Mick has joined a long line of people who have contributed to the telling of the Isle of Dogs story and I wish him great success in his new venture.
To visit the new blog click here
Isle of Dogs Heritage and History is available here.
Gascoyne’s map of 1703
After discussing Folly Wall in a previous post, we now travel to the other side of the Island and look at the origins of Marsh Wall and Millwall.
Today Marsh Wall is a road at the top end of the Island and the Millwall area covers the west side of the Island.
However in the 17th Century, Marsh Wall was the embankment built up on the west edge of the Island. These embankments had been built and maintained since Medieval times mostly by landowners who had drained the marshes and used it as pasture for their animals. However breaches in the embankments were common and the one the map above shows occurred in 1600 and was still there when docks and city canal was built in the 1800s.
Although the Isle of Dogs was largely uninhabited until the early 19th Century, there was in the late 17th Century a number of Windmills that were built on the Marsh Wall embankment that took advantage of the strong winds that would blow over the unprotected Island. Although it is widely thought that there was only seven mills as shown on Gascoyne’s map of 1703, there is evidence that there could have been as many as 13.
William Hogarth’s Idle Apprentice 1747
It is considered the earliest mill was built in 1679,followed by five more in the 1690s, one more was then added by the time of the Gascoyne map making a total of seven. Three more were added between 1710-1720 and two more before the middle of the eighteenth Century.
A view across the Thames towards the Isle of Dogs from Rotherhithe 1821.
W. H. Timms (artist and engraver); C. Richards (publisher) National Maritime Museum,
The early mills were used for grinding corn before moving on to oil seed crushing.
With further windmills at Limehouse and at Rotherhithe it paints a rather picturesque picture of the Thames which the sound of the sails turning a constant soundtrack to the ships travelling to and from the City of London. Although the sight of hanging pirates in gibbets ruins the romance of this idealised picture a little bit.
Fishermen dredging off the Isle of Dogs 1838 Painted by WHF ( Wisbech and Fenland Museum)
However most of the mills were small concerns and from the early nineteenth century were in decline and one by one the mills were abandoned and demolished.
Isle of Dogs. 1859. Engraving of a drawing by Walter W. May, R.N. From The Book of the Thames from its Rise to its Fall, p. 474. “ The river bank of the island is generally known as Millwall, a name derived from the embankment, once surmounted by windmills, of which one still remains, and is seen in our engraving” .
B. H. Cowper in 1853 looking at the history of Millwall decries the lack of decent recent maps noting that on one map there is one windmill still standing on another there is four. He personally found the foundations of two with only one Theobald’s Mill still standing.
However although the Windmills disappeared, from the 18th Century the area become generally known as Millwall and when the Island became industrialised it gained a reputation not as an idyllic rural scene but rather for the industries that prospered here and the thousands of workers who came to live in the area.
Folly House 1805
On the east side of the Isle of Dogs is Folly Wall whose name is a reminder of a Gentleman who came to a tragic end and of a famous tavern.
The Gentleman was a Thomas Davers, a son of a famous admiral who decided to build on this spot “at great expense” a small fort. Considering the Isle of Dogs was largely uninhabited at the time this seemed an odd undertaking.
The Gentleman’s magazine of 1767 gives us further details.
he built at great expense a little fort on the Thames near Blackwall known as Davers’ folly, and that shortly before putting an end to his own life he wrote this on a card : Descended from an ancient and honourable family, I have for fifteen years past suffered more indigence than ever gentleman before submitted to ; neglected by my acquaintance, traduced by my enemies, and insulted by the vulgar, I am so reduced, worn down and tired, that I have nothing left but that lasting repose, the first and dernier inheritance of all.
Of Laudanum an ample dose
Must all my present ills compose
But the best Laudanum of all
Want (not resolution) but a ball
NB Advertise this T.D.
Considering he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Thames in 1754, there was no doubt the story was well known and had a certain notoriety considering it was still mentioned 13 years later.
The Horringer Parish Register gives a few more details but is less than sympathetic.
Thomas was the one surviving son of the Admiral. He was educated at Bury Grammar School. Perhaps it would have been better for him if he too had been laid in some churchyard within a year of his birth. Like several of his Davers cousins, he seems to have been of an eccentric and unhappy turn of mind and to have come to an untimely end.
After Thomas Davers sold his folly in 1754 due to financial difficulties , the property was taken over and a few years later turned into the Folly House or Folly House Tavern and became well known as a drinking establishment .
Folly House Tavern on 1840 map
Even when the West India Docks were built, the house was always rather secluded and according to certain Old Bailey records was frequented by some dubious characters.
Thomas Gibbins who was the landlord in 1792 tells the court about a break in.
I live at the Folly-House, Blackwall . About 10 o’clock, on Easter Sunday, I heard some people at my door; I unbolted it directly, and three or four men forced me down; I do not recollect who; when they knocked at the door first, they threw something over my head; I was afraid to look up or open my eyes, as they swore they would blow my brains out; they asked me what money I had in my pocket; I said about two guineas, or two and a half; they took my shoe and knee buckles; they asked me what money I had in the house; I told them I had three or four guineas in my bureau. I lost nine gowns, they were my deceased wife’s, two pair of gold wire earrings, and several silk handkerchiefs; the silver watch and gold rings were mine; they took three or four guineas; they stayed in the house between four and five hours. I was released at three in the morning.
A Swedish sailor recalls being mugged in 1814
ANDREW WESTERLAND. 1814 I am a seaman . I live in Fennington street. On the 14th of September I was attacked and lost my money. The Swedish consul sent me at night to work on board the ship. The next day I went to a public house to get a pot of beer before I went on board.
Q. Where is that house? – A. It is called the Folly House, Blackwall. It was six o’clock when I went down there in the evening; I was attacked by the prisoners when I came from the public house, between seven and eight. The prisoners stopped me, there were three of them; one of them stepped back.
However it was not all violence, a certain Thomas Pennant on a journey from London to the Isle of Wight in 1801 recalls passing the Folly Tavern and considered its reputation for Whitebait dinners.
We passed by the Folly, a small house of entertainment, which, during the season, is, with the taverns at Greenwich crowded with epicures, to feast on the little fish called white bait. These White Bait appear in July, in this Reach, in multitudes innumerable ; and, fried with fine flower, afford a delicious repast.
In the 19th Century especially, the Folly House became an important reference point to people sailing along the Thames being one of the few houses built overlooking the river on the Isle of Dogs
Folly House 1845
However by the end of the 19th Century wide scale development began to take place and the Folly House was eventually demolished in 1875.
Folly Wall is now a series of residential buildings, however nearby retaining some of the spirit of the past is a modern folly, the wonderful Storm Water Pumping Station.
The demolition of Dockland Settlement No 2
Building work and demolition are ever constants on the Isle of Dogs, however the demolition of a building on East Ferry Road will be viewed with great sadness by many Island people.
Built in 1905, the building was initially called the Welcome Institute and was created to provide a clubroom and canteen for factory girls and women. However after the First World War many employers provided facilities on the premises and therefore other uses for the building were considered.
In 1923 the building was taken by the Docklands Settlement Mission, a charity created by the Malvern College.
The Dockland settlement building No 2 to give it it’s full title was a testament to the tradition of Charity and Service undertaken by Public Schools in many deprived areas which began at the end of the 19th Century.
The missions were built on Christian values and the wealthy young man and women of the College were encouraged to help those in need.
From small beginnings with the Dockland Settlement No 1 in Canning Town the mission grew into Eight Missions and two holiday homes. This was often achieved by the patronage of wealthy friends and family (sometimes even Royalty) of many of the students who worked in the missions.
An important aspect of the missions was the promotion of sports and pastimes and physical education. It was in this sphere especially that the Settlement became well known producing many talented sportsmen and women.
Over time it provided services for all age groups and became a fully fledged community centre.
However by the 1960s and 1970s the building was beginning to show the wear and tear of decades of use and by the 1980s like the docks themselves it was in decline.
However in the 1990s the building got a new lease of life when the chapel became a church and living quarters were turned into offices . One of the offices was the base of the Island History Trust whose collection of photographs and history of the Island are a vital record of the rapidly changing way of life.
In more recent times it was still used extensively by the Local Community but it became increasingly clear the building would need considerable refurbishment to continue. The decision was then made to vacate the building to enable extension to the new college that had been created on the site.
Even when the building finally disappears over the next few weeks , it will leave many Islanders with fond memories of Dockland Settlement No 2.
Blackwall 1840s ( National Maritime Museum)
In a previous couple of posts I have published excerpts from Charles Dickens Exploring Expedition to the Isle of Dogs in the 1850s.
It is time for another classic piece of Dickens in which our guide enters the world of Whitebait suppers, shipbuilding and a geriatric horse called Old Hob in Blackwall.
In the nineteenth century there developed a custom that Cabinet Ministers attended an annual Whitebait Supper at Greenwich or Blackwall, at the height of its popularity in the first part of the nineteenth large numbers of people followed the tradition. To cater for these people a number of inns were built in Blackwall on the riverfront The most popular were the King’s Arms, Coach and Horses, Britannia, Plough, Artichoke and the George. By the 1880s the tradition had all but died out.
Unfortunately when the Blackwall tunnel was built, most of the Inns were pulled down and virtually nothing exists from the time Dickens wrote this piece.
Upward and upward we bend our steps until Blackwall begins to take the place of Millwall.
Strype says that Blackwall was so named ” because it is a wall of the. Thames, and distinguished by the additional term ‘black,’ from the black shrubs which grew on it” a theory which strikes us as being rather a sorry one.
However, to Blackwall we do at length come ; and here we find that the Plough, and the Artichoke, and the Brunswick taverns present a degree of smartness which eclipses the other Isle of Dogs’ taverns – they tell of whitebait dinners.
An embarrassing thought now presents itself. Why do Cabinet Ministers eat whitebait ? And why do they eat them at the close of the parliamentary session in a tavern at Blackwall or Greenwich ?
Whitebait, being fish, are cold-blooded animals ; but is there on this ground any analogy between them and Cabinet Ministers ? It is a phenomenon both ichthyological and topographical, this whitebait eating in the Isle of Dogs. Let us see whether Mr. Yarrell’s description of a whitebait will furnish any clue to this subject :
The whitebait, then, is a little fish, something like the young of the shad, varying from two to six inches in length. From the beginning of April to the end of September it is caught in the Thames, seldom higher than Woolwich or Blackwall, at flood-tide. The fishery is of rather a peculiar nature. The mouth of the net has about three square feet of area, with a very small mesh or bag-end. The boat is moored in the tide-way, where the water is from twenty to thirty feet deep, and the net with its wooden framework is fixed to the side of the boat. The tail of the hose, swimming loose, is from time to time handed into the boat, the end untied, and its contents shaken out. The wooden frame forming the mouth of the net does not dip more than four feet below the surface of the water. The further the fishermen go down towards the mouth of the river, the sooner they begin to catch whitebait after the flood-tide has commenced. When fishing as high as Woolwich, the tide must have flowed from three to four hours, and the water become sensibly brackish to the taste, before the whitebait make their appearance. They return down the river with the first of the ebb-tide ; and all attempts to preserve them in well boats, in pure fresh water, have failed.A few whitebait are caught near the Isle of Wight, and in the Firth of Forth ; but they are very little known except in the Thames.
So far, there is very little analogy or apparent connexion between a Cabinet Minister and a whitebait. We will therefore see whether M. Soyer’s account of the method of cooking this fish will elucidate the matter.
” This very delicate little fish,” says the great Gastronomic regenerator, ” is cooked in the most simple manner. Dry them in a couple of cloths, shake the cloths at the corner, but do not touch the fish with your hands ; then have ready an equal quantity of bread-crumbs and flour in a dish, throw the fish into it, toss them lightly over with the hands, take them out immediately, put them in a wire basket, and fry them in very hot lard. One minute will cook them ; turn them out on a cloth, sprinkle a little salt over them, dish them on a napkin, and serve them very hot.” The same authority tells us, that ” these lilliputian.fishes never can be had at home in the perfection you get them at Greenwich or Blackwall, where they are obtained as soon as caught, and dressed by persons in constant practice.” All very nice ; but what about the Cabinet Ministers ? They (the whitebait, not the Ministers) are served up with cayenne and lemon-juice, and eaten with brown bread and butter ; the savoury morsel being washed down with iced punch. Still we do not see the connexion. And if we take the view topographical instead of the view ichthyological,we are not certain of enlightenment ; for we do not see how the vicinity of ship-yards, chemical-works, and iron-works, with a wafting of pungent odours when the wind doth blow, can improve the flavour of whitebait to a legislative stomach. There seems evidently to have been a rise of fashion in this matter ; for Pennant, after speaking of the whitebait fishery, says, that it ” occasions during the season a vast resort of the lower order of epicures to the taverns contiguous to the places where they are taken.” Lower order of epicures, indeed !
Hemmed in by the whitebait taverns, is Green’s ship-yard. A notable old place this ; more so, than any other private shipyard,perhaps, in this country. It is no small thing that, for a period of two hundred years, there has been little if any cessation in the making of foothooks and keelsons, bowsprits and sternposts, ribs and beams, decks and masts, in this identical spot ; and all for and by private owners. First, there was a Sir Henry Johnson, who, in the time of Oliver Cromwell, was owner of this yard, and who it seems to have been a great benefactor to the neighbouring village of Poplar. Then, throughout the reigns of Charles the Second, James the Second, and William and Mary, the shipyard maintained its importance, under the ownership, first of one Sir William Johnson, and then of another. Strype tells us about a horse which was owned by the elder Sir William, and which was evidently a knowing old blade. The horse, we are told,was ” wrought there thirty-four years, driven by one man ; and he grew to that experience,that at the first sound of the bell for the men in the yard to leave off I work, he also would cease labouring, and could not by any means be brought to give one pull after it ;and when the bell rang to work, he would as readily come forth again to his labour, which was to draw planks and pieces of timber from one part of the yard to another.” Honour to the tough old horse, who insisted on the proposition, that ” property has its duties as well as its rights.” Old Hob was his name ; and there was formerly a public-house in the neighbourhood which derived its sign from this name nay, not merely was, but is, in Brunswick Street, near the entrance to the yard. Old Hob’s master, and the next Sir William, are said to have built no less than fifteen men-of-war for the Government before the time of Queen Anne. The second Sir William’s daughter married the Earl of Strafford ; and then occurs a blank in the annals of the yard and its industry until a period about a century ago, when Mr. Perry became the owner. In the family of the Perrys the property remained for half a century, during which many vessels of war were built there for the Government.
Mr. Perry built within his estate the Brunswick Dock, the first dock (we believe) which London could boast. Here he had water space for thirty large ships and double that number of smaller ones, cranes for landing guns and heavy stores, conveniences for the shipment of cavalry, warehouses for whalebone and blubber from whale-ships, coppers for boiling down the blubber, a mast-house to aid in masting ships the same venerable black old ugly building which is still a wonderment to those who view Blackwall from a distance.
Mast House Blackwall (National Maritime Museum)
But at the beginning of the present century the merchants became dock mad ; they built docks, as thickly as we now build railways ; and Mr. Perry’s Brunswick Dock was bought up for, and enclosed by, and incorporated with,the East India Docks. The shipyard, however,remained private property ; and during the long war the stocks and slips were constantly occupied by war-ships being built for the Government, as well as by East India ships and other merchant ships of large size ; for this yard never, until late years, had an equal in importance in any other part of the kingdom. It is among the records of the yard that no less than ten ships of war were launched here during the single year 1813.
In the years of comparative peace which have since followed, the names of Wigram and of Green have been associated with the construction of a vast number of fine vessels. It is only by a little stretch of geography that the Isle of Dogs can be said to contain this Brunswick shipyard ; but, even if it were for the sake of old Hob that true-born British horse we will entice the yard into our island.
At and around the point which may be deemed the eastern “vanishing-point” of the Isle of Dogs, is that strange congeries of buildings, in which the Blackwall railway, the Brunswick pier, the East India Dock, and Green’s ship-yard, all meet in brotherhood.
How the railway ferrets out a path for itself is a marvel. You are conscious that it is near at hand, for the locomotive-whistle betrays it ; but if you look at this point, there is the lofty wall of the Docks ; if at that, there is a road leading to one of the whitebait taverns ;if at the other, there is one of Mr. Green’s ships poking its nose over the wall. There is, in fact, a struggle for place, but a struggle in which the railway wins, as it generally does uow-a-days. The metropolis here comes to its last legs ; here is the end of all things .the ” ultima Thule ” is reached. Here, is the tavern which forms the final stopping-place of the Blackwall omnibuses, after having worked their long and weary way from Knightsbridge.
Here, or hereabouts, are the last ship-yards on the north bank of the Thames. Here, is the last of our docks until the new Victoria Docks in the Essex marshes are formed.
Here, is the last station of the Blackwall railway. Here, is the last struggle of Middlesex for existence : Bow Creek being the only barrier between it and Essex. Here, is the last bend and quirk of the river Lea, before it adds its humble driblet of water to the Thames. And here, is the last and final limit to the metropolis, beyond which, for some miles, we have little else than low-lying swampy ground. Taken altogether, a curious little nook this, lying just outside the Isle of Dogs proper, but connected with it by many ties of relationship.
Other Posts you may be interested in
At the end of the 1890s the Reverend Richard Free and his wife decided to forego their relatively prosperous lifestyle to open a mission in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs. After seven years in the mission the Reverend Free decided to write a book of their experiences called Seven Years Hard.
Over a hundred years later, the book gives a fascinating insight into late 19th century London and the East End in particular.
The attempts of the Reverend Free to convert the locals is comical and tragic in parts and leads the Reverend to question his own beliefs.
Over the next few months i will publish excerpts from the book. We start at the beginning when the Reverend goes to visit the local bishop with a request to leave the more affluent parts to London to do some more worthwhile work.
” I am tired of preaching to silks and satins,” I said ;” rags and tatters would be a welcome change.”
The Bishop lifted grave, kind eyes, in which lurked more than a suspicion of amusement.
” I see. The conventionality of civilised society palls on you ; you want something more “
” Real ! ” I cried with conviction. The word gave me a feeling of bodily and mental vigour such as I had not known for many a long month. ” Real ! That’s it. I want to get at the foundation of things, to see human nature without its paint and gewgaws ; I want to face up to it, understand it, learn my lesson from it.”
Looking back over the seven years that have passed since these words were uttered, it seems to me that I was very young then ; and it also seems to me, as I write, that I am quite old now. For, if experience ages us, then twenty years have passed since that memorable day on which I sat in a dim little study in the heart of the City, and gazed on the scholarly face of George Forrest Browne, Bishop of Stepney.
The suspicion of amusement in the Bishop’s eyes deepened. He paused awhile, as if weighing something in his mind. Then he said, with the peculiar force and directness so characteristic of him —
” You want an unconventional sphere of labour ; you can have it. You want to see human nature in its primitive condition ; your wish can be gratified. At this very moment I need a man for pioneering missionary work. It will be rough ; it will be hard ; it will be discouraging. There is no house to live in ; there is no church to worship in ; there is no endowment, or fund, or anything of that kind to draw upon for workingexpenses. I think I can secure you a stipend of £150 a year, and I know I can put my hand on money forbuilding purposes. Well?”
I began to feel somewhat uncomfortable. The study suddenly grew gloomy, the air chilly. The Bishop spoke again —” Of course, you know the Isle of Dogs ? “
Yes. At least, I had heard of the Isle of Dogs. To tell truth, a vision of flannels, a light outrigger, broiling summer sun, and a purling stream emerged from somewhere at the back of my mind, recalling halcyon days of another period.
” Yes, I may say I know it,” I continued eagerly. ” Up river ? Twickenham way ? “
Back went the Bishop’s head, as that lurking suspicion of a smile broke at last into audible laughter.
” Oh dear, no ! Miles away from Twickenham and all that Twickenham means. Nothing so attractive, I assure you. Limehouse ! Millwall ! That’s much nearer the mark.”
I sat still. It was rather sudden. ” Limehouse ” conjured up a picture of an impure stream bounded by dirty streets ; ” Millwall ” suggested river mud and long levels of decaying vegetation. The Twickenham picture was blotted out,
” Well ? ” The Bishop looked at me keenly.
” I’ll go.”
At that moment I was conscious of something like a call. I realised that this thing had come to me uninvited, unexpected, I wanted work ; work presented itself. Not, it is true, in the way I had anticipated, but perhapsin a far better way. Another Will than mine seemed to be in the business.
” Yes, I’ll go,” I repeated with conviction,
“Perhaps you would like to think it over?”
” No. Thank you — but. No, My resolution is taken.
God helping me, I’ll do what I can,”
Two minutes later I was in St, Paul’s Churchyard,looking up at the dome in a dazed way, and vaguely conscious that I had entered upon a new phase of my life, A sense of elation, hard to define, filled me to overflowing. I was sensible of the pressure of the Bishop’s hand closing over mine in a farewell grip ; I was sensible of still another pressure, less tangible, even more real, that seemed to be driving me into new activities.
Many intelligent people, as I now know, are every whit as ignorant of the whereabouts of the Isle of Dogs as I was in the autumn of 1896. They have confounded it with the Island of Sheppey, with Isleworth, with the Isle of Man, and with the Isle of Wight. But, in more senses than one, the Isle of Dogs is far removed from any of these places. It lies close to the centre of London, it is true, snugly ensconced, as it were, in the bosom of the Thames between Ratcliff and Blackwall.As the crow flies, the cottage in which I live, grandilo-quently named St. Cuthbert’s Lodge, is as nearly as possible two miles from the Tower. The crow would be able to take in the position at a glance. He would perceive this house, so near to and yet so far from the heart of things, in a tangle of masts and chimneys, and, being a bird of parts, would doubtless chuckle at the thought that his strong wings could bear him, in a few delicious moments, over a space that takes the human biped a painful hour to traverse. He would see that from the Tower Bridge the Thames flows for a half-a-mile or so in a fairly straight line, trending very slightly to the south, but that below Wapping Old Stairs, at the entrance to the Pool immortalised by Mr. Cole, it slowly rises for a good mile and three-quarters, drops due south again, gracefully curves away to the east, and finally flings up to its original level. The space thus enclosed, measuring, roughly, a mile and a-half from north to south and a mile from east to west, is known as the Isle of Dogs. Anciently, when it formed part of Stepney Marsh, it was not even a peninsula ; but now it is an island indeed, ” entirely surrounded by water,” the West India Docks enclosing it on the north and the river closely hugging it on the other three sides.
The Isle of Dogs lies near to the heart of the great city, yet in many respects it is more remote from it than the remotest of suburbs. The difficulty of getting to it is almost incredible. Not merely must the ambitious traveller struggle with ‘bus and train, discovering to his horror that the one never by any possible chance fits in with the other — such ills are normal : human flesh is heir to them everywhere ; but he must reckon with theswing bridges, which isolate the Island like the draw-bridges of a mediaeval castle. He may be within a stone’s throw of his destination, he may have a most important engagement ; yet he must possess his soul in superhuman patience while some great liner passes by at a snail’s pace, its mighty bulk towering high above him, its outlandish name in glittering letters silently declaring the unknown country whence it comes. It is true that the law provides that the ambitious traveller shall not be tried above that he is able, and that the opening of the swing bridges shall be strictly regulated ; but because there are few people in the Isle of Dogs who care, and fewer still who have the courage to complain, the law is flouted, and men bursting with business are kept hanging about the quays, kicking their heels because the dock authorities are not available.
Nor may the ambitious traveller escape by taking to the railway. His very ticket officially informs him that the various companies ” do not hold themselves responsible for any delays which may arise in the docks through the necessary opening of the swing bridges ” ;and so the tiny primitive train, drawn by the tiny primitive engine locally known as the ” Dustbin,” whose energy is in inverse proportion to its size, may find itself stranded on the edge of the dock, snorting weak defiance, while some lordly tyrant of ten thousand tons slips from her berth with maddening deliberation, and steals down to the waiting river.
Other posts you may find interesting.
T’ is the season to be jolly
In a part of London with a long and varied history , it will be quite surprising to many people that Canary Wharf itself has a recent and humble history.
Canary Wharf takes its name from No. 32 berth of the West Wood Quay of the Import Dock. This was built in 1936 for Fruit Lines Ltd, a subsidiary of Fred Olsen who from the 1920s got involved in the Mediterranean and Canary Islands for the fruit trade. It was Fruit Lines Ltd request, that the quay and warehouse were given the name Canary Wharf.
The Canary Wharf warehouse survived the Blitz with only minor damage but the Fruit Lines Limited moved to a new Fred Olsen Lines facility at the Millwall Docks in 1970 . The original warehouse itself was demolished in 1986.
From these humble beginnings the new developments of the 1980s and 1990s of the old docks began to refered to as Canary Wharf until it achieved national and international recognition.
By a bizarre coincidence the Canary Islands themselves are known in Latin as Canariae Insulae which translates as Island of Dogs.
Mellish St, Millwall from around 1905
It is one of the curiosities of the Isle of Dogs and the East End in general, that in the Ninetieth Century and at the turn of the Twentieth Century writers and journalists visited these areas and wrote articles as if they had travelled to a distant country rather than area close to the centre of London.
George R Sims was a journalist, author,poet and social reformer who sought to raise awareness of the social conditions of the poor.
He was also known for his sense of humour and the following account illustrates his particular style of writing.
JUST outside the West India Dock Station there is a little one-horse ‘bus which takes you by a winding way of high, black walls, broken here and there by bridges and wharves and the towering masts of ships, to Millwall.
As you near the journey’s end the driver – there is no conductor – opens a little trap in the roof of the ‘bus and puts his hand through. In his open palm you deposit the penny for your fare, and a few moments later the ‘bus stops, and you alight and find yourself at the commencement of the West Ferry Road and in the famous Isle of Dogs.
It is the island note that greets you at first. If the bridge is up you have to enter by the lock gates, and you may, by a stretch of the imagination, fancy yourself performing a Blondin feat, with the welcome addition of a row of protecting chains on each side of you.
Across the water you are in a land of one familiar sound and a score of unfamiliar scents. The sound is one ever dear to the Briton – the clang of the hammer as it descends on ringing iron. You listen to the sound that speaks of England’s might, and you remember the song that Charles Mackay sang of Tubal Cain. The memory that the scents bear in upon you is of another poet – Coleridge, who sang of Cologne.
The odours are overpowering. They do not mix, but with every breeze each salutes you with its separate entity. One odour is that of heated oil, another that of burning fat, others are of a character which only visitors with a certain amount of chemical experience could define.
The odours saturate you, and cling to you, and follow you. They are with you in the highway and the by-way. You pass into the house of a friend who has offered you his hospitality at the luncheon hour, and the door that closes behind you does not shut them out. Nothing is sacred to them, not even the church. Even the flowers in the little gardens that the West Ferry Road can show here and there have lost their own perfume and taken that of the surrounding industries.
The island is no dreaming place. It is a land of labour. From morn till eve the streets are deserted; the inhabitants are behind the great walls and wooden gates – husbands, wives, sons and daughters, all are toiling. The only life in the long, dreary roads and desolate patches of black earth that are the distinguishing notes of the side streets is when the children come from school. Then the red and blue tam-o’-shanters of the little girls make splashes of colour here and there, and the laughter of romping children mingles with the clang of the hammer and the throb of the engine.
In Ingleheim Street, a turning off West Ferry Road, there is a quaint brick building that at once attracts your attention, for above it is a flagstaff, and in the wire-protected windows there are flowers.
When you go down over the rough bit of roadway that ends in a wall of corrugated iron and a suggestion of black sheds beyond you read above the doorway of the quaint building the words, ‘St. Cuthbert’s Lodge,’ and you remember that this is the address of the Rev. Richard Free, the author of that intensely human document, ‘Seven Years’ Hard,’ the story of seven years’ patient, and often heart-breaking, work among the poorest population of a land of drudgery and desolation.
When we came first upon St. Cuthbert’s Lodge, not knowing what it was, the oddness of the building struck both my colleague and myself. The suggestion it conveyed to my mind was that of a lifeboat station or ark of refuge on a lonely shore. Why it conveyed that impression I cannot say. I am inclined to imagine that somewhere on the Yarmouth shore I have, in years gone by, seen something like it.
A veritable ark of refuge has this quaint little building – with the ship masts stretching high above it – proved to many in Millwall.
Mr. Free and his wife, cut off from the world, with which their one link is the little, conductorless one-horse ‘bus, have brought the love of light and colour into houses of grimness and gloom, and, taking the human view of our poor humanity, have become popular characters in the island of mighty tasks and mean surroundings, of noxious trades and pleasureless lives, an island in which there are no places of amusement of any kind. When the day’s work is over the lads and lasses of Millwall get out of it as quickly as possible. The island gardens form a green oasis in the desert. They are not in Millwall, but Millwall has in them a beautiful breathing space and a glorious view on the other side of a ‘cleaner, greener land.’
So over the Thames – or rather under it by County Council subway – that portion of young Millwall which has not passed on to Poplar hastens, and finds in Greenwich a welcome surcease from the miserable monotony of dead wall and black chimney-pot.
There is a Ladies’ Settlement, St. Mildred’s House, in Millwall, which suggests the refining influence of gentle womanhood. The conditions of life among the women workers of the place are affected by the nature of their employment. The dirt of their drudgery, the odour of their occupation, are brought into the home by the men and women alike. There is no escape from either. But the humanising influences brought to bear upon the situation have not been altogether in vain, and in the little back-yards and scanty patches of green still left here and there before some of the houses there are flowers struggling to be pretty under difficulties, and fowls and rabbits that look considerably plumper and healthier and happier than their owners.
In the centre of the island lies Desolation-Land, a vast expanse of dismal waste ground and grey rubbish heaps. All round the open space is a black fringe of grim wharves and of towering chimneys, belching volumes of smoke into a lowering sky that seems to have absorbed a good deal of the industrial atmosphere.
This waste land is spanned by the soot-dripping arches of the railway, which is the one note of hope in the depressing picture, for occasionally a train dashes shrieking by towards a brighter bourne.
Across the waste, as we gaze wearily around it, borne down by our environment, comes a lonely little lad, who wheels his baby sister in a perambulator roughly constructed out of a sugar box. They are the only human beings in sight.
Years ago this desolate spot was farm land. It might yet be secured and made into a green play ground for the children, who at present have only the roads and the miniature mountains of rubbish that have gradually risen at the end of side streets closed in by factory walls. If this central desert could be secured and ‘humanised’ and turned into a healthy playground, it would be a grand thing for the Millwall that is – a grander still for the Millwall that is to be.
Sir Walter Besant complained that in all Millwall there were no book-shops. That is still true, but the taste for reading has penetrated to the island, and in the shopping part of it there are several stationers’ shops where periodical literature may be obtained. It is principally for the younger generation. The windows are filled with ‘Tales of the Wild West’ for the young gentlemen and ‘How to be Beautiful’ for the young ladies, and of fashion journals there is quite a plentiful display. As I have not, in any of my visits to Millwall, observed the fashionable hats and blouses given in the plates exhibited, I can only surmise that they are reserved for the evening visits to Poplar and Greenwich, or for the Sunday trips to regions still farther away ‘on the mainland.’