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Sunday was a bright, sunny if a little chilly morning and it was time to turn my back on the road works and building sites on Marsh Wall and head for the wide open spaces of the countryside. Fortunately when you live on the Isle of Dogs, the countryside is not far away, in fact it is only a short walk down the Island to Mudchute Farm.
Mudchute Park & Farm is one of the largest inner City Farms in Europe with a wonderful collection of British rare breeds and currently home to over 100 animals and fowl. Set in 32 acres of countryside in the heart of East London, Mudchute is a community charity, with a working farm, stables and a wide range of education activities.
The Park and Farm are a great example of community action, in the 1970s, the Island community fought against plans to build a high rise estate on the land. The success of the campaign against these plans led to the creation of the Mudchute Association which was formed to preserve and develop the area. Since then it has become a well-known London attraction loved by adults and children alike.
One of the ironies of the site is that the hills and mounds were formed in the 19th century by the waste matter dredged up by the construction of Millwall Dock. This foul-smelling mud put off any prospective developers of the land and it remained derelict for much of the 20th century. Another irony was that the mud was actually full of minerals and nutrients and provided ideal growing conditions for the many allotments that were built on the site.
Once inside the gates of the Park and Farm you are transported into another world of sheep grazing in the fields, donkeys, goats, llamas and pigs.
But that is not all, the Park and Farm is proud of its roots in East London and you can even enjoy some mussels and jellied eels.
A visit to the Park and Farm is a pleasant way to get away from stresses of Christmas shopping and crowded trains. You can wander around the fields and look at the beehives, visit the old Ack Ack gun which was stationed in the park in the Second World War, let the kids have a go on the merry go round and enjoy a warm drink at the wonderful café whilst watching the horses in the stables.
Not surprisingly, the Park and Farm is very popular with families but is free and open to everyone who enjoys some peace and quiet away from the urban jungle.
If you are looking for a Christmas treat, the Park and Farm is having a special Christmas Open day on the 9th December between 11am and 4 pm with a Santa’s Grotto, Kid’s craft workshops, Donkey rides, Fairground rides, Cream teas and plenty of food and drink options.
The Park and Farm are also selling Christmas Trees from 3ft to 10ft with proceeds going to the Mudchute charity.
If you have never been to Mudchute Park and Farm, it is well worth a visit at any time of the year and is one of the best and most enjoyable open spaces on the Island.
If you would like more information about Mudchute Park and Farm, visit their website here
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.
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.
Friday 24 November 5pm – 8pm
Saturday 25 November 11am – 6pm
Sunday 26 November 11am – 5pm
For more information, visit the Craft Central website here
Regular contributor, L Katiyo over the weekend enjoyed the many delights of the Blackheath firework display that can be often seen from the Island.
The Island does not have a major bonfire display and the Blackheath display is one of the largest in London attracting crowds of over 100,000 people.
Most of the firework displays in London are well organised and family friendly which can be enjoyed by everyone.
Blackheath has a long of celebrating Bonfire Night, a newspaper report from 1885 illustrates Lewisham, Blackheath and the surrounding area really enjoyed the parade of the ‘ Lewisham Bonfire Boys’.
On Wednesday, the Lewisham Bonfire Boys held their annual carnival in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day. At 6 o’clock a procession has formed outside the Lewisham-road station of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway and with bands and banners flying, the bonfire boys started on their perambulation of the principal thoroughfares of Lewisham, Lee, Blackheath, Greenwich, and Catford. The cavalcade, which was about half-a-mile in length, included many vehicles illuminate with coloured fires and a large number of mounted men attired in fancy costumes. The characters were, of a most varied description. The houses and shops along the line of route were all brightly illuminated with coloured fires and Chinese lanterns. The streets were thronged with people, and the motley procession must have been witnessed by some 40,000 or 50,000 persons.
Recently I was contacted by Gerard Gilbertson who has written a short history of his Grandfather John F. Gilbertson who was Mayor of Poplar between 1938 and 1939. John F. Gilbertson was born and lived on the Isle of Dogs and spent many years working for the local community. Although the work of John F. Gilbertson has largely been forgotten, the following piece by Gerard reminds us that in the darkest times for the area, many men and women worked tirelessly for their local community.
For whatever reasons, in recent years Mayors of Tower Hamlets have often been in the headlines. Many of their policies, and personalities, have been somewhat contentious and have aroused interest and comment way outside the confines of the East End. It is an interesting experience to look back at some earlier Mayors (e.g. of the former Poplar Council)) to note what their concerns and policies were in times immeasurably different to modern ones. I often wonder when seeing certain views over the Isle of Dogs from high up in the tower blocks of Canary Wharf (for example in Lord Sugar’s “The Apprentice -You’re Fired!” programmes), how many of the participants have any idea whatsoever of what life there used to be like.
One of these earlier Mayors of Poplar was my Grandfather, John F. Gilbertson, who was in office at the time of the outbreak of World War II. When he was elected on November 9th 1938, few could imagine the horrors of the coming war in what was certainly one of the area’s darkest times, or the changes it would bring for Britain as a whole and for the Isle of Dogs in particular.
His speech of acceptance after being elected was generously reported in the local press. The London Shipping Chronicle (an edition of the East End News), for example, published a long article on November 11th 1938 reviewing his speech, as well as dwelling on the successful work of the retiring Mayor Mrs. E. Lambert.
Then, as now, nearly 80 years later, the provision of modern and affordable housing was a major problem , but – in the words of the Chronicle – the new Mayor pointed out the comprehensive adoption of “ legislation into municipal affairs that was 20 years in front of other people’s” since the Poplar Borough Council became Labour-dominated. It continued that “the Labour Council found that its predecessors had built one house in about 25 years. In a few years, the Labour Council built houses and flats and he could say from observation that the Council houses and flats in Poplar were second to none”. He added that “people were taken out of hovels, and put in decent accommodation”.
Mayor Gilbertson was well qualified from personal experience to talk about poor housing, for he had been born in 1882 in the Elizabeth Cottages, a small block of four slum houses, often flooded at high tide, and prone to disease, which by the 1880’s backed onto a coconut fibre works along the Westferry Road . They were demolished at long last in 1933-4 and the site was buried under the new Westferry Estate built by the LCC.
Source (British History online)
Elizabeth Cottages on the edge of the Barnfield Estate on the Westferry Road. Much of the area shown on this map from 1871 is now under the Westferry Estate built in 1933-35.The cooperage shown here became the coconut fibre manufactory.
Moreover, in approximately 1901, John Gilbertson moved with his parents to Crew(s) Street, one of the three near-identical Thames-side streets close to Kingsbridge which were coloured “black” in Booth’s poverty map of 1897 – black being the category “ lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal”. These streets exemplified Booth’s comment elsewhere that the poorest were always to be found closest to the River. Not until after his marriage to Margaret Rose Gilbertson (née Stamp) did he reside in better housing at the western end of Mellish Street, and from ca 1911 in Havannah Street.
Coconut fibre manufactory yard in Elizabeth Place next to Elizabeth Cottages, 1885 (Isle of Dogs History/Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive)
In his acceptance speech, the new Mayor also praised the work of those members of the Council who had been Members of the old Board of Guardians, for they had helped bring about major reforms and improvements on a wide social level: “When he was a boy children went to school without boots and stockings. They did not see that today”. He was also proud of Poplar’s record in laying down many miles of modern street surfaces of tarmac. (The stabilizing of road surfaces by using tar was , incidentally, invented in Millwall way back in 1834 by Cassel’s Lava Stone Works, see entry on Wikipedia). However, cobblestone surfaces were still the norm in the 1920’s and ‘30s, as is shown in most street photos of the Isle in that era. The arrival of motorized traffic in the early years of the century gave a boost to an improved tarmacadam process introduced by Edgar Hooley.
Westferry Road 1901, Chapel House Street on right, looking north – road gang repairing road with large cobblestone blocks. Asphalting was still a fairly rare event worthy of note even in the 1930s. (Photo Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive)
One of the very first tasks Mayor Gilbertson had to tackle was the move of the Council offices from the old Town Hall to the new one in Bow Road. This move and official opening took place barely a month into his period of office. It is difficult to imagine the administrative and personnel /staffing difficulties of such a move at the very start of one’s period of office! The opening ceremony was attended by, among others, the Labour MP George Lansbury who himself had been Mayor of Poplar more than once.
Former Poplar council offices in Poplar High Street ca 2010. (built 1870)(Wiki)
…and the new Town Hall in the Bow Road opened in 1938 (THLHLA ca 1965).
The ceremonial opening of the new Poplar Town Hall in Bow Road, December 3rd 1938. The recently elected Mayor John F.Gilbertson is in the centre, his wife Rose Gilbertson the Mayoress with a large bouquet is on his left, with MP and former Poplar Mayor George Lansbury on extreme left of photo. (Enlargement from THLHLA photo)
Less than a year after John Gilbertson became Mayor, war was declared on Germany in early September 1939. The initial worries, panic even, that flooded the country were accompanied by the first massive evacuations of children from major cities into the countryside in an attempt to save them from the dangers of enemy bombing. Although the “real” Blitz on London’s East End did not occur until the autumn of 1940, Poplar children were already evacuated in large numbers towards the end of 1939 to places like Wells in the west country. The “Wells Journal” of October 13th 1939 carried an article headlined “The evacuees in Wells – Letter of thanks from the Mayor of Poplar”. The wording of this Mayor-to- Mayor letter reads as follows:
(Wells Journal, 13th October 1939)
Isle of Dogs evacuees in Wells, Somerset in 1939 Photo (Island History Trust/ Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive)
The national edition of the “Daily Herald” of just a few weeks later in January 1940 carried a large article claiming that East End children evacuated to Oxford “..all like being up at Oxford” and carrying a large photo of Clement Attlee (the Labour MP for neighbouring Stepney) visiting them in their temporary homes. The paper also gave information on the larger number of extra trains being laid on for parents of evacuees to visit their off-spring.
After handing over his position as Mayor to Mrs. E. Lambert towards the end of 1939, John Gilbertson continued to serve on Poplar Council through the war years, but shortly afterwards became ill. He stepped back from his duties on the Council for several months, returned briefly in April 1947, but died on June 10th 1947. The naming of Gilbertson House in Mellish Street after its construction in 1948-50 was Poplar’s tribute to its former Mayor. This building is still occupied and in good condition.
Gilbertson House towards the western end of Mellish Street.(Own photo, 2012)
Dog and Anderson shelter during WW2 in back garden somewhere in Havannah Street (Photo Island History Trust/ Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive)
John Gilbertson was in office in momentous times, on the cusp of a very dark period for Poplar and particularly the Isle of Dogs. His Mayorship covered the inauguration of the new Town Hall, the increasing political and military tensions on an international level, the declaration of the second world war, the first bombing attacks on London, the first call-ups for active duty in the armed forces, the wide-spread construction of Anderson bomb shelters, the compilation of the historic 1939 Register, the first mass evacuations of children to safer homes outside the cities, and a host of other wartime measures.
If one combines the management of the effects of these events with his many, many years of leading activity in the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement, it can indeed be said that he served Poplar and its citizens well. He rose from extremely impoverished circumstances to positions of great responsibility, ability, and trust. He was indeed a great, if little-known, Mayor.
John Francis Gilbertson was a dry dock worker in the Millwall docks. He was on the executive of the Dry Dock Workers’ Union for some 18 years before its amalgamation with the General and Municipal Workers Union. He represented Cubitt Town as a Labour Councillor from 1933 and was elected Mayor of Poplar in 1938. He was Treasurer of the local Labour party, and of the Poplar Trades Council. He was a school manager for the Isle of Dogs Group of Schools. He was a close associate of the MP and former Mayor George Lansbury in many of these political activities. From 1911 until he died in 1947 he lived with his family at 46 Havannah Street on the Isle of Dogs opposite St Luke’s church.(IHT)
Many thanks to Gerard Gilbertson for sharing his family history with our readers and reminding us of a man who served the Island community for many years.
Many people who have lived or live on the Island have taken great pride in its history, this site is one of many that delves into the Island’s fascinating past.
One of the main resources for local history on the Island in the 20th century was The Island History Trust which was created by local people in the 1980s. This was a time of great change on the Island with the closing of the docks and many of the local factories. Many on the Island thought a way of life was under threat and began to record and preserve the local history of the Island.
The Island History Trust began by collecting photographs and then started to undertake recorded interviews with elderly Islanders, other people were encouraged to write about their lives which were then added to the collection.
When the original The Island History Trust ceased in 2013, a new group formed in 2014 to take on the task of recording and sharing the History of the Isle of Dogs from the late 19th century to present day. The new group called the Friends of The Island History Trust have undertaken to collate and categorise photographic and historical data to make it more freely available to researchers and interested parties. It also aims to expand projects around the Isle of Dogs which have historical importance to the groups members or anybody that may have an interest in the islands past.
The Friends of The Island History Trust in its short life has built up a strong network with other local groups and organisations relying on its dedicated volunteers and funding provided by a growing number of friends and members to undertake projects. One of the traditions that the new group has carried on from the original Island History Trust is the popular Open Days where people can see some of the historical and photographic data and can talk with many of the volunteers who have comprehensive knowledge of the Island.
The next Open Day is on the 7th October 2017 at St John’s Community Centre at 37-43 Glengall Grove between 11.30am and 5pm.
If you would to find out more about the history of the Island, the Friends of The Island History Trust in one of the main resources and it is well worth a visit to one of the Open Days.
Although the Isle of Dogs is constantly changing, it still has a strong community spirit with a number of events throughout the year.
This Sunday ( 9th of July) sees the Christ Church Summer Fete with a number of attractions including Craft workshops and stalls, table-top sales of books, clothing, crafts, toys etc.. There will also be a BBQ and Caribbean food, Caricaturist, face painting, tombola, Bouncy castle, Tea and cakes, and live performances and much more.
The festivities begin at 12pm and there is a £1 entry fee goes towards the church fundraising. Kids can enter for 20p.
If you would like some traditional entertainment for all the family, why not make your way to Christ Church which is at the south of the Island on Manchester Road.
It was expected over 40,000 runners were to attempt the London Marathon and from early morning, thousands descended on the Isle of Dogs to get in place to support their runners in the field.
Marathon day is quite a surreal occasion with lots of people visiting the Island for the first time and generally getting lost in the often confusing layout. This is especially the case around Canary Wharf with the massive building works complicating the matters considerably.
The Marathon on the Isle of Dogs begins with the arrival of the Male wheelchair races, the closely packed field raced around the Island with Britain’s David Weir and reigning champion Marcel Hug in the leading pack. Weir managed to win the race beating Hug and Rafael Botello Jimenez in third.
Next was the Women wheelchair race with Swiss Manuela Schar eventually beating American’s Amanda McGrory and Susannah Scaroni .
One of the most remarkable races was the Elite women’s race with Kenya’s Mary Keitany having a long lead when she reached the Island and finishing with a World Record of 02:17:01, Tirunesh Dibaba and Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia finished second and third.
There was a surprise in the men’s elite race with Kenyan Daniel Wanjiru beating track legend Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia with fellow Kenyan Bedan Karoki finishing his first marathon in third.
The elite races are just one part of the marathon day with thousands of club athletes, fun runners, charity fundraisers, celebrities, politicians and fancy dress costume wearers pounding their way around the Island.
Coming between the 15 and 18 mile points, the Island is not a popular spot for many marathon runners who begin to struggle at these particular points. However because the crowds are not quite so big, this section is popular for families and friends to congregate to shout encouragement to their particular runners.
In 2016, the London Marathon raised £59.4 million for charity and many of the runners will have personal reasons for facing the gruelling distance. Local Islanders have supported the Marathon since its beginning and still turn out in numbers to cheer on the runners on their way.
Congratulations to all those involved in putting on and taking part in one of London’s premier events which is watched live by millions and has a massive global audience.