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Remembering Steam Wagons in London

Credit – Barry Ashworth

Recently , I mentioned Barry Ashworth and his long career at Dunbar Wharf, when he first started work at the wharf in the 1960s he came across a number of documents and photographs from Dunbar Wharf’s previous owner, Francis Vernon Smythe. One of those photographs illustrates a long forgotten mode of transport on London streets and the various connections within the British Empire.

The fascinating photograph in question features a steam wagon collecting silver ingots in the City of London, more information is given at the bottom of the photograph with the caption ‘Steam Wagons loading Bar Silver for the British India Steamer.’ On the side of the trucks is F.V. Smythe of Dunbar Wharf, Limehouse. The photograph is taken outside the offices of Durham Stokes which was a stockbrokers in Old Broad Street and seems to be in the early 20th century.

The British India Steamer referred to in the photograph is the British India Steam Navigation Company which was formed in 1856 as the Calcutta and Burmah Steam Navigation Company. It became the British India Steam Navigation Company in 1862, Lord Inchcape, became chairman in 1913 and the company became part of the P&O group of companies in 1914, it kept its own identity and organisation for another nearly 60 years until 1972, when it was fully absorbed into P&O.

At its peak, the company was one of the largest shipowners of all time, the company owned more than 500 ships and managed 150 more for other owners. The main shipping routes of the line were: Britain to India, Australia and Kenya but ran services throughout Asia and Africa. Silver Bullion was an important cargo for the ships from the UK to satisfy the demand for the metal in India where it was used in a variety of ways especially in its currency.

Alley & McLellan steam wagon (Mechanical Transport,1911)

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the steam wagon was considered the alternative to horse drawn vehicles especially for heavy hauling and short journeys. They first made an appearance in London in 1879, a newspaper report gives more details.

1879 A New Steam Waggon

A new style of road vehicle, designed to be propelled by mechanical power, has made its appearance in London, England. The carriage closely resembles an ordinary dog-cart; the shafts are very short, and incline together, meeting two feet in front of the dashboard; between them there is a third wheel, working upon an upright shaft, which could be turned by a handle placed the same as that of a bicycle; this handle is worked by reins in the hands of the driver. The motive power is obtained by the combustion of beozoline, a small jet of which is admitted into the burner. Itis then set on fire, and is completely consumed by a current of air, which until the machine is in action, is produced by turning the small handle already alluded to. The burner, about the size of an ordinary chimney-pot hat, and quite as elegant, is lined by coils of a copper tube containing water.

Thorneycroft steam wagon (Modern_Engines, Vol III)

By the early 20th century, steam wagons were a common sight on London roads and in 1903 there was a parade in the capital of the latest models.

1903 A Steam Waggon Parade.

On May Day last a display took place in London which may probably lead to an important annual function in future years This was a parade of self-propelled vehicles for carrying heavy freights, and this description, so far as last week’s gathering was concerned, is synonymous with “steam waggon,” for all the vehicles that attended were propelled by the time-honoured engine and boiler. Possibly by next May Day the internal-combustion engine may have been sufficiently improved to take its place as an important factor in the propulsion of heavy freight-in waggons.

The parade of thirty steam powered vehicles had been arranged by the Thorneycroft Steam Waggon Company, as in the older established cart-horse parade, the object was the encouragement of drivers, and three prizes were offered.

However by the 1920s, petrol and diesel lorries were considered cheaper and more efficient and steam wagons were considered slow and sometimes dangerous.

1929 Steam Waggons in London: Coroner Criticism

A rider to the ‘effect that steam waggons should no longer be licensed unless the driver has a full and unrestricted view of the whole road was added by the Jury at a Westminster Inquest. A verdict of accidental death was returned in the case of Laura Hodman, 18, typist, of High Street,Islington, who while crossing the Victoria Embankment to catch a tramcar during the rush hours on Tuesday evening was run over by a steam waggon.

Mr Ingleby Oddle (the coroner) said that the accident was a simple one. The girl did not look to see, If anything was coming on her left, the driver of the steam waggon was sitting on the near side, and could not see on the oft side at all, having to rely on his fireman.

“It is perfectly obvious , to me that the time has long since, gone by when vehicles of this type should not be permitted on the streets at all.”

The time of the steam wagon was almost over and new road taxes and limits on weight sent them to scrapyards in large numbers, although some were saved and preserved and can sometimes seen at steam fairs. Steam wagons were largely a short lived British phenomenon and quickly became forgotten as internal combustion powered vehicles took over the roads.

It is always remarkable how one photograph can takes us back to a forgotten piece of London history and many thanks to Barry Ashworth for permission to use the photograph and related information. I have undertaken some research into the photograph but if anyone has any more information, please comment below.

Carol Rivers – Together for Christmas


Some months ago, the blog featured an interview with Carol Rivers, the  best selling author who usually locates her stories on the Isle of Dogs.

Her books are usually based in the first half of the twentieth century and have been widely praised for their historical accuracy and gritty realism.

Carol has just released her latest book ‘Together for Christmas’ which follows the destinies of three friends faced with realities of the first world war.  Although the book is fiction, it was the experiences of Carol’s Grandfather in the Great War  that have been influential in  her writing career. How influential is explained by Carol herself who contributed the following piece.

“Home is Where the Heart is.”

A saying that perhaps the troops often used to console themselves as they struggled for survival in the deploring conditions of the mud caked, flooded and rat infested trenches of the Great War, 1914-1918. Shell-shock, trench fever, dysentery, gangrene, hypothermia and dozens more diseases were their daily companions. As a small child, my Granddad, a volunteer veteran from Chapel House Street on the Isle of Dogs where we lived in East London, told me of his experience tied to a gun wheel. Disorientated by the ear-splitting shelling, he was accused of being a deserter. He wasn’t executed but flogged and sent to a field hospital as, close to death, he slipped into delirium. It was during this time that he woke to the sight of a soldier gazing in through the hospital window. Granddad knew this man had died and was passing over his strength in those few seconds of intimacy. Granddad recovered. But mentally he was scarred and rarely talked of his ‘angel’ for fear of being ridiculed. So sharing his other-worldly moment with a child, was a gift to us both for it released his secret shame and triggered the inner life of my creativity. Unaware of all this at the time, I remember asking him what the man looked like. Granddad replied that his ‘angel’ wore the mask of every soldier dying on the battlefield. This is a vision that has never left me. The vision is where my own story began. My home and my heart are my books, telling the stories that perhaps might not have been told, had Granddad not confided in me. I am returned every day to the Isle of Dogs as it was in the first half of the 20th century. I write ‘ghosts’ who are living, breathing and fiercely alive. The Island has never meant more to me than it does now in this Centenary year, when I am able to honour The Fallen with my book, TOGETHER FOR CHRISTMAS. And rightly so, as many of us now would not be here today, if it wasn’t for them.

TOGETHER FOR CHRISTMAS paperback by Carol Rivers

published by Simon & Schuster 23rd October 2014

August 1914, London. Britain has just declared war on Germany, and the whole country holds its breath. Flora, Hilda and Will, who grew up together in St Boniface Orphanage sit in the sunshine in Hyde Park on a rare day off, discussing the impending war and the changes it might bring to their lives. Will means to go off to fight, Hilda hopes to better her current lot in life as a maid at the charitable institute, Hailing House, but Flora is content with her job as assistant to the Isle of Dogs’ kindly Doctor Tapper. Taking a vow, they pledge to always be there for each other, come what may. Little do they know that the conflict will not be over by Christmas as supposed by the government and each one of the three friends are drawn terrifyingly into the turmoil of war.

TOGETHER FOR CHRISTMAS can be purchased at Amazon and most online stores, supermarkets and bookshops.

If you would like to buy a copy of the book, it is available here

And if you would like more information on the Carol’s  books at Simon & Schuster, you can visit the publisher’s website here



Super Yacht Kamalaya in West India Dock


Super Yacht Kamalaya

This afternoon saw the  arrival of the Superyacht  Kamalaya into West India Dock.

Built in 2013 by Amels Holland  in the Netherlands, designed by  Tim Heywood, it is registered in George Town, Cayman Islands


Made of steel and aluminium, the 55-metre luxury yacht Kalamaya is powered by twin MTU 16V 2000 M70 diesels, reaching a top speed of 15,5 knots and a cruising speed of 13 knots, she has a beam of 9m (29’53”) and a maximum draught of 3,35m (10’99”).


The Yacht can comfortably accommodate up to 12 guests overnight in 6 cabins, comprising a master suite, She is also capable of carrying up to 13 crew onboard .


As is usual in the Super Yacht world, finding out who owns the yacht is surprisingly difficult and how long it will be in West India Dock, however it does not seem to available for charter .




London Christmas Paintings

(c) Childhood Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Christmas Presents by Hugo Oehmichen (Victoria and Albert Museum )Date painted: 1882

As we edge nearer to Christmas Day, I thought it would be interesting to view how different artists at different times have captured the Christmas Period.

All the paintings  have in common that they are either about London or can be seen in London.

(c) Michael M. Atwood; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Christmas Day in the London Bridge Young Men’s Christian Association Canteen: Her Royal Highness Princess Helena Victoria, Mrs Norrie and Miss Ellen Terry by Clare Atwood
IWM (Imperial War Museums) Date painted: 1920

(c) Anthony Green RA; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Christmas Mirror 1947 by Anthony Green (British Council Collection) Date painted: 1982
The scene in this painting is Christmas Day 1947 in the Green family home in Lissenden Mansions in North London. It is the only painting of the artist’s parents together (they divorced when Green was 13).

(c) Mrs Elizabeth Bulkeley; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Christmas Tree Viewed through Red Curtains by Charles Mahoney (The Geffrye, Museum of the Home ) Date painted: c.1952


A Frost Fair on the Thames at Temple Stairs, London by Abraham Hondius (Museum of London)
Date painted: 1684

dolimsan 1880

Friends in Adversity, Christmas Day at the Dreadnought Hospital, Greenwich (Coming Down to Dinner) by John Charles Dollman (Nottingham City Museums and Galleries) Date painted: 1880

the artist; (c) Henry Kondracki; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Christmas Party by Henry Kondracki (UCL Art Museum)  Date painted: 1986

May I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Passion and Fashion – The Photography of Nunzio Prenna


It is my pleasure to introduce my readers to the work of Nunzio Prenna a local photographer who is quickly making a reputation for himself with his striking images of London and on the Fashion pages.

Recently I caught up with Nunzio to find more about his background and his photography.

Can you tell me a little about your background ?

I was born in a very small town in the south of Italy called Castellaneta. Perhaps some people into old movies know it because of Rudolph Valentino. He was from my hometown and did silent movies in Hollywood. I prefer to explain like this: “you know the shape of Italy? I’m from the heel!”

I came to the UK 8 years ago for my summer holiday. It was my last year at university in Milan so I just got the first cheap plane ticket I could find and it was a ticket to London. I spent 3 months working in a restaurant (as a sou chef even if I didn’t know much of cooking!).

When summer was over I went back to university and promised myself to come back to London. I did. Just a few days after my graduation I moved to London planning to work and live there. I was in love with this city.


What kind of work was you looking for ?

I studied 3D and so i wanted to work for movies or advertisement. it was very difficult to find a job and I ended up doing other type of jobs to support myself. I never got into the movie industry but instead ended up working in architectures firms as a 3D Visualiser. The job is nice but I was missing something. Photography!


How did you develop your interest in Photography ?

I always was into photography even if just for fun and nothing serious. I remember taking nice photos when I was really young going out for school trips. Funny enough some of my best photos are from a school trip I did to London when I was 16. I still have those photos back in my hometown.

I bought myself a more serious camera 4 years ago and started taking lots of photos. Since then I’ve upgraded my equipment a few times and got into photography more and more. I still work as a 3D Visualiser but photography is now part of my business (and fun).

My goal is to be a full time photographer and have my own studio.


Who has influenced or inspired your photography ?

My inspiration and influences are many. I look at photos on internet every day. I buy photography magazines and fashion magazines constantly. It is hard for me to name just one photographer that gives me inspiration. David Lachapelle has always been one of my favorites if i really have to name one. I also love the work of many “non full time” photographers like me,  for example I could name a few (Athena Carey, Elia Locardi).


How long have you lived on the Isle of Dogs?

I’ve been living on the Isle of Dogs for the last 4 years. I love it. It has everything I need and more. I hardly go in central London anymore. You can always find me walking around Canary Wharf and Greenwich where I always bring my camera.

As I said I work for architects and perhaps Canary Wharf inspires me in doing building photography.

I’d love to be able to combine fashion and buildings in my photos and this is something that I’m trying hard to achieve.

I find old buildings very photogenic and putting a model in them just makes the whole thing alive. On the same note I love futuristic buildings.

In an ideal world I would not mind to be a travel photographer and visit many different countries and cultures but I think I will stick to pursuing a career in fashion photography.



If you would like to see more of Nunzio’s work or contact him.

Website: press here

Google+ page: Press here

Twitter:  press here

 Facebook: press here

Lighting up the River – Thames Barge Driving Race 2013


It is always a pleasure to see the river full of traffic, and today we saw the Thames Barge Driving Race passing past the Isle of Dogs.


The race consists of about 12 teams of between 4 and 8 members who drive (steer and row) 30 ton barges over a seven mile course for about 90 minutes from Greenwich to Westminster Bridge.


As well as the barges there is a flotilla of other boats that follow the action.

It is  38th running of this annual event. Set up in 1975 by a charity called The Transport On Water Association (TOW) with the backing of Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords.


​The event celebrates the skill of lighterman who moved large amounts of cargo in unpowered barges.

It takes a great deal of river craft navigating a 30 tonne barge in the Thames river currents and the race was created to encourage young people to consider working on the river.

The teams are usually made up by employees of Thames lighterage companies, Port of London Authority  and other Thames organisations.


Interested spectator


Enter the Dragon – Super Schooner Montigne in West India Dock


Yesterday we had a new arrival in West India Dock, it was the privately owned Super Schooner the Montigne.

Montigne was built by Turkish yard Aegean Yachts in 2009, for a customer from Southeast Asia. It is considered to be one of the largest privately owned sailing yachts in the world.


The owner has customised the fore and aft with Chinese Dragons giving the ship a very distinctive design.


The Montigne is a 187 feet three masted staysail schooner with accommodation for  up to 12 people and a crew of 10,  until recently available for charter or even for sale at 14.5 million Euros.


The Montigne in full sail.

There is some confusion if she has been charted or sold recently to the John Walker organisation who seem to be using the ship  in promotional material.



Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Petticoat Lane


Polly Nathan’s Famous Fish Shop

Once again thanks to Eric Pemberton for the use of his postcards about Petticoat Lane, the Lane as it is known locally   has a long and varied history.

If you look on maps for Petticoat Lane as a street on your London A-Z map you will not find it, why ?

The reason is that the area which has always seen as the centre of Petticoat Lane was previously known as Hogs Lane in the 16th century and was essentially a rural area just outside the city wall. By the beginning of the 17th century it had developed into commercial centre dealing in clothes and therefore became known as Peticote Lane.

The arrival of the Huguenots in the late 17th century in Spitalfields consolidated the area for manufacturing and selling of clothes. Although in 1830  it was decided by the authorities that  the area called Peticote Lane be changed to Middlesex Street, however even though officially the name changed, the old name continues to be used to the present day.


The late 19th Century saw the arrival of large numbers of Jewish Immigrants who settled in the area.

At the time of these postcards between 1900 -1914 the ‘Lane’ had become an important centre for Jewish life in London, this is illustrated by writer Israel Zangwill in his book Children of the Ghetto  published in 1914.

The Lane was always the great market-place, and every insalubrious street and alley abutting on it was covered with the overflowings of its commerce and its mud. Wentworth Street and Goulston Street were the chief branches, and in festival times the latter was a pandemonium of caged poultry, clucking and quacking and cackling and screaming. Fowls and geese and ducks were bought alive, and taken to have their throats cut for a fee by the official slaughterer. At Purim a gaiety, as of the Roman carnival, enlivened the swampy Wentworth Street, and brought a smile into the unwashed face of the pavement. The confectioners’ shops, crammed with “stuffed monkeys” and “bolas,” were besieged by hilarious crowds of handsome girls and their young men, fat women and their children, all washing down the luscious spicy compounds with cups of chocolate; temporarily erected swinging cradles bore a vociferous many-colored burden to the skies; cardboard noses, grotesque in their departure from truth, abounded. But the Lane was lively enough on the ordinary Friday and Sunday. The famous Sunday Fair was an event of metropolitan importance, and thither came buyers of every sect. The Friday Fair was more local, and confined mainly to edibles….. A babel of sound, audible for several streets around, denoted Market Day in Petticoat Lane, and the pavements were blocked by serried crowds going both ways at once.


Because the Market was generally unregulated, the local authorities often tried to close it down even to the extent in the 1930s driving police cars and fire engines up and down the market. Eventually they conceded defeat due to its massive popularity and in 1936 the rights of the market were protected by an Act of Parliament.

Many people were attracted to the ‘Lane’ for the entertainment with many traders renown for their ‘patter’, there were also a large number of ‘characters’ such as Ras Prince Monolulu who sold racehorse tips that frequented the market which added to its appeal. More recently one of the characters was entrepreneur Alan Sugar who had a stall at the market.

Although a pale imitation of its ‘glory days’, the lane is still considered one of the sights of London and still attracts large numbers of people.


Other Posts you may find interesting

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Victoria Park

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Seamens Missions

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – The London Hospital

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards Poplar and East India Dock Road

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Isle of Dogs 2

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Isle of Dogs

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Limehouse

Cor Blimey It ‘s the Cockney Heritage Festival – 18th to 27th July


Not being a born and bred Londoner, the image of the Cockney has always been a bit a mystery to me.  Many people who live outside London used to believe that all Londoners were Cockneys, so when Londoners  start mentioning Bow Bells it gets even more confusing.


Dick Van Dyke (Not a real Cockney)

Did the Isle of Dogs folk see themselves as Cockney ? Well we could all soon be enlightened by going along to the Cockney Heritage Festival in July. In a comprehensive series of  talks ,  walks ,  Film screenings, Exhibitions and various other events  we can discover the diversity and history of Cockney Life.


Some of the highlights include a Danny Boyle curated showing of the classic film The Long Good Friday, talks by authors including Melanie McGrath and Jean Fullerton,  an exhibition about the Isle of Dogs by the Island History Trust  and of course various Pie and Mash tastings and Knees up.


Real Cockneys

I will be reporting back on some the events but if you live in London or are visiting in July  why not come along,  for a full list of events press here

Britain From Above – Isle of Dogs 1934


An Aerial view of the Docks 1934

Some weeks ago I posted an article about the Bombsight project which tried to chart where many of the Bombs fell in World War Two.

The Britain from Above project is yet another incredible website that is making available thousands of aerial photographs taken above Britain between 1919 and 1953.

Not only do you get access to the photos on the website, you can play an active part identifying many of the locations.

To give you a taste of what is available here are some of the latest photos of the Isle of Dogs in 1934.


Millwall Dock 1934


South Dock 1934


Cubitt Town 1934


Millwall Dock – Flour Mill 1934


Millwall Dock from South 1934


Millwall 1934

To go to the Britain from Above Website  press here