Home » Posts tagged 'millwall'

Tag Archives: millwall

The New St Luke’s Church, Millwall

With all the large development on the Island, a smaller development has been somewhat overlooked but carries on a tradition that goes back to the 1860s.

The last remains of the old St Luke’s Church, Millwall were demolished in 2014 which marked the end of a church that had been built in the 1860s. The first church was built in 1868 on land donated by Lady Margaret Charteris and Lord Stafford, it was considered quite a grand church for the area seating 700. The architect was E. L. Blackburne who had earlier restored Crosby Hall in Bishopsgate.

A mission hall was built on to the south side of the church in 1883. It was converted into a chapel when new parish rooms were built in 1912. There was also a Gothic-style vicarage built on the site in 1873.

The church became an important part of the local community but was badly damaged in the Second World War. In 1960 the decision was made to demolish the church, however a chapel with stained-glass windows was made at the east end of the parish rooms and consecrated for worship. This chapel and the parish rooms was only ever intended to be a temporary solution but were used for the next 54 years. Eventually this chapel and the parish rooms were demolished in 2014 and a new church with community centre planned.

Four years later a wonderfully designed spacious church has been built which will be an important resource for the people of Alpha Grove and beyond. The official opening of the new St Luke’s at Millwall was when it was blessed by the Bishop of Stepney in October.

After Remembrance Sunday, it is a timely reminder that the effects of war can last for a long time, the original church severely damaged by an enemy air-raid in 1940 is only now being replaced by a new church.

Walking the Island Board Walk Trail (Part Two)

island board walk

Part two of the Island Board Walk trail takes us along the west of the Island to the attractive Sir John McDougall Gardens which is a welcome piece of greenery, the park was named after John McDougall who was one the famous McDougall Brothers who owned a large flour mill in Millwall Docks. The park is on the site of former wharves and was opened in 1968.


Although today, Marsh Wall is a road at the top end of the Island.  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.

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,  there is evidence that there could have been as many as 13. 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.

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.


From some of these workers at the Morton’s factory , Millwall Football Club was born and the team played on the Island until 1910 when they moved to South London. The rivalry between Millwall and nearby West Ham United has its origins in the days when supporters worked in the docks and shipyards. The board (5) gives more details of the Island’s interesting football past.


The next board (6) is located near the Limehouse Lock entrance which is situated just below Westferry Circus and indicates the lock’s historical importance and how its creation was inextricably linked to the ill-fated City Canal in the 19th Century.

The idea of building a canal across the top of the Isle of Dogs had been often raised but it was not until the plans for the West India Docks were finalised that plans for building the canal were discussed seriously. The scheme was funded by the Corporation of London who were confident that the short cut would be popular with ship owners, the Canal was finally open for business in 1806 it was 3,711ft long between the lock gates, 176ft wide at the surface of the water and 23ft deep at its centre.


It quickly become clear that the small savings in time for ships using the canal was not enough to attract a large amount of business, ultimately the decision was made to sell the canal to the West India Dock Company in 1829 who renamed the City Canal, The South Dock and stopped all transit passages and connected the dock to other parts of the West India Dock system.

Limehouse  Lock  entrance  or South Dock West Entrance (Impounding) Lock has it became known were designed as the west City Canal entrance locks.  Of all the docks entrances  built-in the 19th century, The South Dock west entrance lock is the only survivor with some of its original features.


The next board (7) takes up the story of the City Canal and the New South dock which became famous in the days of sail when large fleet of clippers moored along the north side of the New South Dock.The New South Dock was used especially as a loading dock for wool clippers to Australia and New Zealand.

The walk then takes us to Westferry Circus with its wonderful views of the City of London skyscrapers and into the old West India Docks, the next board (8) is located on the North quay of the Docks complex near to the statue of Robert Milligan and in front of the Museum of Docklands.


Robert Milligan  was the man considered largely responsible for the construction of the West India Docks. He was a wealthy West Indies merchant and shipowner who was upset at the losses due to theft and delays along London’s riverside wharves.

Milligan with a  group of powerful and influential businessmen including George Hibbert created the wet dock circled by a high wall for added security. The creation of the large complex of docks in the next couple of  years amazed visitors and West India docks were considered one of the most magnificent docks in the world.


The docks were in use for 178 years until they closed in 1980, in that time thousands of ships came in and out of the dock picking up and discharging cargo and the complex  provided work for thousands of  workers.


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

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

For downloads and more information visit:


Walking the Island Board Walk Trail (Part One)

island board walk

Last week, I reported on the new Island Board Walk initiative which had revamped many of the heritage boards dotted around the Island. To find out more about the boards, I decided to follow the trail to give readers some indication of the amazing history of this small part of East London.


The first board on the trail is near the Newcastle Drawdock which was part of Cubitt’s initial development of the riverside in the 1840s. The board is entitled School days which acknowledges the nearby presence of George Green School which has been providing education since the 1970s.


Wallking a little bit further and  you will arrive at Island Gardens with its wonderful views and attractive gardens, there is also the entrance to the foot tunnel if you fancy a quick visit to the other side of the river.


If you decide to carry on the trail, it is a short walk to the Ferry House, the oldest pub on the Island. Across the road from the pub is Johnson’s drawdock next to the Poplar and Blackwall Rowing club. Johnson drawdock was part of a large part of riverside frontage owned by Henry and Augustus Johnson in the 1840s. This is also a spot near to the ferry point from the Island to Greenwich which was widely used for centuries until the opening of the foot tunnel.


For many of the Island population , this drawdock gave access to the river and the board carries memories of people who when children would swim across the river to Greenwich.

Walking further around the Island, the classical views of Greenwich are replaced by the various developments across the river, it illustrates that similar to the Island, most of the riverfront were used by industries. The building of housing developments have still not dominated the southside but many developments are being planned or being built.


The next board is in front of Burrell’s Wharf and illustrates one of the businesses that dominated this part of the riverfront, Burrell & Company were oil refiners and manufacturers of paints, varnishes and colours. From the late 1880s until the early 1920s a number of stores, warehouses and workshops appeared on the site. Earlier buildings on the site were also used especially from the famous Scott Russell and Fairbairn’s works.


The board pays tribute to the many women who worked in the many industries on the Island, Burrell’s employed many women in their business until it closed in 1986.

A little further along the riverfront is another board which marks the location of one of Islands most famous events, the launch of the Great Eastern in 1857.


In the 19th century, the Thames foreshore from Blackwall around the Isle of Dogs  to Limehouse was known for  the many shipyards. However, the building of the Great Eastern between 1854 and 1859 at the Millwall Iron works was on a scale never seen before. It was undertaken by Isambard Kingdom Brunel the most famous engineer of his day and John Scott Russell  the famous Naval architect. The ship was four times bigger than any ship built before weighing 21,000 tons, 692ft long with a beam of 83ft.


One of the major problems was how to launch the ‘monster ship’, Brunel’s solution was to launch the ship sideways using chains and cradles. Unfortunately, the ship got stuck and it took months to finally float the ship in the Thames, by this time Brunel and the shipbuilders became a bit of a laughing stock. The ship seemed ill fated and had significant problems before it was ready for service. Remarkably part of the wooden structure from the launch is still  there and looking down onto the foreshore, further remains of the launch can be spotted.

This part of the walk covers the south end of the Island, the next part will take us along the western side usually associated with Millwall. This side was the location of windmills in the 18th century before the building of the West India Docks which transformed  this rural part of the Island into an industrial and trading centre.

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

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

For downloads and more information visit:


Farewell to the old St Luke’s Church, Millwall


Buildings being demolished is not an unusual site on the Isle of Dogs, however walking down Alpha Grove I was surprised by the sight of a demolition squad knocking down the remains of St Luke’s Church Millwall.


The building had become very run down in recent years and plans are in hand for a new church and community centre on the site.  When this church is built it will carry on the tradition of  church buildings on the site since 1868.

st lukes 1870

The first church was built in 1868 on land donated by Lady Margaret Charteris and Lord Stafford, it was considered quite a grand church for the area seating 700. The architect was E. L. Blackburne  who had earlier restored Crosby Hall in Bishopsgate.

A mission hall was built on to the south side of the church in 1883. It was converted into a chapel when new parish rooms were built in 1912. There was also a Gothic-style vicarage  built on the site  in 1873.

The church became an important part of the local community and as the following 1937 newspaper report  states the scene of an occasional  drama.

Pretty 25-year-old Gladys Kite, dressmaker, of Havannah street, Millwall, sobbed as she told how for the third time her marriage had been postponed.
She was to have married Mr Ernest Jolly, aged 22, of Wanlip-road, West Ham under-manager in a Dagenham refrigerator factory.
‘We were to have been married in June,” said Miss Kite. “Later we made arrangements for a wedding in September. ”
Then Ernest fell out of work, so waited until to-day.
“We had rented a flat at Ilford and had been paying for it for five weeks. We had been friends for eight years.
“When I saw Ernest last night I laughingly told him I would keep the ring in case he forgot to bring it to the church.”

For two hours she waited for him at her home, dressed in a bridal gown and carrying a bouquet of white lilies,her blonde hair specially waved, she waited to hand him the ring before she left for St, Luke’s Church.
“My uncle Stephen arrived at 1.5o p.m., “and told me Ernest had disappeared,” she added.
“We waited two hours before some one went round to the church to tell the guests there would be no wedding.
“Ernest had been living with my parents for the” last month.” but it was arranged that he should spend last night with my uncle.
“He kissed me good-night, and left”  Stephen Kite, the uncle, of North-street, Barking, said “Ernest went shopping, returned, told me the friend who was to have brought his wedding suit had not arrived, and said he had better go and see about it.”
No one had seen him since.

It was not to be third time lucky for poor Gladys , and within a few years the church itself was unlucky when it was badly damaged in the Second World War.


By 1960 the decision was made to demolish the church, however a chapel with stained-glass windows was made at the east end of the parish rooms and consecrated for worship.

st lukes interior 1960s

St Luke’s Church Interior 1960

This chapel and the parish rooms was only ever intended to be a temporary solution but was used for the next 54 years.

st lukes

The design for  the new church with community centre are in keeping with the church at the centre  of the local community, however the destruction of the last remnant of the old church will be viewed with some sadness by a few islanders as a loss of a connection with the past.



The Isle of Dogs by Thomas Wright 1867


Workers in a Isle of Dogs Foundry mid 19th century

Thomas Wright (12 April 1839 – 19 February 1909) was an English author who wrote predominantly  about the  working conditions in England.

What made him unusual was he was a working man himself, travelling around finding work as a labourer in a engineering firm. Even when he became a writer he was known as the ‘The Journeyman Engineer ‘.

He was mostly self taught and had a number of books published, his most popular being Some Habits and Customs of the Working Classes (1867), The Great Unwashed (1868), and Our New Masters (1873).

The following essay is from Some Habits and Customs of the Working Classes when he visits the Isle of Dogs and describes the industries and the considerable Scottish influences.

millwall docks 1867

Building the Millwall Docks 1867

One of the most interesting, and in many respects representative of these little known districts, is the Isle of Dogs. “The island,” as it is familiarly called – although properly speaking it is a peninsula – is not very pleasant in its physical features. It is situated about six miles below London Bridge, and lies considerably lower than the level of the river, which is only prevented from overflowing it by strong embankments. As owing to its exceedingly low level it cannot he efficiently drained, it is very marshy; broad ditches of filthy water running on each side of its main road. To a casual observer it would appear that a visit to the island could only be interesting to persons who wished to study a peculiar style of dwelling- house architecture, the effect of which is that a dissolution of partnership takes place between the woodwork and brickwork of the lower stories before the upper ones are built; or to antiquarians desirous of seeing what the roads of England were like before Macadam was born or commissioners of paving created. And while its slushy, ill-formed roads, its tumble-down buildings, stagnant ditches, and tracts of marshy, rubbish-filled waste ground make the outward appearance of the island unpleasant to the sight, chemical works, tar manufactories, and similar establishments render its atmosphere equally unpleasant to the olfactory sense. Nevertheless, there is much that is interesting in the Isle of Dogs. I have somewhere seen this district described as the Birmingham of London; but I think that the “Manchester of London would convey a much more accurate idea of the kind of place the Isle of Dogs really is.
But in the Isle of Dogs, as in Manchester, the articles manufactured are large, important, and of an eminently utilitarian character.


Launch of the Northumberland 1866

  On “the island” is centred the iron ship building and marine engineering of the Thames. There are more than a dozen ship and marine engine building establishments upon it, amongst them being the gigantic one in which the operations of the Millwall Iron Works Company are carried on, and in which the Great Eastern, the large Government armour-plated ram Northumberland, and many other of the largest merchantmen and vessels of war afloat have been built. Here, too, a great portion of the armour-plate with which our own and foreign nations are encasing their ships of war, and with which the coast defences and other fortifications of Russia are being strengthened, is manufactured. The works of this company alone employ on an average 4000 men and boys, and the other ship and marine engine works on the island employ from 2000 to 100 men each. It would be within the mark to say that the shipbuilding and marine engineering of the Isle of Dogs gives employment to 15,000 men and boys; and, in addition to these shipbuilding establishments, there are on the island tar, white-lead, chemical, candle, and numerous other factories, which afford employment to a large number of men. There are two townships on the island-namely, Cubitt Town and Millwall, and it is in the latter place that a major portion of the manufactories of the island are situated; and Millwall is the place usually indicated when “the island” is spoken of by the inhabitants of the locality.

valiant 1863
Launch of the Valiant 1863

 Any person having a practical acquaintance with the construction of iron ships would naturally expect to find a sprinkling of Scotchmen among the inhabitants of the island; for the mechanics who learn their trade in the shipbuilding establishments of the Clyde are among the most proficient workmen in “the trade,” and the wages paid to this class  of mechanics being as a rule considerably higher in England than in Scotland, it follows as a natural consequence that many Scotch mechanics come to London. The expectation to meet with the Scottish element in the Isle of Dogs is more than realized, for one of the first things that strikes the visitor is the preponderance of this element, as manifested by the prevalence of the Scottish dialect and Christian names. “Do ye no ken sting’n the wee boy, ye ill-faur’d limmer, ye?” were the first words that greeted my ears on landing on the island on the occasion of my first visit to it, the exclamation having been uttered by a pretty little Scotch lassie about eight or nine years of age, who was in pursuit of a wasp under the impression that it was the same one that had on the previous day stung a “wee boy” whom she had been nursing. As I journeyed into the interior of the island the striking, distinctly-marked Scotch accent and phraseology continued to strike on my ear at almost every step; for owing to the sharp ringing noise caused by the riveting hammers which are at work in all parts of the island for many hours in the day, the inhabitants acquire a habit of speaking very loud when in the streets. And thus the broadly-accented “How are ye?” and the “Brawly, how are ye?” which the gude wives exchange when they meet, and the invitations to come awa’ in (to a public-house) and have “twa penny-worth,” or “a wee drap dram,” reach my ears. During meal hours, and the early part of the evening, when the workmen are passing through the streets, the ascendancy of the Scottish tongue is still more apparent, and Sandy, Pate, and Andrew are the names that are most frequently exchanged as the men from the various workshops salute each other while passing to and from their work. At these times a good deal of chaffing goes on among the workmen, and in this species of encounter, the dry humorous Scotchmen have very much the best of it. But as the burly Lancashire men on whom the Northern wit is chiefly exercised, are as good- tempered as they are big, and the dapper, sprightly Cockneys who occasionally join in the encounter are unable to realize the idea that they are getting the worst of a contest of wit with countrymen, the unpleasant consequences to which chaffing often leads are obviated here.
Of course, in a locality so favoured by Scotland’s children, there is a kirk, and a very comfortable little kirk it is, and equally of course the patriotism of the “whisky” drinkers is appealed to by such public-house signs as “The Burns” and “The Highland Mary;” and it must be confessed that on the island the public-houses are a much greater success than the kirk.
Life in the Isle of Dogs commences at a very early hour, and that “horrid example” in sluggards who always wanted a little more sleep, would have had great difficulty in obtaining it after five o’clock in the morning, had it been his fate to live on the Isle of Dogs. At that hour a sound of hurrying to and fro begins, heavily nailed shoes patter over the pavement, windows are thrown up, and shouts of ” Can you tell us what time it is, mate?” or “Do you ken what time it is, laddie?” are answered by other shouts conveying the required information; while knockers are plied by those who are “giving a mate a call” with extraordinary energy and persistence. By a quarter-past five the sound of footsteps has increased until it resembles the marching of an army, and from that time till ten minutes to six it continues unabated. It then rapidly decreases and becomes irregular. At  five minutes to six the workshop bells ring out their summons, and then those operatives who are still on the road change their walk into a run. In the midst of all this bustle rise shrill cries of “Hot coffee a ha’penny a cup,” “Baked taters, all hot,” and “Cough no more, gentlemen, cough no more,” this latter being the trade cry of the vendors of “medicated lozenges.” Before the hubbub raised by “the gathering of the clans” of workmen has fairly subsided, the sharp ringing of the riveting hammers, and the heavy throbbing sound of working machinery commences; and by half-past six life on the island is in full swing. At half-past eight the workmen come out to breakfast; and at that time the gates of the various large workshops are surrounded by male and female vendors of herrings, watercress, shrimps, or whatever other breakfast “relishes” are in season. The instant the breakfast bells ring the workmen rush out through the workshop gates, some hastening to their homes, and others into the numerous coffee-shops in the immediate neighbourhood of the yards. A good breakfast of coffee, bread and butter, and an egg, can be got here for fourpence-halfpenny. Forty minutes are allowed for the discussion of the morning meal. During dinner hour, which is from one till two, and from half-past five till half-past six in the evening (in the workshops that are closed at one on Saturdays the men work till six in the evening on the other five working days of the week, in those where they work till four on Saturdays they leave off work on other days at half-past five), the streets of the island are again alive with the crowds of hurrying workmen. But during working hours the streets are comparatively deserted, save by children, and the numerical force of the juvenile section of the inhabitants of the island does great credit to the papas and mammas, for though the island is generally considered a very unhealthy place, the children as a rule appear to be robust.

The Strange Story of Samuel Wood’s Accident 1737

William Hogarth_1747_Industry and Idleness - Plate 5 - The Idle 'Prentice turned away, and sent to Sea_263x345

Hogarth’s Idle Apprentice shows the windmills on the Isle of Dogs 1747

In the 18th century the Isle of Dogs were largely uninhabited but there were on the west side of the Island a series of windmills from as early as 1700s from which Millwall got its name.

One  Mill near to the top of the Island was built in 1730 and 61-year lease was granted  to Thomas Rawson, miller, of Poplar. The site, with 150ft of river frontage, covered three acres.

However it had a new owner in 1735  belonging to Nicholas Felton, miller, of Rotherhithe. It was in Felton’s windmill in 1737 that an accident took place and a young worker named Samuel Wood suffered a horrific injury.

L0018528 Samuel Wood, a man whose shoulder and arm were torn off in a

Samuel Wood engraving with an inset of how the accident happened

An article from Portraits, memoirs, and characters, of remarkable persons, from the revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II. Collected from the most authentic accounts extant (1819) gives us more details of the accident,

THIS man, a native of Worcestershire, was employed by a miller on the Isle of Dogs, nearly opposite Greenwich. On the 15th of August, 1737, being engaged as usual in the duty of the mill, he, unfortunately, at the time it was in full action, became entangled in the cogs of the wheel, which, carrying him completely round, placed him in the most imminent peril of his life, and lacerated his arm from his body. He was providentially thrown on a quantity of meal, but lay for a considerable time in a helpless condition before he was discovered ; and, on the day following the accident, was conveyed to St. Thomas’s Hospital, Southwark, where he remained until a perfect cure was effected by surgeon Ferne.

With the money he collected, and the assistance of some friends, he was enabled, after his discharge from the hospital, to open a public-house in the Mile-end-road, and was living there in the year 1763. He also obtained the situation of a custom-house-officer.

What caused the considerable interest in the case was not just the accident  which was not probably that rare but the fact that Samuel Wood made a full recovery.


Another engraving of Samuel Wood with the Windmill in the distance

This attracted the interest of the medical profession and the accident was described in some detail by Guy’s Hospital surgeon John Belchier FRS (1706-1785) in the Philosophical Transactions.

Belchier was interested both in the severe nature of the accident  but also in Samuel’s survival.

Samuel Wood, about 26 Years of Age, Servant to  Mr Felton, being at work in one of the Mills near the Isle of Dogs,  and going to fetch a sack of corn from the further part of the Mill, in order to convey it up into the hopper, carefully took with him a rope, at the end of which was a Slip-knot, which he had put round his wrist; and passing by one of the large wheels, the cogs of it caught hold of the rope, and he not being able to disengage his Hand instantly, was drawn towards the Wheel, and raised off the Ground, till his body being check’d by the Beam which supports the Axis of the Wheel, his arm with the shoulder-blade was separated from it.

At the time the Accident happen’d, he says he was not sensible of any pain, but only felt a tingling about the wound, and being a good deal surprised, did not know that his arm was torn off, till he saw it in the wheel.

When he was a little recover’d, he came down a narrow ladder to the first floor of the Mill, where his brother was, who seeing his condition, ran, down stairs immediately out of the Mill to a house adjacent to the next Mill, which is about a hundred yards distant from the place where the Accident happen’d, and alarm’d the inhabitants with what had happen’d to his Brother, but before they could get out of the  house to his assistance, the poor man had walk’d by himself to within about ten Yards of the house, where, being quite spent by the great effusions of Blood, he fainted away, and lay on the Ground .

They immediately took him up, and carried him into the house, and strewed a large quantity of Loaf- Sugar powder into the Wound, in order to check the blood, till they could have the assistance of a Surgeon, whom they sent instantly for to Limehouse.

But the messenger being very much frightened, could not give the Surgeon a clear idea of the Accident, for that when he came to see the condition the man was in, he had no dressings with him for an Accident of that Kind ; but had brought with him an apparatus for a broken Arm, which he understood by what he could learn from the messenger to be the case; however, he sent home for proper dressings, and when he came to examine particularly into the Wound, in order to secure the large bloodvessels, there was not the least appearance of any, nor any effusions of blood ; for having first brought the fleshy Parts of the Wound as near together as he could by means of a needle and ligature, he dosed him up with a warm Digestive, and apply’d a proper Bandage.

The next Morning he open’d the wound again in Company with two Surgeons more ; and not perceiving any effusions of blood at that time, he dressed him as before, and sent him in the afternoon to St. Thomas’s Hospital, where he was admitted a patient under the Care of Mr Ferne, from which time he was constantly attended, in expectation of a haemorrhage of blood from the Subclavian Artery ; but there being no appearance of fresh Bleeding, it was not thought proper to remove the dressings during the space of four days, when Mr Feme open’d the Wound, at which time likewise there was not the least appearance of any bloodvessels  so he dressed him up again, and in about two months time the cure was entirely completed.

Upon examining the arm within a day or two after it was separated from the Body, I found the scapula fractured transversley, as were likewise the Radius and Ulna in two places : But whether these Bones were fractured before the arm was torn off, the man cannot possibly judge.

But what is very surprizing is, that the Subclavian Artery, which could never be got at to be secured by Art, should not bleed at all after the first dressing; the Artery being separated so happily, that when the parts of it were contracted, the fleshy parts pressed against the mouth of it, and prevented any effusion of blood.

As this case is very singular, and so remarkable, that no history can furnish us with any instance similar to it, in order to give a particular account of it, besides visiting the Man frequently, from his first admittance into the Hospital, and getting from him what Information he was capable of giving me, I went myself two days ago to the Mill where the accident happened,and inquir’d into every particular circumstance relating to the fact, of Mr Felton, with whom the Man work’d, the woman of the House where the man was carried into, and the Surgeon that dressed him, who all certified to me what is above related ; and for the farther satisfaction of the Society, I have brought the man himself, and likewise the arm, just as ’twas torn from his body, which has been kept in Spirits ever since the accident happen’d.

Although we might be appalled at Mr Belchier’s insensitivity at taking Samuel Wood and his detached arm to show to the Society, the fact was that the case made Samuel Wood into a bit of a celebrity and engravings of him and his arm were sold in the streets and may be how he was able to open the tavern in Mile End.

It  is clear from the Doctor’s report that in such a severe accident they would have expected Samuel to bleed to death or die from infections which was probably what happened to the majority of people who suffered such injuries, but what probably saved Samuel was that for some reason  he did not lose a lot of  blood and the wound was kept clean and was closed very quickly which prevented infection.


The Launch of the SS Great Eastern 1858


 photograph by Robert Howlett

In the 19th century, the Thames foreshore from Blackwall around the Isle of Dogs  to Limehouse were dotted  with shipyards.

However the building of the Great Eastern between 1854 and 1859 at the Millwall Iron works was on a scale never seen before. It was undertaken by the Victorian dream team of Isambard Kingdom Brunel the most famous engineer of his day and John Scott Russell  the famous Naval architect.

Although the ship would be four times bigger than any ship built before weighing 21,000 tons, 692ft long with a beam of 83ft, there was great confidence that the ship would even eclipse the Crystal Palace as the greatest example of Victorian engineering.


Photo National Maritime Museum

Brunel’s reason for building the ship  this big was simple, it was expected that ship would undertake the lucrative routes to India and Australia and a ship this size could take enough coal to make the journey without refuelling.

scott russell 1854

(Inside Russell’s shipyard casting a large cylinder for  the ship 1856)

He also selected the site on the Isle of Dogs  due to the available skilled workforce and shipbuilding machinery available.

One major problem was how to launch the ship,  due to the fact that  no dock was big enough, Brunel’s solution was to launch the ship sideways using cables and chains. Nothing had been attempted on this scale before, but Brunel was confident that his calculations were correct to allow the launch to go ahead.

In 1850s the  widespread interest in the ship’ s launch meant that a large number of small ships and steamers gave sightseeing tours of the “Monster Steamship” as it was known.

Because Brunel knew the launch would be fraught with difficulty he was keen to keep the whole thing low-key, however the ship company sold thousands of tickets for the launch and every available vantage point was taken on land as well as on the river.


 photograph by Robert Howlett

A newspaper report records what happened next :

We now proceed to give the history of the proceedings on the 3rd of November. Precisely at half-past 11 o’clock the ceremony of christening the ship was gracefully and spiritedly performed by Miss Hope, the daughter of the chairman of the company— the ‘Leviathan’ being the name selected. As soon as this form had been gone through, Mr  Brunel gave the signal for knocking away the few last remaining ‘shores ‘ and ‘stays,’ and now the mighty machine stood supported solely on her cradles, awaiting the relaxation of the checking cables), which up to this moment had been kept perfectly taut. . The first step necessary was to relax the checking cables; and this part of the process was begun shortly after mid-day. The operation had proceeded so far us was necessary to permit the application of the tractive and motive power, when almost before the latter had been brought to bear the vessel suddenly acquired motion, and more quickly than was expected moved towards the water. One consequence of this unforeseen rapidity in her change of position was a violent revolution of the brakes attached to the sternmost checking cable, the handles of which, suddenly flying round, unhappily struck several workmen nearest to them, causing severe fractures, and other serious injuries. Great alarm was naturally caused by this misadventure, but Mr  Brunel preserved an admirable presence of mind, and by his example, encouraging the assistants, the checking machinery was reapplied, and the motion of the vessel stayed.

The injured men were removed to the Poplar Hospital, and as soon as the excitement had subsided Mr Brunel again applied himself to carry out the object of the day. In his mind the one great point of vessel’s motion had been achieved. But the facility which had taken place suggested danger of a precipitate descent to the water, and consequent jeopardy to the lighters to which the tractive tackle was attached. He immediately determined to preclude this possible risk by removing the lighters referred to, and dispensing with the tractive chains communicating with them, The delay thus occasion made it 2 o’clock before another signal for the checking cables could be given. No doubt, however, was entertained that the vessel would not be afloat in the course of the afternoon. The cables having been again relaxed, the entire power of the hydraulic pumps and the stationary engine to the vessel’s stem were set in motion ; and expectancy was again strained to its utmost pitch.  The pumps and the steam winch continued to work without producing any effect, till a startling sound as of the snapping of metal was heard. This was found to arise from the fracture of several teeth in the cog wheel of the steam winch in connection with the engine, which produced such an overwhelming pressure on the cable at the stern of the ship that one of the links gave way. This additional loss of tractive power put an end to the possibility of launching the ship on that day. There was no time to effect the necessary repairs before the highest flow of the next day’s tide; would therefore it, became inevitable to defer the entire operation until the December spring tides— an announcement which Mr Brunel himself made with entire confidence of success at the period specified.

It was surprise to many that the ship was named the Leviathan as she had been known as the Great Eastern  when she was being built.

The failure to launch made Brunel and Scott Russell a laughing stock and financially bankrupted the Eastern Steam Navigation Company and  John Scott Russell. The stress bought about a period of ill health for Brunel who worked tirelessly to find a way to launch the ship.


After the launch (National Maritime Museum)

Over the next few months  the ship was slowly edged down the slipway inches at a time until when the actually launch came about in February it was a bit of a anti climax, once again a newspaper report of the day takes up the story.

LAUNCH OF THE LEVIATHAN. On Sunday afternoon, February 1st, the long protracted process of launching this vessel was happily brought to a successful termination, and the Leviathan was floated of her ways and towed to her moorings in the river. The whole affair was effected with such perfect regularity, and with so much the appearance of its being quite a matter of course and every day occurrence, that it is almost difficult to discover any incident to distinguish it from other events of the same kind which take place along the river’s bank at each full tide. It had been resolved to launch her on the Friday, but this intention was frustrated for two days by a sudden change of wind, which it is said would have rendered it madness to have attempted to float her. The monster vessel moved easily, and with such a low rate of pressure that a short time gave an advance of a few inches, which showed that more than half the cradles were quite pushed off the ways and rested on the river bottom. At half past one the men in the row boats stationed alongside observed that she no longer rested on the cradles—that she was, in fact, afloat, but, of course, the transition was so gradual that few were aware of it until the tugs began steaming ahead, and showed that at last she was fairly under way. Then the cheers which arose spread the great news far and wide, and thus, under the most favourable circumstances the Leviathan commenced her first voyage on the Thames. Two powerful tug boats were at her bows and two were fastened astern. Other steamers also were in attendance and rendered their aid, but the efforts of the four who have mentioned were mainly instrumental in managing her. During the progress’ of the vessel an extraordinary scene took place. When her stern cradle had been relieved from the. great, weight which had reposed upon it, the immense timbers parted and darted above the surface of the water, point upwards, like shoals of springing porpoises. Another incident attracted considerable attention, and at first caused some amount of unnecessary alarm. The immense chains which had held the vessel on land were one by one released, and as they glided through the hawse-holes they created a sound like heavy peals of thunder, which, until the cause was ascertained, induced people to believe that some accident had occurred or some part of the tackle given way. During the afternoon the various river steamers came down crowded to excess; the numerous occupants of which joined in the congratulations which everywhere awaited Mr  Brunel. Every point of land, too, where a view of the proceedings of the ship could be obtained was densely crowded ; and a feeling of the liveliest satisfaction seemed to be expressed in the countenances of all present. Thousands of persons continued to flock down to Millwall and Deptford. up to an advanced hour, and the church bells of the latter place rung out a merry peal in honour of the occasion. It will be very gratifying to those who take an interest in the success of Mr Scott Russell’s noble ship to know that she has not sustained the slightest blemish, and that her ” shear” is as free from defect as before the launch was attempted. The vessel will remain in her present position, opposite Deptford, until she has been fitted—a process which will occupy from four to five months.

Although afloat there was not the money to fit the ship out to the standard promised , therefore it did not attract the numbers of passengers expected. A series of technical problems also contributed to the idea that the ship was dogged by bad luck.

The death of Brunel a few days after its maiden journey did not help matters and although it did a few transatlantic journeys, its days as a passenger liner were numbered.

To pay off some of its debts , the company leased the ship to a company to enable them to lay a transatlantic cable, eventually even this type of undertaking ended and the ship ended up as a public attraction in Liverpool and finally in 1886 was broken up on a beach near Liverpool.

The ship may have come to a sad end, but if you go to the site near Burrells Wharf , you will come across some of the wooden part of the launch infrastructure which has been preserved .


There are also remains of the site  at low tide, the slip way is visible near the Clipper pontoon.


If you walk down to the Burrell’s Wharf development , you will find the plate house which was part of the ship yard and  the place where the large pieces of metal were handled.


If you walk onto Westferry Road the name of  J Scott Russell still remains over the old offices.

scott rusell

And there is a blue plaque to mark the spot where the great ship was built.



Frank Scurry Hewitt of Millwall – The Fastest Pedestrian in the World

hewitt state library of victoris - Copy

State Library of Victoria

Last year I wrote a post about John Arthur Trudgen, a local hero  who although virtually unknown now, in his day he was a champion swimmer and  had a stroke named after him.

Recently I came across another 19th century sporting  local hero who found fame here and around the world.

Frank Scurry Hewitt was born in Ireland, but later lived and worked in Millwall, when he began his athletic career he was known as Frank Hewitt from Millwall. When he was an old man he told a newspaper about his origins.

It was in 1863 I ran my first race at Bow running grounds, England, for £5 aside, 440 yards. The old Sporting Life was stakeholder and referee. They paid me all in sovereigns. I had never had so much money in my possession. I wrapped it up in my handkerchief, and was very frightened till I got safely back to Millwall. I gave it to my mate, who backed me and gave me half of the stake. I was then working on the wonderful iron ram Northumberland, and great people came from all parts of the world to look at her. She then was the wonder of the world — only had to get steam! up, ram the other fellow, and that was the end of it.

‘My father’s regiment, Her Majesty’s 24th Green’s, was stationed in Dublin Barracks. My mother, a beautiful woman, could speak seven different languages. They lived in Limerick, in George-street, where I was born on May 8, 1845. My father was Major Francis Scurry — that is my name. As I entered in Sheffield handicaps as Frank Hewitt, I have always been called Hewitt.

(The Northumberland he is referring to is the HMS Northumberland which was built in the Millwall Iron Works and launched in 1866.)

Amateur Athletics of the time was dominated by runners with independent wealth or those who were backed by rich patrons, for others the only way to make a living in running or ‘Pedestrianism’ as it was known was to run in matches against other runners for a cash purse.

This is how Frank Scurry Hewitt of Millwall made his name by winning a number of races all over England, the Sportsman magazine gives a list of his more notable races.

frank hewitt - Copy

State Library of Victoria

Frank Hewitt of Millwall  is the best  all round’ man the English foot racing arena has possessed for some years,, was born on May 8, 1845, and stands 5ft 8 in. in height His first appearance in the pedestrian arena was in 1863, with Springhall, of London, a quarter of a mile, for £5 a side, at the Bow Running Grounds, Hewitt winning easily.

Smith was next pitted against him, at the same enclosure, the latter allowing his opponent 10 yards start in 440, for £10 a-side. when Hewitt was again successful, Hawkins then , opposed Hewitt, the same distance as the previous matches, for £10 a-side ; the men met on the Chatham and Maidstone-road, when Hewitt was again victorious.

A silver challenge cup way given to be competed for at Greenwich, which was also won by Hewitt, beating a field of 15 others. In 1866 he went to Sheffield, and succeeded in carrying off a £40 handicap. The Marquis of Queensberry  and other noblemen and gentlemen having promoted a 150 yards and a quarter of a mile handicaps at the Crystal Palace, Hewitt was one of the men who entered. In the 150 yards race he was defeated by W. Brown, of Manchester (to whom he gave a yard and a half), by a foot He, however, won the 440 yards handicap by five yards, taking the first prize, £25.

He next received £10 forfeit from J. Heeley, .of Lowerhouses, who was matched to run him 250 yards. He also received £2 of Cobbler Wood, from Sheffield, for their match, distance 150 yards. They were afterwards matched for £25 a-side to run the same distance, and the race took place at Hyde park, Sheffield, and was witnessed by upwards of 6,000 spectators. The result was never in doubt, Hewitt winning easily by four yards.

Rothwell of Bury, then matched himself with Hewitt to run 440 yards for £25 a-side, and they met at the Royal Oak-park Grounds, Manchester. Odds of 3 to 1 were laid on Hewitt, who won by a yard. He next competed in Mr Cooper’s quarter of a mile sweepstakes of £5 each, eight of the quickest men in England contesting. Fortune again favoured Hewitt, for he won in a most masterly style, and took the first prize £4o, and a splendid silver cup, given by the promoter ; Hayward, of Rochdale, was second ; and Mole, of Walsall, third.

In September, 1867, he ran J. Nuttall, of Manchester, 440 yards, for £25 a-side, at Hyde-park, Sheffield, Nuttall allowing his opponent four yards start. Hewitt won easily. In April, 1868, he won the first prize in a mile handicap sweep stakes of £5 each, at Manchester, to which was added by Mr Cooper, a silver challenge cup, value 60gs. and £30 in money, Hewitt defeating Albert Bird, who received 15 yards start; R. Hindle, of Paisley; and McInstray, of Glasgow, after an exciting struggle, by a foot, in 4m. 21s. He shortly afterwards ran second to R. Buttery, of Sheffield, in an 800 yards handicap, for which £100 was given by Mr  Cooper, at the Royal Oak Park grounds, Manchester.

On August 17, last year, he beat J. Ridley, of Gateshead, on handicap terms, distance 880 yards, for £50 a-side, at Hyde-park, Hewitt having 12 yards start, and his opponent 25 yards start. The betting was in favour of Hewitt at 5 to 4, a huge amount of money changing hands, and he won a most exciting race by three yards; time, lm. 54s.

In 1869 Frank Hewitt with a few other English pedestrians travelled to Australia and New Zealand and successfully beat many of the local pedestrians.

hewitt harris

State Library of Victoria

One of his most famous series of races was against local champion  J. G.  Harris at what became the Melbourne Cricket ground in front of a crowd estimated at 20,000. A local newspaper gives the results.

 One of his principal races is that colony was with Harris. At 100 yards Hewitt won, at 200 yards Harris won, at 300 yards there was a dead heat, and at 440 yards Hewitt won easily. The run-off of 300 yards, for £200 a-side, was won by Hewitt.

dead heat harris

State Library of Victoria

After this great success, Hewitt stayed in Australia and became a great favourite amongst the pedestrian fans.

He carried on running and winning races  into his forties, and was well respected for his opinion on Athletics  in his later life.

A Sydney paper reported his death in 1926

Frank Hewitt

SYDNEY, Saturday.

Frank Hewitt, one of the greatest footrunners Australia has ever known, died here to-day. Fifty-seven years ago Hewitt came to Australia from England, with two other pedestrians. Bird and Topley. He began his Australian career at Melbourne in 1870 where he ran a match on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, against J. G. Harris over 100, 200, 300 and 440 yards. They were wonderful contests. Hewitt won the 100 yards by a foot, the 300 yards was a dead-heat, Harris won the 200 yards, and Hewitt easily won the 440 yards event. At the time of his death the old champion was 81.

Although timings were difficult to confirm , Hewitt is credited with running 100 yards in just under 10 secs, 142yds in 13 sec, 300yds in 30sec, 400yds in 43sec. and 880yds in 1 min 53sec.

It was widely reported that he broke the Half Mile world record in Christchurch, New Zealand in the time of  1 min 53.1 secs.

There is no doubt that he was one of the most famous pedestrians in the world before the Olympic movement started and excelled over a wide range of distance from 50 yards to a mile, in his long career in Australia, he never forgot his Millwall connections by always insisting that he was to known as Frank Hewitt of Millwall.

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Island Gardens and Isle of Dogs


Island Gardens

Many thanks once again to Eric Pemberton who has sent a fascinating set of postcards and photographs.

The first three show Island Gardens in the early 20th century,  in the 19th century and early 20th century there were very little space on the riverfront that had not been taken over by industries. This small parcel of land had been protected due to the fact the land had been owned by the Admiralty who wanted to protect the view to and from Greenwich. Local MP Will Crooks and others fought to use this land to provide a park for local people.


The postcards  show the gardens were set up to be enjoyed by the local population and a bandstand was often used to provide music at the weekends.


Island Gardens


Great Catholic Procession through Poplar – Annual Event from the church of St Mary and St. Joseph processing down East India Dock Road July 1931.

Poplar like many areas of the East End had a large Catholic population and the annual processions were watched by thousands of people, the parades continued up to the 1960s

post 9

Early 20th century postcards of Millwall

eric2222222 - Copy

Primitive Methodist Church – Cubitt Town

There was a chapel on the site from 1862 but was rebuilt in 1905, demolished in 1978.

Eric Pemberton is part of a group aiming to protect Island Gardens from development, the group have started a petition , if you wish to sign the petition  click here

Other posts you may find interesting

Room for a View ? The Battle of Island Gardens

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – The Battle of Stepney

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

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