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William Heath Robinson was a cartoonist and illustrator best known for drawings of ridiculously complicated machines. Even today, the term ‘Heath Robinson’ is used by many to describe a complex complicated machine that is constructed from everyday items.
However , he had a brother Thomas who was also a talented cartoonist and illustrator and was known for his book and magazine illustrations, and it was looking through a Strand magazine of 1905 when I came across these illustrations.
The article it illustrated was “”Off the track in London” by George R. Sims which I have featured before, but the illustrations bring some of the article to life.
The first illustration is ” Ye Olde Jimmy Thicks ” which was apparently an eating place in Three Colt Street, Limehouse, the article gives us a little more information.
At the end of the Causeway are a few two-storey houses built into railway arches. The trains run over the top-floor ceiling. Outside they are peaceful-looking dwellings. How much peace there can be on the top floor when an express or a heavy goods train passes over them one can only conjecture.
Leaving these quaint specimens of architecture on the right, we wander in and out of a network of narrow by-ways and quaint old-world thoroughfares to find ourselves presently in Three Colt Street. We have left Oriental Limehouse behind us. Here the environment is typical of the old-fashioned Cockney district with a strong leaven of the Irish element.
Here are plenty of public-houses well filled, and here are the local gentlemen who loll against the wall and the local ladies who gossip at street corners, basket or bag on arm and latchkey on forefinger.
Three Colt Street is a shopping neighbourhood, and one in which the shoppers take the middle of the road, for here are stalls and barrows with comestibles to suit the purse of the humble housewife whose allowance from her lord and master compels her to buy in the cheapest market.
Half-way down the street is a block of old-fashioned wooden houses, which are in curious contrast to the up-to-date bustle of the inhabitants.
One of these, an eating-house, boldly announces itself as ‘Ye Olde Jimmy Thicks,’ and I take it that the ‘thicks’ are the slices of bread and butter, which are better known at the coffee stalls of the people as ‘door-steps.’
Nearly opposite these wooden houses is a public house, in the window of which the programme of a. summer outing is already displayed. ‘An outing will leave here for a day in the country first Monday in July; five shillings, including tea, cornet-player and hat.’
The hat is given that the party in the brake may all be similarly headgeared. It is a light white sun hat, suggestive of a song and dance in the cotton fields. That you may see yourself in one before you start, a photograph of the company in a former excursion, all in the ‘included hat,’ is also exhibited in the tavern window.
The second illustration ” Desolation Land” offers a view from what is now Mudchute Park and Farm looking towards the Viaduct that is now in Millwall Park.
George Sims surveys the waste land and wonders if it could not be used for better purposes, which is of course what happened with the creation of Millwall Park and Mudchute Park and Farm.
In the centre of the island lies Desolation-Land, a vast expanse of dismal waste ground and grey rubbish heaps. All round the open space is a black fringe of grim wharves and of towering chimneys, belching volumes of smoke into a lowering sky that seems to have absorbed a good deal of the industrial atmosphere.
This waste land is spanned by the soot-dripping arches of the railway, which is the one note of hope in the depressing picture, for occasionally a train dashes shrieking by towards a brighter bourne.
Across the waste, as we gaze wearily around it, borne down by our environment, comes a lonely little lad, who wheels his baby sister in a perambulator roughly constructed out of a sugar box. They are the only human beings in sight.
Years ago this desolate spot was farm land. It might yet be secured and made into a green play ground for the children, who at present have only the roads and the miniature mountains of rubbish that have gradually risen at the end of side streets closed in by factory walls. If this central desert could be secured and ‘humanised’ and turned into a healthy playground, it would be a grand thing for the Millwall that is – a grander still for the Millwall that is to be.
The third illustration is named ” St Cuthbert’s Lodge ” which regular readers of the blog will know was the home of the Reverend Free whose book Seven Years Hard has been featured on the site.
In Ingleheim Street, a turning off West Ferry Road, there is a quaint brick building that at once attracts your attention, for above it is a flagstaff, and in the wire-protected windows there are flowers.
When you go down over the rough bit of roadway that ends in a wall of corrugated iron and a suggestion of black sheds beyond you read above the doorway of the quaint building the words, ‘St. Cuthbert’s Lodge,’ and you remember that this is the address of the Rev. Richard Free, the author of that intensely human document, ‘Seven Years’ Hard,’ the story of seven years’ patient, and often heart-breaking, work among the poorest population of a land of drudgery and desolation.
When we came first upon St. Cuthbert’s Lodge, not knowing what it was, the oddness of the building struck both my colleague and myself. The suggestion it conveyed to my mind was that of a lifeboat station or ark of refuge on a lonely shore. Why it conveyed that impression I cannot say. I am inclined to imagine that somewhere on the Yarmouth shore I have, in years gone by, seen something like it.
A veritable ark of refuge has this quaint little building – with the ship masts stretching high above it – proved to many in Millwall.
Mr Free and his wife, cut off from the world, with which their one link is the little, conductorless one-horse ‘bus, have brought the love of light and colour into houses of grimness and gloom, and, taking the human view of our poor humanity, have become popular characters in the island of mighty tasks and mean surroundings, of noxious trades and pleasureless lives, an island in which there are no places of amusement of any kind.
Anyone reading Mr Free’s book would know that his stay in Millwall was not quite that easy and Millwall was not quite as grim as George Sims suggests.
Thomas’ younger brother William Heath Robinson produced a series of humorous sketches in the First World War which showed his trademark sense of humour.
The German Button Magnets 1915
After the First World War his designs become even more complex and were used in books and advertisements.
He died in 1944 but his designs are still popular and there is a move to build a Heath Robinson museum in Pinner where he spent most of his adult life.
Update : The William Heath Robinson Museum is due to open in October 2016 and an exhibition that will feature the work of both of the brothers will open in 2017.
Many thanks to Peter Higginson of the William Heath Robinson Trust for the latest updates.
Plants for the Poor (part of the Window Gardening Society) in Millwall
It has been a while since I posted an excerpt from the Reverend Free and his very entertaining book Seven Years Hard published in 1904. The Reverend undertakes his missionary work with enthusiasm, however he often despairs about his congregation and the world at large at the beginning of the 20th century.
In the following excerpt the Reverend contemplates his lack of success of attracting the locals into his church.
Christianity does not ” count ” in the East End. There are eminent exceptions to the rule, but that is the rule. The average East-ender’s indifference to, and ignorance of, Christianity and all that appertains to it are almost beyond belief In my early days at Millwall it was an impracticable feat to secure at any religious service a ” quorum,” if I may be allowed the expression. Try how we might, we could not succeed in “gathering together” even the “two or three.” It would be impossible to exaggerate the heart-sinking that would seize me when, on arriving at our temporary chapel on Sunday mornings, I would discover half-a- dozen tiny children, hand in hand, waiting for the doors to open. ” There’s our congregation ! ” I would say, not without bitterness. It seemed to me so strange and terrible that Christianity should be considered no religion for strong men and kind women.
In view of religious backwardness or shyness, one of my evangelists proposed a series of extremely simple mission services. I heartily concurred and provided him with some thousands of handbills. With these he called personally on several hundred families, from most of whom he obtained a definite promise to come to his first meeting. The good man was new to the East End, and was full of hope that he would have a crowded house. When the great evening arrived, his congregation numbered exactly twelve persons, eight of whom were regular church-goers.
Our Window Gardening Society caught on amazingly, and enormous quantities of seeds, bulbs, and plants were distributed gratis to its members. In the third year of its existence, I inaugurated an annual service, which thirty stalwarts entered into a solemn league and covenant to support, seeming really anxious to show their appreciation of the encouragement given them to cultivate flowers. ” We shall have thirty, anyhow,” observed my wife, brightly. On the appointed day we got two.
This appalling irreligiousness is one of the things it takes so long to understand. I had a notion, founded on previous experience, that a well-known man, who was both earnest and unconventional, might draw. So I invited the Rev. J. L. Lyne, the ” Llanthony Monk,” to come and stir us up. At that very time, this popular preacher was attracting immense crowds of men in the middle of the day at St. Sepulchre’s, Holborn ; but, although I advertised him unstintingly, a mere handful of people came to hear him. Millwall declined to be drawn even by his shaven pate and sandalled feet.
Apropos of Mr. Lyne’s visit, a significant story reached me. About half-an-hour before the advertised time of the meeting, one of my choirmen remarked to his brother — “I must be off, Sam. Father Ignatius is preaching to-night. There’s sure to be a fearful crush.” ” Fearful crush ! ” echoed Sam. ” Do you know Milhvall, Alf ? Why, if the Queen was advertised to do a skirt-dance, there wouldn’t be fifty people to see her.”
Well do I remember the preparations I made for the first anniversary of the dedication of St. Cuthbert’s. I invited several clergymen to preach ; I worked the choir up to tackle a special anthem ; I advertised our proposed doings on huge posters. Dedication day arrived. It was a magnificent evening. I was jubilant. ” The weather won’t keep people away,” said I to myself; ” I positively believe we shall have a congregation.” When the hour of service struck, there was not a solitary soul in church. Everybody, including the choir, had scampered off to see a procession a mile away.
Nor were we Church folk peculiar in our failure to get people interested in Christianity. At one time a determined effort was made by the Salvation Army to attract a crowd in the West Ferry Road. The men stood in the doorways, smoking their pipes with unstudied indifference ; the women foregathered at convenient corners, nursing their babies and discussing the latest scandal. A long-legged boy swung down the street, shouting, ” Are you saved ? Come to Jesus ! ” A woman cried out, ” Wy, ‘ere’s the Army now ! ” and a neighbour added, with a shrill squeal that was intended for a laugh, ” Well, I’m blest ! Let ’em all come ! ”
Previous posts you many find interesting
These excerpts are taken from the Book Seven Years Hard written by the Reverend Free in 1904.
In a previous posts we read how the Reverend Free tired of tending to well off parishioners decided he wanted to undertake some missionary work in the Isle of Dogs, when he arrives in early 1897 his first impressions are not good and very soon after he gets a not particularly friendly welcome from some of the locals. After spending some years on the Isle of Dogs and getting to know the inhabitants the Reverend Free goes on to discuss their vices and virtues.
Well, let us acknowledge at once that the life of the East-ender is more or less a closed book to us. As our experience of him increases, our understanding of him seems to decrease. The problem is larger than we anticipated ; more intimate realisation of it confounds us. The East-ender’s sorrows, his joys, his ambitions : what does the most experienced know of these, save in the most superficial way ? Keenly desirous as we are of entering into the inner meaning of the life of the toiler, the most sanguine can boast but very partial success. Brotherhood is as yet too new a word ; identity of interest has not yet become a reality. Nevertheless, the lights and shades of the picture stand out prominently. Like other people, East-enders have their virtues and their vices, their angelical moments as well as their diabolical. Certainly they are not altogether bad ; quite as certainly they are not altogether good.
The besetting sin of the East-ender is intemperance. The drink habit is all but universal. If a dock labourer is invited to a ” beano,” he forthwith begins to devise the biggest possible ” booze ” at the highest possible price. Tell a factory girl that you are going to take her for an outing, and she immediately falls a-dreaming of unlimited “treats” of port wine. Boys on a holiday regard it as quite the correct thing to get drunk. And even women have very little notion ot a day in the country apart from the bottle. Nevertheless, women are not so very culpable. For one intoxicated woman, you will probably find two intoxicated boys and three intoxicated girls.
Like most evil things in the East End, the trick of gambling is acquired early in life. Pitch-and-toss at the street corners is of the passionate kind. On a single Sunday afternoon a boy will lose as much as five or six shillings. It is difficult for the police to cope with the evil, even when they are anxious to do so, which is not always. For the lads have their scouts at every corner,and at the sotto voce cry of ” Copper!” dissolve as it were by magic. Moreover, there is always a friendly neighbour to give asylum to the young miscreants. Doors left hospitably open afford a convenient means of escape. So many streets and alleys are cul-de-sacs, that a flank movement is denied the most consummate generalship. And it really is difficult fora policeman with any dignity to insist, in the face of absolute denial from the innocent-looking tenant of a house, that his quarry is in hiding under the family bed.
Foremost among the virtues of the East-ender is his good-humour. Good-humour is the redeeming point in his character, the salt that sweetens his very impurities, the lever that lifts him from the gutter where he is prone to lie all too complacently. He has many failings, many right-down vices ; but through them all,rendering them almost tolerable, runs that rich vein of gold.
The East-ender’s good-humour exhibits itself as much in
” Quips and cranks, and wanton wiles,”
” Nod, and becks, and wreathed smiles.”
That is to say, he is fun-loving as well as amiable. His capacity for fun is enormous ; sometimes manifesting itself in sheer waggishness, at other times in the driest of dry banter, again in pungent and even delicate wit. Rarely is his smartness cruel. When it is so, it is jagged rather than keen. It does not cut ; it tears. His wit is easy and refreshingly original. Also, which is a great thing, it is without fear.
Next to his humour I should say that the East-ender’s most striking virtue is his affectionate clannishness. He will do anything for his own. Is a woman sick ? There will be no lack of willing hands to help with the children and look after the husband. Is a neighbour ” badly off,” which in East End vernacular means starving ? Somebody’s pocket is always full enough to spare a copper or two. It is not unusual for a whole street to subscribe to a present in money for a decent man or woman unusually down on their luck ; and the ” friendly lead ” for a poor fellow who has met with an accident.
Other Posts you may find interesting
Millwall Postcard 1905
These excerpts are taken from the Book Seven Years Hard written by the Reverend Free in 1904.
In a previous post we read how the Reverend Free tired of tending to well off parishioners decided he wanted to undertake some missionary work in the Isle of Dogs, when he arrives in early 1897 his first impressions are not good and very soon after he gets a not particularly friendly welcome from some of the locals.
A City of Desolation ! ” That was my first fleeting impression of Millwall ; that, more or less, has been my constant impression during my seven years’ residence here. I found the place badly lighted, astonishingly foul, inconceivably smelly, and miserably bare and lifeless. A few wretched lamps shed their fitful gleams on the prevailing filth, and not infrequently, as if tired of trying to make things the least bit cheerful, went out altogether. The streets were, as a rule, abominably dirty, and only doubtfully clean at the best of times. The mud — and oh, heavens, what mud ! — was allowed to remain in the gutters for days and even weeks together, the authorities contenting themselves with sweeping it into miniature mountains and leaving it there to rot. Mighty horses, dragging great drays behind them, plunged through these muck-heaps, scattering them hither and thither until road and sidewalk were impassable without defilement. The smells, which here as pungent and distinct as the forty-and-two of Cologne, were rendered barely tolerable by the vicinity of the river.
It was in this strange land, then, a land of many anomalies and sharp contrasts, that I was appointed to work in the winter of 1896. On January 17th, 1897, I held my first service. It was a day ever to be remembered. In the morning everything passed off quietly; the reason for which, as I subsequently discovered, was that most of the disturbing elements were abed. Our congregation consisted of two women and three children. When the time for the collection came, I remembered that we had no bag, so I accepted a kindly offer of the next best thing; and I shall never forget the depressing effect of the pennies contributed as they fell rattling into the borrowed dinner-plate.
At the evening service, things were not so peaceful. My wife was stationed at the door; and when we were in the middle of the General Confession, she was bombarded by a gang of lads, who demanded admission in less than polite terms.
” ‘Ere, alit o’ that ! ” shouted one.
” Shove ‘er over if she won’t letcher pass ! ” cried another.
” I say, miss,” piped a third, a reedy young man who appeared to be the wit of the party, ” where’s the bloke with the night-gown on ? ”
The joke was received with a tornado of merriment, and in the confusion Mrs. Free tried to explain that the room was open to all who were willing to behave themselves. But nutshells and orange-peel began to be thrown ; and she, growing alarmed, with a deft strategic movement shut and bolted the door. Then began the sensation of the evening. Somehow or other the lads improvised a battering-ram, and with this formidable weapon began to storm our citadel. For a long time the attack went on, incessant and deafening, to an accompaniment of hoarse cries and cheers, while I steadily pursued my way through psalms and prayers, instinctively aware that if I showed the white feather I should have to pay for it. When, at length, the excited crowd broke into the building, and up the flimsy staircase, our little band of worshippers sprang to their feet in dismay. My voice was inaudible, but I kept on. I wanted to conquer, if possible, by a surer weapon than force. The crowd of disorderly fellows rushed in upon us, swarming, as it seemed, one on top of the other, and gathered at the farther end of the room, as uncouth a congregation as ever ” assisted ” at a religious service.
There they betook themselves to jeering and cheering, to jocular conversation and rude remarks, cheerfully cracking nuts and crushing the shells under their feet with loud reports. I prayed for Queen and Royal Family, for Clergy and People, for ” all conditions of men ” ; I offered “most humble and hearty thanks” to God for His goodness, particularly on behalf of ” those who desire now to offer up their praises and thanksgivings for Thy mercies vouchsafed unto them in permitting them to begin this work ” ; and without a break I finished up with the Grace. The hymn before the sermon was terrific. It was mixed up with music-hall songs, catcalls and whistling. But I went through the business to the bitter end ; and sometimes I have thought that I never did anything requiring more resolution. By my sermon register I find that I took no text that evening, perhaps a pardonable omission under the circumstances ; but by the same indisputable authority I also find that on this soul-stirring occasion I spoke on the respective duties of the clergy and the laity !
This was my first experience of rowdyism in Millwall ; it was to be by no means my last. Many, many months were to elapse before the hostility, of which it was but a symptom, died a natural death ; but into particulars of that harassing period I do not purpose entering here. Suffice it to say that for a very long time existence was pretty nearly insufferable. Epithets were flung at me broadcast. Hootings, bowlings, roars of laughter followed mc as I passed up and down the West Ferry Road. The hard thing about it all was that I had to ” smile and smile,” and seem not to mind, although the ” villain ” in me was crying aloud for vengeance.
Previous posts you may be interested in
At the end of the 1890s the Reverend Richard Free and his wife decided to forego their relatively prosperous lifestyle to open a mission in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs. After seven years in the mission the Reverend Free decided to write a book of their experiences called Seven Years Hard.
Over a hundred years later, the book gives a fascinating insight into late 19th century London and the East End in particular.
The attempts of the Reverend Free to convert the locals is comical and tragic in parts and leads the Reverend to question his own beliefs.
Over the next few months i will publish excerpts from the book. We start at the beginning when the Reverend goes to visit the local bishop with a request to leave the more affluent parts to London to do some more worthwhile work.
” I am tired of preaching to silks and satins,” I said ;” rags and tatters would be a welcome change.”
The Bishop lifted grave, kind eyes, in which lurked more than a suspicion of amusement.
” I see. The conventionality of civilised society palls on you ; you want something more “
” Real ! ” I cried with conviction. The word gave me a feeling of bodily and mental vigour such as I had not known for many a long month. ” Real ! That’s it. I want to get at the foundation of things, to see human nature without its paint and gewgaws ; I want to face up to it, understand it, learn my lesson from it.”
Looking back over the seven years that have passed since these words were uttered, it seems to me that I was very young then ; and it also seems to me, as I write, that I am quite old now. For, if experience ages us, then twenty years have passed since that memorable day on which I sat in a dim little study in the heart of the City, and gazed on the scholarly face of George Forrest Browne, Bishop of Stepney.
The suspicion of amusement in the Bishop’s eyes deepened. He paused awhile, as if weighing something in his mind. Then he said, with the peculiar force and directness so characteristic of him —
” You want an unconventional sphere of labour ; you can have it. You want to see human nature in its primitive condition ; your wish can be gratified. At this very moment I need a man for pioneering missionary work. It will be rough ; it will be hard ; it will be discouraging. There is no house to live in ; there is no church to worship in ; there is no endowment, or fund, or anything of that kind to draw upon for workingexpenses. I think I can secure you a stipend of £150 a year, and I know I can put my hand on money forbuilding purposes. Well?”
I began to feel somewhat uncomfortable. The study suddenly grew gloomy, the air chilly. The Bishop spoke again —” Of course, you know the Isle of Dogs ? “
Yes. At least, I had heard of the Isle of Dogs. To tell truth, a vision of flannels, a light outrigger, broiling summer sun, and a purling stream emerged from somewhere at the back of my mind, recalling halcyon days of another period.
” Yes, I may say I know it,” I continued eagerly. ” Up river ? Twickenham way ? “
Back went the Bishop’s head, as that lurking suspicion of a smile broke at last into audible laughter.
” Oh dear, no ! Miles away from Twickenham and all that Twickenham means. Nothing so attractive, I assure you. Limehouse ! Millwall ! That’s much nearer the mark.”
I sat still. It was rather sudden. ” Limehouse ” conjured up a picture of an impure stream bounded by dirty streets ; ” Millwall ” suggested river mud and long levels of decaying vegetation. The Twickenham picture was blotted out,
” Well ? ” The Bishop looked at me keenly.
” I’ll go.”
At that moment I was conscious of something like a call. I realised that this thing had come to me uninvited, unexpected, I wanted work ; work presented itself. Not, it is true, in the way I had anticipated, but perhapsin a far better way. Another Will than mine seemed to be in the business.
” Yes, I’ll go,” I repeated with conviction,
“Perhaps you would like to think it over?”
” No. Thank you — but. No, My resolution is taken.
God helping me, I’ll do what I can,”
Two minutes later I was in St, Paul’s Churchyard,looking up at the dome in a dazed way, and vaguely conscious that I had entered upon a new phase of my life, A sense of elation, hard to define, filled me to overflowing. I was sensible of the pressure of the Bishop’s hand closing over mine in a farewell grip ; I was sensible of still another pressure, less tangible, even more real, that seemed to be driving me into new activities.
Many intelligent people, as I now know, are every whit as ignorant of the whereabouts of the Isle of Dogs as I was in the autumn of 1896. They have confounded it with the Island of Sheppey, with Isleworth, with the Isle of Man, and with the Isle of Wight. But, in more senses than one, the Isle of Dogs is far removed from any of these places. It lies close to the centre of London, it is true, snugly ensconced, as it were, in the bosom of the Thames between Ratcliff and Blackwall.As the crow flies, the cottage in which I live, grandilo-quently named St. Cuthbert’s Lodge, is as nearly as possible two miles from the Tower. The crow would be able to take in the position at a glance. He would perceive this house, so near to and yet so far from the heart of things, in a tangle of masts and chimneys, and, being a bird of parts, would doubtless chuckle at the thought that his strong wings could bear him, in a few delicious moments, over a space that takes the human biped a painful hour to traverse. He would see that from the Tower Bridge the Thames flows for a half-a-mile or so in a fairly straight line, trending very slightly to the south, but that below Wapping Old Stairs, at the entrance to the Pool immortalised by Mr. Cole, it slowly rises for a good mile and three-quarters, drops due south again, gracefully curves away to the east, and finally flings up to its original level. The space thus enclosed, measuring, roughly, a mile and a-half from north to south and a mile from east to west, is known as the Isle of Dogs. Anciently, when it formed part of Stepney Marsh, it was not even a peninsula ; but now it is an island indeed, ” entirely surrounded by water,” the West India Docks enclosing it on the north and the river closely hugging it on the other three sides.
The Isle of Dogs lies near to the heart of the great city, yet in many respects it is more remote from it than the remotest of suburbs. The difficulty of getting to it is almost incredible. Not merely must the ambitious traveller struggle with ‘bus and train, discovering to his horror that the one never by any possible chance fits in with the other — such ills are normal : human flesh is heir to them everywhere ; but he must reckon with theswing bridges, which isolate the Island like the draw-bridges of a mediaeval castle. He may be within a stone’s throw of his destination, he may have a most important engagement ; yet he must possess his soul in superhuman patience while some great liner passes by at a snail’s pace, its mighty bulk towering high above him, its outlandish name in glittering letters silently declaring the unknown country whence it comes. It is true that the law provides that the ambitious traveller shall not be tried above that he is able, and that the opening of the swing bridges shall be strictly regulated ; but because there are few people in the Isle of Dogs who care, and fewer still who have the courage to complain, the law is flouted, and men bursting with business are kept hanging about the quays, kicking their heels because the dock authorities are not available.
Nor may the ambitious traveller escape by taking to the railway. His very ticket officially informs him that the various companies ” do not hold themselves responsible for any delays which may arise in the docks through the necessary opening of the swing bridges ” ;and so the tiny primitive train, drawn by the tiny primitive engine locally known as the ” Dustbin,” whose energy is in inverse proportion to its size, may find itself stranded on the edge of the dock, snorting weak defiance, while some lordly tyrant of ten thousand tons slips from her berth with maddening deliberation, and steals down to the waiting river.
Other posts you may find interesting.
T’ is the season to be jolly