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Cubitt Town Library under threat of closure

One of my favourite old buildings on the ‘Island’ is the Cubitt Town Carnegie Library on Strattondale Street. Therefore it is with some concern that I have read that library is under threat from closure. As many people may know the ‘Island’ suffered greatly from bombing in the Second World War, one of the consequences of this was that many fine old buildings were damaged or destroyed.

One of the buildings that escaped that fate was the Cubitt Town Library on Strattondale Street. It is a pleasant surprise to come across the fine classical styled building amongst the post war houses  and modern developments.

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The library is of national and international significance being part of a the chain of Carnegie Libraries. Carnegie Libraries were built with money donated by Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, it is estimated that 2509 libraries were built between 1883 and 1929. The majority (1,689) were built-in the United States, but 660 were built-in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji. Andrew Carnegie had humble beginnings in Dunfermline before emigrating to the United States in 1848. Carnegie over the next two decades through hard work and clever investments became a very wealthy man. Carnegie never forgot his background and looked at ways to use his wealth to help people from a poor background. With his love of books and reading, Carnegie believed that establishing public libraries was a way to encourage people to aspire to move beyond their poor backgrounds. To get local support he provided the funding to build and equip the Library and the local authority provided the land and money to maintain its operation.

Painting by Rebecca Mitchell

Cubitt Town Library was built after the Mayor of Poplar heard Carnegie speak in 1902 and soon afterwards made the application and set about raising funds. It was officially opened by well known local politician Will Crooks in 1905.

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Cubitt Town library, one of the 660 in Britain and Ireland was part of a movement that developed what we consider the modern library. One of the innovations of the libraries was the idea of open stacks that encouraged people to browse and choose books for themselves.

A Poplar Guide of 1927 relates with pride “The Cubitt Town Free Library, opened in January, 1905, in Strattondale Street, is on the ‘Open Access’ system, by which means borrowers can select their own volumes from the shelves with full satisfaction to themselves and a saving of time to all concerned: the library is open from 9 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.”

Before Carnegie libraries, in most libraries you went to the librarian at the counter and ask for books which were then retrieved from closed stacks.

It cannot be overestimated the role that libraries played in the late 19th and 20th centuries especially in poorer areas, they provided escapism and a refuge from the often harsh world outside.

Kay Everson who grew up on the Island in the 1930s remembers her visits to the library:

I loved the library and spent a lot of time there as I have always been a voracious reader and books  were a form of escapism whilst growing up. I lived in Strattondale Street so the journey to the library was easy. My one ambition at that time was to get in to the adult section to find more exciting books. My mother and my Aunt who lived upstairs in our house used to send me to get them any romance, particularly anything by Ethel M. Dell or Ruby M. Ayres.

However in the 21st century a number of Carnegie Libraries have been demolished or used for other purposes, this has led to many libraries widening their access to provide more community services. In recent times, Cubitt Town has developed a number of special and community events but this has not stopped its decline as a library.

With information available at your fingertips, one of the functions of a library has disappeared but its role as a community space is perhaps more important than ever. The isolation that many people have suffered in the pandemic reminds of the importance of community spaces that provide an opportunity to meet your old friends and get to know new friends. Libraries has always provided an important resources for local communities and Cubitt Town Library has for over a century been an oasis for many Islanders.

Tower Hamlets Council is asking for opinions about some of the proposed changes, this is an opportunity for people on the island to have their say on the library and whether they want to save this important part of Island history.

Find out more about the plans here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attending The Island Gardens 120th Year Celebrations – Saturday 12th September 2015

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After reporting on a number of water based attractions this week, it was nice to attend a very important celebration in one of the most attractive parks on the Island.

The Friends of Island Gardens organised an afternoon of summer fun to celebrate the 120 years since Island Gardens were opened to the public by Will Crooks in 1895.

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On a lovely late summer’s day, there were a number of attractions including a Magic show, Face painting, Children’s games, Balloons, Live music, Cake stall, Penny farthing and Plant stall.

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There were plenty of interest in the various stalls that told the  history of the park and how it has developed over the last 120 years.

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One of the highlights of the event was the  plaque unveiling ceremony in which well-known local campaigner Gloria Thienel and Tower Hamlets Mayor, John Biggs made speeches that paid tribute to Will Crooks fight to provide a ‘little piece of paradise’ for locals over a century ago.

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They also made the point that it was important to protect the park from any future developments.  It was one of these planned developments that led to the formation of The Friends of Island Gardens who have been instrumental in raising the profile of the park but also have helped to bring  a number of initiatives to make the park an even better place to visit. The plaques in the small courtyard bring to life the history of this very special place.

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Congratulations to all involved, especially to Eric Pemberton who is a regular contributor to this blog for bringing history alive and acknowledging our debts to those who fought to make  this little spot in the East End, a place for everyone to enjoy.

If you would like more information or would like to join the Friends of Island Gardens , contact them on friendsofislandgardens@gmail.com.

The Island Gardens 120th Year Celebrations – Saturday 12th September 2015

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The Friends of Island Gardens have organised an afternoon of summer fun celebrating the 120 years since Island Gardens were opened to the public by Will Crooks in 1895.
The event takes place between 1pm–5pm, in Island Gardens and will feature a Magic show, Face painting, Children’s games, Balloons, Live music,Cake stall, Penny farthing and Plant stall. There will also be a plaque unveiling ceremony at 2pm.

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The story of Island Gardens is quite an intriguing one, up to the 19th Century most of the Isle of Dogs was farmland, however when shipbuilding and other industries began to spring up along the riverfront, the land that became Island Gardens was leased to the Admiralty who wished to preserve the site to maintain the famous views to Greenwich. However, the Admiralty did little with the site and it became a derelict plantation, in the 1880s the idea was raised to turn this area into a municipal park.

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In 1889, the newly formed LCC began the negotiations for its purchase, in 1892, A deputation from the LCC, led  by Will Crooks and the chairman of the Parks Committee, J. S. Fletcher, met the First Lord of the Admiralty to get permission for a park. Crooks argued that the park would be a ‘little paradise’ for local people.

The purchase was eventually made in 1895 for £6,500, the state of the ground was very poor but Lieutenant-Colonel John J. Sexby who designed the new park, laid out  plants on the north, west and east sides with paths, a riverside walk and a wooden bandstand.

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The Island Gardens were formally opened by Will Crooks on 3 August 1895 who had worked tirelessly to find open spaces and turn them into children’s play-places, Crooks argued that the Council should rescue every vacant plot of land that remained in the heavily built up area and convert it into a recreation ground, no matter how small.

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His campaign had a number of successes other than the Island Gardens, he helped to create the Bromley Recreation Ground and the Tunnel Gardens at Poplar.

The Friends of Island Gardens  plaque will pay its respect to this remarkable politician.

The celebrations will be open between 1pm–5pm and everyone is invited.

 

A Summer’s Day at Island Gardens – 5th July 2015

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Living at the top end of the Island, my visits to Island Gardens are not as regular as I would like. However I was informed by Eric Pemberton that a number of changes had taken place that hopefully would encourage more wildlife to frequent the Gardens.

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The Friends of Island Gardens group which was set up to protect the popular park have worked with other groups such as Clean and Green to encourage a greater variety of wildlife.

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Six bird nesting boxes and four boxes for bats have been provided high in tree branches. Also some area’s of the park have been designated Meadow areas to encourage the land based creatures.

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When I visited on Sunday, it was a warm summer’s day and the park was busy with a wide range of people enjoying this important piece of green space.

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A large group were admiring the famous view over to Greenwich  but I was taken with the park itself.

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Will Crooks who was one of the people responsible for the creation of the park called it a little piece of paradise, on a day like Sunday not many people would had disagreed with him.

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Springtime at Island Gardens 2015

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After a grey and cold start to the Easter break, we have enjoyed some much-needed sunshine  that has bought people out of doors.

It is always a pleasure to work around the Island which offers radically different views ranging from the City of London to the O2 in North Greenwich. However one of the favourite views is from Island Gardens over to Greenwich.

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This view was judged to be the greatest view in Europe by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th Century and became associated with the painting of Greenwich from this spot by Giovanni Antonio Caneletto in the 18th Century.

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Whilst agreeing that it is a special view, it does sometimes  mean that people ignore the beauty of Island Gardens.  At this time of the year with the spring plants in flower and the trees in blossom, the park is one of the best places in London to sit and watch the world go by.

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The parks history is fascinating because it is only here due to  a series of transactions in the 19th century.

With the development of the Isle of Dogs riverfront in the 1840s,  John Liddell, the medical inspector to Greenwich Hospital, put forward the idea of saving from industrial development the ground on the Isle of Dogs opposite the Hospital.  He suggested that any further development would have an adverse effect on the pensioners at Greenwich Hospital. His report went to the Admiralty who entered discussions to buy or lease the land from  Cubitt and Company who in turn leased the land from Lady Glengall. Eventually an agreement was made  that prevented the building of factories and warehouses but would allow the building of a few villas by Cubitt in a plantation area. In the end only  a couple of villas were built but the plantation was left neglected until the question of making the derelict plantation into a municipal park was raised with the Metropolitan Board of Works and Poplar District Board of Works by the Director of Greenwich Hospital in 1885.

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In 1889 the newly formed London County Councils began  negotiations for its purchase. The Admiralty and Cubitt and Company agreed to the sale and the purchase was eventually made in 1895 when  the freehold was acquired from Lady Margaret Charteris’s trustees for £2,200.

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The LCC parks department planting the north, west and east sides with trees and shrubs, as well as the formation of paths , a riverside walk, areas where children could play, and the erection of a  wooden bandstand.

Island Gardens were formally opened by Will Crooks on 3 August 1895, Crooks a local MP considered that the park would be ‘little paradise’ for local people.  It is still a ‘little paradise’ and individuals and local groups such as Friends of Island Gardens have worked hard to protect the park from future development.

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Mutiny on the Thames 1863

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Entrance to Blackwall Docks by Thomas Rowlandson(British Museum)

Regular readers will know that I am always on the look out for the unusual stories related to the Isle of Dogs, the following newspaper report is the story of Mutiny, not on the high seas but just off Blackwall Stairs. There is a mention of the hulk Venus which I believe used to be the HMS Venus which was used as a training ship until 1862.

TERRIBLE SCENE : MUTINY  ON BOARD A PERUVIAN CORVETTE.

Late on Thursday night, the 19th, an affray of very desperate and sanguinary character which lasted for several hours took place between the marines and sailors of the Peruvian government, accommodated with quarters, by permission of the Lords of the Admiralty, on board the hulk Venus  lying in the Thames, off Blackwall Stairs.

From what has been permitted to transpire. it would appear that the marines have some old grievance against their officers, and that on Thursday the opportunity afforded them becoming excited from drink in the various public-houses in the neighbourhood of Blackwall and Poplar only fanned the flames which had already for sometime been smouldering  in  their breasts. When they returned on board the hulk they displayed a decidedly mutinous spirit, and the sailors were called out to assist the officers,.

After the sailors had succeeded,  with great difficulty, in getting the marines down to the lower deck, the former, took the precaution of battening down the hatches and whilst thus in confinement some of the men managed to break into the spirit stores of the ship and freely imbibed the liquor. This had the effect of still further maddening them, and large numbers, having succeeded in bursting up the fore hatches, rushed upon the main deck, when the fight was renewed with great fury. The sailors were armed with muskets and bayonet, but were, it would seem, without ammunition.

The mutineers were  possessed of their side arms, but they made use of all the weapons they could lay hands on. The tumult and disorder on the main deck was fearful, the marines maddened with drink, endeavoured to overpower the sailors  but the latter by the free use of the bayonet drove them down between decks.

Here a kind of hand-to-hand struggle took place, and the marines, for a length of time, managed to prevent the sailors following them.  At this juncture Captain Ecurria, who happened to be at his lodgings ashore, was sent for, and speedily arrived. The captain, with drawn cutlass dashed down among the mutineers, and the sailors, seizing the moment, followed.

A tearful encounter arose, and the yells and shrieks of the excited and drunken men could be heard a considerable-distance. At this period of the contest one of the officers, Ensign Francisco Vidal was thrown or jumped overboard and perished. ‘The body of Ensign Vidal, who is described as being only 19 or 22 years of age, has not been discovered, and, on the, muster roll being called over, there were it is stated, two other young men missing, who, it is feared, shared the same fate, as several were known to make their escape through the portholes, in the hope of getting into the boats-moored alongside the Venus.

With regard to Ensign Vidal, the impression is that he was lost in thus endeavouring to make his escape. and that he was not wilfully thrown overboard, as he was much liked by the men. The glass and framework of the portholes were broken out and the weaker of the combatants were seen to scramble over the side of the vessel into the boats alongside. This state of things, continued toward day break, when the marines were somewhat overpowered, although the ‘uproar was’ by ‘no means silenced. When order had been to a certain extent restored, and some of, the ringleaders secured, an examination took place of the deck, and it was found that two marines were lying dead.

In addition to a large number of men, both marines and sailors who, had received wounds and contusions of a serious character, there are three of the former so dangerously wounded that but slender hopes are entertained of their recovery. One of these has a fearful bayonet wound passing completely  through the lungs; a second has his skull fractured, it is believed with a blow from the butt end of a musket, or some heavy weapon; and the third has a bayonet  wound in the abdomen and other injuries.

In the Cabin was found the remains of a young midshipman, who had died while the fight was at its height. It appears that he had been ailing and it is believed that the excitement consequent on the fearful scene around him brought on his death. . The two marines who were killed. were named, Pablo Vasquez, 25 years of age, and Simon Garcia, aged 24.Both had received bayonet wounds, and one of them had sustained a fearful blow on the head, apparently from the butt end of a musket. This tragic affair is of course, undergoing  investigation. The mutiny appears to have been attended with a loss of six lives at least. A wounded soldier died on the 22nd and others remain in a precarious position. In addition to the six whose deaths have been ascertained  several of the crew are still missing. Among them is said to be a boy, who was reported to have fallen over the bulwarks during the height of the conflict.

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Blackwall, London by Charles Napier Hemy, 1872 (c) Museum of London

After the investigation one crew member Manuel Oliva  was sent for trial at the Old Bailey for manslaughter.

A midshipman told the court what happened:

HERCELIO SANTIAGO . I am a midshipman belonging to the Peruvian Corvette Arica—on Thursday night, 20th March, I was officer of the watch on board the Venus hulk—it is the practice to have twenty-four hour watch for each officer—I had commenced my watch at 8 o’clock that morning—some of the soldiers were allowed leave on shore that day; I don’t remember how many—the prisoner was not one of them—two of them returned to the ship about 11 o’clock—about 11 o’clock I found the soldiers in their berths with lights, playing cards; two of them were quarelling—Cabaro, the sergeant on guard, went below with me—I desired him to put one of those who were quarrelling into confinement, which was done—one of the soldiers took up a bayonet—after they mutinied, I went into my cab in to get my sword—when I returned with it, I found Perez, Mango, Mesa, and another one quarrelling, and I went with my sword in my hand to stop the quarrel; the soldiers had bayonets at this time—I then went and gave in a report to the officer in command—the Commander-in-chief was not on board—I came back between decks with the officer in charge—Perez and Mesa told us they were going ashore by force or by goodness; it was Perez that spoke—the sailors were then all asleep in their berths—they were called up after the soldiers went to their arms—that was about an hour after the row began, we could not keep the soldiers below, they got up between decks and took the arms from the armoury, all the lot—the armoury is between decks—I did not lock the armoury: I put a sentinel there—shots were fired at this time; when they wanted to come up, the sailors and the officers stopped them—Sergeant Vargas was the first that fired—the shots were fired at the sailors from below—the sailors got their arms—this state of things continued till half-past 12 o’clock—the soldiers afterwards came up between decks—the sailors were keeping the hold to prevent the soldiers from coming up—they got up through a hole in the fore part of the vessel—after the sailors retired from between decks, the soldiers came up through all the holes.

Most of the evidence was confused and contradictory so  Oliva  was found not guilty.

However the Old Bailey records revealed it was not the first time the Arica crew had been in trouble, in the previous January some crew members had a run in with a few locals in Poplar which led to a stabbing. A local policeman gives more details.

THOMAS HAVILL (Policeman, 385 K). On 30th January, about a quarter or twenty minutes past 1, I heard cries of “Police!” and “Murder!”—I proceeded to the spot, and saw all the prisoners—there were seven men altogether; five were close together, and were running; the other two were behind, and were walking sharp—I stopped Blanco and Marcham—Bajaders was stopped by a civilian—I received this knife (produced) from the female witness, and I got this other knife at the station—none of the prisoners had knives when they were taken—I went on board the Aricka next morning; it is a  Peruvian Government transport—when I took Paraleo, I asked him to go and put his coat on—he did so, and was immediately apprehended by Holford—I told him it was for stabbing a man in High-street, Poplar.

Although the story of the Mutiny on the Thames  has been long forgotten, it was remembered by Will Crooks who had nightmares about the incident. In his biography written by George Haw  ” From Workhouse to Westminster ” he remembers the aftermath  .

We reached the river ourselves from the Blackwall end of the High Street, while Crooks was giving me these entertaining glimpses into the past of his native Poplar. The sight of Blackwall Causeway and the river crowded with craft instantly reminded him of the last mutiny in the Thames, of which he has gruesome recollections, associated with bad dreams as a lad, caused by the knowledge that dead seamen lay in the building adjoining his home. It was here at Blackwall Point that the crew of the Peruvian frigate mutinied in 1861. He relates graphically how the eleven men who were shot dead on the ship were brought ashore and laid in the mortuary next his mother’s house by the casual ward.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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Island Gardens

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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

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Early 20th century postcards of Millwall

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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

The Fishing Smack Tavern in Coldharbour – A History and a Mystery

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Charles Napier Hemy, R.A., R.W.S. (1841-1917) Cold Harbour, Blackwall 1896

Coldharbour in Blackwall is one of the most unusual streets in Docklands, it was once part of the old Blackwall that followed the river until it reached Trinity Buoy Wharf.

However the construction of the West India Docks and the City Canal in the early years of the 19th Century effectively cut off Coldharbour from the rest of Blackwall.

There has been buildings on the site since the 17th Century, but two of the better known is the Gun public house which still exists and another tavern called the Fishing Smack which has been demolished but had a curious history.

There had been a tavern on the site since the 1760s, firstly called the Fisherman’s Arms before changing its name in the early 19th Century to the Fishing Smack. We know it was called the Fishing Smack in 1808 due to the following report in The Gentleman’s Magazine

As a young woman, a servant in the FishingSmack public-house, Cold Harbour, Blackw’all, was standing on the steps leading to the River, she was so much alarmed by a flash of lightning , that she fell in the river and was unfortunately drowned.

The change of name probably reflected the arrival of Fishing Smacks from Great Yarmouth who frequented this spot when selling their catches in London. This trade and the area was known to Charles Dickens who had written about the other Taverns in Blackwall such as the Artichoke and Plough that were known for their Whitebait dinners. Although Dickens did not write directly about the Fishing Smack, he did use characters in his books that could have had their origins in this  area.

George Haw recalls walking around this area in 1907 with well known local MP Will Crooks and having the following conversation with some old characters that used to work this stretch of the river.

“Ah!” exclaimed the other, fetching a sigh; “but don’t you remember that old Yarmouth fisherman who used to bring his smack round here from the Roads and sell herrings out of it on this very Causeway?”

“Remember! What do you think? That was the old man who would never keep farthings. In the evening, when he’d got a handful in the course of the day’s trade, he would pitch them in the river for the boys to find.”

“Likely enough,” interposed Crooks. “I mudlarked about here myself as a lad.”

The eldest of the ancient watermen would have it that this old boy from Yarmouth was the original of Mr. Peggotty, and that it was at Blackwall Dickens first made his acquaintance. He said he had often seen Dickens himself about those parts.

We ventured a doubt.

“Why, bless my life!” he cried; “ain’t I talked to him at the Causeway here many a time?”

This, of course, was unanswerable, so we asked what Dickens did when there.

The ancient waterman thought a moment.

“What did Dickens do?” he ruminated. “Now, let me see. What did Dickens do? I know: Dickens used to go afloat!”

The other declared that Dickens did more than that: he would often go into the fishing-smack.

We immediately assumed that it was the fishing-smack of the old Yarmouth salt that was meant. We were wrong. It was another “Fishing Smack,” one of the quaint old taverns by the river still standing in Coldharbour.

Mr Peggotty of course was a character from David Copperfield  and it was not impossible  that Dickens could have met some of the old Yarmouth fisherman at this very spot.

Although the old tavern was rebuilt with a frontage onto Coldharbour in the  early 20th Century, it did not regain its glory days and was eventually demolished after the Second World War.

And that leaves us with a mystery for although Coldharbour  has escaped much of the recent developments of the Docklands, there has been modern developments.

However standing at Number 9 Coldharbour  is a line  of brown shiny bricks that seem strangely out of place with the well attended houses nearby.

This line of bricks is the last remains of the Fishing Smack tavern , but why is it still there ? A local writer recalls being told that the last owner of the pub sold the land but demanded that a small part of the old pub must remain.

Whether this is true or not, nearly 70 years later we still have a strange small reminder of the historic tavern.

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The only remains of the Fishing Smack

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Cubitt Town Carnegie Library and the Story of Rose Marie

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Cubitt Town Library

As many people would know the ‘Island’ suffered greatly from bombing in the Second World War, one of the consequences of this was that many fine old buildings were damaged or destroyed.

One of the buildings that escaped that fate was the Cubitt Town Library on Strattondale Street. It is a pleasant surprise to come across the fine classical styled building amongst the post war houses  and modern developments.

The Cubitt Town library was part of the movement at the start of the 20th Century in which local authorities began to build public libraries often with joint funding provided by the Scottish American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Andrew Carnegie had humble beginnings in Dunfermline before emigrating to the United States in 1848. Carnegie over the next two decades through hard work and clever investments became a very wealthy man. Carnegie never forgot his background and looked at ways to use his wealth to help people from a poor background. With his love of books and reading, Carnegie believed that establishing public libraries was a way to encourage people to aspire to move beyond their poor backgrounds. To get local support he provided the funding to build and equip the Library and the local authority provided the land and money to maintain its operation.

Cubitt Town Library was built after the Mayor of Poplar heard Carnegie speak in 1902 and soon afterwards made the application and set about raising funds. It was officially opened by well known local politician Will Crooks in 1905.

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In our modern world of instant communications we sometimes forget that the important role the libraries such as Cubitt Town played in a local community.

Kay Everson who grew up on the Island in the 1930s remembers her visits to the library:

I loved the library and spent a lot of time there as I have always been a voracious reader and books  were a form of escapism whilst growing up. I lived in Strattondale Street so the journey to the library was easy. My one ambition at that time was to get in to the adult section to find more exciting books. My mother and my Aunt who lived upstairs in our house used to send me to get them any romance, particularly anything by Ethel M. Dell or Ruby M. Ayres.

Walking around the Library I came across a book Rose Marie in a glass frame and next to it a short history, it is within this history that  Kay’s childhood friend Iris Chadwick plays a leading part.

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Iris and Kay in the 1930s

Just after the start of the second world war, Iris was 13 and a pupil of Millwall Central school , she had developed an interest in the piano and went into Cubitt Town Library to get the musical score of the popular musical Rose Marie.

However within days, steps were undertaken to begin evacuation of many of the Islands children.  Iris was evacuated to Slough with her mother,sister and brother whilst her father a London Fireman stayed at their home on  Stebondale  Street.

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Iris with her brother, sister and cousin in 1939

Whilst she was evacuated her home was damaged by a bomb and declared unfit to live in, fortunately her father was uninjured and  managed to salvage a few items which included the Rose Marie book.

Within the next few months Iris’s father was able to be relocated to Catford and soon after the family was reunited.

For Iris her childhood was over, for whilst she was evacuated she had started work  and when she moved to Catford joined the W.J.A.C. (Womens Junior Air Corps).

After the war in 1946 Iris got married then moved to Surrey Docks, Hampshire and Dorset, all through this time she was unaware if the Library had survived the Blitz. Therefore she looked after the book until 2009 when she thought it was time to try to return the book to its original home.

The story of the returned library book after 70 years was picked up by the media and Rose Marie became a bit of a celebrity,and the Cubitt Town Library entered in the spirit of the story by not demanding the estimated £2,500 overdue fees and putting Rose Marie in place of honour within a glass case.

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Rose Marie at Cubitt Town Library

In the destruction of large amounts of housing on the Island during the war there was simply not enough housing for people who wished to return. Therefore many former Islanders were scattered around London and the rest of the Country.

The Island pre war had been a close knit community with many generations of the same family living on the same street. The disruption of the war had a profound effect on these communities in which people lost touch with family and friends.

Iris’s childhood friend Kay Everson was only 11 when she was evacuated to Eynsham in Oxfordshire before eventually moving to Hornchurch, it was only in the last few years that the childhood friends were reunited.

Iris’s story and Rose Marie are a timely reminder that for many people and certainly many children, the war had long term consequences which often meant they would never return to their childhood home. For many children brought up on the Island but then sent away for their own safety often without their parents, there was no doubt that those war years changed their lives forever.

Many thanks to Iris Chadwick and Kay Everson for their contribution to this post.