Jack Summers at the end of the Walls

A familiar sight at the end of the Walls (or their start, depending on the direction you were travelling) was the firm, Jack Summers, on the corner of West Ferry Road and Emmett Street.

1970s. From left to right: Jack Summers, Emmett Street, former newsagents and tobacconists, George Baker & Sons, Providence House. All these buildings have been demolished (even this section of Emmett Street has disappeared) and West Ferry Circus is now on the site.

Recently, Harold Summers, whose father owned the firm, got in touch with me. He wrote:

My family used to have a Timber Yard and Kiln Drying business in the 1960s until the redevelopment, called Jack Summers (Kilning) Ltd. …  I have some pictures taken at the Wharf when I worked there from 1967 through 1973. Would be happy to share if you ever need pictures from that era.

Of course I wanted to see the photos! There are probably thousands of photos out there, sitting in boxes, which haven’t seen the light of day for years and it’s fantastic when somebody makes them available for everyone to see. My thanks to Harold – the following photos and text are all his.

I went back for a visit in 1978 and drove down to the Wharf for a visit, taking my camera. It was late in the day so there were long shadows. There are a few pictures amongst them from an earlier day pre ’73 which were taken on a misty day when we were unloading a barge. Round about ’71 or 2 I remember we took over the Wharf next door (East side) to give us more outdoor storage space. There was a disused house on that site by West Ferry Road which we never utilized.

The older guy in the trilby hat is my dad, the guv, Jack Summers.

We ended up with two gantry cranes running up and down the shed.

… it was Bridge Wharf that was incorporated into Emmett St Wharf, and my pictures of the Coles mobile crane unloading the barges were on Bridge Wharf. Before that, we had to use the Gantry Crane in the shed on ESW that extended over the river. But it had other duties, Loading, and unloading lorries, as well as feeding the “Stickers”: who were constructing the stacks to be winched into the kilns.

Heavy work, lifting (by hand) to make the stacks of “sticked” timber, that was then winched on wheeled boggies into the Kilns. I’m sure today they have come up with a less back-breaking method.

The office we had on the corner of Emmett Street was pretty basic. Too often at weekends, the local kids would smash the windows and then jump inside and trash the place. The picture of the guy in the office in the sports-jacket is my late brother Simon.

When my father decided to close the business, we sold off Bridge Wharf to a bus or trucking company. Otherwise, I think the bank took the rest and owned it until the redevelopment.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The View From Above in 1965

Recently, friend and fellow Island historian, Con Maloney, pointed out to me a photo for sale on eBay, which I promptly purchased. It shows the Millwall Docks and much of the surrounding area in approximately 1965. Scarily, this photo was taken more than half a century ago, but the views are so familiar it feels just like yesterday.

Millwall Docks and area, c1965 (low-res version)

Mind you, some things I don’t recognise. For example, I never got to see the old houses in Glengall Grove, which were demolished a few years after this photo to make room for new flats. In 1965, the Mudchute was still PLA-land and the Transporter Yard and adjacent sheds were occupied by various firms at the time. Opposite Glengall School, just out of sight, there were still a few prefabs.

And what about these box-shaped things over the Mudchute? Allotment sheds? I am doubtful because the land doesn’t look like it was being cultivated, and all the ‘sheds’ seem to have windows pointing in the same direction. Perhaps preparation for new allotments?

Left of the possible allotments was the PLA football ground, close to the Pier Street entrance to the Mudchute.

Plenty to see over East Ferry Road to the right in the photo. The shed under construction was one of the first of a few to be built along this side of Millwall Inner Dock by Fred Olsen & Co. (see here for article). Below it in the photo, the Glass Bridge – its construction was completed in 1964, but the machinery to raise and lower the bridge was not installed until the year of the photo.  There are no ships waiting to pass through, so it looks like the machinery was not yet installed at the time.

Further to the right, the area around the newly renamed Tiller Road (formerly Glengall Grove). No sign of the Island Baths, though, as they were being rebuilt at the time.

North of Tiller Road, on the other side of the Millwall Outer Dock was McDougall’s with its iconic 1930s-built silo building  Beyond the flour firm, a yard full of timber which was in use by Montague Meyer’s. In the background are – from letft to right – Hesperus Crescent, Harbinger Road and Cahir Street.

Left of McDougall’s in the photo was the Millwall Dock Graving Dock (aka Dry Dock) where ships (including the Cutty Sark) were repaired or refurbished. By the time of the photo, the dry dock was rarely used and was losing money. In 1968 it was permanently flooded and was later redeveloped as Clippers Quay.

Back to Mellish Street, and then a little lower in the photo, a large area with demarcated lanes for waiting lorries. It’s by no means full, and I don’t know what the lorries are waiting for. This area of the docks was occupied mostly by the Central Granary and the Western Granaries (right in the photo), so I expect it had something to do with grain transport.

Here is the aforementioned Central Granary, at the time the main store of grain for London, but which would a few years later be replaced by a new granary at Tilbury Docks. The Central Granary was closed in 1969 and demolished a year later.

Finally in this little journey around a photograph, Millwall Cutting, which connected the Millwall Docks to West India Docks. South Quay DLR Station is today on the site.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A Little Lost Corner of Millwall

The construction of Alpha Road started in the 1850s in the north of Millwall – forming a corner with the east end of Cuba Street and following a short section of the ancient winding path from Poplar High Street to the Greenwich Ferry, Dolphin Lane (part of which still exists off Poplar High Street). At this corner, some time after 1870, according to the Survey of London:

Edward Beach, a builder from Chelsea, [constructed] an intended public house, built on a 99-year lease… The “Dock House” had three floors and cellars, with bars, kitchen and parlour on the ground floor and three rooms on each of the upper floors, including accommodation for lodgers.

Circa 1890

1920s

The ‘intended public house’ doesn’t appear to have ever been licensed as such, and was variously described as a beer house or off-license in later records. For a while in the late 1800s it was owned by the licensee of the City Arms.

Circa 1920. The Dock House, 36 Cuba Street (Cuba Street is on the right of the photo). Photo: Island History Trust

Further along Cuba Street were Escott’s Cottages, tiny houses built in an alley off the street by local waterman and (later) publican, William Escott in 1840.

1920s. Survey of London

Left of the Dock House were some of the first houses to be built in Alpha Road.

2 Alpha Road. The side wall of the Dock House is visible on the right. Photo: Island History Trust

A few yards further south was the corner with Manilla Street, dominated by the North Pole pub.

The North Pole. Estimated 1920s

To the right of the North Pole is No. 72 Manilla Street, the family home of the Newman family where they for many years ran a chandler’s shop (grocer’s).

1910s (estimate). Photo: Alice Appelton (nee Newman)

On the other side of the North Pole was (and still is) a cul-de-sac, where the Newman family took a few photos over the years. I am extremely grateful to Astrid and Brian Appelton for allowing me to reproduce these photos, which belonged to Brian’s mother. They show views of Millwall which I have never seen before, and which were the inspiration for this article.

1932. Joyce Newman. Photo: Alice Appelton (nee Newman).

1932. Joyce Newman in her toy car. Looking north up the cul-de-sac towards No. 1 Alpha Road. The North Pole is just out of sight on the left. Photo: Alice Appelton (nee Newman).

Photo: Alice Appelton (nee Newman).

1930s. Leonard Newman with a glimpse of the North Pole behind him in a photo which was hand-coloured by his mother. Photo: Alice Appelton (nee Newman).

As mentioned, the cul-de-sac in the previous photos still exists. Here it is viewed from Manilla Street – in the opposite direction. The wall on the left in the new photo is visible on the right in the old photos.

April 2019

The view in the opposite direction, however, has changed completely since the Newmans took their photos.

Actually, the view started to change not long after Mrs Newman coloured in the photo of her son, Leonard. The corner of Alpha Road and Cuba Street was very close to the water of the West India South Dock – making the dock land a bit of a bottleneck here as far as the PLA was concerned. In the years following WWI, the PLA acquired land and properties at the end of Cuba Street and Manilla Street (including the Dock House) for an extension to their land.

1916. The corner of Cuba Street and Alpha Road, and the land acquired by the PLA in the following years.

Although acquired by the PLA in 1918, the Dock House remained open for many years, operating as some kind of night-club or social-club, but by 1937 it and the other properties at the corner had been demolished.

1937. The North Pole and the Newman’s home standing alone.

1937 was also the year that Leonard Newman turned 21, and a photo was taken of him standing in what are almost certainly the remains of Nos. 68-70 Manilla Street. The shed to the left and houses across the road are visible in the previous photo.

1937. Leonard Newman with a symbolic key to the door on his 21st birthday, standing on the site of demolished Manilla Street houses. Later loction of Solray Works. Photo: Alice Appelton (nee Newman).

The PLA then moved its boundary fences, and the corner was gone. One of the most famous photos of the Island was taken a year or two later: kids playing cricket at the new north end of Alpha Grove (recently renamed). Apparently this photo was completely staged by the photographer who got the kids to turn a box into a wicket, and pretend to be playing the game. Two years earlier, the road continued north here, following the path of the old Dolphin Lane, but now it made a sharp left turn into Manilla Street.

1-13 Alpha Road, c1939

Although No. 72 Manilla Street survived the demolition, it did not survive WWII – nor did all but one of the row of houses in the background of the ‘cricket photo’.

1949

1980s. The gap to the right of the North Pole is the site of 72 Manilla Street, which to this day has not been built upon. Photo: Tim Brown.

1962, 21-29 Alpha Grove on the right, the junction with Byng Street in the middle distance. Screenshot from the film, Postscript to Empire

It was all change again in the 1960s when virtually the whole area was cleared due to the construction of the Barkantine Estate. Alpha Grove lost more of its north end, and now terminated at the corner with Strafford Street. The ‘orphaned’ section of Alpha Grove – scene of the ‘cricket photo’ – became part of Manilla Street.

Circa 1980

1980s. The shorter-than-originally Cuba Street. Photo: Tim Brown

1980s. Compare to the 1932 photo of Joyce Newman in her toy car.

Since the closure of the docks, the area has changed repeatedly – and is still doing so. Here is a recent view of that little corner of Millwall, dominated now by the Novotel Hotel, which replaced a building that wasn’t even very old. The North Pole closed some years ago, but – remarkably – the building is still there.

Even this image is already out-of-date – at the end of 2019 demolition commenced on some of the sheds shown here. Undoubtedly, another tall building will rise on its site.

2019. Photo: Con Maloney

At least someone left a nice parting message….

2019. Photo: Con Maloney

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The Schooner Estate

In 1861, the Metropolitan Board of Works gave permission to W. Cubitt & Co. to construct three roads off Manchester Road: Barque Street, Ship Street and Brig Street (spot the nautical theme).

1890. Wharf Road was later renamed Saunders Ness Road, and Newcastle Street became Glengarnock Avenue. Johnson Street, just in view on the left, is now part of Ferry Street.

Circa 1930. Looking from Saunders Ness Road down Ship Street, across Manchester Road, and as far as the bend in the street just before it met Stebondale Street. Photo: Island History Trust

This section of Manchester Road was occupied by many shops.

1913. Manchester Road at its corner with Stebondale Street on the left and Barque Street on the right.

Compare the previous photo with a modern view – only Christ Church still survives.

On the left is the Schooner Estate, built in the 1960s on a triangle of land bounded by Manchester Road, Glengarnock Avenue and Stebondale Street. On the right, George Green’s School. The houses and shops here got off lightly during WWII, which can’t be said for other buildings in the area.

Circa 1949

Circa 1949. Ship Street was renamed Schooner Street in the late 1930s. The detached buildings are prefabs.

The buildings on the south side of Manchester Road were all demolished in the 1970s to make room for George Green’s School. Those north of the road had been cleared a couple of decades earlier to make room for the Schooner Estate

1960s. A montage of two photos taken from Coleman’s shop in Manchester Road (next to the police station). It shows the demolition and clearance taking place. The prefabs in the background are in Glengarnock Avenue. Photo courtesy of Christine Coleman.

Present-day equivalent of previous view.

Survey of London:

[The Schooner Estate] was designed by the LCC Architect’s department and erected by Rush & Tompkins, of Sidcup, at a total estimated cost of £517,000. The first part was completed in 1963 and consisted of Galleon House, Capstan House and Nos 19–41 (odd) Glengarnock Avenue/Nos 139–149 (odd) Manchester Road. The remaining part, completed in 1965, comprised Carvel, Clipper and Frigate Houses.

Architectural model of the Schooner Estate

Photo of estate plan taken decades later by Con Maloney.

Also according to the Survey of London:

The layout of the new development was designed to relate to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, on the opposite side of the river, and special attention was allegedly given to the colour and architectural treatment of Galleon House.

Do I detect a hint of scepticism there?

1963. Queenie Watts walking up Schooner Street. Behind her can be seen the rears of shops and houses in Manchester Road and the construction of Galleon House. Image is a screenshot from the documentary film, Portrait of Queenie.

The previous and following image are the only ones I have of the construction of the Schooner Estate (and the following is very blurred). Actually, there seem to be very few photos of the construction of any of the 1960s housing estates on the Island. I am sure there are some buried away in council archives, but clearly Islanders didn’t think it worth taking photos of these new estates.

1963. The construction of Capstan House seen from Millwall Park. This L-shaped building was originally a block of old people’s flats.

Once the estate was finished, however, the LCC took some photos of the results. The following few photos – unless the caption says otherwise – are from the London Metropolitan Archives.

There’s a ghostly figure in this photo – a double exposure?

Photo: Rosina Smith

The fence on the left was constructed when the prefabs along Stebondale Street were demolished in the 1970s. Source of photo unknown

I lived close by and was quite young when these photos were taken. The estate was a great place to play: it had grass, fences and walls to jump over, flat roofs to climb up on to, and there was the little playground under Galleon House (which is just in view on the right in the following photo).

The noise of kids playing football in there, or running up and down the stairs and messing about in the lifts and cages must have driven the residents up the wall (the cages were lock-ups situated on every other floor, where residents could store belongings which didn’t belong or fit in their flat).

See the end of this article for a list of some of the first residents of the estate, by the way.

1970s. Photo: Pat Jarvis

Circa 1974. Schooner Estate on the left, and construction of George Green’s School on the right.

1970s

1977. Silver Jubilee party. Photo: Pat Jarvis.

Circa 1978. Photo Mick Lemmerman

Estimated approx. 1990. Source unknown.

Circa 1990. Angie Lemmerman and Margaret Hook in Millwall Park. In the background is Capstan House, and beyond that, Galleon House, which was being refurbished at the time. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

2006. Photo: Peter Wright

2010

2010

Around 2011 construction started on new housing on the Schooner Estate New blocks were built on the site of the garages and all other open space along Glengarnock Avenue. Capstan House was also demolished so that the development could continue along Stebondale Street. It is known as ‘Parkside Quarter’, which presumably is more marketable a name than ‘Schooner Estate’.

The development of Parkside Quarter

Screenshot of Telford Homes’ website

Early Residents

Anyway, back to the mid-1960s, here is a list of some of the earliest residents. It is far from complete because the information comes from electoral registers, and not everyone bothered to register to vote or keep their address up to date in the register. I also don’t have the names of early occupants of the flats above the shops. I am happy to fix the shortcomings if you have any additions or corrections (you can comment on this article).

Capstan House
8 Lerpiniere
13 Jones
17 Towler
18 Pritchard
19 Frost
22 Tand
24 Baily

Carvel House
4 Payne
5 Mitchell
7 Griggs
10 Griffiths

Clipper House
1 Williams
5 Coleman
8 Bennett
10 Hoskins
11 Bridges
12 Soper
14 Blashka
16 Roberts

Frigate House
1 Hill
2 Blackall
5 Liddell
6 Duggan
8 Middleton
9 Hodder
12 Thake

Galleon House
1 Moss
12 Thornton
13 Marlborough
15 Knowles
18 Everingham
21 Griffin
23 Hale
25 Lowe
27 Rolfe
27 Starling
32 Ryan
33 Sampson
35 Errington
38 Thackray
40 Roberts
40 Viney
42 Degaris
42 Higgs
46 Scott
48 Rickhuss
49 Burnett
50 Bartlett
51 Miller
52 Watkinson
53 Sidonie
54 Nicoli
57 Wright
58 Robinson
59 Emms
63 Rampersad
63 Wright
64 Brookes
69 Fairweather
70 Pine
72 Gillard
73 Stephens
74 Mingay
75 Gleeson
77 Webb
78 Lee
80 Lee

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Small Corner of the West India Docks

A couple of years ago, having arranged to meet up with mates for a lunchtime drink in the George in Glengall Grove, I decided to walk to the pub through the docks from Limehouse and take some photos of the old dock buildings on the way. Photos taken “on the way” actually meant photos taken “during the first couple of hundred metres” as virtually no old West India (or Millwall) Docks buildings survive, except for a few in the northwest corner of the West India Docks – in the area shown here (the yellow line is my walking route):

The same area on an 1890s map:

At the end of the 1700s, before the West India Docks were constructed, this area was primarily pasture land, but there were also a couple of ropeworks, and at least one pub (the Gut House, built next to the inland ‘lake’ known as the Poplar Gut).

It was around this time that West India merchants campaigned for an alternative to the crowded, inefficient and insecure Pool of London for unloading their valuable goods shipped from the plantations of the Caribbean. They won Parliament approval for their plans and the newly-formed ‘West India Dock Company’ acquired a large area of land which covered much of the north of the Isle of Dogs. The small corner of the docks shown in the satellite photo is top-left in this plan:

1800. West India Docks plan shown on a map of the original land and field boundaries, ancient paths, ditches, rope works, the Gut House and the Poplar Gut. Click for full-sized version.

The proposed docks and buildings were huge for their time.  The following image gives a good sense of this, especially when contrasted with the small buildings in the surrounding area. It is a section of William Danniel’s (his surname is sometimes spelled Daniel) ‘An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse…’.

1800. William Danniel. Looking northwest. Top left is St Paul’s Cathedral, on the right is St Anne’s Church.

Outside the Main Entrance

The size of the warehouses is lost today if you approach them from the West India Dock Road and stand just outside the former main docks entrance. This is not the best view of the warehouses – overshadowed by the modern towers in the background – but it does gets better on the other side.

Photo: Mick Lemmerman

The distinctive gate piers were erected in 1809 and are described by the Survey of London as rusticated Portland stone piers with dwarf pediments and acroteria cappings, and rockfaced bases. They took the words right out of my mouth….

There were originally three piers with wrought iron gates between them, and they are recognizable in most images of the main entrance.

1886. Waiting for the call-on.

Early 20th century. Waiting for the call-on.

Year unknown.

1944. Looking in the opposite direction. Canadian troops entering the docks.

1951. Strike meeting.

1953. Must have been taken on a Sunday. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=337373)

1984. After the closure of the docks

Observant readers will have noticed the statue of Robert Milligan in the earliest photos of the main entrance. This controversial statue was very recently removed from its most recent position outside the Museum of London Docklands after an emotional public dialogue about statues that commemorate slave-owners or those who profited from the slave trade (as did Milligan). The museum, which has always done a good job of explaining how the dock founders made their fortunes, is considering what should be done with the statue.

The statue was originally erected (in 1813) in the middle of the small courtyard outside what is now named the Ledger Building (see following map), but it was found to be getting in the way of traffic there, so in 1875 the dock company moved it to the top of the central pier at the West India Dock Road entrance.

In 1943, during WWII, the central pier and the statue were removed to make room for wider vehicles. The pier was rebuilt in 1951, but without the statue (the PLA didn’t seem to be too fussed about it). I cannot find any record or image which tell of its location from 1943, and I assume it was kept in storage until it became part of the Museum of London Docklands collection and was placed outside the museum entrance.

Section of Weller’s 1868 map of London. (A) Excise Office, (B) Customs Office, (C) Original location of Milligan Statue, (D) Hibbert Gate.

The previous map shows also the Excise Office (a Tavern by the time of the map) and the Customs Office. Here they are viewed from inside the dock entrance.

1930s. (Former) Excise Office on left and Customs Office on right.

Survey of London:

The Customs and Excise offices were substantial two-storey buildings, much larger than the dock company’s own offices. They were mirror images of each other, with identical facades. The Excise Office had ceased to be used as such by 1825. It was refitted and used for Customs until 1830, when it was given up as surplus to requirements. The former Excise Office was leased to Edmund Calvert in 1846 and converted into the Jamaica Tavern [aka Jamaica Hotel].

The Jamaica Tavern did not have a particularly good reputation, with hints of association with the opium dealing that was rife in Limehouse, and its license was not renewed in 1925. It was seriously damaged by fire not long afterwards, entirely coincidental of course…

The PLA took the building over, repaired it, and used it for dock offices (it was never a ‘Dockmaster’s Office’ as it is currently named).

1971. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=283531)

Former Excise Office. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

Across the street, the Custom’s Office was vacated in 1883 and thereafter had a wide range of uses, including becoming a Chinese restaurant in 1943. In 1959, the by-then dilapidated building was demolished. The area remained vacant until the present-day cinema was built on site.

1959. Demolition of the former Custom’s Office

In the past, if you turned right after walking through the gates, you would have been facing three buildings, from left to right:

  • police station
  • Scandinavian Sailors Temperance Home
  • Salvation Army Hostel, Grieg House

Here are the three buildings viewed from the south. Only the police station, built in 1913, was inside the dock wall. The Scandinavian Sailors Temperance Home was later administered by the Salvation Army and has since been demolished.

Circa 1930. On the left is the police station.

1960s

1960s

2010s. The building was used by Cannon Workshops for a period, and was later taken over by a hotel chain.

Just south of the old police station is the building complex now known as Cannon Workshops. At the start of the construction of the West India Docks, this area contained a few buildings that previously belonged to John Lyney’s ropeworks (before the dock company bought them out). These and other buildings in the area were used for a variety of purposes by dock engineers during the construction of the docks, and after the docks were opened they were converted and expanded to form a cooperage and workshops.

From the early 1820s, the quadrangle of buildings that we now know as Cannon Workshops (but were known as the Engineers’ Offices in the last operating years of the docks) were constructed on the site. A curious fact mentioned by the Survey of London:

The small yard enclosed by the building was excavated for a water tank, equipped with a pump and hoses in case of a fire. From 1875 the tank was used for compulsory swimming lessons for boy labourers.

1919. West India Docks volunteer army unit at the later-named Cannon Workshops. Photo: Museum of London

1971. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=278371)

1982

The round house in front of the workshops is the northernmost of two constructed here. Despite the dock’s security and high walls, pilfering remained a problem. Survey of London:

The southern round house was the lock-up [for thieves waiting to be handed over to the  magistrates], the other was an armoury or magazine for 120 muskets for the Military Guard and the dock company’s own regiment, formed to protect the docks in case of invasion. Both buildings apparently doubled as guard houses for the dock company constables.

1971. Northern watch house. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=278373)

They later became police stores, occasionally used for the deposit of stolen goods. The southern round house was demolished in 1922–3 to make way for a railway siding. The survivor was later adapted as a sorting and distributing centre for the PLA’s internal messenger service, and in 1981–3 was refurbished as part of the Cannon Workshops project and let as a small office.

Across the road from the workshops, the rear of the dock offices was connected via an internal perimeter wall to a bonded warehouse (Warehouse No. 11). A gate in the wall – the Hibbert Gate – provided access to the inner, secure area of the docks.

Late 1800s (before construction of police station). (A) Cooperage and workshops now occupied by Cannon Workshops, (B) northernmost round house, (C) southernmost round house, (D) Hibbert Gate, (E) Dock Offices

1953.  The rear of the general dock offices. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=283309)

I took this photo a little further to the right; it shows the foundation stone (actually, stones):

Photo: Mick Lemmerman

I guessed that this was not the original location of the foundation stone, and have since learned it was first mounted at almost the other end of the Import Dock North Quay, on the wall of Warehouse No. 8.

West India Docks Foundation Stone. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

Further to the right was the inner perimeter wall with its Hibbert Gate.  Survey of London:

A rusticated Portland stone arch was surmounted by a pediment carrying a masterpiece of Coade stone, a 10ft long model West Indiaman named The Hibbert. The archway, which had a pair of tall wrought-iron gates, was large enough to admit carts and wagons on to the quays. This entrance, which came to be known variously as Hibbert Gate, Ship Gate, or Clock Gate, was where visitors to the docks were admitted.

It therefore came to be an emblem of the West India Docks, and formed part of the arms of the Borough of Poplar. The Hibbert Gate and its flanking walls were dismantled in 1932, following representations from PLA tenants that the narrow archway impeded traffic.

The Hibbert Gate in the 1920s (estimated).  This photo shows just how narrow the gate was. A (scaled-down) replica of the gate was opened on 12th June 2000 by Ken Livingstone not too far from the original location.

The model ship was presented to Poplar Borough Council and re-erected in Poplar Recreation Ground. It was damaged by bombing and vandals during the Second World War, and collapsed during an attempt to move it to Poplar Library.

After the removal of the gate and adjacent walls, access to the warehouses and quays was much easier (I suppose the the concept of an inner, secure area was no longer applicable). Compare this to the previous photograph.

Late 1930s (estimate). The Docks Offices are on the left, Warehouse No. 11 is on the right.

The removal of the gate and wall also increased the visibility of the Dock Offices. Today, the building is occupied by a pub known as ‘The Ledger Building’.

1971. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=278418)

Recent photo of the dock offices building

Opposite the dock offices was Warehouse No. 11, most of which was destroyed during WWII. The remainder was designated for listing, but the PLA demolished it anyway in 1963. This area seems to have been fenced off for a long time now.

Looking west towards Cannon Workshops. Warehouses and the Ledger Building are on the right. The long fenced off area where Warehouse No. 11 was is on the left. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

The view from the same point – but then in the opposite direction, towards the east – hardly changed at all for many decades. Compare the following photos to the 1930s photo above which was taken after the removal of the Hibbert Gate in 1932:

1960s

1970s

1979. A screenshot from ‘The Long Good Friday’. The film was released in the following year, the year that the West India Docks officially closed, but it is evident that dock operations had already ended earlier.

The sheds between the warehouses and the water were built in 1914, replacing the open sheds that were originally here.

1914 shed construction

The enclosed sheds were later demolished as part of the late 20th century redevelopment of the North Quay, leaving an open area between the warehouses and the dock water (which is an improvement, and does provide for a better view of the warehouses).

I enjoy visiting the North Quay of the Import Dock (which has since been renamed West India Quay) and the Museum of London Docklands whenever I can, but I do tend to keep my back to the South Quay.

Anyway…. where was I? Oh yeah, going to the George. Cheers!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

A Short History of Mellish Street

[Many thanks to former Mellish Street resident, Con Maloney for his contribution of some of the text and photos in this article.]

There are very few streets left on the Island where 19th century houses are still standing. One of these is Mellish Street, the first section of which was laid out on land belonging to William Mellish in  about 1860.

c1870

The first houses were built in 1862-3 and are shown on the right in the following photo, taken in the 1910s. The terrace extended from close to Westferry Road (centre of photo) to Cheval Street (right). Contrast these houses with those on the other side of the street, which were more typical for Mellish Street: bay-windowed and the houses built slightly back from the road and separated from the pavement by a wall and/or iron fence.

1910s. Mellish Street, looking towards the iron works in Westferry Road, and the street full of horse manure

Mellish Street was slowly extended eastwards from the 1860s. The initial development ended at the path of an old drainage ditch, as did the development of virtually all east-west streets in Millwall (see here for an article). Land to the east of this boundary was at the time still farmland.

1870s. This map shows Glengall Road in the wrong place. Perhaps at the time it was planned to route the road further south of the rope works.

In the following decades the farmland disappeared and Alpha Road was extended southwards, forming the eastern limit for most west-east streets as the land beyond it was owned by the Millwal Dock Company. Mellish Street was not similarly constrained and would continue to be developed in the following decades.

c1895. Click for full-sized version.

In the previous map, the houses on the north side of the street, immedately east of Alpha Grove looked to have been very large – twice as large as other houses in the street. They were, however, poorly built (by Sydenham builder, Thomas Grundy). Survey of London:

Grundy’s houses, excepting the corner shop at No. 64, were described as ‘inferior’ and in very poor repair only 30 years after they were built. They were let as halfhouses.

William Chapman is probably referring to these houses in this quote (from Eve Hostettler’s Brief History of the Isle of Dogs):

I realise I am privileged to have been born and dragged up, as we termed it, amongst such wonderful people. They had their faults and some wrong ‘uns, the same as anywhere else but to me the only fault that sticks out is one of ‘snobbery’. I believe it was due to the economic and social struggle of the times. Mellish Street, being of a superior type of houses, was occupied by superior people. There was one section of the street of a poorer type, known as ‘the blocks’, being constructed of four flats with a centre stairway from the street up to the first floor flats and from the rear down to a large yard. We moved there in 1918. When the Great War ended we had a peace party in the street for us children. But us children being from the blocks were barred from sitting with the kids from the better houses. We were invited to sit at separate tables in a further section of the street, although in ratio there were more men from the blocks in the forces than in the rest of the street.

As the Survey of London sums it up, Mellish Street might have belonged to any nondescript late-Victorian suburb.

1910s (estimate).

1910s (estimate)

1910

It was 1905 before Mellish Street was finally filled with houses. The last two houses to be built were numbers 157 and 159 at the eastern end on the south side of the street. A ground-floor building at the rear housed a restaurant/cafe whose entrance was around the corner in the short section of Mellish Street that heads south there.

1920s. Click for full-sized version

1930s. The corner of Mellish Street (L) and Cheval Street (R). Photo: Christine Coleman

Street party to celebrate the coronation of George VI. Photo: Island History Trust

In the late 1930s, Union Road, the short street between Westferry Road and the river, was renamed and became part of Mellish Street. The extension was much unlike the rest of Mellish Street; it was narrow and lined with industry, and also included a pub: The Union aka Union Tavern (informally named the Pin & Cotter or just the Pin by Islanders).

1920s. Prior to the renaming of Union Road

Mellish Street was very seriously damaged during WWII, but the most casualties and deaths amongst its residents occurred during the Bullivant’s Wharf shelter tragedy on 19th March 1941. A direct hit on one corner of the building caused the roof and floors to collapse on to the people below. There were approximately 120 people in the shelter, and at least 40 were killed and a further 60 injured. This was to be the worst bombing incident on the Isle of Dogs during WWII. Residents of Mellish Street who died as a result were:

  • Harriett Emily Colbourn, aged 62, of No. 7
  • James Daniel Granvell, aged 19, of No. 35, died next day in Poplar Hospital
  • Alice Grace Shields, aged 50, of No. 30
  • Iris May Shields, aged 22, of No. 30
  • Olive Mabel Shields, aged 17, of No. 30, died 22nd March in Poplar Hospital
  • Albert William Westwood, aged 45, Home Guard, of No. 33

Joyce Williams (later Jacobs), who moved into 137 Mellish Street when she married AFS dispatch rider Alexander George Jacobs in 1944 later recalled the event (quote courtesy of Steve Jacobs):

We had our blankets and our kettle and all the things you took up there and we were going out the front door when it was really banging overhead. The guns and the planes and the bombs. So he said, “Hang on a minute” because you could get hit with shrapnel, running through it. Good job we did. We’d have been up there as well. Soon after, someone came running down the street. “Bullivant’s been hit. All the people in the shelter…” And they were bringing out the dead. And a woman drove the ambulance backwards and forwards through that, taking all the injured up to Poplar Hospital.

Island History Trust

The extent of bomb damage to Mellish Street during WWII is evident in this c1949 map in which the pre-war houses are highlighted.

1949. Mellish Street. Alpha Grove had been extended south to Glengall Grove by ths time. Click for full-sized version.

But, this 1947 aerial photo provides a more dramatic view (pre-war houses in Mellish Street are again highlighted).

1947. Mellish Street. Click for full-sized version.

The previous map and photo also show some of the emergency housing that was built at the end of the war. The free-standing box-shaped houses are all prefabs; the terraces of rectangular houses are Orlit homes. Another Orlit building, this time a block of flats (the first block of precast concrete-framed flats to be built in the country), was Rawalpindi House, officially opened in March 1948. It was named after the Armed Merchant Ship Rawalpindi which was sunk by German warships in 1939.

Orlit Construction advert featuring Rawalpindi House

Charles Key, Minister of Works, visiting Rawalpindi House 10 March 1948 to officially hand over the keys to Poplar Borough Council

1948. Rawalpindi House

1948. New residents of Rawalpindi House (at No. 10), Margaret O’Neill and her baby son, Terry.

Due to their experimental nature, the Orlit buildings were funded and constructed by the Minstry of Works. In 1951, Poplar Borough Council borrowed money from the government in order to purchase the buildings (er….from the government).

1950-51 Poplar Borough Council Minutes

Not long after the opening of Rawalpindi House, two other blocks of flats were built on the north side of Mellish Street, to the east of Alpha Grove (renamed from Alpha Road in the 1930s): Clara Grant House and Gilbertson House, almost identical in design. Survey of London:

The blocks were named after Clara Grant, who had done such memorable work (especially for poor children) at the Fern Street Settlement in Bow, and John F. Gilbertson, a former long-serving member of the Borough Council [he was mayor from 1938-39].

Clara Grant House

1950-51 Poplar Borough Council Minutes

1953. Street party in celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The party was held in the short side ‘street’ between Nos. 118 and 120 which ended at the dock fence. Photo: John Fairweather.

1953. Same street party, looking in the opposite direction. John Fairweather is the rightmost boy in a white shirt.

The area between Nos. 118 and 120 in the 1950s. Photo: Charnley family

1950s. The eastern end of Mellish Street, where it makes a 90 degree turn to the right for the short section towards Glengall Grove (as it was named at the time). Con Maloney’s grandparents lived at No. 155. Photo: Lou Salmon

The short section of Mellish Street looking towards Glengall Grove with Dunbar House in the background. Photo: Sandra Brentnall

Completely out of chronological order, a screenshot from the 1980s TV series, The Chinese Detective, for comparison with the previous photo which was taken from the same place.

1953. Photo: Keith Charnley

Early 60s (estimate). Close to Westferry Road. Photo: Gary O’Keefe?

The earliest-built houses in Mellish Street were in rather a poor state by this time, and some suffered from a rodent infestation.

Daily Mirror

Con Maloney:

We moved [to Mellish Street] in 1960 from Cuba Street, where my parents rented two rooms from an elderly couple. Both sets of grandparents rented houses in Mellish Street, Dad’s parents were at 155 at the eastern end and Mum’s moved into the brand new post-war Orlit houses no’s 51-55, after being bombed out in Poplar and put into temporary lice-infested Nissen Huts in Alpha Grove.

1950s. One of the Orlit houses where Con Maloney’s mum’s family lived. Photo: Con Maloney.

Almost all the terraced houses at our end each had two families renting, usually related to each other. Fred Dupuy, who lived at 118, owned several houses and rented them out, including no.114 to our Hawkins cousins. They let Dad know that the two families next door at 112 – Pidgeon and Royal – were moving out. He went to see Mr Dupuy and was talked into buying it! Several of the families had moved from Claude Street after WWII when it was evacuated after the nearby Winkley’s Wharf was bombed.

There was a mixture of social classes there at that time. Several stevedores like Dad but also a few other owner-occupiers who kept themselves to themselves. There was a wide gap between no’s 118 and 120 [where the 1953 street part was held] and the man who lived at 120 more or less claimed it as his own. He would chuck us kids out if we tried to play ball games there and there were often rows if anyone tried to park their car there. Bit of a cheek, as he didn’t even own it! They’ve turned that into a pedestrian road into the new developments behind the street now.

A young Con on a motorbike. Photo: Con Maloney

As an aside, there were at least six boys in our street who got into the prestigious Coopers’ Company Grammar School within the space of about four years. That may have been a reflection of the social status or affluence of the residents or perhaps possible the school were operating an informal ‘catchment area’ policy – stranger things have happened.

Very little traffic came up to our end in the early sixties so we could play in the street. The ladies all sat outside on their gossiping and making sure we didn’t get into mischief.

c1960 (estimated).  Photo: Gary O’Keefe

We would play football against the three garages next to the Millwall Dock wall, they were never used to my knowledge. Mrs Bullock lived in the end house and she would sometimes tell us off if the ball went over the top of the garages into her garden, followed by us trying to retrieve it. She was plagued by rats, being the closest house to the massive Central Granary just behind her garden. They were everywhere and we would stand on the garages and throw bricks at them or fire slugs from my Uncle Tommy Hawkins’s air rifle. He kept it to scare rats and cats away from his racing pigeon loft.

The view of Millwall Docks – and the West India Docks in the background – from upstairs at Con’s house. The Central Granary is on the right (Con Maloney)

We had the Millwall Dock Railway behind our houses until the cleared it in the early sixties. We’d climb on Dad’s aviary and watch the little steam freight trains over the dock fence. Then they tarmaced it over to build the Dock Social Club there and you could hear the DJ’s on Saturday nights when they had a function on. The music used to echo right across the open space there into our ground floor bedroom, which backed onto the small yard. On New Year’s Eve, it was the same with the ships’ horns, the sound used to travel and resonate, it was quite magical.

1970s. Con Maloney

Mellish Street kids had a sort of ‘turf war’ going on with Tiller Road (Hammond and Dunbar Houses) – we couldn’t walk down there and vice versa. Janet Street and Alpha Grove would be our allies. Every summer thing’s would come to a head and older lads like Harry Munt, Johnny Parsons and Roy Inkpen would have a pow-wow with the Tiller leaders like Keith Tyler and arrange a stone fight on the bit of Mellish Street that links it with Tiller Road. We’d gather piles of ‘ammo’ with dustbin lids for shields and line up near the garages, with Tiller at the other end near the Glass Bridge entrance. At the appointed time, the stones would fly from end to end. Most were blocked and usually no real harm was done. But a lad our age called Gavin Solley came from Somerset to stay with his Nan for the summer, she lived in a prefab opposite Clara Grant House. He came to the stone fight with us and when hostilities commenced, he suddenly yelled ‘charge’ and ran towards Tiller waving a stick. Stones, bricks and bottles rained down on him and by the time a truce was called and we pulled him back to safety, his head was split wide open. But a trip to hospital soon put him back together again.

1960s. Stan and Lou Salmon’s shop. Photo: Sandra Brentnall

1960s. Interior of Stan and Lou Salmon’s shop. Photo: Sandra Brentnall

In 1964, scenes from the film, Saturday Night Out, were filmed in Mellish Street…

1964. Saturday Night Out. The derelict area behind the fence was the site of the first houses built in Mellish Street, which were cleared not that long before the filming commenced. St Hubert’s House is on the left, and Orlit houses and Millwall Dock cranes are visible on the right.

1964. Saturday Night Out. Mellish Street (left) at its corner with Westferry Road, with prefabs in the background.

1964. Saturday Night Out. One of the actors running up the former Union Road towards the river. Much of this area was destroyed during WWII – Sir John McDougall Gardens are now on the site.

1964. Saturday Night Out. Mellish Street, looking from the river end towards Westferry Road.

A couple of years later, and another film – The Sandwich Man, starring Michael Bentine – included a scene in Mellish Street.

1966. The Sandwich Man. Looking east.

1966. The Sandwich Man. Looking west (Alpha Grove is on the right, and Salmon’s is on the corner).

1966. The Sandwich Man. Looking up Alpha Grove from Mellish Street. The kid playing hopscotch on the left close to Michael Bentine is Con Maloney.

The street also featured in a few TV series, including Dixon of Dock Green…..

Courtesy of Keith Charnley

Special Branch (Series 2, Episode 8, ‘Borderline Case’)….

4D Special Agents, a TV film from the Children’s Film Foundation….

The Chinese Detective….

And Prospects….

All of the Victorian houses west of Alpha Grove were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Barkantine Estate, a development which also meant the Westferry Road end of Mellish Street was permenently closed to traffic.

1960s. Part of an architectural model of Barkantine Estate

The model shows free-standing houses in this section of Mellish Street which were not constructed. John Tucker House was built on the site.

John Tucker House in the 1980s, left of the off license in what was previously Salmon’s shop.

1970s. Looking east. John Tucker House is on the left, across the road to Rawalpindi House (which was demolished in the 1990s). Closer to the photographer is Scoulding House, “named after J. T. (‘Tom’) Scoulding, a prominent local Trades Union official with the Transport and General Workers Union, who was also a member of the Board of the PLA” (Survey of London).

1982. Click for full-sized version.

The east end of the street, however, has hardly changed at all over the years.

1980s. Photo: Sandra Brentnall 

c1990. Photo: Con Maloney

2011

2011

What is not visible in the 1980s photos in this article is just how empty the surrounding Millwall Docks area was at the time

Click for full-sized version

Not any more it isn’t….

Looking north over Mellish Street. Photo: Con Maloney

Looking east at the end of the street

The gap between Nos. 118 and 120, which used to end at a wooden dock fence. The area used for the 1953 street party shown in John Fairweather’s photos, where Keith Charnley’s dad parked his car for a photo, and where the neighbour moaned at Con and his mates for playing football…

2014. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments

The Isle of Dogs in the Sixties

The Isle of Dogs was a relatively sedate and stable place during the half century from the start of 1880s to the end of the 1930s. In large part due to its physical isolation – enclosed by the docks and the Thames – it was a close-knit community: there was plentiful work in the docks and in local firms, people mostly went to school and worked on the Island, Islanders married other Islanders, there was little reason for many to leave the Island (except perhaps for a weekly trip to Chrisp Street market), and so it went on.

WWII changed all that, and Islanders saw their home change dramatically and permanently. After experiencing the danger and destruction of the war, they witnessed the demolition of much of the remaining housing followed by the construction of new housing of a very different type and density.

While some new homes were built in the 1950s – around the new Castalia Square in particular – the peak of the redevelopment was during the 1960s when whole areas were cleared and replaced with new housing estates, consisting mostly of blocks of flats, and including a number of large tower blocks. Many of the new homes were often occupied by ‘newcomers’ from other areas of the East End

During this period, the population of the Island grew from about 9,000 to about 12,000, and the percentage of Islanders living in publicly-owned housing grew from 60% to 97% of the population (compare this to 68% for all of Tower Hamlets and 25% for Greater London)!

c1980 map with 1960s-built housing (mostly blocks of flats) highlighted.

My own family was among the ‘immigrants’, moving as we did at the end of the 1960s from a Victorian tenement off the Whitechapel Road to a brand new flat opposite Christ Church.  I loved my new home, but my mum was less than impressed: she thought it was dreadful to move to such a quiet place which felt like it was on the other side of the world. Some small compensation lie in the fact that a number of old neighbours and acquaintances had also moved from Stepney to the Island, so at least there were some familiar faces.

Back to the start of the decade, what was happening on the Isle of Dogs……?

1960

Bomb-damaged during WWII and derelict ever since, St Luke’s Church in Alpha Grove was finally demolished.

St Luke’s Church

Former North Greenwich Railway Station, Ferry Street.

Alpha Grove (Broadway Works in the background). Photo: Janey B Bracey

1961

Start of construction of the Manchester Estate in the area bounded by Seyssel Street, Manchester Road and Pier Street.

Construction of Salford House, Seyssel Street (part of the Manchester Estate).

At the other end of Seyssel Street, the National Dock Labour Board established a training centre at Plymouth Wharf in Saunders Ness Road.

The footbridge that connected Hesperus Crescent with Chapel House Street was demolished (the railway that it used to cross was no longer in use and Poplar Borough Council had purchased the land).

1962

Betty May Gray House at the corner of Manchester Road and Pier Street was officially opened in March. The block was built by the Isle of Dogs Housing Society with the assistance of money left by Betty May Gray who had died in 1933, leaving the residue of her estate to be devoted in the most general terms ‘to the furtherance of practical measures of slum clearance’ (Survey of London).

National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1933.

Construction of Betty May Gray house viewed from the PLA football pitch in the Mudchute. Photo: George Warren

Near the paddling pool. Photo: Fairweather family

Construction started on the Schooner Estate on land bounded by Stebondale Street, Glengarnock Avenue and Manchester Road.

Demolition of houses along Manchester Road in preparation for the construction of the Schooner Estate. Galleon House (opened in 1963) is now on this site. Image is a merge of two photos courtesy of Christine Coleman.

Architectural model of the Schooner Estate.

Writer and broadcaster Dan Farson became the licensee of the Newcastle Arms, which he renamed the Waterman’s Arms. He completely redecorated the pub and organised live music in order to recreate the atmosphere of old time music halls, and in the following years the pub was extremely popular, frequently packed and regularly visited by celebrities.

Dan Farson in the Newcastle Arms just after becoming licensee, before the renaming and redecoration, and perhaps wondering what he’d let himself in for.

The former reading room in the libary in Strattondale Street was extended and became a public hall which could be used for public meetings and social events.

John MacDonald House, named after a borough councillor, was opened in East Ferry Road in March 1962.

John MacDonald House shortly after opening, the rear view.

The Island Tenants association (ITA), fed up with the apparent inaction and indifference of local Labour councillors, decided to contest all three Cubitt Town seats on the forty-two-member Poplar Borough Council, and won. It was the first time since 1913 that any non-Labour candidate had won an Island seat.

Hesperus Crescent. Photo: Island History Trust / Donna Stevens

Postscript to Empire is a documentary which compared the life and attitudes of inhabitants of Dockland with those who had recently moved to a New Town. The Dockland area in question was the Isle of Dogs. The film is quite patronising in places, but has some great scenes of familiar people and places…

1963

Courtesy of Tony Alltoft

Construction started on the elevated pedestrian bridge which crossed the Millwall Inner Dock, a bridge that would be dubbed the ‘Glass Bridge’ by Islanders. The western part of Glengall Grove (which used to provide public vehicle access across Millwall Docks and was named Glengall Road until 1940) was renamed Tiller Road.

Glass Bridge construction

Queenie Watts walking in Ship Street. Behind her is Manchester Road at the time of construction of Galleon House. The image is a screenshot from the film, Portrait of Queenie, which was released in 1964.

A number of scenes from the film, Sparrows Can’t Sing, were filmed in and around the Pride of the Isle pub in Havannah Street. Reputedly, this was the first English-language film to be shown in the US which needed English subtitles.

Havannah Street looking towards Westferry Road. Barbara Windsor between filming scenes for Sparrows Can’t Sing.

Screenshot from Sparrow’s Can’t Sing – a scene filmed in the Pride of the Isle pub in Havannah Street. The final scene was filmed here, and it is said that the Krays are visible in the scene. I’ve watched it a few times but I can’t see them myself.

1964

Brown & Polson Limited sell their Broadway Works premises (off Alpha Grove) to Tate & Lyle.

Tate & Lyle. Photo: Island History Trust

Construction started on the Samuda Estate, which included the tallest residential block in London at the time, the 25-story Kelson House.

Construction of the Samuda Estate in the background of a photo taken in St John’s Park. Photo: Gary O’Keefe

Construction of Kelson House in the background of a photo of a historic paddle steamer.

Survey of London:

Cumberland Oil Mills … latterly occupied by British Oil & Cake Mills Ltd … closed in 1964. Subsequently the premises were occupied for a few years by a steel-fabrications company and then by the Apex Rubber Company Ltd of Cubitt Town Wharf for warehousing.

Cumberland Oil Mills (with tallest chimney) behind Gipsy Moth IV during the ceremony of the knighting of Francis Chichester in 1967. The construction of Kelson House can be seen further in the background on the left.

Normandy, Valiant, Tamar and Watkins Houses in East Ferry Road were opened.

Portrait of Queenie, a documentary about Island-born singer Queenie Watts, featured somes scenes filmed on the Island…..

The Island also featured quite a lot in the film, Saturday Night Out, about a group of seamen who were determined to make the most of their short time off-ship in London…..

The baker’s at the corner of Westferry Road and Mellish Street. Scene from ‘Saturday Night Out’.

Mellish Street (St Hubert’s House is visible on the left). Scene from ‘Saturday Night Out’.

The closing scene of ‘Saturday Night Out’ was filmed from an ascending helicopter, and shows a large area of Millwall. The wasteland in the foreground became Sir John McDougall Gardens. The white building to the left of ‘THE END’ is the original Tooke Arms.

1965

Pier Street

The Glass Bridge was opened.

The PLA offered guided tours of the docks. The two uniformed guides here are standing on the top of McDougall’s flour silo building in Millwall Docks.

The LCC approved proposals for the clearance and redevelopment of what would become the Barkantine Estate.

Survey of London:

Attendances continued to fall, and in 1965 the congregations of St John’s and Christ Church were combined and Christ Church was rededicated as the Church of Christ and St John. St John’s church and hall were demolished following fire damage in 1970.

The rededication (or something like that) of St John’s in Roserton Street after the merger of its parish with that of Christ Church.

In the Ferry House (incorrectly named in this Daily Mirror article)

Nellie Cressall resigned after serving as one of the Island’s six borough councillors since 1919.

Nellie Frances Cressall in the rear garden of her Macquarie Way home.

Mellish Street. Photo: John Lincoln (“Bob Lincoln sitting on Malcolm and Rodney Issit’s dads car at a very clean 40 Mellish street, Rawalpindi house in background”)

Dolphins in the Thames off Millwall

Four in the Morning, a film starring a very young Judie Dench, featured a scene filmed at West India Dock Pier, when the body of a murdered young woman is brought ashore by the river police.

West India Dock Pier. Scene from ‘Four in the Morning’.

West India Dock Pier. Scene from ‘Four in the Morning’.

West India Dock Pier. Scene from ‘Four in the Morning’.

1966

Plans to repair and alter the Millwall Dock entrance lock and its bridge (known informally as ‘Kingsbridge’) were postponed due to the outbreak of WWII, during which the lock was badly damged. Financial issues after the war meant abandoning the plans; the lock was dammed and eventually silted up. The bridge no longer crossed water after a few years.

Click for full-sized version

The swimming pool at Island Baths was destroyed during WII and the building patched up so that the slipper baths and laundry could still be used. In 1963 the building was demolished – after rebuilding, the new baths opened in 1966.

Click for full-sized version

Daily Mirror

Photo: Island History Trust

Construction of Kedge House and Winch House, and Nos. 1-20 Starboard Way open in/off Tiller Road.

Construction in Mellish Street of Scoulding House, named after J. T. (‘Tom’) Scoulding, a prominent local Trades Union official with the Transport and General Workers Union, who was also a member of the Board of the PLA.

Opening of Alastor, Argyle, Finwhale, Killoran, Kimberley, Kingdon, Lingard and Montfort Houses in and around Galbraith Street.

A scene from the film, The Sandwich Man, was filmed in and off Mellish Street….

1967

Newcastle Drawdock

1967

Construction of Barkantine Estate. Photo taken from St Lukes vicarage in Strafford Street. Island History Trust / Revd BK Andrews

1968

Photo: Hugo Wilhare

Survey of London:

Closure of the [Millwall] dry dock was proposed in 1966, as it was losing money. Ship-repairers failed to persuade the PLA to lease it, and it was closed and flooded on 30 October 1968. The site and the 25-ton crane were subsequently used for a barge berth.

The Blackwall entrance became much less important after 1929, following the completion of a new South Dock east entrance and passages linking the Import, Export and South Docks. It was closed from 1940 to 1950, reopening only for barge traffic. The lock was last used in 1968.

The bridge over the Blackwall entrance lock in Preston’s Road

Manchester Road. Photo: Hugo Wilhare

Seven Mills Primary School opened; the southern half of its site was previously occupied by Millwall Central School (destroyed during WWII) and the so-called ‘Janet Street Mentally Defective School’.

A show at the formal opening of Seven Mills Primary School (the show took place in 1969)

1968. Tree planting in the newly-opened Sir John McDougall Gardens. Photo: Violet O’Keefe

The first section of the Barkantine Estate was opened.

The Rec, Millwall Park. Photo: Bill Brace

The One O’Clock Club. Photo: Nicky Smith

Millwall Inner Dock

1969

The opening of the bridge of the South West India Dock East Entrance Lock aka The Blue Bridge.

Assembly of the Blue Bridge, which opened on 1st June 1969

The opening of Alice Shepherd House, named after a local councillor who had served from 1928 to 1962.

Closure of the Central Granary after the opening of the Tilbury Grain Terminal. The Central Granary was demolished a year later.

Central Granary

Construction in Millwall Docks of Fred Olsen office buildings designed by Norman Foster.

Sir John McDougall Gardens and the first buildings on the Barkantine Estate were opened in 1968, but the bridge connecting the park to the estate was not completed until 1969.

Construction of the bridge from Sir John McDougall Gardens to the Barkantine Estate. The original Tooke Arms is also visible in this photo.

Survey of London:

Calder’s Wharf remained in use for wharfage until c1969, when a boathouse for the Poplar, Blackwall & District Rowing Club (which had been using the old covered-way shed) was built on the site.

Construction of new rowing club boathouse

On 17th July disaster struck at Dudgeon’s Wharf, with tragic consequences. Workers were busy demolishing the long disused oil and petrol tanks with oxy-acetylene burners when a fire started in one of the tanks.

The fire brigade were called out, but the fire was out by the time they arrived. A number of firemen climbed on the rim of the tank to pour water inside, as an extra precaution, but at the time a demolition worker was still working below with his oxy-acetylene burner. The tank exploded, killing five firemen and one demolition worker.

The firemen are commemorated in a London Fire Brigade memorial by the river.

Dudgeon’s Wharf, 17th July 1969

Construction of the Kingfield Estate – comprising most of the area bounded by Stebondale Street, Seyssel Street, Manchester Road and Glengarnock Avenue – was started in 1924 but was not completed. The development area increased in size due to the WWII destruction of homes along the named streets, most of which were lined with prefabs. In 1964, Poplar Borough Council made plans to complete the estate, and the first blocks of flats were opened in 1969.

Kingfield Estate shortly after opening

These were the flats that we moved into in 1969.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Almost the Bottom of Millwall

Westferry Road at its corner with Chapel House Street is an area characterised by low-rise, modern homes.

Until the 1980s, few people lived along this section of Westferry Road. When I walked home from Harbinger Primary School along the dirty and noisy Westferry Road in the 1960s, I passed factories, a couple of pubs, a cafe and a bank – but no houses that I can remember before reaching the Nelson (apart from a couple opposite The Ship).

c1980. Westferry Road, Burrell’s

1970s. Westferry Road, Associated Lead

One of the earliest, and certainly the most famous, industrial ventures along this stretch of road was the 1850s construction of the SS Great Eastern, the largest ship ever made at the time (see here for full article). This contemporary illustration shows the construction as viewed from ‘inland’, probably from where Marsh Street now is (the street name is clearly appropriate).

Illustration of construction of SS Great Eastern – click for larger version.

The Great Eastern was so large that shipbuilder Scott Russell not only acquired adjacent riverside yards to accommodate the ship, he also had to build a works on the other side of Westferry Road.

Late 1860s

Thanks to the business offered by workers on the Great Eastern, and the large numbers of visitors to this great spectacle, at least five pubs or beer houses were opened in this short section of Westferry Road. From west to east they were as follows:

  • The Great Eastern, No. 395, opened in 1860.
  • Robert Burns, Nos. 248-250, opened in 1853.
  • Highland Mary, Nos. 252-254, year of opening unknown.
  • The Ship, No. 290, opened in the 1850s.
  • Glendower, Nos. 296-298, year of opening unknown.

The Scottish influence in some of the pub names is of course no coincidence; many of the most experienced iron shipbuilding workers were to be found in Scotland and they were attracted south to work in Thames yards (whose owners – like Scott Russell – were frequently also Scottish).

The 1860s map shows also a few other firms along the riverside towards Ferry Street….

The ‘Disinfected Fluid Works’ is a reference to the works owned by Sir William Burnett, who in 1836 had invented an anti-rot and mothproofing treatment for timber and other other materials. Burnett’s firm remained on the site – later named Nelson Wharf – until the 1970s.

The ‘Chemical Works’ were the Millwall Lead Works, set up by Pontifex & Wood in about the 1840s. It was a large business – they were lead merchants, iron founders, engineers, millwrights, copper smiths, and refrigerator and boiler makers. Their principal product at Millwall was white lead, used at the time for paint manufacture.

Further east, and not named on this map, was the Millwall Pottery, set up in 1852 (it operated under a variety of trading names until ‘Millwall Pottery’ was used from about 1870). Mostly, the pottery produced functional earthernware, but on occasion it also created more ornate and artistic products, as described in this article from a fellow blogger.

North of Westferry Road, other than Scott Russell’s works, the only things visible on the map are a drainage ditch heading north, with on each side a couple of houses.

1870s. The lead works (tallest chimney) and the factories around it. A photo probably taken from the tower of St. Alfege’s Church in Greenwich. Click on image for full-sized version.

Ten years later and Scott Russell’s works had been taken over by Millwall Iron Works. Survey of London:

The Millwall Iron Works of the 1860s was the most ambitious industrial concern ever established in Millwall, employing between 4,000 and 5,000 men, who enjoyed conditions remarkable for the period, with half-day Saturday working, a canteen, sports clubs and works band. Like the Thames Iron and Shipbuilding Works, the Millwall Iron Works not only built ships but also manufactured the iron from which they were built. The two establishments were, according to a contemporary view, ‘of infinitely greater national importance’ than the royal dockyards, with a production capacity for iron ships and armour greater than that of the whole of France.

1870. Click for full-sized version

1863

1864. The featured flywheel was part of the armour-plate mill – it was 36ft in diameter and weighed more than than 100 tons. When the works closed, the mill was bought at scrap value and reinstalled at the Thames Iron Works (Survey of London).

Workers at Millwall Iron Works

1866. Launch of the iron-clad frigate HMS Northumberland, built at Millwall Iron Works

Despite the company’s sales and production success, the financial crisis of the late 1860s led to many bad debts and it went bankrupt in 1871. The works were occupied by a variety of shipbuilding and engineering firms before the land was split up and sold in sections in the 1880s.

c1890. Click for full-sized version

South of Westferry Road the former works land was taken over by paint and dye manufacturers, A. E. Burrell & Son. To their east was the Northumberland engineering works, named after the ship built there. The engineering works did not last long, and shortly afterwards the wharf was taken over by Maconochie Brothers, producers of preserved provisions including pickles, sauces, jams, marmalade, jellies, meats, fish, meat and vegetables.

1900s. Looking west in Westferry Road, close to the corner with Chapel House Street. In the background is what appears to be a bridge crossing Westferry Road – connecting the two parts of the former Millwall Iron Works.

To the east of Burnett’s, out of the view of the photo, was Matthew T. Shaw’s engineering works, established in 1881 and still operating a century later.

1900. Goad Insurance Map. Click for full version. (British Library)

Further east still, the lead works were owned by Locke, Lancaster & W. W. Johnson & Sons Ltd. in 1900. Next to them, the former Millwall Pottery was by this time occupied by Vidal Fixed Aniline Dyes Ltd, but in 1905 it would be taken over by Deptford ship-propellor manufacturers, Manganese Bronze & Brass Company Ltd,

On the other side of Westferry Road, at the corner with East Ferry Road, a fire station was built in 1877 after earlier concerns that the Isle of Dogs was too far away from the fire stations in Poplar, and difficult to reach if a bridge was up. (See this article for a history of the Isle of Dogs Fire Station.)

c1900. The original fire station building

Survey of London:

A few terraced houses were built from the early 1850s in Westferry Road and on the south side of Chapel House Street.  Pontifex & Wood, the metal and chemical manufacturers, leased the large square site later known as North Yard for building in 1852, but by the late 1860s nothing had been erected on it beyond a handful of houses in Lead Street and Silver Terrace. The bulk of the ground was later used by Matthew T. Shaw & Company for heavy engineering, becoming known as North Yard to distinguish it from the smaller South Yard at Clyde Wharf.

1900. Goad Insurance Map. Click for full version. (British Library)

1904. Silver Terrace, Westferry Road

1909. Thames Naval Review. Burrell’s is visible among the factories and their chimneys in the background. Click for full-sized version.

1920c. In the rear garden of a house in Silver Terrace, with the fire station in the background (Island History Trust)

Circa 1920. The Ship and Maconochie’s are to the rear of the bus. (Island History Trust)

The Island History Trust collection (see https://www.islandhistory.co.uk/) has a few photos of the area near the corner of Chapel House Street, photos which clearly show the few houses that were built there in the 1800s. From east to west…..

1930s. The entrance to Chapel House Street is obscured by the bus.

1920s. Watching a Roman Catholic procession proceed from Chapel House Street into Westferry Road. By this time the Chapel House Estate had been built.

1920s. Again, the entrance to Chapel House Street is obscured by a bus. The shed behind the two kids would later be converted into a ‘refreshments room’ (café)

1930s. The shed has become a café

The taller house at the left end of the terrace (No. 413). To its left is one of the former Millwall Iron Works buildings. This photo was taken during WWII, when No. 413 was in use by the Auxiliary Ambulance Service

In 1935, British Pathé made a short film about the Dockland Settlement on the Isle of Dogs. The film started with views of the docks, followed by a short scene filmed outside The Ship. Here is a a slowed-down extract (see here for the whole film).

1929. Click for full-sized version (britainfromabove.org.uk)

1934. Click for full-sized version (britainfromabove.org.uk)

The area had its fair share of bomb damage during WWII, including the destruction of almost the entire row of houses east of Chapel House Street, and of the houses in and around Lead Street. Damage to factories was repaired, but the houses were not replaced.

WWII. Bomb damage at Matthew T. Shaw’s. (Island History Trust)

WWII. Bomb damage at Matthew T. Shaw’s. (Island History Trust)

WWII. Bomb damage to the lead works. Photo: Pat & John Jarvis

WWII. Bomb (shrapnel) damage to the lead works. Photo: Pat & John Jarvis

c1950. Click for full-sized version

c1950. The sheds with lighter roofs are replacements for bomb-damaged buildings.

For the next thirty years or so, not much changed at all in this stretch of Westferry Road.

1950s Lead Works

c1960 Robert Burns

1960s

1970

1970s

1970s

1970s

1970s

1974

1977 Firemen’s Strike

c1980

Things started to change, though, with the closure of the docks. During and either side of the 1980s, Burrell’s, Associated Lead, Westwood’s, Matthew T. Shaw and other firms between Harbinger Road and East Ferry Road closed down.

1980s. Photo: Tim Brown

1980s. Photo: Peter Wright

1980s. Derelict Matthew T. Shaw yard

When almost everything was cleared, the empty spaces made a sad and strange sight:

1984

One old yard – although long closed – managed to stick it out for decades though, and was not completely demolished and cleared until just a couple of years ago: the former Boropex yard. I understand that the land was too polluted to make it at first financially viable to clean up and redevelop (but I am not sure).

1980s. Former Boropex. Photo: Peter Wright

2010s. Photo: Peter Wright.

There are now flats being built on this site too – joining all the other residential buildings along this stretch of Westferry Road. The transformation is complete.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

D-Day Preparations in the West India Docks

An Allied invasion of mainland Europe during WWII would have failed very quickly if the Allies did not have access to a working, deep-water port for the landing of vehicles, troops and supplies; and the planners knew that existing ports were either very heavily defended, or could easily be destroyed by retreating Germans forces.

In a project with the code name Mulberry, British engineers came up with the idea of artificial docks made from pre-fabricated sections which could be floated across the channel and used at any suitable location, well away from the ports that the Germans expected to be the focus of any invasion.

They were designed and constructed in secrecy in the seven months leading up to the landing on 6th June 1944, D-Day. Their construction was a massive effort, involving up to 200,000 workers at yards and docks across the country

The so-called Mulberry harbours were made up of a variety of different components, including Phoenix breakwaters, reinforced concrete caissons which were to be sunk in Normandy to form harbour breakwaters….

A line of Phoenix caisson units (mounted with anti-aircraft guns) at Arromanches, 12th June 1944. Click for full-sized version.

….and also metal dock piers (code named Whales) supported on concrete barges (Beetles):

1944, Arromanches. A Mulberry dock pier with Whales supported on Beetles.

There were other types of component, but I mention specifically the Phoenix caissons and Beetle barges because of a painting which depicts their construction in the West India Docks in April 1944. This painting was the first indication to me that the Isle of Dogs’ docks were significantly involved in the preparations for D-Day.

April 1944. Mulberry construction in the West India Docks. Phoenix caissons in the background, and Beetles in the foreground. (c) Imperial War Museum (LD 4044)

Surprised and fascinated, I looked for more information and images, and found plenty on the website of the Imperial War Museum (iwm.org.uk).

1944. Beetle construction, West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 38397)

Beetles in the West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 38376)

Beetles in the West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 38383)

The basic structure of each Phoenix caisson was constructed at the East India Docks – in a dock which had been pumped dry for the purpose – and after launching it was towed to West India Docks for completion.

Phoenix caisson being towed into West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 35297)

1944. Phoenix construction, West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 36019)

1944. Phoenix construction, West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 40316)

The interior of a Phoenix caisson under construction at either the West India Docks or the Royal Victoria Dock (original caption not specific). (c) Imperial War Museum (H 40347)

1944. Almost completed Phoenix, West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 36482)

Completed Phoenix caissons, Beetles and other Mulberry harbour components were towed or shipped to assembly points on the south coast, and from there to Normandy.

May 1944. Mulberry harbour components assembled off Selsey Bill.

The construction company now named Wates Group was involved in the construction of Mulberry harbour components and recently made a short and very interesting film on the subject which gives a good idea of the enormous scale of the operation and why it was so important.

Wates Group also unearthed in their company archives a number of previously unreleased photos, some of which you can view here:

D-Day anniversary | Mulberry harbour construction photos unearthed

Researching this article I learned that there are still some Phoenix caissons visible off the French and English coasts. Four unused caissons were even used to close the last gap in a breached dyke at Ouwekerk in the Netherlands after the 1953 floods, and these caissons now house the National Flood Museum. The museum’s not that far from where I live these days, so I know where I am going when museums open again. Imagine if the caissons were built in the West India Docks!

1953. Ouwekerk, Netherlands

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Yarrow & Co. – Shipbuilders of Cubitt Town

Yarrow’s was a major shipbuilding company – specialising in military vessels – which in the 1980s was taken over by GEC Marconi Marine and which is now part of BAE Systems.

BAE Systems, Glasgow.

The company was founded by Alfred Fernandez Yarrow who was born in 1842 in London, the son of Esther (Lindo) and Edgar William Yarrow. His mother was of Spanish Sephardic Jewish background and his father – a clerk working for a West India Merchant in the City – was from an English Christian family; Yarrow was raised a Christian.

Alfred Yarrow (1842-1932)

After completing an engineering apprenticeship in Stepney, Yarrow invented – along with a friend – a steam plough which earned him enough money to save £1000 within a couple of years, a considerable amount of money at the time. With this money, in 1866, in partnership with Robert Hedley, he set up as a builder of steam boats at Hope Yard south of the Folly House pub.

c1870

The cramped and busy yard in the 1860s

Survey of London:

Hope Yard … had a river frontage of only a little over 90ft and the further drawback that a right of way ran across it to the Folly House. The freehold of both the yard and the adjoining area on which the Folly House stood was purchased in 1875, however, and the residue of the lease of the public house was acquired soon after. The yard then became known as Folly Shipyard.

Yarrow and Hedley ventured into military vessels from the early 1870s, building torpedo boats for the Argentine and Japanese navies, among other customers. In the period 1868-75, they turned out no fewer than thirty-five steam boats, but at the end of the period – after many acrimonious disagreements between them – Hedley and Yarrow dissolved their partnership, and Yarrow continued as sole owner.

The London Gazette, 2nd March 1875

Construction of a steam paddle ship in Yarrow’s yard, 1870s. The building on the right is the former Folly House, which had been converted into offices.  Photo: NH 70393 courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command. Click for full-sized version.

Yarrow’s yard in the 1870s. The houses in the background are in Stewart Street. Photo: NH 70419 courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command. Click for full-sized version.

Yarrow’s yard in the 1870s. The houses outside the yard are in Stewart Street. Further in the background is St John’s Church in Roserton Street. Photo: NH 70419 courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command. Click for full-sized version.

Yarrow’s workers in Stewart Street showing off a contraption for transporting boat components.  Photo: NH 70413 courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command. Click for full-sized version.

Yarrow was successful at a time when Island shipbuilding was in steep decline thanks to his specialisation in relatively small, fast steam boats designed to carry and launch a recent invention: the self-propelled torpedo.

Robert Whitehead (right) invented the modern self-propelled torpedo in 1866. Pictured examining a battered test torpedo in c1875.

1870s. Torpedo boat off Folly Wall.

Illustrated London News, 1886

Torpedo boat Ardjoeno built by Yarrow’s for the Dutch government in 1888. Photo: NH 70423 courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command. Click for full-sized version.

Yarrow’s Yard

Survey of London:

A lease of the ground between the yard and Samuda Street, taken in 1866, was renewed in 1878, with the addition of a strip of ground along the southern edge of the premises. The yard was further enlarged by the purchase in 1875 of the residue of the lease of land to the north from the widow of Nathaniel John Hudson, a barge-builder.

c1880s

The torpedo boats were designed to be sea-going, but it was usual to transport them on ships over larger distances. One exception was the sail-assisted torpedo boat, Centella, built for the Argentine navy. It sailed from Plymouth to Buenos Aires, a journey of 72 days!

1882. Argentine torpedo boat, Centella. Click for full-sized version.

In 1892 Yarrow built the first two destroyers for the Royal Navy: Havock and Hornet of the Havock class. He struck up a strong friendship and correspondence with Lord Fisher (“Jackie Fisher”), and subsequently Yarrow Shipbuilders became a lead contractor for the Royal Navy for smaller, but almost always fast, boats.

HMS Havock in 1893

Although torpedo boats were fundamental to the success of the company, Yarrow also continued to build other kinds of vessel. Stern wheel paddle steamers were still popular….

c1894. Paddle steamer built for the Nile Expedition.

And the firm would still on occasion build small leisure craft (for the time being at least)…

By 1896 it was already apparent that Yarrow’s were outgrowing their ‘Folly Yard’ and they were keen to move to a larger yard. In 1898 they took over the nearby London Yard which had recently been vacated by Westwood‘s, where they carried out extensive redevelopment. In addition to the room to make larger boats…

1906. Launch of the Greek destroyer Thyella.

….the new premises included a large workshop for the manufacture of water-tube boilers, a variety of which Yarrow had himself invented (its greater water capacity within a relatively compact size made it attractive for use as a marine engine)…

Survey of London:

Alfred Yarrow’s business had suffered badly during the engineers’ strike of 1897–8, and the high rates in London, coupled with the increasing costs of materials and labour, eventually made it impossible for him to compete with the firms on Clydeside and Tyneside.

At the start of the 1900s, there were fears that the firm would not be able to continue at its Isle of Dogs yard, fears that were allayed by the Evening News in February 1906:

Showing just how reliable newspapers have never been, the yard was gradually wound down between 1906 and 1908 and the firm moved to new premises on the Clyde in Glasgow. 300 employees and most of the machinery also made the move north. The departure marked the end of significant shipbuilding on the Isle of Dogs.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments