The Ferry That Never Was (a Close Shave)

[My thanks to David, whose website The Forgotten Highway inspired me to write this article, and who was kind enough to dig out some images and share them with me. I suspect David is too modest or private to share his surname, but you know who are you are.]

The Island Gardens was the first public space to be created on the Island, an oasis of green in a grimy industrial environment, and boasting one of the best views in London.

Undated postcard (probably the 1900s)

In a short history of Island Gardens (see here for article), I described how the park lost some of its space early on to the construction of Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Recently I discovered that the park would never have been created at all if 19th century proposals for a new Greenwich ferry had been realised.

The late 1800s were turbulent times as far as the ferry between the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich was concerned. Or, more accurately, the ferries, as there were different routes and companies at various times. See this article for a history of the ferry; here is the potted version:

Traditionally, and for hundreds of years, a ferry service – known in the 1800s as Potter’s Ferry – operated from close to the Ferry House. The ferry stopped transporting horses (and carts or carriages) in the 1840s.

When Cubitt created his own service from a new pier at the top of Pier Street around 1860, he was sued by the Potter’s Ferry company for infringement of their historic rights (Cubitt won the case).

In 1872, the Millwall Extension Railway was completed to the south of the Island, and North Greenwich Railway Station was constructed next to Johnson’s Draw Dock. The ferry company moved their ferry boarding point to a pier directly next to the station.

1880s. Plan of North Greenwich Station and the ferry pier. (Metropolitan Board of Works).

However, according to the Survey of London… the lack of a vehicular ferry prompted the Metropolitan Board of Works to plan a free steam-ferry.

25th December 1888. The Morning Post

The plans for the free ferry – which can still be found in the archives of the Metropolitan Board of Works – were quite detailed and included a blueprint of the proposed pier on the Island side.

1884 plan for (free) ferry pier

Older Islanders might be able to work out where the proposed location is. Others will find it difficult because Ship Street and Barque Street no longer exist, and this section of Wharf Road was renamed Saunders Ness Road. It becomes more obvious for everyone if the blueprint is superimposed on a satellite image. It is on the site of Island Gardens.

1884 ferry plan on satellite image. (I’ve rotated the blue print, and added a little room on each side based on the space used on each side for other ferries).

In 1884, ten years before the opening of Island Gardens, this was a ‘public’ open space (owned by Greenwich Seamen’s Hospital), but it was far from landscaped and was known locally as ‘scrap iron park’. Greenwich Seamen’s Hospital forbade the construction of factories on this land as they wanted to preserve their view from across the river – the view of rest of the Island was dominated by factories, chimneys and smoke as this 1870s photo shows.

1870s. Ferry Street and areas west. Photo taken from Greenwich.

1860s. Areas east of Ferry Street. The future Island Gardens is more or less the space which can be viewed between the two domes.

15th March 1893

It is questionable if the hospital would have permitted the construction of a ferry pier on the land, but in principle it would not have violated their ‘no industry’ rule. ‘Scrap iron park’ had no official standing, and it was not only outside of direct control by the Metropolitan Board of Works, influential members of the Board and powerful local business interests were in favour of a free ferry. Had the ferry plans been realised – the later Island Gardens would have been either a lot smaller or perhaps not even tenable to begin with.

Fortunately for Islanders, however, the existing ferry company submitted such heavy compensation claims that the whole project collapsed.

27th January 1895

Otherwise, Islanders might have been robbed of their only green space, and generations of Londoners and visitors denied one of the finest views in London. Island Gardens opened just a few months after the LCC decided to refer to arbitration the negotations concerning compensation to the ferry companies.

As for the ferry company, they operated at a loss for a few more years, but were forced out of business for good on the opening of Greenwich Foot Tunnel in 1902.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel opened in 1902.

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The WWII Bombing of Cubitt Town School

In 1891, Cubitt Town School was opened in Saunders Ness Road.

1920s. Photo:

By the 1930s, the building was in need of enlargement and modernization, and it was decided that it would be more efficient to demolish and rebuild it instead.


The ceremonial opening of the new school was on 21st March 1938.


At the start of World War II, the school was commandeered for use by the emergency services  (as were two other Island schools: Millwall Central School and Glengall School), and it housed members of the Auxiliary Fire Service, Air Raid Wardens, Stretcher Bearers, the Ambulance Service and a Mobile First Aid Unit.

On 18th September 1940, it was hit by a high-explosive parachute mine. These were naval mines, weighing up to 1000 kg which were dropped by parachute and detonated 25 seconds after impact.

A parachute mine which fell in an alley in Manchester but failed to explode.

That evening, these and other bomb types were dropped by an estimated 230 aircraft during a raid in which 200 Londoners were killed and more than 500 injured.

Rescue worker Bill Regan, whose home was close by at 271 Manchester Road, reported in his diary*:

What a bloody mess, the whole guts blown away, only two end flanks standing. There were more than 40 people stationed here; I only saw one survivor, the gatekeeper, a man who lived in Pier Street, who had lost a leg in the 14-18 war.

He said he saw this parachute coming down, and thought it was a barrage balloon, it was a parachute mine, and he was lucky to be on the opposite side to where it landed, with building between him and it. He was blasted into the road, but miraculously none of the debris had hit him. Within minutes we had located the spot they were likely to be, and got two people out, but I don’t think they were alive as were working without lights and they were at best unconscious.

I don’t know how many we recovered, our relief came on at 8.00 a.m., but we carried on until nearly ten, when a squad from the other end of Poplar came to help.

The victims were fire-brigade personnel, ambulance men, and a complete mobile operating theatre, [which was] billeted next to our depot, in the swimming baths, and always left for Saunders Ness when the sirens sounded.

* Heavy Rescue Squad Work on the Isle of Dogs – Bill Regan’s Second World War Diaries, Ann Regan-Atherton. The book is available from Amazon, and all proceeds go the Friends of Island History Trust.

Aftermath of the bombing of Cubitt Town School

Aftermath of the bombing of Cubitt Town School

Memories of the evening of the 18th were also included in an Island History Trust Newsletter :

Violet Pengelly and Joan Bartlett were in the AFS. When they went on duty, they knew what the night might hold, not only for them but for their families at home in their shelters. But there was no question of not going on duty, or of not remaining at their posts, even when taking a break, not for them nor for the hundreds of people all over London who were facing the same prospect of sleepless nights and anxious hours spent helping and protecting others.

The bombers came in the darkness of the black-out. Violet and Joan had gone up to the first floor rest-room. Others were on duty or resting. As the raid began, the centre of the building took a direct hit. A fireman stationed in Millwall Fire station recalled later that the explosion had literally flung a girder out of the building across the road into the warehouses opposite. Fireman Arthur Sharpe, who was on duty inside the School, recorded his memory of a dull thud and a bright flash, the crash of falling masonry and a desperate rush for the exits, then a roll-call and the missing girls, of trying to climb the staircase to the women’s rest-room, but it was ready to come down at any moment and the centre of the school had been flattened. “Are you there?” he called. There was no response.

Bill Regan:

…while I watched, two more bodies were being uncovered. I know none of us are very happy having to handle corpses, and it shows. They have uncovered two young girls, about 18 years of age, quite unmarked and looked as if they were asleep. I looked around at the other men and most of them looked shocked and a bit sick; we had usually found bodies mutilated and they were usually lifted out by hands and feet and quickly got away. Major Brown sees one man being sick so he fishes out a bottle of rum to be handed round.

By now I am feeling a bit angry at the prospect of these two girls being lugged by their arms and legs so I got down beside them. They had obviously been in bed for the night. They both have only their knickers and short petticoats on and the dry weather we have had and the rubble packed round them had preserved them. Their limbs were not even rigid. They were lifelike. I could not let them be handled like the usual corpses…I looked up at George and I just said: “Stretcher – blanket”. Then I put my right arm under her shoulders, with her head resting against me, and the left arm under her knees and so carried her up. I laid her on the stretcher. “You’ll be comfortable now, my dear”. I did exactly the same with the other one. I stood up and waited for some smart Alec to make a snide remark but nobody did. I cooled down a bit after I had smoked a cigarette.

Later Bill Regan discovered that the girls’ names had been Violet Pengelly and Joan Bartlett – who had the same first names as his own two daughters who were then away on evacuation.

Photo: Ann Regan-Atherton

Bill’s diary entry for 20th September 1940 includes:

We keep finding bodies, and we are told there were at least 42 to be accounted for, and from what we can gather, there are nearly 2 dozen still here.

After the remains of the dead were discovered and identified, they were later buried together at Tower Hamlets Cemetery.

Joan Bartlett (right), Violet Pengelly (next to Joan) and other members of the Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service at Cubitt Town School in 1939. Photo: Island History Trust Collection

A Mrs. Sanders referred to Cubitt Town School in an article in the Watford Observer which was published in recent years.

In September 1940 I lived where I was born, on the Isle of Dogs. On September 5th, I was 13. I have no recollection of a birthday celebration; I think we all forgot it. Bombs were falling every day and night, destroying houses, shops and factories all around us. Anderson shelters had been built into our gardens but the burning oil from nearby paint factories crept down the road into these shelters, which rendered them uninhabitable.

My father worked in a nearby school – a fairly new modern building – having four assembly halls, one on top of the other. There were no children present, as they had all been evacuated. The school had become the headquarters for the Auxiliary Fire Service. For several nights we slept in the lower hall, using it as an air-raid shelter, because of its solid structure and sandbagged windows. We carried our blankets and pillows through the streets from home.

I was sent originally in September 1939 to Brightlingsea with George Green’s School, Poplar, where I began my grammar school education. But when the bombers began dropping bombs on us there, my mother said: ‘If you’re going to be killed there, you might as well come home and risk it with us.

I remember my father taking me and my eight-year-old sister up on to the roof of the school (a large playground area) after our first night at the school, and we saw the whole landscape lit by fires. I shall never forget it.

After a couple of nights it became impossible to get off the Island at all for a while. The dock bridges had been withdrawn to protect them, so no-one could cross the docks. Also the tunnel through to Greenwich had been bombed so that was flooded. The river was on fire with burning oil, so crossing the river was unthinkable.

The next night my father decided we must risk our own home, as there were at least 50 firemen using the school hall when they had to take a rest and it didn’t seem very safe anyway. So we four, plus several friends, went back to our home dragging our blankets and pillows with us, my father and a friend having to remove a fire bomb from our doorstep first. Our downstairs back sitting room had been turned into a bedroom – windows covered outside with sandbags. We four slept on the bed, two people under the bed, one each side and one on the floor. I slept like a log, though I know from the consequent damage next morning that bombs must have fallen most of the night.

The next day my mother decided this was foolish. She had to do something to protect us, so she gathered up a few clothes, discovered we could now get a bus across the bridge at a certain time, and escape via Aldgate station to Baker Street and thence to Northwood by train, where my grandmother lived.

It was a bit of a squash as my aunt and uncle occupied the front bedroom; my mother and grandmother had the back bedroom and we two sisters slept on the floor in the parlour downstairs. My father had to work so was still at home on the Island.

About ten days later I was alone in the house when a policeman knocked at the door. ‘Could I see your mother?’ he asked. ‘I’m afraid she’s out shopping.’ ‘I’ll come back later.’ He departed and I knew that this was not good news. “When he returned, he told my mother that my father had been injured. ‘Would she please visit him at Poplar Hospital?’

She and I hurried down to the station and got a London train and eventually arrived at Poplar Hospital. “Neither of us mentioned our fears. What would we find? “The casualty sister greeted my mother with ‘I’ll take you down to the mortuary’. No-one had mentioned death.

His neck had been broken by fallen debris when the four halls of the school had a direct hit from a land-mine used as a bomb. About 50 people died in that raid. We had no husband or father, no income, no home.

As we struggled back to Aldgate station, we climbed over hoses, watching firemen fighting fires most of the way. No buses could function, there was too much debris from falling shops, too many fire engines.

Yes, I remember the Blitz. Fortunately I have been blessed with a good life. No I do not hate the ‘enemy’. There is evil everywhere, even in this country. I have spent most of my life as a nurse. I have a great husband, a couple of loving offspring and four delightful adult grandchildren. God is good. To my amusement, my original home, where I was born, is now part of George Green’s School, which relocated to that site after the war.

I unfortunately don’t know Mrs. Sanders’ maiden name, so I don’t know which family she was referring to. They were clearly Islanders, lived locally, and the children were young, so the choices are few; mostly likely the deceased father was either Albert Littlewort or Henry Saward, both of whom died later in Poplar Hospital.

All together, the following were victims of the bombing of Cubitt Town School, all but one of whom was an emergency worker :

Air Raid Warden

  • Frederick Hall, aged 38, Brig Street

Auxiliary Fire Service

  • Joan Fanny Mary Bliss Bartlett , aged 18, 61 Henia Street, Poplar
  • Violet Irene Pengelly, aged 19, 8 Gaverick Street

Stretcher Bearers

  • Jack Bauer, aged 33, 64 British Street
  • Charles Arthur Clutterbuck, aged 32, 18 Havannah Street
  • Horace William Field, aged 50, 14 Phoebe Street, Poplar
  • Cyril John Hawthorn, aged 31, 11 Rounton Road, Bow
  • Arthur James Jones, aged 47, 84 Culloden Street, Poplar
  • Albert Edward Littlewort, aged 28, 39 Stebondale Street (died 20th September in Poplar Hospital)
  • Albert William Mears, aged 31, 5 Melbourne Buildings, Oceana Close, Poplar
  • William Charles Miles, aged 41, 25 Salmon Lane, Poplar
  • David Arthur Morton-Holmes, aged 31, 21 Grosvenor Bldgs, Poplar
  • Ernest John Purdy, aged 27, 146 Coventry Cross, Poplar
  • Edward Henry Snook, aged 36, 19 Chilcot Street, Poplar
  • Charles William Patrick Staff, aged 23, 31 Old Church Road, Stepney
  • Cyril Swerner, aged 25, 39 Morgan Street, Poplar

Ambulance Drivers

  • Mark Breslau, aged 20, 60 British Street
  • Cyril Eugene Jacobs, aged 46, 287 Burdett Road, Poplar
  • Reuben Norman, aged 20, 70 Greenwood Road, Dalston
  • James Samuel Spratt, aged 36, 10 Naval Row, Poplar
  • Thomas John Steward, aged 29, 24 Pattenden Road, Lewisham
  • Victor Ronald Tidder, aged 32, 45 Lefevre Road, Bow

Mobile First Aid Unit

  • Mary Bridget Cooke, aged 36, Nurse, 45 Parnell Road, Bow
  • Dr Leonard Moss, aged 36, 658 Commercial Road, Poplar
  • Lilian Gladys Hawkridge, aged 30, Nurse, 64 Abbot Road, Poplar
  • Florence Tyler, aged 45, Nurse, 2 Dee Street, Poplar

Close by, but not in the school:

  • Henry Saward of 152 Manchester Road, died in Poplar Hospital

c1949. Remains of Cubitt Town School after clearance.

The school was rebuilt and re-opened in 1952. A relatively recent addition to the school building is a memorial to the emergency workers who died during the bombing.

Auxiliary Fire Service Memorial at the former Cubitt Town School (whose buildings are now occupied by St Luke’s School)

Not named on the memorial is builder’s labourer Henry Saward who lived with his family at 152 Manchester Road (if you remember the ‘gap’ to the right of Bob Olding’s hairdresser’s, that was No. 152 – it was  destroyed during the war). I understand why he is not mentioned, after all he was not an Auxiliary Fire Service worker, but it is a little sad he is a  ‘forgotten’ victim of the tragedy.

Update: My thanks to Lesley Murphy who commented on the article after it was posted:

I believe the Mrs Sanders in the article is Joan Saward who married a Peter Sanders in 1955. So Henry Saward was her father. Henry married Lillian Mayaski in 1924, Joan was born in 1927 and her sister Patricia in 1932. I did some research because, as you say, Henry and his family shouldn’t be forgotten.

Violet Pengelly and Joan Bartlett are further commemorated in the naming of the former Millwall Fire station residences, with Pengelly Apartments being built in Bartlett Mews. The naming ceremony was held on 16th July 2009, after which family members went to Tower Hamlets Cemetery to lay a wreath at the civilian memorial (see below).

The premises of Cubitt Town School are now occupied by St. Luke’s School. The memorial to the victims of the bombing at Cubitt Town School in the night of 18th/19th September 1940 is to the right of entrance.

Bartlett Mews

Pengelly Apartments

Tower Hamlets Cemetery

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The 80th Anniversary of the Tragedy at Bullivant’s Wharf

During the night of 19th-20th March 1941, more than 40 people were killed, and dozens injured, when the public air raid shelter at Bullivant’s Wharf, off Westferry Road, received a direct bomb hit. This was the Isle of Dogs’ worst wartime bombing incident.

I previously wrote two articles about the tragedy – one describing an investigation into its precise location and events, and another about the placing of a memorial on the site in 2014. With the 80th anniversary approaching, I thought it was time to merge the articles, update the information and photos, and bring some attention to an event planned for a couple of weeks from now, to wit:

A small commemorative party will be attending the Bullivant memorial plaque at 12noon on the 19th March. At the corresponding time you are also invited to observe 2 minutes silence before Keith and Anne Woods lay flowers at the plaque on behalf of the Woods family, Con Maloney and Brian Smith will then lay a wreath on behalf of Friends of Island History Trust, to remember all those affected by the bombing. Reg Beer will also be there to represent those injured, including his Brother in Law Reginald Crouch and Cllr Peter Golds will represent today’s residents of the Isle of Dogs.

Fr Tom Pyke, Vicar of Christ Church will lead the proceedings and Con will video the occasion this year, as numbers are limited to 6 due to the current Covid-19 restrictions

Debbie Levett, Friends of Island History Trust

[Update 27th March 2021: Ian Dunnigan took a fantastic photo of the sun setting over the memorial after the ceremony. I’ve included it at the end of this article as it seems the perfect image to end with…..]

In 2014, when I wrote the first article, I had heard of this terrible incident, but I did not know anything about it. A quick search on the internet did not reveal much more – and even Islanders were not too sure of the facts. It seemed to me to be a forgotten tragedy. Over 40 people killed in one bombing was significant even by the standards of the East End during WWII. Why was there no memorial to the victims? Why was it that nobody even seemed sure where the shelter was? More than reason enough to investigate further….

The official air raid shelter at Bullivant’s Wharf was announced in posters issued by Poplar Borough Council in 1939:

This poster is very revealing. At the start of the war, there were no purpose-built shelters. Based on experience of the bombing from Zeppelins during WWI, it was not expected that more protection would be required other than that offered by basements, crypts, railway arches, sturdy buildings and similar.

The government was also concerned that the large-scale construction of underground shelters (as was happening in Berlin) would serve only to cause unnecessary panic. During the so-called ‘phoney war’ of 1939, the government was even reluctant to allow use of tube stations as shelters, as they were genuinely worried that Londoners would move underground and not want to come back up to the surface.

The start of significant bombing in 1940 – and especially the Blitz which started in September of that year – revealed how poor the shelter arrangements were. Trenches were immediately revealed to be a poor option; they flooded when it rained, but worse than that, the sides would readily collapse on the inhabitants if there was an explosion close by. Many borough councils built trenches in their parks, but these quickly had only token value.

Significant numbers of deaths and casualties were caused in the early months by glass blown in by explosions that might even be hundreds of yards away. Window tape, heavy curtains and brick blast walls proved to provide some protection against this threat.

The start of the Blitz finally spurred the government into the construction of purpose-built air raid shelters – frequently built with a combination of brick and concrete, and identified by the ubiquitous ‘S’ for shelter.

Additionally, Anderson shelters were an option for those with gardens to accommodate them. Although they look less than sturdy, Anderson shelters turned out to be extremely strong and effective when covered in earth as prescribed. They could not withstand a direct hit (nor could even a concrete shelter), but they were very effective at withstanding blasts and the force of buildings, walls or other heavy objects collapsing onto them. As this photo shows, although the house is destroyed, the Anderson shelter is intact. The inhabitants survived the raid.

Bullivant’s Wharf was located at 38 Westferry Rd, close to Havannah St (next to the zebra crossing where Topmast Point is now).  William Bullivant opened his wire-rope company there in 1883.


An undated, but very old, photo (late 1800s?) of Bullivant’s taken from Westferry Road.

1930s. North Millwall

In 1926, Bullivant’s firm was taken over by British Ropes Ltd who in 1934 built a new building, half of two tall storeys, half of four storeys, and with reinforced-concrete floors designed to take the weight of heavy machinery. Named ‘Stronghold Works’, it was selected as the site for a public shelter due to its strength. It was a large building, and the shelter had room for 400 people seated and 200 in bunks.

Bullivant’s in the 1930s. Stronghold Works is the taller building on the left.

“The Wednesday”

On Wednesday 19th March 1941, between 8 pm and 2 am, in a massive assault made by 479 Luftwaffe bombers, 470 tonnes of high explosive and more than 120,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on London. The targets, illuminated by parachute flares, were the dock installations along the Thames, from London Bridge to Beckton. Fire watchers assessed afterwards that there were close to 1900 separate fires.

The Stronghold Works at Bullivant’s Wharf received a direct hit, as mentioned by rescue worker Bill Regan in his diary entry for 20th March 1941, when he was stationed at the emergency services depot in Millwall Central School, Janet Street (quote from Heavy Rescue Squad Work on the Isle of Dogs – Bill Regan’s Diary from the Second World War, by Ann Regan-Atherton):

Nothing of great moment until now. Plenty happened last night. We were all bedded down in the boiler-house, waiting for calls, but before anyone else got to us, we had our own problems. A couple of big ones landed close by, then one through the railings, and under the outside wall of the depot, which shook us up a bit.

Then a call came through. Bullivant’s had a direct hit, and the base­ment was being used as a shelter. Ringshaw took his squad out, and almost immediately, another bomb landed outside the depot, at the corner of Alpha Road, bringing down the first 4 cottages, so some went across to the site, but someone said they were empty, so we busied ourselves with fire bombs that were blazing in the road. We buried them in earth and rubble. Fred Harrison, my squad leader, was on depot duty answering calls and had sent the rest of my squad to Bullivant’s to assist Ringshaw’s squad.

Some members of No. 2 Squad, B Shift, Heavy Rescue Team. Back row, left to right: George
Huscroft, Bob Thomas, Alfie Clarke, Fred Harrison (Leader), Charlie
Crawley (Driver). Front row: Bert Freeman, George Jillings, Bill Regan
Photo: Ann Atherton-Regan

A passage in “The Story of the Friends Ambulance Unit in the Second World War” (published by George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1947) makes a short reference to what happened at Bullivant’s Wharf:

The patrol had set out for it in the middle of a raid. A fresh burst of activity drove it back for a while to the shelter which it had just left. It was a few minutes later that the bomb fell on a corner of the wharf. The entire warehouse was covered by a single roof; when the bomb exploded the walls tottered for a moment, the roof fell in, and the whole shelter population was buried in the debris. It was estimated that there were about 180 people in the shelter at the time….

Joyce Jacobs’ recollections of the evening (from

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.

According to Joyce, the high death toll was due to particular circumstances: “A 56 bus, which was pretty full, pulled in there and emptied out all the people. The raid was so bad, the driver wouldn’t go on, so he pulled in there so everybody could get in the shelter.”

On the same website page, Margaret Corroyer, who lost many family members in the bombing:

My memory of that night was of regaining consciousness and being pinned down, unable to move whilst a choking stream of dust filled my mouth and nose. I recall the journey to Poplar Hospital and afterwards thought I must have imagined a person on the stretcher above, but have since been told it was so. A horrific experience to lay there and feel something sticky dripping from above.

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 WW2. The names of those known to have died are registered in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (Civilian Victims) list. It names 41 victims, and not 44 as mentioned in the WWII report; either the report was incorrect, or the names of all victims were not established.

Sadly, similar incidents were reported from other parts of East London that night. It is estimated that 631 Londoners were killed in what was the largest bombing raid since December 1940, with West Ham, Stepney and Poplar suffering particularly badly. On 23rd March, Downing Street asked for details of the events.

Public Records Office. Ref HO 207/986. “Poplar Borough Council – War Damage to Shelters”

Two days later, the London Civil Defence Region supplied “Strutt” with the information he was to provide to the Prime Minister:

Public Records Office. Ref HO 207/986. “Poplar Borough Council – War Damage to Shelters”

This same report describes also the damage on 19th March to shelters in Cording Street, Bow Road, Quixley Street (all in the area of Poplar Borough Council), and Brunton House, Cowley Gardens, Oil and Cake Mills, Leith Road and Orient Wharf (all in Stepney). The investigations formed the basis for repairs and improved shelter design. The incident had confirmed the government’s concerns about large public shelters, especially those that were not purpose-built.

Repair of the shelter at Bullivant’s Wharf was not an option as the building was totally destroyed. Poplar Borough Council cleared the land and their Works Department used it for storage.

c1952. Click for full-sized version. Photo:

March 1941. Far left, a glimpse of the remains of Stronghold Works. On the right, bomb damage to the adjacent shed. The sandbags were placed after a bomb damaged the river wall in 1940. Image from: The Thames at War, Gustav Milne

Three members of the rescue services were commended for their bravery during the night in question – at least one of whom, Charles Storror, was commended by W. Ringshaw, mentioned by Bill Regan in his diary entry for 21st March.

As was the case with many bombings during WWII – in the interests of security and morale – the incident was sketchily reported and certainly no specific information appeared in the press. The injured and families of the deceased were painfully aware of what had happened but, as that generation passed, there was less and less knowledge of the tragedy. If it wasn’t for the efforts of the Island History Trust, which captured and documented Islanders’ memories, and the determination of the families of some of the victims, we wouldn’t know as much as we now do.

One such family member was Keith Woods, with whom I started communicating in 2014, both of us wanting to learn more about the bombing of the shelter and in particular its location.  Keith’s Grandmother Minnie, who was 48, and his Aunt Doris, who was 19, were among the dead. His Grandfather Albert Woods was badly injured, but survived. Keith was keen to arrange some kind of memorial at the spot.

Keith Woods. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

As we zeroed in on the location of the shelter, Keith approached the council to get permission to affix a plaque nearby. If you’ve ever made an unorthodox request to a local government organization, you will know what hard work that is. Keith was persistent, however, and with help from (then) Councillor Gloria Thienel, permission was given.

Keith’s determination extended even as far as paying for the plaque and personally fixing it in place on the wall on Thames Path. (I am proud to say I also provided a very small contribution, providing the text for the plaque.)

The location – opposite the Seacon Tower – was chosen because it was the closest piece of wall to the former air raid shelter which could be found. Mounting it on a fence or wall on the inland side of the Thames Path was problematic, as this was all private property, and even the council was not quite sure who owned the fence and wall along the riverside. But, in the end, Keith scouted the path and found a nice piece of wall which could barely be closer to the location of the WWII air raid shelter….just a couple of yards away. Keith was also thankful to the concierge of that building (not sure if that’s his title), who was great. Seeing what Keith was up to, he provided assistance, tools and fixing materials.

At noon on Saturday 5th July 2014, an informal ceremony took place to mark the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to the memory of the victims of the WWII Bullivant’s Wharf tragedy. Perhaps ‘ceremony’ is too somber a word for what was actually a very informal and relaxed event. Everyone was so pleased that the victims were finally getting a memorial, and there was plenty of reminiscing among the many old Islanders who were present (including plenty from the Island History Trust), some of whom had lost family or friends in the bombing, and some of whom only just missed being in the shelter themselves at the time.

Tower Hamlets Councillor Andrew Wood was present, as was some weird looking bloke wearing a back to front hat (you know who you are 🙂 ).

Con Maloney was kind enough to distribute print-outs of the blog article I had written on Bullivant’s Wharf a few months previously.

Keith’s cousin Don gave a short speech at the end of events.

Afterwards, many of the group made their way to The George for fish & chips and drinks. Thanks also to the landlord and staff of the George for their hospitality.

The unveiling of the plaque was a great success, and I hope lots of people see it and want to find out more about what happened during the night of 19th and 20th March 1941. As much as I hope it keeps alive the memory of those who lost their lives that night.

Here are just a few of the many photos taken on Saturday, followed by a great photo taken by Ian Dunnigan in the evening of the 80th anniversary commemoration on 19th March 2021.

Postscript: On 27th March, Reginald Beer shared this text and image on the Friends of Island History Trust Facebook page:

Ian Dunnigan, a Glaswegian living in Limehouse, who often assist at FoIHT ‘Open Days’ and exhibitions at ‘The Forge,’ sent me this photograph of the sunset at the Bullivant Wharf memorial site. In his email, he remarked, “an elderly gentleman, doffed his hat when he passed. Manners from a different era.” At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

Photo: Ian Dunnigan, 19th March 2021

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Ferry Street, Isle of Dogs – A History

Mostly, the buildings in Ferry Street are fairly anonymous and hard to distinguish from many other new-builds.

Various views of Ferry Street

It is puzzling that the site of some of the earliest buildings on the Isle of Dogs – including the site of the Greenwich Ferry, the only reason that most people (including, famously, Samuel Pepys) ventured on to the Island for many centuries – is not in anyway commemorated or brought to the attention of the passer-by. In fact, the signs here only tell you how to get somewhere else or warn you that a gate is in constant use or that parking is for residents only…

Ferry Street signposts. (Felstead Wharf is a nod to the past, albeit incorrectly spelled. More on this later).

The first documented mention of a ferry here was in 1450, and later maps, paintings and engravings also show buildings in the area (a full history of the ferry can be found here).

1700s. Click for full-sized version.

Joel Gascoyne’s 1703 map mentions not only the ferry but also a ‘Starch House’.

1703, “Survey of the Parish of St Dunstan’s, Stepney”, Joel Gascoyne.

Survey of London:

This was probably a starch factory rather than a place for starching linen. The main requirements for starch-making would have been a plentiful supply of clean water and an area of open ground, together with a wooden shed. Starch in the eighteenth century was generally prepared from refuse wheat.

Samuel Hart was the occupier of the Starch House for more than 30 years until its closure about 1740, and may have been part of the company which ran the works in 1705. The Starch House was thereafter renamed (or rebuilt as) the Ferry House, occupied by W. Hart and probably used as a place of refreshment and shelter for ferry passengers until the building of the present Ferry House public house.

The following painting shows a very busy Thames. Wherrymen are ferrying passengers across the river to Greenwich, while others (and passengers) are waiting on the Marsh Wall path. At the time of this painting, the practice of ferrying horses and cattle across the river had been discontinued, and foot passengers only were carried. A horse ferry would however be reinstated during the 1800s.

1792. “Greenwich from the Isle of Dogs”, Richard Dodd (National Maritime Museum Collection).

The Survey of London produced a detailed plan of the area in 1802, with businesses which included in a skittle house and herring hang (for herring curing).

1802. Survey of London


Skittles was once a popular game played in pubs all over London, especially those sited by the Thames. The origins of the game  [in London] are vague, but it is thought by some to have been introduced by Dutch sailors, possibly playing on the decks of moored barges.

The pub, skittle house and stables were clearly all intended to cater to the passing trade provided by ferry users. At a time when the population of the entire Isle of Dogs was just a few hundred, most of whom lived on and adjacent to the Marsh Wall (later more commonly named ‘Mill Wall’) in the west of the Island, there weren’t too many locals to speak of in any event.

The following map shows that a new road had been built by 1830 (for the convenient transport of goods to and from the West India Docks). The dotted lines show early ideas for a new road that would continue around the Island – the later Manchester Road.


Despite the fact that the West India Docks had been operating for almost three decades, and the west side of the Island was becoming increasingly built up, this part of the Island retained its rural character until the middle of the 19th century when the development of Cubitt Town commenced.

Although the development was primarily residential, Cubitt also made room for industry along the river. Until then, the riverside here would have still looked more or less the same as that represented in Dodd’s 1792 painting above, before Cubitt built the high river embankment walls that we are accustomed to today, Cubitt also built a new road to serve the industry along the river: Wharf Road.

This road started at the Ferry House (see here for a history of the pub) and ran parallel with the river to Cubitt’s Works just north of Newcastle Draw Dock. Later, when these works had closed, Wharf Road was extended north past Seyssel Street.

The following maps show the development of the area in the subsequent two decades….



1870. Click for full-sized version.

The first houses in Ferry Street were built around 1840 on the east side of the road. With the exception of a couple of houses in the middle of the terrace, they were typical two-up two-down cottages.

c1920 Peace Party. Looking towards Manchester Road from close to the Ferry House. Photo: Island History Trust.

Millwall Pottery

The “Earthenware Manufactory” shown on the 1870 map is on the site of the former orchard. The firm trading here changed its name numerous times over the years before being named Millwall Pottery in the 1870s. Survey of London:

The pottery, which produced a range of general and sanitary earthenware, closed in the late 1880s. From the mid-1870s the [Factory Place] cottages were occupied by Frederick Garrard, ‘decorator of earthenware’ and former architect, whose products included wall tiles.

Garrard was a tile designer and producer of some renown, and his tiles can still be seen in a number of buildings in Britain, Ireland and beyond. See this this article from a fellow blogger for more information and examples of his work: Frederick Garrard and the Millwall Pottery.

Tile design: Frederick Garrard, Millwall Pottery. (British Museum)

I imagine that such bright colours were a rarity on the Island at the time, given the soot and smoke being generated by the factory chimneys…

1870s (estimated). The Isle of Dogs from Greenwich.

Factory Place

The six cottages along the Marsh Wall to the rear of the Ferry House had been reduced to three by 1870, and the short section of road there renamed Factory Place.

The Ferry House in the 1890s (estimate), with Factory Place on the left.

This 1950s aerial photo shows that Factory Place (centre) lived up to its name.

Port of London (later Felsted) Wharf

Diagonally opposite the Ferry House was the Port of London Wharf, “acquired by the Corporation of London in 1850 as the principal station of its harbour service. It was used for the storage and repair of mooring chains and buoys, and as a berth for its boats and lighters” (Survey of London). The wharf had quite a grand building on the riverfront which had offices above and storage space and workshops below, as shown in the following photo taken later when the wharf was owned by Gregson & Company, ship joiners and timber merchants of Felsted Road, Victoria Docks.

Former Port of London Wharf in the 1930s. Note the spelling of Felsted Wharf, and the City of London coat of arms mounted on the wall of the building. The coffer dam on the left is mounted at the former ferry slipway. Photo: PLA Collection

The wharf east of the Port of London Wharf was occupied by timber merchants at the time of the 1870 map. In 1874 it was taken over by the shipbuilders Edwards & Symes, a very successful firm which outgrew the wharf and vacated it in 1888, at which time their wharf and dry dock were subsumed into an extended Port of London Wharf.

1880 advert for Edwards & Symes

Victoria Wharf

Immediately east of the enlarged Port of London Wharf was Victoria Wharf, occupied from c1844 by a stone merchant who also leased a plot of land north of Wharf Road, connecting the two with a tramway. The leases for the land on both sides of Wharf Road remained in the hands of the (heirs of) the stone merchant until 1890 when they were taken over by engineering firm John Fraser & Son who set up their Millwall Boiler Works there.

1930s. From left to right. A crane belonging to Felsted Wharf, the dry dock, John Fraser’s Millwall Boiler Works. Photo: PLA Collection.

1898 trade advert

Orsi & Armani

The 1862 map above shows a narrow wharf immediately west of the ‘Iron Works’ which in 1850 belonged to Orsi & Armani, manufacturers of floor surfaces who specialized in what they named ‘metallic lava’, an artificial stone which was prepared and moulded in fluid form.

The Byzantine Court at The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851, with ‘paving’ created with Orsi & Armani’s metallic lava.

By the time of the 1862 map, the partnership had been dissolved, and Antonio Armani endeavoured to run the firm alone.

1856. Announcement of dissolution of Orsi &Armani partnership

Survey of London:

Armani went into partnership with Malcolm Stodart in the early 1870s, before apparently pulling out of the business, leaving Stodart & Company to continue trading from the wharf as ‘asphalte contractors’.

After numerous changes of ownership over the years…

The wharf was then incorporated into the premises to the east until 1906, when it was taken by James Livingstone & Son as a metal-wharf, known as the Millwall Iron Works.

From 1943 it was occupied by the wharfage section of Co-ordinated Traffic Services, which described itself as ‘carriers by road of every class of merchandise’. That firm remained there until c1971.

Victoria Iron Works

The Victoria Iron Works were the property of City wine and spirits dealer Henry Johnson and his brother Augustus William – who was an engineer and who managed the company. The firm’s main business was buying naval dockyard scrap and converting it into rods and bars. Survey of London:

They covered almost the whole wharf with buildings in the next few years, including an elegant furnace chimney 140ft high, designed by Roumieu & Gough.

1845.  Roumieu & Gough design of chimney for the Victoria Iron Works.

Henry also leased some land on the corner of East Ferry Road and Manchester Road where he built the Lord Nelson public house and a couple of houses. Johnson Street and Draw Dock were of course named after the brothers. 

At the north east corner of the Johnsons’ Wharf, Cubitt built what was described as ‘a building of the first class’ – a building which, remarkably for the Island, is still standing.

Aerial view in the 1940s and recently. To the right (east) of the house is Johnson’s Draw Dock

In 1873, the works closed – probably a consequence of the financial crisis that led to the demise of the Thames shipbuilding industry and those firms that relied on it (article here) – and it would be close to ten years before another firm took over the site.

United Horse Shoe & Nail Company

In 1881, the United Horse Shoe & Nail Company took over the former Victoria Iron Works and Victoria Wharf, and merged the two.

c1900. The United Horse Shoe & Nail Company’s name can partially be seen painted along the river wall.

Survey of London:

In the early twentieth century its annual output was approximately 1,800 tons of horseshoes, but the increasing numbers of motor cars and motor omnibuses led to a decline in demand for its product and it was dealt a further blow in 1907 when the War Office, one of its major customers, placed an order for 100,000 pairs of horseshoes with an American firm. The company went into liquidation in 1909.



1900. Charles E. Goad Ltd. fire insurance map (Museum of London). Click for full-sized version.

Henry Clark & Sons

The riverside section of the horseshoe company’s site was taken over by Henry Clark & Sons, oil refiners, blenders and importers, who renamed it Midland Oil Wharf. Henry Clark & Sons, like their neighbours John Fraser, remained in business in Ferry Street until around 1970.

Circa 1941. Winston Churchill arriving at Greenwich. Henry Clark & Sons can be seen in the background, directly behind the launch.

c1941. Clark’s, Johnson’s Draw Dock and Calder’s Wharf.

Circa 1951

Horse Shoe Yard / Burdell Engineering

The section of the horseshoe factory north of Wharf Road was not taken by Clark’s, and it continued to be known by Islanders as Horse Shoe Yard. Survey of London:

It was occupied from c1915 by E. Turner & W. Brown, barge-breakers and timber dealers, who used a sawmill, a store and a small workshop on the site, the greatest part remaining open. Bomb damage led to the clearance of the adjoining houses along the north and east sides of the yard and their sites were incorporated into it.

From c1951 it was occupied by the Burdell Engineering Company, which added a number of small buildings and a single-storey shed on the Manchester Road frontage.

1955. Photo: Island History Trust

Johnson’s Draw Dock

Variously spelled Johnson or Johnson’s Draw Dock on maps and documents over the years, Islanders tended to name the draw dock after whoever was occupying it the time. In the early 1900s it was known locally as Turner’s Shore (after the barge breaking firm) and later as Hookey’s Shore.

1928. Johnson’s Draw Dock

The foot tunnel was seriously damaged at the Island end by a bomb which fell on the foreshore at low tide and penetrated the tunnel. The tunnel was closed during the repairs, which involved adding an extra steel internal sleeve. Shortly after the bombing, some rowing boat owners offered to transport people over the Thames at 2/- per passenger. A little later, the barge pier was constructed and a free ferry service was set up, operating between Johnson’s Draw Dock and Greenwich.

c1941. Johnson’s Draw Dock, showing the temporary barge pier

Survey of London:

The area was affected during the disastrous flooding on 7 January 1928, when the river overflowed at Johnson’s Draw Dock.

The occupiers of Horseshoe Yard were dependent for access to the river upon Johnson’s Draw Dock and in the 1920s opposed moves to close it. Nevertheless, it was eventually enclosed and used as a scrap-yard. In the 1970s attention was drawn to its ‘appalling’ condition. It was subsequently cleared and access to the river there was restored.


North Greenwich Railway Station

1872 saw the opening of the last section of the Millwall Extension Railway, a branch line to connect the London and Blackwall Railway to the south of the Isle of Dogs; and in 1874 a station was opened at its terminus, named North Greenwich Railway Station (probably creatively named in much the same way as modern estate agents who refer to all areas of the Isle of Dogs and beyond as ‘Canary Wharf’).

North Greenwich Railway Station. The end of the line.

North Greenwich Railway Station

The station buildings and railway line straddled Wharf Road, which meant that vehicles could no longer travel along the road at this section; a subway provided pedestrians with access between the two sections of road (the tunnel was still there at the end of the 1960s as I recall).

1870s. North Greenwich Railway Station

In order to connect its transport route more conveniently to the ‘real’ Greenwich, the railway company acquired the rights to Potter’s Ferry and in 1877 opened a new ferry pier adjacent to the station. This was the beginning the end of the old ferry route from next to the Ferry House, which was already in financial trouble.

Survey of London:

The pier was served by a steam ferry to and from Greenwich Pier, operated first by the Victoria Steamboat Association, and after 1897 by the Thames Steamboat Company. With a fare of one penny and a service every 20 minutes, the ferry proved popular with dock workers and others. During one week in August 1884 more than 16,000 passenger crossings were made. But with the opening of the LCC’s free foot tunnel in August 1901 the service ceased to be viable and the pier was dismantled soon afterwards.

The rise in popularity of motorized bus transport in the early twentieth century led also to a drop in passengers on the Millwall Extension line, to such an extent that the line was closed in 1926. Shortly afterwards, the rail viaduct over Manchester Road was dismantled, and the railway station buildings and site were taken over by local wharfingers, J. Calder & Co. who operated there until c1969.

1920s. Former North Greenwich Station, by now named Calder’s Wharf

1960 (estimate). North Greenwich Railway Station viewed from Ferry Street

Name Change

In the 1930s, Wharf Road was renamed: the section between the Ferry House and Calder’s Wharf became part of Ferry Street, and the section east of Calder’s Wharf was renamed Saunders Ness Road. Additionally, Johnson Street also became part of Ferry Street.

1949. Ruins and empty areas are the result of WWII bomb damage.

Poplar, Blackwall and District Rowing Club

Established by a group of watermen and lightermen in 1854 as “The Blackwall Rowing and Athletic Club”, it was almost 1970 before the club had a permanent and purpose-built club house, constructed on Calder’s Wharf. Initially, their unofficial ‘club house’ was the Princess of Wales public house. According to their website (

Following the closure of the North Greenwich Railway Station in 1928, the club moved onto the site which is adjacent to its current location in 1937 and used the ticket office and waiting room for changing. Cold running water was added in 1949. Prior to that washing consisted of simply jumping into a barrel of cold water. Shortly before the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939 and at a cost of £500 the club purchased four clinker fours and five rum tum sculling boats. Unfortunately they were not to be used until 1945 as the government prohibited the storing of rowing boats on or near the River Thames. The boats were therefore stored beneath the railway arches until the end of the war.

In 1966 an appeal was launched to raise £55,000, which is about £1,000,000 in today’s money,  to build a new boathouse and gymnasium. After much fundraising and negotiation the money was raised and work on the existing clubhouse begun. The boathouse with a bar, training tank, function hall and hot running water eventually opened in September 1970.

That the money was raised was largely due to the efforts of the renowned Limehouse tug and barge owner, Dolly Fisher (see article here).

1960. Johnson’s Draw Dock (the former railway station is visible on the right). The launch of the new boat, Kenneth. Dolly Fisher can be seen peering into the boat. Photo: Island History Trust / Bill Smith

c1969. Construction of the new boathouse.

Ideal Bar

The 1960s photo (above) of the former North Greenwich Railway Station shows the Ideal Bar, a café which had a long history at the site, probably going back to when the station was still operational.

1930 (estimate). Ideal Bar

1973. Ideal Bar. Shortly before its closure. Compare the owner’s stance with that of the owner in the 40+ year older photo.

Circa 1960. Cyclo Motors recovery vehicle in Ferry Street, just left of the Ideal Bar. Photo: Island History Trust

Modern Times

During WWII, houses on the west side of Ferry Street were seriously damaged, and houses at the corner of Manchester Road and Ferry Street (close to the railway arches) were completely destroyed. Damaged and repaired factory buildings can also identified in the following photo thanks to their lighter-coloured, new roofs.

1949. Click for full-sized version.

1949. Click for full-sized version.

Island History Trust

1960s. Workers from Associated Lead on a fag break at the Ferry Street side entrance. From left to right: Lil Devonshire, Ivy Hawkins, Daisy Warren, Jean Haxell and Dolly Winch. Photo: George Warren

7th July 1967. Francis Chichester arriving at Greenwich on the day of his knighting. Ferry Street wharves can be seen in the background.

By the mid-1970s, there was virtually no industry left in Ferry Street. The Henry Clark and John Fraser works were demolished. Survey of London:

The eastern part of the site was acquired by Dr Michael and Mrs Jennifer Barraclough, whose plans for four houses … were approved in 1976 and the construction of the houses, undertaken by the Barracloughs, took three years. Some materials from the previous buildings were incorporated in the houses. They stand on the riverfront; three are of four storeys and the other, which is of three, has a gallery and a large terrace above the ground floor, with a scissors roof.

I was a young teenager at the time and had an odd job at the Barracloughs’ house construction, earning a few bob doing this and that. My most vivid memory is removing hundreds and hundreds of nails from the wooden beams that had been recovered from the old factory buildings. I also found an old 18th or 19th century clay pipe on the site, which amazed me no end. (I’m a total magpie, I wonder if I’ve still got it somewhere?)

Grainy photos of Ferry Street in the 1970s….

1970s. Looking towards the Ferry House.

1970s. Looking away from the Ferry House.

Same view as previous photo but showing recently constructed flats on the left (Fraser Court). Photo: Gary O’Keefe

The Ferry House c1980. Photo: Gary O’Keefe


1980s. Last house standing, just right of the Ferry House. A screen shot from the TV series, Prospects.

1980s. Construction of new flats. Photo: Tim Brown

1980s construction of the first Island Gardens DLR station. The derelict space on the left is the former Horse Shoe Yard. Photo: Sophia Pettman.

1980s. Construction of first Island Gardens DLR station.

1990s. Emma Tarbard daughter of Ferry House landlord and landlady, Reg and Eliza. In the background, site of the former Potter’s Ferry, by now a boat repairs yard. Photo: Tarbard Family

2008. Clearance of the former Potter’s Ferry site in preparation for the construction of new flats.

2018. Potter’s Ferry slipway. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

2018. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

2015. Johnson’s Draw Dock. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

At the start of this article I had a little grumble that there were no signs about the history of Ferry Street, but that’s not entirely true. Apart from the misspelled Felstead Wharf, a couple of other buildings and streets are named after local firms, but that might not have been obvious if you hadn’t read this article 🙂

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Dunbar House

Just outside the Millwall Inner Dock in Glengall Road (a section that was renamed Tiller Road) was the Capewell Horse Nail works, an American company with its headquarters in Connecticut.

Circa 1890, around the time of opening of the nail works. The waste ground to the west of the works was almost certainly Millwall FC’s first ground, but that’s a different story.

The firm moved to Shropshire in the mid-1900s and the works were taken over by Alexander Dunbar, who operated there from 1911 to 1929. (Dunbar, by the way, came from Guelph, Ontario, and his patented cask manufacturing process was sometimes known as the Guelph System. Hence the Guelph Cask Company that once operated in Deptford Ferry Road, behind the Vulcan).


A year after the cooperage closed, Poplar Borough Council purchased the one-acre site for the construction of a block of flats. The name ‘Dunbar’ had been associated with the site for close two twenty years, and this was commemorated in the name of the block, but in large part the name was also chosen as a nod to Limehouse businessman and shipowner, Duncan Dunbar.

Dunbar House plan. Image: Survey of London

Early 1930s. Before 1935, when McDougall’s started construction of its new silo building on the Millwall Outer Dock south quay.

The Survey of London was not positive about the building’s architecture:

The Borough’s change to a Modernistic style seems to have been gradual and ad hoc, brought about as much as anything by the adoption of solid parapeted concrete balconies. This change first appeared at Dunbar House … which represented a rather ungainly transition. At the front of the building, plain concrete balconies were interrupted by equally plain brick verticals, with a central brick staircase tower. The windows were wider than in previous blocks but were still wooden sashes with Georgian-type glazing bars.


1930s (estimate). The trees are very young, so it must be shortly after the flats opened.

1930s. Photo: Arthur Ayres

1930s. Photo: Arthur Ayres

I maintain an historic Isle of Dogs Name and Address Database (you can search through it at: and these are the recorded surnames of residents of Dunbar House in 1939. It is based on the electoral register and –  because not everybody registered to vote and not everybody reported a change of address on time – it is not necessarily complete or accurate

1939 Residents of Dunbar House

Remarkably, especially considering its proximity to Millwall Docks, Dunbar House suffered no significant damage during WWII (nor did Hammond House, across the road). It was a close thing though, as rescue worker Bill Regan recorded in his diary on 17th July 1944, probably referring to a V1 (‘Doodlebug’): Last night bomb heading for Dunbar House exploded in the air.

1946 Peace Party. Photo: Island History Trust

1950 Residents of Dunbar House

In 1952, the British Antarctic Expedition’s ship, Theron, was loaded with supplies in Millwall Docks before departing on a three-year voyage. Forget all the historic significance of that, just look at Dunbar House in the background of the closing few seconds 🙂

1953 Coronation party. Photo: Marija Kendall (nee Rnic). Photo is also part of the Island History Trust Collection (

1953 Coronation party. Island History Trust

1958 Residents of Dunbar House


1964 Residents of Dunbar House

In the 1970s, Dunbar House was in need of renovation and modernization, but the Council could not justify or cover the cost. Survey of London:

Government restrictions on public spending stopped widespread refurbishment and modernization of the existing housing stock for a time, despite the increasing age of many of the dwellings and the defects of a significant number of the more modern buildings. In general the condition of local authority housing in Tower Hamlets worsened dramatically between 1980 and 1986, the proportion categorized as unsatisfactory rising from 15 per cent to 49 per cent.

As a consequence, in 1976, Dunbar House was demolished. Scenes of a derelict Dunbar House and its demolition were captured by Gary Wood…

1976. An empty Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

1976. An empty Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

1976. An empty Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

1976. Demolition of Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

1976. Demolition of Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

1976. Demolition of Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

A green, open space (I hesitate to call it a park) was created on the cleared site.


1980s. Photo: Sandra Brentnall

More recently, housing has been built around the edges of the site of Dunbar House. The short estate street is named Omega Close, for reasons which escape me.


Quite a nice little play area for young children. Shame these dogs can’t read the ‘No Dogs Allowed’ sign on the gate.

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Henry Bradshaw: Original Islander

The Isle of Dogs, or Poplar Marsh, is a spot of ground of such fertility and excellence of grass, that it not only raises the largest cattle, but it is likewise the great restorative of all distempered beasts.
The History of London, from its Foundation by the Romans to the Present Time. 1739, William Maitland

This was one of the many comments made in the distant past on the quality of the pasture on the Isle of Dogs. So valued was the Island’s grass that it was frequently used to fatten up cattle on its way from Essex and other counties on the way to London’s markets. It was here that Clerkenwell tenant farmer James Bradshaw and wife Mary settled in the late 1700s, and where they had at least two children, Henry (born February 1802) and Mary Ann (born June 1803).

Remarkable – for me at least, after years of research into the history of the Isle of Dogs – is that Henry Bradshaw is the first named person I have come across who in all likelihood* was born there, made all the more remarkable if you are aware that at the time of his birth just 150 people lived on the Island, distributed over about 30 households (estimates based on Poor Rate Books).

* Most records name his birth place as Poplar, an administrative name which covered the Isle of Dogs. At the time, neither of the place names Isle of Dogs or Millwall would have appeared on official records. The first specific addresses for Henry and his parents are all in the vicinity of the present-day Sir John McDougall gardens.

Henry’s name has stuck with me for another reason: he and his family became prominent Island residents and made a success of themselves in different trades and professions – as publicans, property developers, solicitors, teachers, coal merchants and others. During much of the 19th century, the Bradshaws were a part of the fabric of the Island and contributed to its development. Henry’s is a proper ‘local boy does good’ story.

Circa 1800. The view south towards Greenwich from approximately the site of the later City Arms. Construction of the City Canal and the West India Docks started around this time, which might explain the transport of large stone blocks. In the background, herds of grazing cattle are visible.

As soon as he was old enough, Henry took up a profession similar to his father’s and became a grazier. By this time the West India Docks had been constructed (opened in 1802), but the area to their south remained sparsely populated pasture for many decades until the greater part was acquired for the construction of the Millwall Docks (opened in 1868).


His first recorded non-grazing venture was when he was in his late 30s. Survey of London:

In 1817 the area now largely covered by Cahir Street, Harbinger Road (British Street until 1929) and Hesperus Crescent was three meadows and a patch of swamp. There was no development on it until the late 1830s, when the Glengall Arms public house (No. 367 Westferry Road) was built by Henry Bradshaw.

Over the next few years Bradshaw added some very small cottages at the back of the public house, built terraced houses along the main road and the new Cahir Street, and more cottages along Marsh Street.

Map is much later. c1890

Glengall Arms in the 1920s

Also in the 1830s, Henry built a row of houses in Union Road (Sir John McDougall Gardens is now on the site of this lost road), the last of which was a beer house that later became The Union public house.

Later image of The Union (Courtesy of Kathy Cook)

The 1841 census gives the Bradshaw’s address as ‘Earl of Glengall’. There is no mention of a street name, but adjacent addresses in the census are in and off Westferry Road. Perhaps ‘Earl of Glengall’ is a reference to (an early name for) the the Glengall Arms. Living at the address were:

  • Henry Bradshaw, 40
  • Catherine Bradshaw, 38
  • William Bradshaw, 13
  • Eliza Bradshaw, 9
  • Charles Bradshaw, 7
  • Henry Bradshaw, 5

Ten years later, and Henry Bradshaw no longer described himself as grazier in the census, but as a ‘proprietor of houses’ and his address was given as ’22 Mill-Wall’, a house that he had built for himself close to the row of houses he built in Union Road. The Bradshaws shared the house with the Brown family, relatives by marriage. Both families had their own servant, and it is evident that they were well off by Island standards.

1851 Census

Although responsible for the construction of two Island pubs by now, there was no evidence of Henry becoming a publican himself until the early 1850s. Survey of London:

[The Robert Burns public house]  was built in 1839 … and was extended in 1853 by the local grazier Henry Bradshaw, the two bays on the left built on the site of an entrance way to the marsh wall path. Bradshaw, and later his son [probably Henry Junior, who later went on to run various pubs in the West End, near Piccadilly], ran the public house for some years.

The Robert Burns. Date estimated to be c1970.

Henry’s wife Catherine died in 1852 at the age of 49, and he remarried in 1855 to widow Sarah Ratcliff (néé Clayton) whose father Thomas Clayton was also a farmer.

In 1857, demonstrating that he was a man of standing in the community, Henry contributed to the endowment fund for the recently-opened Christ Church, where he was one of the two churchwardens (see article here).

Henry Bradshaw died at Herne Bay in 1867 and was buried in Islington (probably in Clerkenwell, where his father James came from).

What of his children? He and his first wife Catherine had six children (birth years are approximate):

  • William Henry, 1828
  • Eliza, 1832
  • Charles, 1834
  • Henry, 1836
  • Richard, 1837
  • Edward, 1838

William Henry also became a farmer once he was old enough, but made his money in market gardening (in the late 1800s he had a 40 acre market garden north of Chapel House Street), employing “10 men, 6 women and 4 boys”. Survey of London:

A local man, born in 1869, recalled this ground producing cabbages and mangolds for the London markets. He also recalled sheep on the site of Glengall Road Board School in the early 1870s.

Business was good enough for him to buy a large house in Strafford Street (in the terrace known as ‘Strafford Villas’ opposite the north side of St Luke’s Church).

Section of a 1900s postcard showing Strafford Villas.

William Henry also leased a number of houses on the south side of Strafford Street (Nos. 32-38, built in 1867), and to complete the parallels with his father, the farmer-turned-property-developer contributed to the construction of St. Luke’s School, and is named on its foundation stone.

St Luke’s School foundation stone, now mounted on a modern wall in Westferry Road close to the site of the school.

William Henry’s daughter Emily also showed the enterprising characteristics of her family. Survey of London:

In one of the houses on the south side [of Strafford Street] Miss Emily Bradshaw set up a school in 1868, when she was 16. Although dismissed by the authorities as inefficient, it was on a slightly more ambitious scale than some such ‘adventure’ schools in Poplar. Held in a reasonably sized room (14ft 10in. by 15ft 5in.), furnished and used exclusively for the purpose, it was open 48 weeks in the year for four four-hour days and two morning-only days a week, and was attended by 10 boys and 24 girls, most of whom paid between 6d and 9d a week to attend (a few paid more).

And his son Charles went on to become a successful solicitor with a business and home in East India Dock Road (William Henry lived with him for a time when he was older and widowed) before moving to a home in the desirable Vanburgh Park in Blackheath. Youngest son Horace ran a Carman and Contractor business on the Island and was a shareholder in various businesses. Son Richard went on to become the landlord of the Lord Nelson public house.

Lord Nelson, c1900

I’ve not described all the ventures of the Bradshaw family throughout the 19th century, but enough I think to give a sense of what kind of family it was. In the 100 years from 1800 to 1900, the population of the Isle of Dogs grew from 150 to more than 20,000, and the Bradshaws not only lived through it all, they were an active part of its growth. A remarkable family.

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The Isle of Dogs in the Fifties

Close to one third of the Isle of Dogs’ housing stock was lost to bombing during WWII – a high proportion even compared to East End levels of destruction – and in 1950 the damage was still evident.

Maria Street diagonally from bottom left, with Janet Street and St Hubert’s House in the background. The cleared site was once the location of Millwall Central School, destroyed during WWII.

A travelling knife sharpener outside St Hubert’s House, with Maria Street and St Luke’s Church in the background. Photo by Rosemary Freeman, courtesy of her son John.

The Happy Go Lucky off license on the corner of Glengall Grove (foreground) and Strattondale Street (right).

Cubitt Town ( Click for full-sized version.

North Millwall ( Click for full-sized version.

The north end of The Walls looking south, with Providence House lower left ( Click for full-sized version.

Buildings on the Isle of Dogs destroyed or damaged beyond economic repair during WWII. Map: Mick Lemmerman

Temporary housing in the form of prefabs and Orlit houses had been built, and there had been some patching up of the buildings which could be repaired, but – due to post-war austerity – new housing developments on a large scale were yet to commence.

Looking north from an upper story of Glengall School, with St John’s Church and West India Docks visible in the distance.

Stewart Street. Photo: Christopher Dunchow

Stebondale Street

Parsonage Street. Photo: Valerie MacDonald Cattle

The scarcity of places to live was reflected in the population figures: in 1950 the population of the Isle of Dogs was under 10,000, less than half its size before the start of WWII (and back to the same size it was in the 1860s, almost a century before).

Graph: Mick Lemmerman

From 1950, major new housing schemes started in Poplar, with virtually all homes being in the form of council flats. This marked a major change to the character of housing on the Isle of Dogs: before WWII there were comparatively few flats and most homes were privately owned. By 1980, however, much of the pre-war Island had been swept away and replaced by new housing estates, with almost 100% of people living in council homes.

During the 1950s, the new developments were probably welcomed by Islanders. The first homes – for example those in the St John’s Estate around Castalia Square, or those in Alpha Grove – were low-rise, sympathetically built and often occupied by (returning) Islanders. Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, was also impressed, writing in 1956:

John Betjeman, The Spectator, 1956

Street layouts also remained pretty much unchanged at first, and pre-WWII Island communities could re-establish themselves. Life was returning to normal, and during a decade which saw economic recovery in the UK. I can imagine there was some optimism amongst Islanders at the time; and if you were a kid then, so many bomb sites to play on!

1950s. Click for full-size version

1950 (wiki)

Clara Grant & Gilbertson Houses were opened in Mellish Street. They were named after Clara Grant, who had done much for poor children at the Fern Street Settlement in Bow, and John F. Gilbertson, a former long-serving member of the Borough Council.

Clara Grant House, Mellish Street

Poplar Borough Council Minutes 1950/51. The Manchester Road development concerned what was later named Betty May Gray House (opened in 1953) named after Betty May Gray whose endowment helped fund the construction (she had nothing to do with the Isle of Dogs, but had left considerable funds in her will with the stipulation that they be used to provide housing in deprived areas).

Work started on Cressall House in Tiller Road with the block opening a year later. It was named after the recently deceased, former member of the Borough Council, George J. Cressall (husband of Nellie Frances Cressall).

Cressall House, Tiller Road

Christine Coleman and brothers outside the entrance to Cressall House later in the decade. Behind them, on the left, the bomb-damaged Island Baths. Photo: Christine Coleman

Seyssel Street, year unknown. Photo: Christine Egglesfield

Jim Devlin singing in the Newcastle Arms (later Waterman’s Arms). Year unknown. Photo: Island History Trust

1951 (wiki)

Scheduled to be an exhibition ship in the Festival of Britain, the Cutty Sark was towed into the Millwall Docks Graving (or Dry) Dock for survey.

February 1951. Cutty Sark in Millwall Docks

Another consequence of the Festival of Britain was the repair and reopening of the West India Dock Pier at the river end of Cuba Street which had been destroyed by bombing in March 1941.

1950/51 Poplar Borough Council Meeting Minutes

Section of an advertising poster

A ferry departing from West India Dock Pier.

Timber firm, Oliver & Sons, whose yard and sheds were also damaged during WWII, took over and cleared the former East Ferry Road Engineering Works site just north of The George.

Oliver & Sons Timber Yard in East Ferry Road. Skeggs House in the background was opened in 1956, which dates this Island History Trust photo to at least the late-50s.

Tooke Street. In the background, Alpha Grove and the Millwall Dock Western Granary warehouses. Photo: David Lloyd.

Further up (or down, depending on your perspective) Tooke Street. Photo: Peter Wright.

If you followed Tooke Street as far as Westferry Road and turned left, you would come across the Millwall Independent Chapel just round the corner.

Millwall Independent Chapel

This unremarkable building had an interesting history. Survey of London:

The first place of worship built on the Isle of Dogs since the medieval chapel of St Mary, this was erected in 1817 by a congregation which had been meeting since 1812, at first in a house on the Mill Wall belonging to John Howard, a mast- and block-maker. Prominent in the founding of the chapel were Prows Broad, whose boatbuilding yard was nearby, and George Guerrier, a grazier, who contributed largely to the cost. Guerrier died in 1824 and was buried at the chapel (the only known place of interment on the Isle of Dogs since medieval times).

The chapel closed about 1908, after which it became a girls’ institute and later a printing works. Disused and dilapidated by 1951, it was pulled down soon afterwards. In 1981 the date-stone from the front of the chapel was in a garden at Shenfield*.

* I’d love to know where in Shenfield…..

1951 also saw LCC proposals to connect Island Gardens with Millwall Park by means of a green space following the path of the old Millwall Extension Railway. A good idea, I think, but nothing came of it. Today, apartments and the rowing club are on the site.

LCC proposal to connect Millwall Park to Island Gardens

1952 (wiki)

24 three-storey houses were opened at Nos 85–131 (odd) Alpha Grove.

Alpha Grove

Alpha Grove

Building work on St John’s Estate started early in the year.  A foundation stone in the wall of 12 Castalia Square marks the commencement of the estate.

Foundation Stone, Castalia Square

Castalia Square Construction. Photo: Island History Trust

St John’s Church, Roserton Street, was damaged during air raids in 1941 and was abandoned and eventually demolished in the 1950s. Survey of London:

Worship continued in a temporary ‘church’ in the hall on the opposite side of Roserton Street. Between 1939 and 1947 St John’s lost 90 per cent of its communicants, and the three Island parishes were merged in 1952 under the title of the Parish of Christ Church with St John and St Luke, with Christ Church as the parish church.

Derelict St John’s Church, possibly during demolition

East Ferry Road, with St John’s Hall on the right being repaired.

The first of the Poplar’s prefabs were demolished in 1952, but it was 1977 before the last was removed.

Wedding of the Barry family. Photo: George Warren / Island History Trust

Canary Wharf

Lorries queuing in Millwall Docks

Cubitt Town School in Saunders Ness Road (now the location of St Luke’s School) was rebuilt in 1938 but the new building was all but destroyed during one of the worst WWII bombing tragedies on the Island (described in this article). The again-rebuilt school was opened in 1952.

Cubitt Town School. Photo: Christine Egglesfield

1953 (wiki)

Another eventful year, this time thanks to the coronation of a new queen. There are very many photos remaining of the street parties on the Island, too many to include here, so here are just a few…

Mellish Street. Photo: John Fairweather (who appears to be sitting bottom left).

Manchester Road, Glen Terrace. Photo: Island History Trust

The following photo shows the footbridge that used to connect Hesperus Crescent and Chapel House Street over a railway siding. The rails were long gone by the time of this photo and later in the decade (in 1959 to be precise) Poplar Borough Council purchased the strip of land and demolished the footbridge.

Hesperus Crescent

Photo: Island History Trust

In December 1952, G. W. Mansell’s lease on a piece of land off Harbinger Road had expired and the site reverted to Poplar Borough Council. The buildings were demolished in 1953, but it took a few years for flats (41-53 Harbinger Road) to be built on the site, eventually opened in 1957.

Site of future Nos. 41-53 Harbinger Road, looking from Hesperus Crescent towards Harbinger Road.

Further north in Millwall, boilermakers John Bellamy Ltd asked the Council for approval to close a portion of Tobago Street so that the land could be subsumed into their works.

Poplar Borough Council Meeting Minutes

Island Gardens in the 1950s. Photo: Island History Trust

Island Gardens in the 1950s.

1954 (wiki)

Manchester Road in the 1950s.In the middle on the left is Stebondale Street. On the right, the Princess of Wales (‘Macs’). Photo probably taken by William Whiffin.

During WWII, 80 per cent of the covered storage at the West India Docks had been lost. Replacements were sheds which were more suitable for mechanized operations, including two at the former Rum Wharf on the south quay of the Import Dock (one of these sheds was later occupied by Limehouse Studios), opened in 1954.

West India Import Dock, South Quay

West India Import Dock, South Quay

The London Tavern on the corner of Glengall Grove and Manchester Road lost its top floors during WWII, and the remains were demolished in 1954.

London Tavern

Dockers waiting for the call-on in East Ferry Road, close to The George.

Poplar Borough Council Meeting Minutes

1955 (wiki)

Survey of London:

The [Millwall Dock] entrance lock was set to be substantially repaired and altered in 1939, but the outbreak of war caused the work to be deferred. The lock was badly damaged in September 1940, when bombing destroyed the middle gates, hydraulic machinery, sluices, culverts and part of the south wing wall.

Damage to Millwall Dock entrance lock

Reconstruction to a revised version of the pre-war plans was proposed for 1949, but the work was postponed because of government restrictions on capital expenditure. By 1955 the cost of reconstruction could no longer be justified, and concern regarding the strength of the inner gates, and the effect of the unused lock on impounding and dredging costs, led to damming of the lock inside the Outer Dock.

Dam at Millwall Dock entrance lock. Michigan House, just south of the lock, was built between 1958 and 1960.

The dam was built in 1956 by John Mowlem & Company using precast-concrete blocks and timber taken from a temporary dam at the Royal Albert Dock. Redevelopment around the quays brought increasing traffic to the Millwall Docks in the 1960s, and a rebuilding of the lock was again considered before it was permanently closed in 1967, its east end filled so that the road bridge would not have to be replaced. The bridge was removed in the late 1970s.

Smiling neighbours watching a wedding group outside Christ Church. Photo: Elsey Family.

George Clark & Sons Ltd. rebuilt their Broadway Works sugar manufacturing plant during the late 1940s and early 1950s, with completion in 1955 (the year before the firm was acquired by Brown & Polson who themselves were acquired by Tate & Lyle).

Rebuilding at George Clark & Sons, Broadway Works, Alpha Grove.

Firemen were called into action at a fire in the area of land between Manchester Road, Barque Street and Saunders Ness Road. The land was owned by the Calder wharfingers, whose Calder’s Wharf was adjacent. In the photo, the firemen are cooling down barrels of collodion cotton and boxes of paint – inflammable materials that really ought to have been stored more securely and not in the open behind housing. The windows of the Barque Street houses in the background were shattered by the explosion and heat from the fire.

May 1955. Photo: London Fire Brigade

As mentioned earlier in this article, St John’s Church was demolished in the 1950s and the close-by former hall refitted as the new church. This church was dedicated in 1955.

Dedication of St John’s Church in the former mission hall

Next to the hall, a new clergy-house was also built, along with numbers 521 and 523 Manchester Road. All three buildings are visible in the following aerial photo.

Part of the St John’s Estate in the 1950s.

1956 (wiki)

Lenanton’s built new concrete sheds and extended their wharf southwards during the 1950s and 1960s, absorbing other wharves along the way. Survey of London:

In 1954–6 the office block was enlarged and remodelled and a works canteen was built above the entrance from Westferry Road.


Start of the Island Road Race, organised by the Dockland Settlement. The racers, ran up East Ferry Road to the Queen, and turned right to follow Manchester Road back to East Ferry Road, a distance of 2 miles. If you want to run it today, be prepared to run an extra 50 yards or so due to rerouting of East Ferry Road in a couple of places. Photo: Island History Trust

Running down Glengall Grove towards Manchester Road. Photo: Island History Trust

George Green’s Playing Fields in Millwall Park. Photo: Ada Price

The paddling pool in Millwall Park. Photo: David Lloyd

1956. Many Wrights outside 36 Alpha Grove. Photo: Peter Wright

1957 (wiki)

Jayne Mansfield behind the bar in The George. Photo: Tarbard Family.

Tooke Arms.

Maple House shortly after opening.

Strattondale Street (more or less opposite the library). In the background are the sheds of the Transporter Yard in the Mudchute, where ASDA now stands.

1958 (wiki)

Kingfield Street. Photo: Ada Price (forgive me, Jan Hill, if this photo was taken much later and I just added years to your age 🙂 )

The LCC launched a programme to improve some of the dwellings they had built between the wars. This applied also to flats in the West Ferry Estate (Cahir Street) which had gas hot-water systems installed.

Outside Akbar House. Photo: Christopher Gary Stevens

The following photo shows a bridge-component built by Westwood’s being transported from their Harbinger Road yard. The corner out of the yard into Harbinger Road was too tight for a load of this side, so the lorry drove through Marsh Street into Cahir Street to reach Westferry Road. Note the WWII emergency water supply tank on the right of the photo, still in place almost 15 years after the end of the war.

Transport of bridge-component built by Westwood’s

Photo of ‘Nob’ Davison: Island History Trust

Christ Church. Photo by Rosemary Freeman, courtesy of her son John.

The following photo shows Crews Street. Most of the houses were damaged beyond repair during WWII. The council demolished them and those in Gaverick Street around this time. Only the Kingsbridge Arms and a couple of houses in Manchester Road remained standing. The space was variously used by road hauliers and the occupiers of Lowe’s, Winkley’s and Cyclops Wharves (Survey of London).

Crews Street

Westferry Road (Strafford Street on left). Photo by Rosemary Freeman, courtesy of her son John.

1959 (wiki)

Morton’s, one the Island’s largest employers for many decades had been taken over in 1945 by the Beecham Group who moved the operations to Lowestoft. Survey of London:

The Millwall works were gradually run down. Waterways Ltd, wharfingers, an associated company of Morton’s, occupied the riverside buildings for some years after the Second World War. A food and soft drinks distribution depot, with a north-light concrete shell roof, built in the 1950s on the corner of Westferry Road and Cuba Street, remained in use into the 1980s.


Survey of London:

The barge-bridge and the knuckles in the [Millwall Inner] dock impeded the PLA’s post-war modernization plans. Their replacement with an elevated walkway came under consideration from 1950, but before accepting this as necessary, the PLA sought Poplar Borough Council’s agreement to the displacement of the right of way.

There was strong local opposition, however, and so in 1958 the PLA asked Parliament for power to close the route. The Council, the LCC and Charles Key, the local MP, forced the PLA to reconsider and prepare schemes for adapting the pedestrian crossing.

In 1960 the PLA suggested either high-level footways with a double bascule bridge which would cost over £100,000, a tunnel under the dock for about £400,000, or a 180ft-high aerial cable-car for about £50,000. The bridge option emerged as favourite, the tunnel being too expensive for the PLA and the cablecar unpopular with the Council. A high-level bridge would keep the public out of the docks and allow barges to pass, opening only for ships.

The ‘barge bridge’ across Millwall Inner Dock, later replaced by the Glass Bridge.

Millwall Outer Dock

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to carry on reading at The Isle of Dogs in the Sixties.

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Samuel Cutler & Sons

Most of the very many Isle of Dogs engineering firms from the past were unknown to me until I started learning about Island history a few years ago. A few firms, however, were familiar as they were still in business when I was a young kid in 1960s (or they were not operating any more but their signs and factories were still to be seen).

One of these was Samuel Cutler & Sons whose Providence Iron Works were opposite St Edmund’s School in Westferry Road (they also had a few buildings on the other side of the road, adjacent to the school). The following photo was taken in the 1960s, the decade that Samuel Cutler’s closed. By the way, all photos of Cutler’s workers in this article are courtesy of the Island History Trust collection (

Workers outside Samuel Cutler’s gate in the 1960s. St Edmund’s School is just visible on the left.

Samuel Cutler Sr. opened his original Providence Iron Works in the 1850s on the former site of the Poplar Gas Light Company diagonally opposite Mellish Street. Assisted later by his sons Samuel Jr. and George – the firm Samuel Cutler & Sons manufactured:

… products included roofing, marine boilers and machinery, but they specialized in gasholders and other plant for the gas industry. They later developed a large business as general constructional engineers. (Survey of London).


A couple of years after the death of Samuel Sr. in 1870, the Providence Iron Works were moved to larger premises further south in Westferry Road.


Extract from 1924 Institution of Mechanical Engineers Obituary for Samuel Cutler Junior. the driving force behind the continuing growth and success of the company:

Mr. Samuel Cutler was the inventor of the triangular system of gas-holder guide-frame which bears his name, and this was adopted for important gas-holders in Denmark, Italy, in the East, and in South America.


The Kennington Lane gas-holder of the Phoenix Gas Co. was an interesting example of the firm’s boldness and pioneering skill in the construction of large holders.

1950s Oval Cricket Ground. In the background on the right, The no. 1 gas holder.

As the years went on, still larger dimensions were reached. The works at Millwall were well placed for Continental business, and a 4 million cubic foot holder erected at Vienna, and subsequently removed to Berlin, afforded samples of the Firm’s activities.

1900. Goad Insurance Map (British Library).


During WWI




1937. From the river. Note the gas holder in the background on the right, which can only have been a gas holder in construction for a customer of Samuel Cutler’s. The roof of St Edmund’s School is just visible left of centre. Photo: PLA / Museum of London.

Severe damage was caused by bombing in the Second World War. In the following aerial photo just a large amount of bomb-flattened space in the area, and Cutler’s shed roofs have been largely patched up or entirely replaced.

The works closed in the early 1960s – when the firm relocated to Telford – and the whole site had been cleared by the mid-1980s. It was redeveloped in the early 1990s as part of the Masthouse Terrace housing scheme.

What of the many gas holders built by Samuel Cutlers & Sons? The introduction of a national grid pipework for natural gas in the late 20th century meant that gas holders were no longer needed. With one or two exceptions (such as next the Oval), they have largely been demolished despite efforts to have them protected. For example, this gas holder built by Samuel Cutler & Sons in Hornsey was part of an action by locals and others to have it listed.


Industrial Archaeology News Issue 172. 2015 described it as follows:

The truth is Gas holder No 1 at Hornsey Gasworks is a remarkable, innovative and historic architectural structure and it is astonishing that it has remained neglected and unsung for so long.

It was constructed in 1892 and is the oldest surviving example of ‘Cutler’s Patent Guide Framing’, which enables a structure using a lattice of vertical guides and helical girders to provide the necessary rigidity with a relatively lightweight and strikingly elegant appearance.

Samuel Cutler & Sons of Millwall patented this helical shell concept in 1888. This is not to be confused with conventional rectangular frames with cross-bracing – it is a truly geodesic cylinder. It was thirty years in advance of Barnes Wallis coining the term ‘geodesic’ for these lightweight structures for airships and aircraft and fifty years ahead of Buckminster Fuller’s trendy geodesic domes.

The action to save the gas holders was however unsuccessful and they were demolished in 2016.

Hornsey 2016

Closer to the Island there are other gas holders (again, built by Samuel Cutlers & Sons) that are currently under threat: these on the Regent’s Canal near Bethnal Green.

Regent’s Canal, for Shoreditch Gas Works

A couple of months ago, the planning committee of Tower Hamlets Borough Council voted to demolish the gas holders, making room for a housing association to build new homes on the site. Again, various groups have started an action to have them saved (and if you agree, you can sign their petition here:

One argument is that they can be preserved by incorporating them in the new housing development, as has happened at King’s Cross (gas holders not built by Samuel Cutler & Sons) and in Dublin (where the gas holders were built by Samuel Cutler & Sons):

1980s. Ringsend Gas Holder, Dublin

2010s. Ringsend Gas Holder, Dublin

The company’s name is on a plate at the base of at least one of the large iron supports:

In Dublin, and in other places around the world, you can still find evidence of Samuel Cutler & Sons and other former manufacturing firms from the Isle of Dogs, including even in Hong Kong (if you’re confused by the year, the firm was still operating in 1981, just no longer on the Island).

Aberdeen Gas Holder, Hong Kong

Aberdeen Gas Holder, Hong Kong

You won’t find anything on the Isle of Dogs, though.

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A Few Colourised Old Photos of the Isle of Dogs

There are a number of websites that auto-colourise black and white photos that you upload. The results can be a bit hit and miss, but are frequently interesting, with the colours giving the photos a different energy.

I experimented with photos on one such site, which has since gone offline, and thought I’d share the results instead of keeping them to myself. Not much text or history in this post, but I hope you enjoy the images.

1885. The ceremonial removal of the toll gate at the north end of East Ferry Road.

1900s. The Lord Nelson. It was much more ornate a building, as can be seen in this photo. There is no record of what happened to the statue on the roof.

1900s. The Lord Nelson. The letters and number above the front door reveal that this was the Association of Friends (a friendly aka mutual society) location number 3834. Mind you, the number looks more like 3634 in the previous photo.

c1905. Workers at Hawkins & Tipson’s Globe Rope Works. Photo: Island History Trust.

c1909. 79 Alpha Road. Photo: Island History Trust

1909. Millwall from Greenwich (some readers might recognize Burrell’s, surrounded by chimneys)

1920s. Killoran in Britannia Dry Dock. The houses on the right are the rear of houses in Deptford Ferry Road which once ran up from the Vulcan to the river.

c1930. Totnes Terrace. The rear of this row of cottages is shown on the right of the following photo of Britannia Dry Dock. Photo: Island History Trust

1930s. Penang in Britannia Dry Dock.

c1930. From Greenwich Beach

c1930. Fred & T. Thorne’s building firm in Manchester Road (on the top right is a slight glimpse of a Cubitt Arms sign). Photo: Malcolm Thorne

1930s. Tobago Street. Photo: Island History Trust

1930s. Manchester Road.

1930s. A bridger at Kingsbridge. Apparently a good example of how incorrect the auto-colouring can be; those who know about these things inform me that the ship’s funnel and star are the wrong colour. Photo: A.G. Linney / Museum of London Docklands

1930s. Bullivant’s Wharf, with St Luke’s Church in the background.

1940s (estimated). Workers entering West India Docks

c1946. Mellish Street

c1946. Galbraith Street

1947. Tooke Arms. Photo: Island History Trust.

1953. Coronation street party in Hesperus Crescent. Nellie Cressall on the left. Photo: Island History Trust / Cressall Family

1950s (estimate). Princess of Wales on the corner of Barque Street (left) and Manchester Road (right).

1970. Above Dudgeon’s Wharf.

1970s. George Green’s Youth Club. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

1970s. Looking towards Christ Church from the Mudchute. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

1970s. The Mudchute. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

1970s. The former rope walk/shed. Looking towards McDougall’s and a cow. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

1970s. Billson Street. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

1980s. The Walls. Photo: Mike Seaborne

1980s. Magnet & Dewdrop, Westferry Road. Photo: Mike Seaborne

1980s. Westferry Road. Photo: Mike Seaborne

1980s. Westferry Road. Photo: Mike Seaborne

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Maconochies in Millwall

James Maconochie (1850-1895) and Archibald Maconochie (1854-1926) were two of eight siblings born in England to Edinburgh-born Archibald Maconochie Sr. and Elizabeth Richardson from Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire.

Contemporary depiction of the Maconochie Brothers

The brothers’ first business was a fish-curing factory in Lowestoft, started in 1873. The business was a great success and it expanded to include food processing, packaging and canning, and they were one of the largest employers in the town.

By the end of the 1890s, Maconochies was the largest producer of canned food in the world, and they had a number of premises throughout Britain. In 1896 (a year after the death of James Maconochie from pneumonia), Maconochie Brothers – a name the business would retain despite the death of James – took over the former Northumberland Wharf in Westferry Road on the Isle of Dogs.  This was a couple of years before the company secured a lucrative contract to supply tinned meat and vegetable stew to British troops fighting in the Boer War (1899-1902).

Maconochie’s Wharf. Built on the former Northumberland Wharf, the launching site of HMS Northumberland, built by the Millwall Iron Works.

Survey of London:

From 1902 to 1920 Maconochies completely redeveloped the site, building a pickle factory, a jam, peel and candy factory, vegetable kitchens, riverside warehouses, stores, workshops, a large cooperage, and offices.

1910. Goad Insurance Map (Museum of London). Click for full-sized version

In 1907, Maconochies invented their very popular Pan Yan Pickle, made according to a secret recipe involving pickled fruit and vegetables in a sweet and sour sauce.


The redevelopment of the Island factory from 1902-1910 also coincided with the outbreak of World War I when Maconochies won a contract to supply meat and vegetable tinned rations to the British Army.

WWI canned army rations

The majority of troops appeared to have disliked the tinned food. Imperial War Museum website:

…a very familiar component of the British soldier’s daily life and diet. It was more blamed than praised and many considered it only edible if mixed with something else. Others (probably a minority) liked it . Brophy and Partridge describe it thus: ‘A tinned ration consisting of sliced vegetables, chiefly turnips and carrots, and a deal of thin soup or gravy. Warmed in the tin, ‘Maconochie’ was edible; cold, it was a man-killer. By some soldiers it was regarded as a welcome change from bully-beef.’ (‘The Long Trail. Soldiers’ Songs and Slang 1914-18′, Sphere Books, 1969, p.119)

Corporal R Derby Holmes:

It is my personal opinion that the inventor brought to his task an imperfect knowledge of cookery and a perverted imagination. Open a can of Maconochie and you find a gooey gob of grease, like rancid lard. Investigate and find chunks of carrot and other unidentifiable material, and now and then a piece of mysterious meat.

Still, Maconochies profited hugely from the contract to supply canned rations and their Millwall works competed with Morton’s to call itself the largest employer on the Island.

Maconochies in the 1920s. Photo:

In 1926 Archibald Maconochie died and his son (another Archibald) took over. It was around this time that the business became a limited company instead of a family business.

From Westferry Road in about 1920. Maconochies main office building is visible on the right, just past The Ship pub, with the clock on the wall. Photo: Island History Trust

In 1926 the Island factory had over 1000 employees, 75% of whom were women.

Thomas Jeffrey Cole – Life & Labor* in the Isle of Dogs:

More than 40% of Island women who had paid jobs at the time worked in food processing plants. Of the two great Island firms in this field, Morton’s and Maconochies, the former was considered to be the better employer. Its wages were no higher than those of its rival, but working conditions were better and the management was thought to be fairer.

* Cole is an American.

1920s. Girls who worked at Maconochies. The two in the middle are Edie Lander, who lived at No. 1 Ferry Street, and Doris Burton, who lived at No. 16 Malabar Street. The other two are from Canning Town. Photo and Text: Island History Trust / Mrs Spotwood.

The Maconochies office building in c1930. Photo: Island History Trust

Viewed from the river in the 1930s

In the late 1930s, the most recent Archibald left the firm to join the army for the duration of WWII, before returning to the company. During the War the Millwall factory was so seriously damaged that production was impossible. Maconochies acquired a new site in Hadfield, Derbyshire and moved their production there in 1945 – the end of their 50 year presence on the Isle of Dogs. After the War Maconochie’s Wharf was used for wool storage.

In the following photo the lighter-coloured sheds indicate repairs to – or replacements for – sheds that were damaged or destroyed by WWII bombing. The lighter sections on the roofs of, for example, Burrell’s are also signs of bomb damage repairs.

c1950. By which time Maconochies had ceased production at the site.

A Maconochies lorry driving past the Tower

During the 1950s, Maconochies started to become a loss-making concern, and in 1965 it entered into receivership. Two years later it was acquired by Rowntree Mackintosh, who themselves were acquired in the 1980s by Nestlé, owner of Crosse & Blackwell (who made Branston Pickles, among many other brands).

Production of Pan Yan Pickle ceased in 2000 due to falling sales. Attempts in 2008 by DJ/celebrity Chris Evans to pressure Crosse & Blackwell into reviving the pickle led to the revelation that the secret recipe had already been lost in a 2004 factory fire.

The former Maconochies factory in Westferry Road was demolished in about 1980, leaving a large empty site that was overlooked by a community mural painted on the side of the adjacent Burrell’s building.

1980s. Peter Wright

In the late 1980s, the site was redeveloped by the Great Eastern Self-Build Housing Association.

Late 1980s

Early 1990s (estimate). Former Maconochies Wharf.

There is one little reminder of the area’s former use…..

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