The Corner of Chapel House Street and Westferry Road

The first mention of Chapel House Street on a map was around 1870, when it was a very short street off Westferry Road which turned 90 degrees to the right after a few yards. Later, when Chapel House Street was extended to East Ferry Road, the short section on the right became Chapel House Place.

The houses and The Ship public house – shown in the 1870 map below – were built from about 1850 onwards. Nos. 423-427 Westferry Road and the first houses on the west side of Chapel House Street (starting at No. 1, odd numbers) were built during the decade after publication of this map.

Although I am using the 20th Century house numbering here, originally most terraces had a name which was more commonly used in postal addresses. The row of houses from No. 429-451, for example, was originally named Silver Terrace. The houses directly behind this terrace were Dahlia’s Cottages, and the houses in the later-named Chapel House Place were known as Griffin’s Cottages.

1870.

It was a small residential area almost surrounded by industry, but with market gardens to the north. Some enterprising residents in the 1880s included:

  • Joseph Taylor at 429 Westferry Road, partner in the firm, J. & J. Taylor (machine makers, coppersmiths and brass finishers);
  • George Griffin Cook, local manufacturing chemist, at No. 451. Cook built the first few houses in Chapel House Place, which were known as Griffin’s Cottages;
  • Omnibus propietor, George Hames also lived at No. 451 at some stage;
  • Thomas Weaver, who ran a chandler’s shop (a greengrocer in modern parlance) at No. 294;
  • Landlady, Sarah Walker, of the The Glendower public house at Nos. 296-8.

No houses were built east of No. 451 (except for those few in Lead Street, close to the later fire station) and this land was occupied by various firms over the years, including Matthew T. Shaw and the lead firm, Locke Lancaster.

1890

Since the demise of the Thames shipbuilding industry around 1870, industrial specialisms of the Island included the manufacture of not only iron and steel but also of chemicals. That lead manufacturing can be harmful to health was known at the end of the 19th century, but the dangers of asbestos were not. Residents’ neighbours included United Asbestos at Nelson Wharf, and just a few yards east: an oil wharf, a lead works and a copper depositing works!

18th November 1896. The Morning Post.

1900. Chas E Goad Insurance Plan. British Library.

1908. Mrs F. M. Kettle nee Hames, with her daughter – her first child – Violet Florence, later Oliver. Photograph taken at No.9 Chapel House Street, Millwall (later Curtis’s grocery shop), in 1908. When she grew up, Violet worked at Maconochies and then at McDougalls, as a shorthand typist. Text and Photo: Island History Trust.

The following photo was taken in the early 1900s and shows new setts being laid in Westferry Road, close to the corner with Chapel House Street on the right.

Early 1900s

Apart from the working men it shows, left to right:

  1. The entrance to Nelson Wharf at 302 West Ferry Road, with a sign mentioning Burnett’s Disenfectant
  2. 298-292 Westferry Road (left to right)
  3. The Ship public house at 290 West Ferry Road
  4. Maconochie’s
  5. Footbridge connecting the buildings of Burrell’s Wharf on both sides of Westferry Road
  6. 413-427 Westferry Road
  7. The entrance to Chapel House Street
  8. 429 Westferry Road

The following photo was taken a few years later very close to the same spot (although from an upstairs window). It more clearly shows Burnett’s entrance, The Ship and Maconochies.

c1920. Island History Trust

Burnett’s

Survey of London:

Sir William Burnett (1779–1861) was a naval surgeon who distinguished himself at Trafalgar and other battles, rising to become Inspector of Hospitals to the Mediterranean fleet and, in 1822, one of two Medical Commissioners to the Navy Victualling Board.

In about 1836 Burnett devised an anti-rot and mothproofing treatment for timber, cordage, canvas and other cloths, using an aqueous solution of chloride of zinc. ‘Burnettizing’ became a standard wood-preservative technique.

Timber preserving and timber merchanting were the principal activities at Nelson Wharf in the mid-1890s, though disinfectant continued to be made there in the 1920s. Soldering fluid was also produced. By the 1930s the business was exclusively concerned with timber.

The Ship Public House

One of no less than five pubs* opened close to Scott-Russell’s yard at the time of the construction of the Great Eastern in the 1850s, undoubtedly hoping to benefit from the trade offered by workers and visitors. The Ship pub was created by rebuilding two houses, which themselves were relatively new, having been built in the 1830s.

* See this article for more information about Island pubs over the years.

1920s. An outing from The Ship. Top row, in the coach: Arthur Justice (worked at Hawkins & Tipson’s), and Bill Audrett ( a reeler at Hawkins & Tipson’s); Nat Oliver (Parry’s oil mill); Wally Green, Harry McSweeny (stevedore), Rubin and Jack Oliver (both worked at McDougals flour mill). Front row seated: Bill Brinkley (docker), and in the centre, Fred Payne, the landlord of the pub. The baby looking out of the window is probably Lily Payne. Photo and text: Island History Trust

Maconochies

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. 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). See this article for more information about Maconochies.

WWI Rations

Chapel House Street was extended to East Ferry Road well before WWI, but it was 1919 before houses were built along the new section when Poplar Borough Council built the Chapel House Estate. The older houses on the left side of Chapel House Street in the following photo are Nos. 1-11; beyond them are houses of the new Chapel House Estate.

1934

The following photo was taken opposite Maconochie’s and shows a hint of the refreshment bar or café that was at No. 423 since at least before WWI. I remember that there was still a café (‘Sid’s Cosy Café’) there in the late 1960s when I walked home from Harbinger School to my home near Christ Church.

1930

1930. 425 Westferry Road. Island History Trust

The corner of Chapel House Street and Westferry Road was clearly a popular place for the departure and arrival of outings and beanos. In the following photo a group of young women are dressed-up and standing outside The Ship, undoubtedly waiting for their charabanc to turn up. The entrance to Chapel House Street is on the left of the photo.

1935. Outside The Ship

1930s. Island History Trust

1935. Island History Trust

1937. Nos. 1-11 Chapel House Street during celebrations of the coronation of George VI. Island History Trust

The bus in the following photo is obscuring the entrance to Chapel House Street, but the photo does show many of the houses from 413-451 Westferry Road.

1930s

No. 413, the tallest house on the left, was recquistioned during WWII and used by the Auxiliary Ambulance Service.

1940s. 413 Westferry Road

This and other houses in the terrace as far as Chapel House Street survived the War, but neighbouring houses did not. The worst damage was done on 11th November 1941 when a 250 Kg high explosive bomb fell on the opposite corner, destroying 5 houses, Nos. 429 to 437 (there are no reports of any fatalities due to the bombing).

c1950. I don’t at this moment know if Nos. 443 and higher were destroyed by bombing or were ‘simply’ demolished to make room for a new Matthew T. Shaw shed. I do have a book of LCC bomb damage maps which will answer the question, but I recently moved home and the book is hiding under a pile of other books somewhere.

Later, a bank was built on the site of the destroyed houses at No. 429 and higher. I didn’t have an account with the NatWest, but my mum did and I recall spending quite some time in there. Remember when everything was done with cheques? What a palaver.

1984. Compare this photo with the previous, 1930s, photo which also shows a bus obscuring Chapel House Street. Both photos were taken at the same place. Photo: Mike Seaborne

Despite surviving the War and inhabited until well into the 1960s, the remaining old houses from No. 413 and higher were cleared and demolished. The old houses at Nos. 1-11 Chapel House Street were also demolished.

1960s. 413 Westferry Road empty and awaiting demolition. Out of sight, behind the bus, was a bus stop, more apparent in the following photo.

Circa 1970 (estimate). Looking north up Westferry Road from approx. 413 Westferry Road.

1980s. Photo: Mike Seaborne

1984-ish. Screenshot from the TV series, Prospects

1984-ish. Screenshot from the TV series, Prospects

2010s. Site of 443-451 Westferry Road. Photo: Peter Wright

Some Comparisons With Present-Day Views

And finally, a photo of the same section of road shown in the 1900s photo of men laying the street. There’s a very good chance that at least some of the stones they laid are still present here under a few layers of asphalt.

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Union Dock

In 1660  the river wall was breached in the north-west of the Island, and this breach not only created an inland lake (the Poplar Gut), it also meant the river wall had to be routed around the breach, giving the later Westferry Road its familiar curving path along ‘The Walls’ (article here).

1745

The ‘land’ formed by the breach was initially used for floating timber and masts, but from about 1700 a succession of owners developed a shipbuilding yard there. By 1750 the yard had two dry docks, known as the ‘Single Dock’ and the ‘Long Dock’. In 1786, according to The Survey of London: The yard was then taken by … Almon Hill (c1741–1808), in partnership with Robert Mellish, and they built warships and East Indiamen. By 1800, plans had been made for the West India Docks and these plans left Hill’s Ship Yard surrounded by the West India Docks Limehouse Entrance, Import Dock and Export Dock, and the City Canal.

1800. Extract from plan for the West India Docks showing Hill’s Ship Yard with its Single Dock and Long Dock

In 1818 the yard was taken over by the shipbuilding firm of Fletcher, Son & Fearnall who named it Union Dock and operated there – first as shipbuilders and then as ship repairers – until 1925.

Fletcher’s Yard, Limehouse. Charles Deane
Limehouse; circa 1840
© National Maritime Museum Collections

Survey of London:

Joseph Fletcher extended the dockyard to the south in 1829–31, leasing the former mast pond and timber-yard from the dock company. He solved the problem of creating the foundations for a dry dock on this unembanked frontage by sinking the hull of the Canton, an old East Indiaman, in the former mast pond, fastening it down with piles, fitting it with timber gates, and surrounding it with made ground to form an oak-lined dry dock, 220ft by 56ft.

Completed by 1833, the dock was intended for steamboats, and so there were recesses in the side walls to give room around the paddles. The Union Dock thus came to occupy virtually all of the Breach, with the entire frontage between the two Limehouse entrance locks, becoming one of the largest private yards on the Thames.

1881

In following decades, the Upper and Lower Docks were completely rebuilt to accommodate larger vessels.

1916

Photo from ‘Living London’ by George R Sims, published in 1903

The following two photos show S.V. France being towed into the Union Lower Dock in about 1920. Their source is the Island History Trust Collection and the original caption states “A series of photographs taken c1920 by George Henry Wright, a plater who worked in the ship-repair yard of Fletcher Son & Fearnall. by Mrs S. Piper (nee Wright)”.

S. V. France being towed into Union Lower Dock. Island History Trust

My knowledge of ships is minimal, but I am pretty certain the ship is France II, which,  according to Wikipedia:

….was launched in 1912. In hull length and overall size she was the second largest commercial merchant sailing ship ever built, and had the greatest cargo carrying capacity of any sailing ship ever.

The huge barque was equipped with two Schneider 950 horsepower (710 kW) diesel engines, which were removed in 1919.*

On a homeward passage in 1922 with a cargo of chrome ore from Pouembout, New Caledonia, she went aground on the night of July 12, 1922 on the Teremba reef…  Because of fallen cargo rates her owner refused to pay for a tugboat to tow her free, and she was abandoned. In 1944, American bombers bombed the wreckage for target practice.

* Possibly that’s why she was in Union Dock at the time of the photos.

c1920. S.V. France in the Union Lower Dock, with its bowsprit extending over Westferry Road. On the left is a hint of Fletcher’s Villas, a row of three houses built by the firm for its employees around 1918. Photo: Island History Trust

c1919. SS Onward arriving for refitting at Union Dock. Photo: Island History Trust

Another famous visitor to the Union Dock  was the Cutty Sark, which had in 1895 been sold to the Portuguese firm Joaquim Antunes Ferreira, and had been renamed Ferreira after the firm. According to the Greenwich Maritime Museum’s website, Ferreira / Cutty Sark was in Union Dock for repairs in January 1922.

1922. The Cutty Sark (named Ferreira at the time) in Union Dock. Photo: Island History Trust

1922. The Cutty Sark (named Ferreira at the time) in Union Dock. Photo: Island History Trust

Fletcher, Son & Fearnall had one of the largest private ship yards on the Thames, but – as was the case with all Thames firms in shipping-related industries – business declined from the late 1800s. Shipbuilders disappeared first, but Fletcher, Son & Fearnall remained longer in business because they concentrated on repairs. Despite a brief increase in business during WWI – the firm was wound up in 1925.

Survey of London:

For a decade the Union Docks site remained vacant. The buildings were cleared, except the new offices and Fletcher’s Villas (which stood until they were demolished in 1988), and the upper and middle dry docks were filled during the mid-1930s.

Deserted Union Dock in 1934. The Middle Dock had been filled by this time.

Land belonging to the Union Dock was divided up and occupied by various firms from 1935. The land north of the Lower Dock was taken over by the Cargo Fleet Iron Company, whose large shed is visible in the following photo (personally interesting to me as my mum’s side of the family lived in the shadow of their huge works in Middlesbrough).

1937

The former Lower Dock was occupied from approximately the start of WWII until 1951 by R. & H. Green & Silley Weir, who renamed it Union Dry Dock.

c1950

c1950

Survey of London:

In the late 1960s Cargo Fleet Wharf and the Union Dry Dock were taken as a site for the processing of sand and gravel by various concrete and dredging companies. The fabricating shop and gantry were cleared, and the slipway was filled. Wharfing was renewed and hoppers, conveyors, cranes and gantries were erected.

1970s

1980s

1985. Fletcher’s Villas are boarded up but still standing (though not for long).

In 1987, construction started on Westferry Circus, which covered the northern section of the former Union Dock.

1991

The rest of the former Union Dock was cleared in 1991 – the year of opening of 1 Canada Square – but for many years no construction took place on the site. Only recently have there been signs of something happening, which can just be seen in this 2021 image. For the sake of reference, I have added two older photos taken from more or less the same place.

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A Unique Image of Millwall Athletic’s ground in East Ferry Road?

From 1890-1901 Millwall played at the Millwall Athletic Ground – where ASDA is now located.

c1890

The 1891 Millwall Athletic team in front of the main stand.

1894 illustration of the ground (covered in snow), with sheds and ships in Millwall Docks in the background, across East Ferry Road. The main stand is on the left. The building on the right, I believe, housed a smaller stand and the changing rooms.

1895. Other local teams also made occasional use of the Athletic Ground, including Island Rovers, shown here. The main stand is on the left, and behind the players is the small-stand/changing-rooms combination. Photo: Island History Trust.

The Athletic Ground was on land leased from the Millwall Dock Company, and the club was forced to move before the scheduled end of lease when the dock company decided in 1901 they needed it for the storage of imported timber. The company built a ‘Timber Transporter’, a large conveyor system, to move timber from the dock, over East Ferry Road, to the yard (see here for article about the transporter).

The previous photo was taken shortly after the transporter was completed, and although I’d previously written an article about it, I’ve only just noticed that the Athletic Ground – or part of it – appears to have been still standing at the time of the photo (in 1902 a timber shed was built on the site). Hopefully these images will help you see it better, In the first I edited the transporter out of the way…

And here I added some lines and annotations for highlighting…

I am not 100% sure if my assumption is correct, but I like to think so. Plenty of photos were taken of the team at the ground, showing glimpses of the main stand and other buildings, but I’ve never seen a wider view, or a view which shows it’s position in East Ferry Road so clearly.

This is today’s view, by the way….

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Malabar Street. A Short History of a Short Street

Malabar Street was originally named Charles Street, and was one of the few short streets built off Westferry Road starting around 1850 on land belonging to Revd. William Tooke. Development was slow in the beginning, and came to a complete stop as a consequence of the 1866 financial crisis.

1862

By 1890, however, Charles Street had been extended further east until it met Alpha Road.  During the same period, it was renamed Malabar Street; a more ‘exotic’ name meant to reflect the sugar and spice trade handled in the West India Docks (for the same reason, Robert Street was renamed Cuba Street, Alfred Street was renamed Manilla Street, and so on).

c1890

It was a typical Millwall street consisting mainly of terraced housing. Some exceptions were the stables (on the left with white wall in following photo) adjoining No. 1, and the warehouse at No. 8 (on the right, close to lamp post).

1906, looking east towards Alpha Road.

In 1879 the warehouse was…

…converted to a Salvation Army Barracks. A mission hall by the early twentieth century, it was a club in the 1930s, but by the early 1950s had become a builder’s store.
(Survey of London)

c1900. The Salvation Army ‘Millwall Slum Band’ which was almost certainly based in Malabar Street. (Photo: Island History Trust)

At the other end of Malabar Street, on the corner with Alpha Road, was a more substantial buiding: the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, built in 1887 by Mellish Street resident, builder G. Limn. The hall was added in the late 1920s.

1920s Millwall. The arrow marks Malabar Street

1930s street party in Malabar Street

1934. News article photo taken in the backyard of 15 Malabar Street.

At 18:19 on 7th September 1940 – the first night of the Blitz – a large explosive bomb landed “on or close to Tooke Street” (according to the London Fire Brigade report). This bomb destroyed houses at the west end of Tooke Street as well as a couple of premises on Westferry Road, and caused the first civilian deaths of the War on the Island. Among the victims was Albert Byrnes, aged 60, of 30 Malabar Street.

(The same bomb also destroyed the Islanders public house in Tooke Street; more usually named ‘Sexton’s’ by locals after the former landlord Maurice John Sexton. It was famous as the first club house of Millwall FC.)

Five minutes later, at 18:24, 54 Malabar Street was destroyed and adjoining houses seriously damaged by bombs falling on and around Maria Street. These bombs caused great destruction in the area.

Six Malabar Street residents were among those killed in the Bullivant’s Wharf tragedy of 19th March 1941. One of the victims was Mary Ann Sieloff, family of chicken keeper,  Charles Sieloff, who featured in the previous news article.

In 1943, with victory in sight, the government made preparations for the inevitable housing shortage that would follow the war. People were already staying with neighbours and family, and within a couple of years their numbers would be swelled by returning evacuees and service personnel. The first measures focused on creating temporary accommodation, by converting schools and warehouses for example, and by building Nissen huts and prefabs (officially “temporary”, some prefabs were still in use in the 1970s). Nissen huts were the temporary accommodation of choice in and around Malabar Street.

c1947. Malabar Street marked by arrow

c1950

1940s. Malabar Street Irene Walsham (later Cakebread) and Bessie Stockwell (later McSweeney) outside the Nissen huts in Malabar Street. Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

1953 Coronation Party in Malabar Street. Photo: Island History Trust

c1960. The derelict area was occupied by Nissen huts directly after the war.

After the war, Poplar Borough Council and the LCC embarked on a housing programme which included the creation of large new housing estates. One of these was the Barkantine Estate. In the first few years of the 1960s, the LCC cleared a site for the estate by means of the – sometimes compulsory – purchase of close to 200  houses and vacant plots. Of the 800 homes in pre-war North Millwall, only 300 were left after the LCC demolition (see this article for the full story). Not only were all houses in Malabar Street demolished, the street was much shortened.

c1970 Malabar Street, not long after the opening of the Barkantine Estate

50 years later (gulp) and the view hasn’t changed that much.

1997 Malabar Street. Looking in the opposite direction. Photo: Peter Wright

2020. Whoops!

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Little Remnants of Isle of Dogs History

The Isle of Dogs has a rich history, but there is little evidence of that if you walk around the Island (and what remains is – admittedly – mostly less than spectacular). However, if you are that way inclined, it is worth standing still at a few of the less obvious places and looking for signs of the past.

1. The Walls

In medieval times, the only path around the Island followed the top of a man-made river embankment known as a wall. In March 1660, the embankment was seriously breached just south of Limehouse and a large part of the north of the Island was flooded by the Thames. Due to the width of the breach it was not practical to rebuild the embankment along its original path, so it was instead built further back from the original riverside, following the path of some of the breach. This resulted in a bulge or curve in the embankment path which could later be seen in the characteristic bends of the section of Westferry Road known locally as ‘The Walls’.

The reason for its name was the approximately 600 yard long, high dock wall which ran from the City Arms in the south to Emmett Street in the north. In sections, there were also once walls along the river side of the road.

1937

1960s

The dock wall lost its purpose when dock operations ceased at the West India Docks in 1980, and in the following years it was demolished. Just a small section still exists at the northern end, separating Cannon Workshops from the road.

2010s

1970s

For more information about The Walls, see this article.

2. The Impounding Station

In order to maintain the water level of the docks, water had to be pumped in from the river to compensate for the water lost when the entrance lock gates were opened (and also to a lesser extent due to evaporation and leakage). This work was performed by so-called impounding stations, one of which is still operating at the former western entrance to the West India South Dock, immediately north of the site of the recently-demolished City Arms/Pride pub.

c1950

1970s

The impounding station was opened in 1929, and is capable of pumping 65 million gallons into the docks over a four-hour period around high tide. The building is not listed, or formally protected in any other way, but it should be free from the risk of redevelopment – for the time being at least – there remains an obligation for the water level of the West India Docks to be maintained in order for the docks to be able to accommodate ships of a certain size. Now managed by the Canal & River Trust (who organise occasional open days), the station is now fully automated and was recently restored.

2012, the impounding station from the river. Blink and you’ll miss it. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

3. Blacksmith’s Arms

Located at 25 Westferry Road, the pub opened as a beer house around 1895 and remained in business until 2001, when it was converted into a restaurant.

1960s. At a time when a few pubs on the Island were well known for their entertainment, the Blacksmith’s Arms apparently took a more sedate approach.

1968. A merge of Hugo Wilhare photos.

If you look up towards the roof, you can still see the orignal pub name…

4. Anchor & Hope

One of the earliest pubs on the Island, it opened as a beer house at 41 Westferry Road in 1829. It closed in 2005 and spent quite some time empty, and suffered a fire on the upper floors while derelict, before being renovated (during which one of the construction workers sadly died in an accident) and converted to flats and a sports school on the ground floor.

1960s. Photo: Island History Trust Collection

1966

2008. Photo: Peter Wright

5. St Luke’s School

St Luke’s School started life in a so-called iron church (essentially, constructed with corrugated iron) built in 1865 on a piece of waste-land close to the east end of Strafford Street. The church became redundant upon the opening of St. Luke’s Church and in 1873 a new school was opened on the other side of Westferry Road from Strafford Street.

1958. Photo: Rosemary Freeman, courtesy of her son John.

In 1971 the school transferred to the former Cubitt Town School in Saunders Ness Road. The old building was demolished and its site absorbed into Lenanton’s. The school’s memorial stone was preserved and can now be seen mounted on the wall close to the supermarket at 26 Westferry Road.

St Luke’s School memorial stone location

The memorial stone names some notable Islanders of time. The businesses of Robert Wigram, Samuel Cutler and John Lenanton were still operating a century later. William Bradshaw was the son of Henry Bradshaw – one of the first people to be registered as born on the Island, and who was involved in many local enterprises and organisations.

St Luke’s School memorial stone, originally mounted a handful of years after the school opened.

6. Bullivant’s Wharf

During the night of 19th-20th March 1941 – just over 80 years ago – more than 40 people were killed, and dozens injured, when the public air raid shelter at Bullivant’s Wharf, behind St Luke’s school, received a direct bomb hit. This was the Isle of Dogs’ worst wartime bombing incident.

1920s. This aerial photo also includes the impounding station, Blacksmith’s Arms, Anchor & Hope and St Luke’s School

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. The memorial is placed on a wall on Thames Path, best reachable via Hutching’s Street.

7. Magnet & Dewdrop

Located at 194 Westferry Rd, this pub was re-named the Telegraph in 1985. It closed in 1995 and was converted into housing.

1950s. Photo: Island History Trust

8. The Vulcan

Located at 240 Westferry Rd. The Vulcan was established by 1882 and closed in 1992, becoming a grocer’s store and then a restaurant.

1960s

9. Marsh Street

The first purpose-built school on the Island was Millwall British School (aka British Street Millwall School), opened in 1847 in British Street on a site donated by the Countess of Glengall.

Late 1800s

In 1873 the school moved across British Street to much larger premises. When British Street was renamed Harbinger Road in the 1930s, the school was also renamed, but its original name can still be seen on a set of tiles at the rear of the building in Marsh Street.

10. Hesperus Crescent

Hesperus Crescent was relatively unscathed by bombing during WWII, but on 19th March 1941 – during the same raid that caused the destruction of the Bullivant’s Wharf shelter –  the terrace of seven houses at Nos. 1-13 (odd) were destroyed by bombing. No residents of Hesperus Crescent were killed, but three emergency service workers and a resident of Harbinger Road lost their lives.

The seven houses were replaced with six slightly larger houses – Nos. 1-11 (odd) – and as a consequence, there is no longer a No. 13 Hesperus Crescent

Nos. 1-11 Hesperus Crescent

11. The Forge

The building now known as The Forge – seen hemmed in by new-builds in the previous photo – was once part of a huge  (27-acre) complex occupied by the Millwall Iron Works. According to the Survey of London, The Millwall Iron Works of the 1860s was the most ambitious industrial concern ever established in Millwall, employing between 4,000 and 5,000 men (this at a time when the population of the Island was less than 9000).

In c1859, the works were taken over by Charles John Mare, an engineer and MP with a ‘colourful past’.

Mare was … an innovative East End shipbuilder. Thought to be a millionaire when he was returned for Plymouth in 1852, his election proved the apex of his career. He was unseated for bribery in 1853, and declared bankrupt, for the first of four times, in 1855.
Source: https://victoriancommons.wordpress.com/2018/12/13/innovation-corruption-and-bankruptcy-charles-john-mare-1814-1898/

Mare fitted up his new yard and engineering shops, and added rolling mills for iron plates and armour, investing about £100,000 in the mill. A metal plate on The Forge still bears his initials:

12. Robert Burns

During the construction of the Great Eastern, a handful of beer houses and pubs popped up in the area hoping to take advantage of the trade offered by workers and visitors. One of these was the Robert Burns at 248 & 250 Westferry Road, which was present by 1853 and closed in 1991.

1970s (estimated)

The building now houses a mosque, a community centre and a take-away food outlet.

13. Great Eastern Slipway

It is well known that the Great Eastern was – due to its size – built parallel with the Thames and launched sideways (for details about the launch, see this article).

c1857

Sections of the ship’s launch ramps have been preserved on the river embankment, but you have to wait for low tide to see the concrete ramps at the river’s edge.

Google Satellite View

The previous image begins to give a better idea of the size of the Great Eastern, but we need to zoom out some more to fit the whole ship in.

14. Undine Road

A relatively new road situated between the former Millwall Dry Dock and East Ferry Road, it was also once the site of a refuse incinerator (one of its jobs was to destroy old bank notes; if I’d known that as a kid, I’d have been standing downwind every day, just in case….).

The incinerator in operation in the 1960s. Perhaps standing downwind was not such a good idea after all. Photo: Island History Trust

The unremarkable chimney, built in 1952, is all that survives of the Millwall Docks’ buildings. (Other Island chimneys are also described in this article – yes, I did write an article about Island chimneys.)

15. The Arches

Known simply as ‘the arches’ to most Islanders, the railway viaduct which runs through Millwall Park has lost its original purpose – albeit with a brief revival in the 1980s and 1990s when it was used by the Docklands Light Railway. The 2008 Millwall Park Management Plan accurately described it as:

…an important local feature, visually very important as a backdrop to activities in the park (and also a visual barrier) and a reminder of the industrial heritage of the area.
London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Look closely enough at the arches, and you will spot two things. The first being repairs made after WWII bomb damage (I have to admit that these are becoming very difficult to detect):

c1949

The second is a reminder of the time when the arches at the Dockland Settlement end were used as a public air raid shelter….

….the walls under the arches still hold tiny reminders of the shelter:

Image from ‘The Isle of Dogs During WWII’, Mick Lemmerman

16. Dockland Settlement

The Welcome Institute, an organization established by philanthropist Miss Jean Price, provided hot meals at affordable prices to factory girls (serving anything between 70 and 170 girls a day), evening classes in dressmaking and needlework, Bible classes for boys and club-rooms for local football teams. In 1905, the institute moved from its damp, cramped premises at 333 Westferry Rd to a new building at 197 East Ferry Rd.

In 1923, following Miss Price’s retirement, the Welcome Insitute closed and the building was handed over to a youth-club organization founded by the former playwright Reginald Kennedy-Cox (1881-1966).  Its official name became Dockland Settlement (No. 2).

c1935

Between 2009 and 2011 most of the old buildings was demolished, and a new school built on the site. The chapel (added in 1913-14) and rear building were retained, though, and you can see them if you walk a little further north up East Ferry Road.

See here for a full article about the Dockland Settlement.

17. Greenwich Ferry

For centuries, the Isle of Dogs was best known as a place to take the ferry to Greenwich (article here). One of the companies that plied the route over the years was run by the Greenwich Ferry Company, which made its first crossing in February 1888.

Centuries earlier, small boats were used to ferry passengers and sometimes horses and livestock across the river – but there was relatively little traffic, and it was customary to wait for the tide to be at the right height in order to able to board a boat.

1700s

Later, especially after the West India Docks opened, there was a much greater demand for the crossing, and ferry companies employed larger (later steam-powered) boats. Larger ferries required a pier, and the usual type was a floating pier which rose and fell with the tide. Depending on the height of the tide, however, the slope of the pier could be too great to be negotiated by horses and carts. For this reason, from some time during the 1800s, the Greenwich Ferry transported only foot passengers.

With its new “Greenwich Vehicular Steam Ferry”, the Greenwich Ferry Company made it possible to transport horses and carts again, using a novel system which towed horizontal platforms up and down a concrete slope to the level of the ferry.

A detailed description of the mechanics and the history of this ferry can be found on the very interesting website, The Forgotten Highway, which also explains why the ferry was shortlived:

Despite its mechanical ingenuity, the ferry was never a commercial success principally due to insufficient traffic. It closed between 1890 and 1892, then reopened and by the end of October that year traffic was said to be up to 500 vehicles and 1000 passengers weekly.

In 1892 Greenwich ferry owners were anxious for it to be taken over by the London County Council. It is stated as not being a remunerative service at half hour frequency, but it is still a worthy public utility. It would be for sale at a moderate price.

It finally closed for good in about 1899 after less than ten years active life.

The concrete slipway which formed the basis of this innovative ferry is still very much visible when the tide is low. You can’t see it from Ferry Street, but you can from the foreshore:

Another place to see it is from Locke’s Wharf, where you can see that stuff over the water at the same time.

18. Ferry Street

The following map shows the Victoria Iron Works in the 1870s (street names have changed since then – Johnson Street and this section of Wharf Road are now part of Ferry Street).

1870s

The large house on Wharf Road, next to Johnson’s Draw Dock, was built by William Cubitt in 1845 for the owners of the Victoria Iron Works. Remarkably, the house has managed to survive to this day (Its address is now 58-60 Ferry Street.). It is a large and attractive house, but its nicest features are largely hidden from the street.

From the air

19. Parsonage Street

No. 13 Parsonage Street, the house on the left in the following photo, looks somewhat different to the rest of the houses in the terrace. The bricks are different, and its front is closer to the road.

The reason for this, as many who live(d) in the area will know, is that No. 13 was completely rebuilt after the original was destroyed by a gas explosion in October 1976. Fortunately, nobody was home at the time.

News clippings courtesy of Marie Swarray

20. Christ Church

There is much that can be written about the history of Christ Church, but here are just a couple of subjects.

St Mildred’s Windows

In 1873, the Millwall Dock Company built the Millwall Dock Club (for its permanent employees) behind St. Paul’s Church. The club wasn’t a long-term success, and it closed in 1892, after which its hall was taken over by St. Paul’s church, and the main building by an institute for poor women, known as St Mildred’s House (Mildred, was an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon abbess of the Abbey at Minster-in-Thanet, Kent.).

During WWII, St Mildred’s was seriously damaged, as the Church Times reported:

When a bomb hit the warehouse opposite, the street became a hot stream of peanut butter and for weeks, boots and carpets were saturated with the strong-smelling substance. Finally, a flying bomb fell within the dock gates and St Mildred’s walls were split from top to bottom.

St Mildred’s stained-glass windows were rescued and stored for safe keeping in McDougall’s flour mill (considered a safe storage place, with its thick concrete silo walls), after which all memory and trace of them was lost. Almost 50 years later, in 1990, they were found in an organ loft at Christ Church during renovations. They were cleaned and installed in the church (an action that was in part funded by Rank Hovis McDougall, a nice link to the past), where they can be seen today.

Photos: John Salmon

Reg Kingdon Memorial

Revd Reginald (better known as Reggie) Arthur Kingdon was the well thought-of vicar of St John’s Church in Roserton St. from 1917 until his retirement in 1948. From the outset, he endeared himself to the Islanders around him, being clearly concerned for the well-being of his parishioners. During WWII:

….he bestrode the parish with a tin hat on his head instead of his customary birette, but still with cassock, patrolling the air-raid shelters each night. The presbytery was destroyed by a direct hit on 19th March 1941. The church was battered but remained in use.
– Outposts of the Faith: Anglo-Catholicism in Some Rural Parishes, by Michael Yealton

Image: Island History Newsletter

Father Kingdon retired in 1948, and returned to Cornwall. He died in 1955, aged 86. A memorial to him was placed in St John’s, and this was moved to Christ Church when St John’s was demolished a couple of years later (ironically, he was very much opposed to the merger of the parishes of St John’s, Christ Church and St Lukes). Revd Kingdon is commemorated also by the naming of Kingdon House in Galbraith Street.

21. Pier Tavern

283 Manchester Road. This pub was built in 1863 and converted to a restaurant in March 2013. The restaurant has since closed and the building is being extensively redeveloped (only the facade remains).

1980s

22. Millwall Wharf

Millwall Wharf, on the riverfront off Manchester Road, contains a range of grade II listed warehouses. Built in the 1860s, the buildings are some of the few old industrial buildings still remaining on the Island.

1970s

2013

The wharf previously extended to Manchester Road (see here for article), but all except the riverside buildings were demolished. Much of the original wharf wall along Manchester Road was used as a perimeter wall for the new housing built on the site. I am assuming that this was to save money rather than to preserve history. The results are quite patchy.

23. Cubitt Arms

262 Manchester Road. Opened in 1864 and closed in 2011. The pub was built by Henry Smallman, also responsible for building The Queen. The building exterior is far plainer than originally, with the more ornate features removed in the 1960’s.

1930s

c2020

24. The Priory

Not an old building by any means, but the name of the block at 45 Glengall Grove, Benedict Court, is a reminder of when this address was occupied by Benedictine Monks and was known as ‘The Priory’.

According to the Survey of London, No. 45:

…occupied by two young men who had trained as doctors before establishing the Priory, where they lived according to Benedictine rules as ‘the Monks of Cubitt Town’. The house was then fitted up with a chapel, library and club-room.
– Survey of London

Circa 1900

25. Glen Terrace

No. 599 Manchester Road doesn’t look like its neighbours in Glen Terrace.

Many old (and not so old) Islanders will remember that there used to be a gap in the terrace here, not filled until a new house was built in the 1980s.

1980s

No. 599 was destroyed by Luftwaffe incendiary devices during the first night of the Blitz, 7th September 1940. Harry Easter, who lived at the address and was 15 at the time, shared his memories of the event with the Island History Trust:

A fire bomb attack. There were three of four of us putting buckets of sand over some that had started in the street. We had a shelter in the garden, but we thought we had do something about the fires, we just came out on our own, there were buckets of sand all over the place, left on doorsteps, or earth – anything we could get hold of.

At the back of 599 Manchester Road was the Dock Master’s House, if I remember rightly their trees were afire. I was over there with another chap, we were chopping down those trees, and this fell said, “Oh, look, there’s the house on fire, I think it’s the Easter’s”, and I looked up, and it was! Soon I came round to the front of the house, and the top was then well ablaze, and I thought I’d try to see what I could rescue. I whipped up to one of the bedrooms, got a pillow case and put all the cutlery in it.

Later, standing in the street with his mother and two of his sisters:

The firemen by that time had arrived with the Green Goddess and they were playing water on the house. The water was filtering down through the floors on to us, I remember how warm it felt because it had got heated by the fire, and I could hear the lumps of masonry falling onto the area steps and I can still hear those lumps falling down.

By then we had got tin hats from somewhere. Then we realized the house was a write-off, we just stood there for a while in bewilderment that they dare do that to us, then we turned away and made our way to my married stepsister who lived in Becontree.

26. Fishing Smack

9 Coldharbour. A pub was present at this location in the 1750s, then known as the Fisherman’s Arms.

The Fishing Smack from the river in the late 1800s

The Fishing Smack after rebuilding in the 1890s

1930s. The Fishing Smack is smack in the middle of this photo (did you see what I did there?)

The Fishing Smack was demolished in 1948, but a small section of its brickwork survives at the south corner of No. 7.

Not spectacular, not even that pretty, but I do like these quirky little reminders of the past.

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Burrell’s of Millwall

Alfred E. Burrell was born in 1822 in the small market town of St Ive’s, Cambridgeshire. The 1861 census shows Burrell and his wife and children living in Hackney, and describes him as an ‘oil and colour manufacturer, employing 5 men and 5 boys’. His registered office at the time was in Minories, and his works were at ‘Queen Street, Mile End New Town’, the other side of the railway line from Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane. Burrell also had works in Southwark and – in 1874 – he opened a paint factory on Garford Wharf in Limehouse (at the river end of Garford Street).

When the huge Millwall Iron Works collapsed in the late 1860s, its land and buildings were divided into sub-plots which were acquired by different businesses. In 1888, Burrell acquired one such plot, complete with a number of buildings that had been built decades earlier for John Scott-Russell, builder of the Great Eastern.

In the following illustration of the Great Eastern (at the time, its name was still not fixed, and initially the name ‘Leviathan’ was used), the buildings on the left are among those later taken over by Burrell, some of which are still standing.

1857

The most distinctive of these is the building now known as the ‘Plate House’ (but known to at least the early Burrell’s workers as the ‘Big Shop’).

The Plate House as it looked in c1888, viewed from the river end of the building (Illustration: Survey of London)

This 1900 map shows the extent of works at the time (just in view on the right is a footbridge which connected the main works to other buildings on the other side of Westferry Road). In the following years, the firm extended to the north and to the south, absorbing its former neighbours’ land and buildings into an ever-growing Burrell’s Wharf.

1900. Chas E. Goad Fire Insurance Map (British Library). Click for full-sized version.

Burrell’s also – in 1920 – acquired land a couple of hundred yards to the north in Westferry Road, where they built their Barnfield Works, shown as ‘Dye Works’ in the following photo.

1934

Year unknown. Workers in Burrell’s print shop

1913-14 Burrell’s Football Team. Photo: Roy Dennett / Island History Trust Collection

The 1914 edition of “Who’s Who in Business” described the company as follows:

BURRELL & CO., Ltd., Colour and Varnish Makers. Established in 1852 by A. E. Burrell. Succeeded by the late ‘A. L. Burrell and E. R. Burrell (sons). Incorporated as a Limited Company in 1912. Directors: E. R. Burrell (Chairman ), P. E. Burrell, K. Burrell, J. B. Shand. Premises: Works, Burrell’s Wharf, Millwall, E., cover two acres, fully equipped with modern appliances.

Staff: Total, about 150. Branches: Sydney, New South Wales, Santa Cruz de Teneriffe, Mexico City, Madrid, Victoria, B.C., Buenos Aires. Agencies throughout the world.

Specialities: Burrell’s Snow-white Zinc Paint Burrell’s Durable Enamel; ” Limogene ” Enamel; Burrell’s Superfine Motor Body Varnish, Burrell’s Graphite Paint, &c. Patents: ” Helix” Roller Mills for the production of fine colours, pastes, &c.

Survey of London:

With the business concentrated at Burrell’s Wharf, extensive building was carried out. From the late 1880s until the early 1920s a succession of stores, warehouses, workshops and minor ancillary buildings appeared. Earlier buildings on the site were adapted and retained. The result was characteristic of Victorian industrial development at its most ad hoc.

1929. Burrell’s is highlighted on the left

1937. PLA Collection

The long building in the previous photo, one of two parallel workshops, had previously belonged to Venesta, manufacturers of all kinds of boxes, packing cases etc. (Stock Exchange Yearbook, 1908). Venesta moved their production to Silvertown in 1928 and, according to the Survey of London:

In 1935, after ‘many years’ of disuse, the former Venesta factory was acquired by a firm of wharfingers (in which Mr Calder, of Calder’s Wharf, had an interest), renamed Eastern Wharf, and thoroughly refurbished. In 1937 the name Whittock Wharf was adopted. After the Second World War the premises were amalgamated with Burrell’s Wharf.

During the war, the works produced a variety of chemicals for the government, including a constituent of flame-thrower fuel. Paint production ceased in 1943.

1958 or 1959 Burrell’s Works Dinner. Left to right: Eileen Cane, Nancy Wisewell, Carrie Dawson, Wally Terch, Ivy Byron, Cyril Herbert, Lil Chapman, Lil Anderson, (couple at back not known), Bella Garland and Nancy Bennett. Photo and caption: Island History Trust Collection

1979. A screenshot from ‘The Long Good Friday’ (released in 1980)

Burrell & Company Ltd was wound up in 1981, but colours were continued to be made at Burrell’s Wharf by Blythe Burrell Colours Ltd, a subsidiary of Johnson Matthey.

1980s

1980s. Photos: Mike Seaborne

c1982. Plan: Survey of London

1980s

The works closed in 1986, two years’ short of a century after Alfred E. Burrell acquired the site in 1888.

1986. Photos: Survey of London

1986. Photos: Survey of London

After closure, the works were acquired by property developers, Kentish Property Group plc, who had plans to redevelop the site for housing while retaining its industrial architecture. The group also intended to create, according to the Survey of London…

…a complex of recreational, social and artistic facilities, it was to have become a cultural hub for the new Isle of Dogs.

1986 or later.  Redevelopment of Burrell’s Wharf. Viewed from Westferry Road. Photo: Tim Brown

1986 or later.  Redevelopment of Burrell’s Wharf. Viewed from Westferry Road. Photo: Tim Brown

1986 or later.  Redevelopment of Burrell’s Wharf. On the left, one of the former Venesta buildings. On the right, new-build. Photo: Tim Brown

However, the 1987 stock market crash led to the demise of the Kentish Property Group, and the Halifax Building Society (the main lender for the Burrell’s Wharf development) continued the development in a modified form, with less or little attention paid to the original cultural ideas. Still, at least a small part of the Island’s rich industrial heritage has been preserved.

2008

Note the blue plaque commemorating the construction and 1858 launch of the Great Eastern at the site. The plaque was placed by the London County Council in 1954, and was removed in 1974 (why and by whom, I don’t know). English Heritage replaced it in 1992.

2008

2012. The Plate House viewed from my private yacht on the river (aka the ferry from the Tower to Greenwich).

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The Devastating Flooding on the Isle of Dogs in 1888

The Isle of Dogs had for centuries been prone to flooding, but even after the creation of embankments around its perimeter, its sewer system was inadequate and could not deal with the sudden increase in volume during heavy rainfall. Residents of houses in Cubitt Town (houses which inadvisably had been constructed with basements) were accustomed to damp and regular flooding in their basements, and had for years been demanding that something be done about it.
The writer of one letter to The Morning Post in 1888 stated that the main sewer system had been built 20 years’ previously, at a time….

…when the population of the Island was not 10,000, perhaps not 5,000. With a resident population of nearly 20,000 the main sewers are not equal to carrying off our own sewage. Hitherto the Island at each high tide has been one vast cesspool, so that when any rain falls at such times naturally the sewage wells up form the drains, with results of sickness and damage, and even death.

In 1886 the Metropolitan Board of Works finally agreed to build a storm-water pumping station close to the river in Cubitt Town, and acquired land at the north end of Stewart Street for this purpose. Construction was started shortly afterwards and the pumping station was due to be completed by the end of 1888. In the mean time, pumping was provided temporarily by two small engines.

1870s

The summer of 1888 was unusually cold with an average temperature of just 13.7 °C. On July 12th, The Times reported:

The stubborn low pressure area over Scotland and Scandinavia which was responsible for the bad weather also caused storms, gales and – on July 31st and August 1st – the heaviest rainfall that SE England had seen in years (measurements at Greenwich showed that the equivalent of approximately one month’s rain fell over the two days).

The temporary pumping engines in Stewart Street could not deal with the huge amount of water in the sewers after so much rain, and the Island flooded for the second time in a few months. Flooding was not restricted to the Island: wide areas on both sides of the Thames were affected, with the embankment being breached in some places.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper

The next day, MP Sydney Buxton (who represented Poplar from 1886 to 1914) headed a group of local notables who announced the setting up of a local relief fund…

Daily News. 2nd August 1888

And in The Times:

The Times. 7th August 1888

The Lord Mayor opened a national relief fund (the “London Mansion House Fund”):

Daily News. 19th November 1888

At a meeting at Poplar Town Hall of the relief fund’s general committee in November, the so-far distributed goods were reported:

  • Beds, 760
  • Blankets, 2,174
  • Sheets, 1,410
  • Quilts, 666
  • Floor cloths, 3,000 pieces
  • Mats, 1,898
  • Coals, 300 tons
  • Expenses of five funerals (deaths arising from the floods), £11
  • Amounts spent in disenfectants and disinfecting,  £288
  • Number of houses disinfected by the committee, 1,099
  • Boots and clothing, £165
  • Repairs to furniture, tools, etc., £75

The Pall Mall Gazette. 27th November 1888

At the end of 1888 the permanent storm-pumping station was completed.

The completed storm pumping station in circa 1895

1895

According to Survey of London:

The engine house was a tall severe Italianate brick building with a louvred roof, oriented east-west with the gable-end facing the river. Adjoining this to the south was a smaller brick boiler house of the same design, aligned north-south. Both buildings were lit by simple round-headed windows. From the boiler house a flue led south to a fluted chimney, 120ft high. A workshop and store-sheds completed the group. The machinery included a pair of steam-driven pumps capable of lifting 70 tons of water per minute.

Just over a decade later, however, the pumps were found to be inadequate and the LCC decided to enlarge the building and replace the pumps. Survey of London again:

The work was begun in 1914, but the First World War and difficulties with contractors delayed the completion of the new plant and building, executed by Mowlem & Company, until 1928.

By December 1953 the engine house was vacant and the chimney had gone, with all the work being done by electric machinery in the extension building. (The boiler house was used as a coal store.)

The plant was obsolescent by 1969, when the GLC decided to construct a new pumping station for the Isle of Dogs on an adjoining site. The old engine house was demolished in the 1980s. The GLC’s plans did not mature and it was the LDDC, in association with Thames Water, that commissioned the replacement building, which was erected in 1987–8.

The new pumping station was opened 100 years after the devastating floods in 1888.

New pumping station

Viewed from the river

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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: britainfromabove.org.uk

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.

1938

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

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.

c1890

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 http://www.islandhistory.org.uk):

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: britainfromabove.org.uk

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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