A Wander Around the Block Near the City Arms

The City Arms (later in life named City Pride) is no more, demolished just a few years ago, to be replaced by yet another tower.

To the left, a glimpse of the West India Dock Impounding Station, a pump house whose job is to maintain the level of the water in the docks – one of  the few ‘original’ industrial buildings still standing on the Island.

The small area around the City Arms, as shown in the following satellite image, saw some of the earliest development of industry on the Island, and has a rich history. So much so that this article took days to produce, instead of the few hours I imagined.

For much of the 18th century there wasn’t much of note down the west side of the Island, just a few windmills connected by a riverside path.


The west side of the Island was exposed to prevailing westerly winds blowing across the river and was particularly suitable for windmills. Joel Gascoyne’s 1703 map, “Survey of the Parish of St Dunstan’s, Stepney” shows seven mills – inspiration for the naming of Seven Mills Primary School on the Barkantine Estate.


There were more mills at other times – this 1750 map (created for ship’s navigation, so short on land features) has nine. I’ve counted a total of thirteen on various maps.


Sir Charles Price’s Oil Mill

I have highlighted in the map above the area covered by this article, which includes a windmill named the ‘Oil House’ (it was also known as the ‘First Mill’). The mill changed ownership many times during the 18th century, and was extended during this period to include – apart from an oil mill – a two-storey dwelling house with cellars, and a two-oven bakehouse and a granary. Eventually, the premises were known as Sir Charles Price’s Oil Mills, and one part of the site was made into an oil refinery. The owner, Charles Price (1747-1818) was a wealthy oil-man and banker, who became first an alderman of the City, then an MP, before eventually becoming Lord Mayor of London (in 1803).

West India Docks & City Canal

The peninsula that was the Isle of Dogs changed fundamentally on the construction of the West India Docks (opened in 1802) and the City Canal (opened in 1805), both of which are described in a previous article, An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse.

Plans for the City Canal and West India Docks (western end), 1799

The Gut House

A number of buildings in the north west of the Island, including the Gut House tavern (see The Poplar Gut for more information) had to make way for the construction of the canal and docks. The landlord of the Gut House rebuilt his pub just north of the new canal (map above shows the original site of the tavern).

The Gut House

Business Opportunities

Survey of London:

The building of the City Canal left a large area of surplus land between the west entrance lock and the marsh wall. The City was quick to exploit this valuable though as yet unembanked property, letting it in 1807 in three plots, each with river frontages of 95ft …. [one of the plots going in 1809 to Coulson & Co. who] built an iron foundry, reputedly London’s largest, called the Canal Iron Works.


The opening of the West India Docks also led to the revival of the fortunes of the Greenwich Ferry. Survey of London:

During the late eighteenth century the ferrying of horses and cattle appears to have been discontinued, footpassengers only being conveyed, but with the opening of the West India Docks the need for a regular horse-ferry revived. In the early nineteenth century a rival ferry service was set up by the Poplar and Greenwich Ferry Roads Company, both operators sharing the old landingplace, though not harmoniously. The Potter’s Ferry Society twice destroyed the company’s toll-gates-claiming that prospective passengers were using the Deptford Ferry in preference to Potter’s Ferry, to avoid having to pay the road toll — and the two bodies were involved in much litigation. During the 1840s the horse-ferry was discontinued, and in 1868 the company assigned its rights in the ferry to the society. In 1878 the society sold out to private operators and was itself subsequently dissolved.

The section of road from the canal to the Rope Walk (location of the present-day Cuba Street) was named Ord Street, a name it retained until the 1890s. The much longer section from there to the ferry was known as the ‘Deptford and Greenwich Road’ until it was renamed ‘West Ferry Road’ in the 1860s.

In 1811, the road from Limehouse to the City Canal (then known as Bridge Road, later part of West Ferry Road) was realigned. The Gut House was displaced yet again, for the second time in just over a decade. The landlord built his new pub just south of the City Canal and named it City Arms.

Seaward and Capel

In 1824 John Seaward (1786-1858) took over the Canal Iron Works, later joined by his brother Samuel and engineer James Capel.

John Seaward was a Jack of all trades, and master of a few of them. He was born the son of a builder in Lambeth, and initially worked with his father as a surveyor and architect. Later he managed lead mines in Wales, where he acquired a knowledge of chemistry, and became friendly with a few well known mechanical engineers of the period. Upon his return to London he oversaw the construction of a number of docks on the Thames, and became an agent for the Gospel Oak Ironworks in Staffordshire.  Seaward was at the same time connected with the Imperial Continental Gas Association and introduced gas lighting to several towns in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. (I’m getting worn out just listing his different employments.)

Survey of London:

They also designed large swing bridges, dredging machines, cranes, and other dock apparatus, plus machinery for lead, saw, and sugar mills. Among the improvements and inventions for which John Seaward was personally responsible were tubular boilers, which were used by the Royal Navy, disconnecting cranks for paddle-wheel engines, the telescopic funnel, self-acting nozzles for feed and for regulating the saturation of the water in marine boilers, double passages in cylinders both for steam and education, cheese-couplings used to connect and disconnect screw propellers to and from engines, and other minor improvements.

In 1850 the company built what is considered to be one if its finest works, engines for the RMS Amazon, a ship constructed for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. at Blackwall Yard by R. & H. Green (an early incarnation of R. and H. Green and Silley Weir). Unfortunately, the vessel was destroyed by fire off the Isle of Scilly on her first passage to the West Indies in 1852. The cause of the fire was never established.

The loss of the RMS Amazon

Samuel Seaward died in 1842 and James Capel left the firm in 1856, so – when John Seaward died in 1858 – the yard was auctioned. Canal Iron Works were taken over by William Jackson and Richard Watkins.

Marine engines continued to be built at the yard until 1882, when the site was sold to preserved-provisions manufacturer, J. T. Morton, who was expanding his Millwall factory.

The Toll-Gate

Ord Street in 1862.

Millwall Gate is a reference to the toll gate just north of Robert Street (later renamed Cuba Street). In 1885, the tolls were abolished and the toll gates in West Ferry Road and at the north end of East Ferry Road were ceremoniously closed.

Cermonial closure fof West Ferry Road toll-gate, 9th May 1885. Looking south towards Cuba Street (Morton’s is recognizable on the right)


John Thomas Morton was a provision merchant from Aberdeen who built up a large and successful business exporting canned and other preserved food. He opened his Millwall factory in 1872, and after his death in the 1897 the company was run by his sons Charles and Edward.

The firm was one of the biggest employers on the Island, and is renowned for being the birthplace of Millwall FC (described in full in: Millwall FC – The Millwall Year(s)). Their first factory was constructed on the site of Sir Charles Price’s Oil Mills:


By 1895, their factory had expanded to take over the site of Canal Iron Works in the north, and the Oil Works on the east side of West Ferry Road (which probably were also part of Sir Charles Price’s oil mills).


Morton named his wharf, “Sufferance Wharf”. Formally and legally, a place of “sufferance” was:

A place appointed by order under the hands of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise for the lading and unlading of goods liable to Customs duties (Section 14, Customs Consolidation Act, 1876)

A sufferance wharf was thus a licensed private wharf where dutiable goods could be kept until the duty is paid.

Morton’s workers

Morton’s workers

It was during the expansion of his Millwall factory that Morton constructed a number of buildings which were still standing a century later.

Morton’s from the river

Morton’s from the river

Morton’s from the river

Morton’s from the river

Morton’s from the river

Morton’s Workers

Westferry Road, opposite the City Arms

Westferry Road, opposite the City Arms

In the previous photo, Beecham’s can be seen on the left.  The Beecham’s company took over Morton’s in 1945 and gradually ran down the Millwall works (concentrating their Morton’s activities in Lowestoft instead). The distinctive Beecham’s building was built around 1950, on the corner of Westferry Road and Cuba Street, on the site of part of Morton’s factory that had been destroyed during World War II.


Westferry Road (foreground), Cuba Street heading up to the river. c1949




Cuba Street, Beecham’s Right

As mentioned, Morton’s also had premises on the other side of Westferry Road.

Morton’s from Westferry Road. On the right Cuba Stree heading east, and a hint of the Blacksmith’s Arms

Looking north up Westferry Road.

Same view later (Photo: Peter Wright)

Rear of Morton’s, Westferry Road, East Side

These buildings lasted longer than those on the west side of Westferry Road, and still had an industrial use until their demolition in 2007.

Looking through the gates (Photo: Steve White)

Cuba Street (East)

Cuba Street was originally named Robert Street, after Robert Batson on whose land it was constructed, along the south edge of a “Rope Ground”. This was a ropewalk, built shortly after the arrival of West India Docks, obviously intending to capitalise on business offered by the many sailing ships in the proximity. Wikipedia:

A ropewalk is a long straight narrow lane, or a covered pathway, where long strands of material are laid before being twisted into rope. Ropewalks historically were harsh sweatshops, and frequently caught fire, as hemp dust ignites easily and burns fiercely. Rope was essential in sailing ships and the standard length for a British Naval Rope was 1000 ft. A sailing ship such as HMS Victory required 31 miles (50 km) of rope.

The original owners of the ropeworks were Joad & Curling. George Joad (1764-1837) also made money selling mortgages to Jamaican slave-owners, even managing to acquire some estates in Jamaica as compensation from mortgage defaulters.


Survey of London:

About 1860 the ropeworks was occupied by the newly incorporated Telegraph Cable Company Ltd. Wire-rope and cables were manufactured at the works by a succession of companies until the mid-1880s. The western part of the site, fronting Westferry Road, then became the Royal Iron Works of Messrs Whitford & Company… Whitfords’ products included iron churches, bridges, staircases, tomb railings, verandas, fireproof floors and lightning conductors. In 1910 the works were sold to C. & E. Morton Ltd.

1895. Already used in this article, but repeated here for the sake of convenience.

Next to the Royal Iron Works, in 1887 Stephens, Smith & Company took a 63-year lease of No. 40 Cuba Street, which then comprised several old sheds, part of the ropeworks. These were soon replaced by a brick-built factory with a lofty skylighted roof.

Stephens, Smith & Company ceased to trade in 1969, by which time the Cuba Street works were in the occupation of another engineering company. For many years part of the building was sublet to a succession of firms, including F. F. Scott & Sons, shipping butchers and meat packers, who installed refrigeration plant in the early 1920s. The building, disused by the late 1980s, was demolished in 1990.

F. F. Scott vans and lorry in Cuba Street. c1930

F. F. Scott, Interior

40 Cuba Street (R)

40 Cuba Street (L)

40 Cuba Street (L)

West India Dock Pier

At the other end of Cuba Street, on the riverfront, was West India Dock Pier (now known as West India Pier). The original pier was built in 1875 by the East and West India Dock Company (as it was named at that time), as a place for City wool merchants to board or alight boats when visiting the new wool warehouses in the West India South Dock.

1920s. West India Dock Pier. Photo: Richard Milton



The pier was destroyed by bombing in 1941, and was not rebuilt until 1950. Possibly it would never have been rebuilt had it not been designated to serve visitors to the Festival of Britain Live Architecture Exhibition at the newly-built Lansbury Estate in 1951.

1951. Festival of Britain visitors

The pier has also appeared on screen.

Screenshot from the film, Four in the Morning, 1965

Screenshot from the film, Four in the Morning, 1965

Including being featured in a promo film made by Nico for her 1965 song, “I’m Not Sayin”.


Further Up Westferry Road

Between the old Morton’s buildings and the City Arms was, in the Seventies, as far as I remember, a rather plain box-shaped building, just in view on the right in this photo.

Westferry Road. Left, the old Morton’s warehouses. Right. City Arms

There also used to be houses here:


The remains of which can be seen in this photo:

But not in this one, which was taken a little further south:

Photo: Peter Wright. Beecham’s on the right. 

City Arms

Survey of London:

[City Arms] stands on ground purchased by the Corporation of London for the City Canal and developed in 1811–17 with two short rows of houses, Ord Street and Montague Place. Six 61-year building leases for 30ft-wide plots on the east side of the street were granted in 1811. James Oughton, proprietor of the Gut House, took the northernmost plot, on which he built the City Arms and Canal Tavern, a simple block with a three-bay north entrance front. The houses in Montague Place (renamed Osborn Close in 1937) were pulled down in the 1940s, following bomb damage.

Image and text: Island History Trust

Not long after this photo was taken, the brewers Mann, Crossman & Paulin acquired the vacant sites of Nos 5–9 Westferry Road, and in 1936 built a much larger, detached building.

Later, the pub would be renamed City Pride.

Impounding Station

The impounding station is a pump house that maintains the water level in the West India and Millwall Docks. It is built over what was originally an entrance lock to the West India Docks. Survey of London:

In 1856, when the outer gates of the lock had been removed for repair, the inner gates gave way at low tide and the South Dock suddenly emptied, scattering shipping. New inner gates were supplied by Hack & Son. The outer gates were replaced in 1863, by Westwood, Baillie & Company, presumably in iron. The dock company considered rebuilding the lock in 1877-82, but did not do so, perhaps because this was the least important entrance at the West India Docks. Its closure was determined in 1887, but it remained open until 1891.

The PLA built an impounding station over the lock in the 1920s, with pump-discharge pipes and sluicing-culverts, after first damming it with mass-concrete. The impounding station is still operating to this day.

What Happened Next?

Simply, everything was demolished (apart from the impounding station), that’s what happened next. The riverside Morton’s factories and warehouses were demolished in the 1980s.


To be replaced by Cascades, amongst other buildings.

Photo: Ken Lynn

Beechams was demolished, to be replaced by a block of something.

The former Morton’s buildings east of Westferry Road kept going for a while, until their demolition in 2007.

Photo: Peter Wright

Photo: Peter Wright

The West India Docks Pier’s been looking a bit sad, but I think these photos are a few years old.

The City Pride stuck it out for a while – even seemed to be doing quite well in the shadow of the new buildings,

But the value of the land on which is stood was much and much more than could be earned from pulling pints or putting on drag queen acts (might be going back a bit, there).

I’ve long given up caring about how the Island’s industrial heritage has been totally neglected and destroyed, but preparing this article has been saddening. I don’t expect us to preserve the past in pickle (do you see what I did there – a Morton’s reference), but Millwall was for many decades the centre of innovative engineering of global influence. This article covers just a small part of it – and I left out a lot in order to keep things brief – every street corner, every street, is drenched in history – and most of us don’t know it.

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An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse

I’ve known this print for a while, but recently came across a higher resolution version for the first time and managed to zoom in on various areas. This revealed an amazing amount of detail, including elements which are still recognizable today – albeit much changed and redeveloped.

Click for large version

The caption reads (most of the dodgy spelling is the artist’s, but some is the spelling of the time):

An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse for the reception and accommodation of Shipping in the West India Trade, representing the General appearance, when finished of that magnificent & truly national work of which a great part, by the energy, spirit & perseverance of the Directors appointed to superintend its excavation has been actually compleated in the short space of little more than two years from its commencement in Feb. 1800, insomuch that on the 27 of Aug. 1802 the Thames was permitted to flow into the larger bason, which is 2600 feet in length containing an Area of thirty Acres; & two Ships, the Henry Addington & Echo, being the first Vessels admitted, were received amidst the shouts of an immense concourse of spectators assembled to behold a scene so highly interesting to every well-wisher to the property & glory of his Country. The Canal on the left, running parellel to the Docks, is executing by the Corporation of London for the purpose of facilitating the navigation of the River, in affording an opportunity for Shipping to avoid its circuitous & often dangerous course round the Isle of Dogs; A Work co-operating with the other in the same grand Object which is to give at once Activity & Security to the commerce of the Metropolis.

To the Chairman, Deputy Chairman & Directors of the West India Dock Company this Print is with their permission inscribed by their Obedient and obliged Servent, William Danniell.

Drawn & Engraved by Wm. Danniell & Published by him at No. 9, Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square, London, Oct. 15, 1802.

William Dan(n)iell (1769–1837) was an English landscape and marine painter. Famous for his perfection of the technique of aquatint, a form of etching in which ink was placed in marks on a copper or zinc plate from where the image would be printed. Daniell made hundreds of these etches in his lifetime, including those made after a trip to India and many travels around Great Britain. His works include a number of elevated views of the docks along the Thames in London.

Daniell based his print on the designs for the docks as projected in 1800.


Excavation in 1802

Survey of London:

When work on the docks started it was intended that they should be ready for the arrival of the West India trade in the summer of 1802.  The first stages were completed smoothly, and on the first anniversary of the Act, 12 July 1800, William Pitt and Lord Loughborough, the Lord Chancellor, ceremonially laid the foundation stone of the first warehouse, at the south-east corner of what became No. 8 Warehouse. The stone carried a commemorative inscription, later replicated at the base of the clock-turret on No. 5 Warehouse, at the centre of the north quay.

This stone has since been moved and mounted on a plinth in Hertsmere Road, opposite the Cannon Workshops.

… on 27 August 1802 a crowd of tens of thousands, including many of the country’s most eminent figures, gathered for a grand opening ceremony. Invited guests were accommodated in No. 8 Warehouse and two ships entered the docks with great pomp. The occasion was regarded as a national event of the first importance and was reported in superlatives. Indeed, the scale of the work stupefied some contemporary observers: The Times referred to ‘the stupendous scale on which it has been planned’ and noted that the dock itself, ‘appearing like a great lake, was an object of beauty and astonishment’. The Import Dock, Blackwall Basin, Blackwall entrance locks and three warehouses were essentially complete and already formed the largest wet-dock system ever seen.

But anyway, back to the print. In 1800 there was plenty to see (this version has highlighted areas, for reference from later sections)…

Click for larger version

a. City of London
b. Limehouse
c. Poplar
d. West India Import Dock, North Quay (western end)
e. West India Import Dock, South Quay & West India Export Dock, North Quay
f. City Canal, Western Entrance
g. City Canal
h. Blackwall Basin
i. City Canal, Eastern Entrance
j. Cold Harbour
k. Blackwall Entrance

a. City of London

There’s not much to see north and northwest of West India Docks. Off in the distance is the City of London, with St. Paul’s Cathedral on the right, and Westminster Abbey further away on the left.

It is not surprising that there is not much to to see – at the time of the construction of the West India Docks, East London as we know it now was largely farmland.

1804, just after the opening of West India Docks

b. Limehouse

Right of centre, St. Anne’s Church.

Commercial Road was constructed between 1802 and 1806, intended for the shipment of goods to/from the City and the West and East India Docks. Before its construction, the main routes east from the City were Whitechapel Road, and the roads that we now know as Cable Street and The Highway (which converge(d) at the western end of Narrow Street). The construction of Commercial Road also cost St. Anne’s the northern end of its church yard.

c. Poplar

The settlement of Poplar was not much more than the houses on either side of Poplar High Street. As “High Street” means in the strictest sense, it was the path along the highest-lying land, which in this case was drier and more passable than the Thames marshland to the south; as can be observed by looking down Dolphin Lane, Stoneyard Lane or Harrow Lane from Poplar High Street (which the following, 1804, map describes as ‘Poplar Street’).

d. West India Import Dock, North Quay (western end)

Unfortunately this hasn’t zoomed in too well. The warehouses at the western end still exist and house – amongst others – the Museum of London Docklands.

Import Dock, North Quay, 1810. Looking east from approximately the site of the Hibbert Gate (where it is today, not where it was).


Warehouses further east along the North Quay were destroyed during World War II.



e. West India Import Dock, South Quay & West India Export Dock, North Quay

This depicts a double row of substantial warehouses in the area between the Import and Export Docks. Few of these warehouses were actually built – three decades later the need for warehouse space was less than projected – in part because the East India Docks were winning more business.


f. City Canal, Western Entrance

Another section which unfortunately has not zoomed too well. Before the City Canal was constructed, there was a tavern on the site of the western entrance, known as the Gut House (see The Poplar Gut for more information), which was demolished to make room for the canal. The owner of the Gut House purchased some land south of the canal entrance, and built a new pub, which he named the City Arms.


The City Arms (later, City Pride) has gone, but the “Pumping Station” – the West India Docks Impounding Station – is still there, maintaing the docks’ water level.

g. City Canal

The City Canal preceded the docks by a few years. As Daniell describes, it was created by the City of London Corporation, and was intended to shorten the route between the City and the sea (not just due to the shorter distance – the wide loop around the Isle of Dogs meant that ships would inevitably at some stage have to sail into the wind; as a consequence, it wasn’t uncommon for ships to be becalmed for days on end in the river off the Island).

City Canal, with West India Docks behind the dock wall in the background.

The wind problem wasn’t entirely cured by the straight line offered by the canal – it wasn’t wide enough for ships to tack. This, combined with the locks at either end, meant that ships would frequently have to be towed. In the end, the cost of passage proved too great for many ship owners, and the City Canal was not a financial success.

A forelorn looking City Canal, with West India Docks behind the dock wall in the background.

The dock company acquired the canal from the the City of London Corporation in 1829. By 1849 a timber dock had been constructed south of the City Canal, which was no longer a canal but had been converted for dock usage and was now known as the South Dock.


And in the 1860s, the South Dock and Timber Dock were combined and enlarged to form the South Dock. (And, as the map shows, the West India Docks had gained some competition from the newly-built Millwall Docks to its south).


This, largely, was the form the docks would retain for the remainding 100 years of their operations.

h. Blackwall Basin

The three docks were initially separate, with the docks connected by Limehouse Basin in the west and Blackwall Basin and the SW India Dock Basin in the east. The basins were essentially huge locks – ships would sail in from the Thames at high tide, the lock gate was closed behind them before the tide receded, and there they would wait until it was convenient to sail them into one of the docks. The opposite process was applied to ships leaving the docks.

Originally, Blackwall Basin was not walled, but had banked sides. Its shape was designed to facilitate the towing in of ships (don’t ask me how). In the 1920s, the PLA, who by then ran the docks, created passages to connect the three West India Docks, which caused Blackwall Basin and Limehouse Basin to lose their function as oversized locks (at the end of the same decade Millwall Cut was constructed to connect the Millwall and West India Dock systems). However, it did lead to the walling of Blackwall Basin and the opportunity to use it for berths and quays. Limehouse Basin, on the other hand, was filled in.



From the collection of the late Tom Bolton, with many thanks to his daughter Debbie Warren


i. City Canal, Eastern Entrance

This is the only image of the bridge over the City Canal of which I am aware, and – seeing as the print is based on plans rather than reality – it is highly unlikely to look like the timber bridge that was eventually constructed across the 45 ft wide canal entrance. The timber bridge survived until 1842, when it was replaced by an iron swing bridge, the first of many bridges on the site, the last of which is the Blue Bridge (see The Blue Bridge for more information).


Cutty Sark

c1970 (guessing)



j. Cold Harbour

This was one area that Daniell did not need to envisage as all the buildings were there long before the construction of the West India Docks, and some are still there today (see You say Coldharbour, I say Cold Harbour for more information).

Rear of 3 Cold Harbour (aka Nelson House). Visible in print and in present-day photo.



k. Blackwall Entrance

For information about the Blackwall Entrance, see The End of the Island – Blackwall Entrance Lock.

Reconstruction in 1893


1963, screenshot from Queenie Watts documentary (that’s her in the headscarf)



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The Chapel House Estate

I went to Harbinger School, lived near Christ Church, and sometimes – when I was bored with walking home along Westferry Road and Manchester Road – I would take a longer route: Harbinger Road, Hesperus Crescent, through that funny footpath that went down hill to Chapel House Street, past Dockland Settlement into East Ferry Road, and then through Millwall Park to Stebondale Street.

What a difference! Westferry Road and Manchester Road were full of lorries and firms and smoke and noise; the longer route was quiet, with houses and gardens and trees – not like anything else on the Island. It felt more like the countryside (mind you, I had family living in Dagenham at the time – and I thought that was the countryside too).

The whole area around Chapel House Street and Hesperus Crescent is commonly known as the Chapel House Estate these days, but – formally – it was originally three different estates. This article restricts itself to the area covered by Chapel House Estate and Locke’s Housing in the following map; I’ll come back to Hesperus Crescent another time.

The estate was named after a medieval chapel (first mentioned in the twelfth century) and later farm which was located approximately at the corner of the present day Whiteadder Way and Spindrift Avenue – the highest point of the Island, and one of the few areas naturally above the level of the high tide of the Thames.


The following image combines an 1862 map with a satellite photo. Just a few years after the map was made, Chapel House Farm was demolished to make room for Millwall Docks. The map also shows the original path of East Ferry Road (still known to many Islanders as Farm Road), which was rerouted further east on the construction of the docks.

In 1895 there was a short Chapel House Street, L-shaped and going nowhere.


Survey of London:

In addition to grazing, there was some vegetable growing, notably on the Charteris (Mellish) land north of Chapel House Street, where W. H. Bradshaw had a market-garden in the late nineteenth century. 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. How far back this market-gardening went is not clear. Various pieces of ground were vaguely described as ‘garden’ in the Commissioners of Sewers’ cadastre of 1817, and in earlier deeds and land schedules.

In 1904, Chapel House Street became a fully-fledged street from Westferry Road to East Ferry Road (but no houses were built along it). The short section of dead-end street heading east would later be renamed Chapel House Place (now known as Julian Place).

9 Chapel House Street (Photo: Island History Trust / Mr. Oliver)

This 1916 map is interesting for showing the football ground recently vacated by Millwall FC, who had moved over the water (see Millwall FC – The Millwall Year(s) for more information). Also interesting is the line of the ditch heading just shy of northwards from the corner of Chapel House Street and Westferry Road. Look out for this line in other maps and images; it doesn’t go away and it’s still there today!


A procession passing the corner of Chapel House Street and Westferry Road in the 1930s.  (Photo: Island History Trust / Tony Atkinson)

“Homes Fit for Heroes”

Social Housing History (http://www.socialhousinghistory.uk/wp/index.php/homes-fit-for-heroes/):

Promises, promises, promises

After surviving the horrors of WW1, many returning soldiers, sailors and airmen were expecting the world to be a better place, where their life could return to some normality in a secure and safe environment and jobs for all. This expectation was raised by a speech by Lloyd George the day after the armistice where, amongst other promises, he said there would be “homes fit for heroes”. “Homes”, and not just houses; “fit”, implying built to a standard; and “heroes”, giving a sense of gratitude and deserving. Dreams never meet reality and what Lloyd George actually said was “Habitations fit for the heroes who have won the war”, which is a lot less punchy and emotive than the phrase everyone remembers, and the word “habitations” suggests something very basic. The press could not fit that sentence in a header in a newspaper column and so naturally shortened it to the phrase we now know. So, what was the result of this promise? Were those houses built all over the country immediately after the war? It will come as no surprise to historians that the reality fell a long way short of the promise, but for many reasons that even Lloyd George could not control. The legislation that followed his speech was well meaning and quite well thought through, but was hampered by two serious problems: the lack of funds; and the extreme shortage in the building industry of skilled manpower and materials.

It was only on the election of the first Labour Government in 1924 that Lloyd George’s ideas saw a chance of realisation, when the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, known as the Wheatley Act, after the then Minister of Health, John Wheatley, was passed. Survey of London:

The Wheatley Act not only provided higher subsidies, but it also envisaged a 15-year programme of housing built by local authorities at rents affordable by the working classes.

Under this Act, seven housing schemes, comprising 330 dwellings, were built by the Borough Council within the parish, together with a further scheme which was built partly under this Act and partly under the 1930 Act. Of these, two were further cottage schemes of the Garden City type and adjacent to the Chapel House Street development on the Isle of Dogs, at Manchester Grove (1925–6) and Hesperus Crescent (1929–30).

Houses in Chapel House Estate were designed – in a style described as Neo-Georgian – by Stepney-born Sir Frank Baines (1877– 1933), who was chief architect of the Her Majesty’s Office of Works from 1920 to 1927, and who also designed Thames House and Imperial Chemical House in Millbank.

Floor plans (Survey of London)

Originally, the council envisaged all-electric houses, but there were concerns that this would be too expensive for residents, and thus was gas also supplied (at that time even the lighting in most British houses was gas-fuelled, and less well-off people mostly had coal-fired ovens and heating). The houses also had a bathroom. This was quite remarkable for council housing at the time – a bathroom with fixed bath! Even better, each house had its own garden.

The houses were built on land acquired partly from the Charteris Estate and partly from the Strafford Estate, and were built by local building contractor, Griggs & Sons of 71 Manchester Road (location of Island Gardens DLR). Quite a job for a relatively small Island builder.

Survey of London:

Work began in December 1919, and on 30 January 1920 George Lansbury, Mayor of Poplar, ceremonially cut the first turf. The estate was complete by the end of 1921.

George Lansbury cutting the first turf.

Completion had been delayed by problems over the scarcity of materials and labour, and the consequences of these shortages soon began to manifest themselves. In July 1922 it was reported that several ceilings had collapsed, and in the case of one house this had happened no fewer than five times, while by 1924 all the properties required external painting.

Thermopylae Gate

Thermopylae Gate. Councillor  and local resident Mrs Nellie Cressal in white hat.
Photo: Island History Collection / Mrs J Snow.

The houses were designed without back extensions, as rear projections — a common feature of earlier speculative housing — were anathema to followers of the Garden City movement, because they shut out precious light to the back of the house.

Although the Locke’s houses look(ed) much like the houses west of Chapel House Street, they have a slightly different origin. When the lead firm, Locke, Lancaster failed to reach an agreement with the Borough Council in 1920 to house the workers from its lead works in Millwall, it formed a public utility society called Locke’s Housing Society Ltd. The Society built 36 houses, to all intents and purposes exactly the same as the Chapel House Street Estate designed by the Office of Works for the Borough Council. The tenancies were confined to its own workers (Survey of London).

1924, Millwall Park. East Ferry Road in the background. (Photo: Alice Hickman)

The inclusion of flats at the Chapel House Street scheme is almost certainly due to [the] conviction that there was a popular demand for such accommodation. The flats are arranged in three blocks of two storeys and attics around a cinder square or ‘quadrangle’ off Thermopylae Gate.  Unusually for flats, each dwelling is provided with its own back garden, albeit of differing size and shape.

Thermopylae Gate (Photo: Island History Trust)

Thermopylae Gate

As far as the houses on the estate were concerned, the Council agreed to provide one fruit tree for each garden, with the planting being done by unemployed ex-servicemen. The front hedges and trees overhanging the pavements are still an attractive feature. The chestnut paling fences needed repairing in the early 1930s and were replaced, on economic grounds, with wire-andconcrete posts.

Macquarie Way (Photo: Island History Trust, Tina Bennett)

Two public wooden shelters with seats and a sundial inscribed ‘No man lives for himself alone’ were erected in Macquarie Way, but these soon succumbed to vandalism.

1949, showing the foot bridge over a former factory railway line (which followed the path of the ditch mentioned earlier)

Unusually, some details of the early tenants on the estate, in 1922, survive, giving their occupations, any exceptional financial circumstances, and the size of their families. The impression given is that, generally, the 120 tenants were drawn from the upper echelons of the working classes. However, the most numerous single occupation, with a total of 22, is that of labourer — a vague description which might be applied to a multitude of activities and a range of abilities.

15 Chapel House Place. Chapel House Place, Isle of Dogs, pictured is the 1953 Coronation celebrations. Photo Includes: Doris Kirk, her mother Mrs Isabella Kirk, and Mrs Kirk’s brother-in-law Tom, Maureen Willing, Jenny Gillard, Josie Marshall, Alan Winch, Fred Winch, Colin Rogers, Keith Rogers, Tom Mathews and Billy Wootley. The man standing by the ladder is Jock Stewart. (Photo: Island History Trust)

Grouping individual occupations together, it is not surprising, on the Isle of Dogs, to find that the largest category was docks and shipping, with 28 who could definitely be assigned to this heading and another six who could probably be added to it. The next largest group consisted of the various industrial workers; there were at least 25 in that category, mainly skilled or semi-skilled. There were also about 12 who could be classified as clerical or professional, including a schoolteacher, a Labour Party secretary, and a trades union secretary.

Island History Newsletter

There were five widows. The tenants included 11 who were on Poor Relief, a further 11 who were on reduced wages, and one who was unemployed. The largest family, occupying a six-room house in Chapel House Street, consisted of a widow on Poor Relief and 11 children, of whom five were wage earners. There was also a number of families containing nine or ten members, though the majority were smaller. Conversely, there were five dwellings occupied solely by a husband and wife.

Back garden of 29 Chapel House Street in the 1930s. (Photo: Island History Trust / S. Moyse)

The estate survived World War II remarkably unscathed, as this LCC bomb damage reveals. Not a single house on the estate was destroyed or seriously damaged; only the houses along East Ferry Road suffered minor damage, and the houses close to Westferry Road somewhat more.

LCC Bomb Damage Map (with that ditch again)

1949. “DRY DOCK” marks the site of the orignal Chapel (House Farm).

After the war, life carried on, and virtually nothing changed on the estate. It was occasionally used as the backdrop for TV programmes such as Prospects, but other than that……

Macquarie Way

A change that perhaps was noticeable was the right to buy council houses in the 1980s. Architectural observers noted later that the physical harmony of the estate changed as virtually everyone made individiual changes to their house: different doors, different window frames, different fences, extensions, satellite dishes…….

But still, it is remarkable how the estate looks so similar to how it was when built almost a century ago.

Recent satellite photo. Can you see the line of the old ditch?


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McDougall’s Millwall

For many Islanders, including myself, few buildings were more familiar and more represented home than the McDougall’s flour silo. Visible from virtually anywhere on the Island, its distinctive appearance set it apart from all other dock, warehouse and industrial buildings. A landmark in the proper sense of the world.

McDougall’s from Millwall Park in the 1970s

I had the pleasure of a school trip to McDougall’s when I was at Harbinger. Our guide showed us the different areas, where we were received by different workers who explained what they were doing (I recall that they were all women, but I do have a bad memory), and at the end we were all given a half-pound packet of flour “to take home to mum”; a striped packet with an image of a bloke in a bowler hat. Well, it was the intention that we took the flour home, but a flour fight between Kingsbridge and Cahir Street put paid to that.

As is the case with numerous old Island firms, McDougall’s was started by a Scot, Alexander McDougall from  Dumfries. McDougall set up a manufacturing chemist’s business in Manchester in 1845 which 20 years later developed and produced a patent substitute for yeast – the basis for self-raising flour, which revolutionised home baking and established McDougall’s as a household name.

The owners of Millwall Docks, which opened in 1868, intended to sub-let the greater part of their quays to private companies at relatively low rates One of the companies who took advantage of the offer was McDougall Brothers in 1869 (by this time, Alexander had passed control of the company to his five sons). The firm built substantial premises – Wheatsheaf Mill – on the south east quay of Millwall Outer Dock.

In 1898, a great fire destroyed the mill, despite the efforts of fire engines from all over London.

McDougall’s after the fire

The mill was rebuilt, and was further extended in the following decades.


A visit from the king

1920s Christmas Dinner

Wheatsheaf Mill

Wheatsheaf Mill

Survey of London:

A quayside silo was projected in 1899, but not built until 1934, when it displaced V Shed  The silo’s civil engineer was J. H. Walker, Mark Jennings was the mechanical and electrical engineer, and the building contract went to Fred Mitchell & Son of Manchester. The silo was 100ft tall and had a capacity of 8,000 tons in ten 20ft-diameter cylindrical bins on massive reinforced-concrete columns and 50ft piles. The 6in.-thick concrete walls were cast in 2ft-square metal forms. Above the silo was an enclosed conveyor gallery, from which chutes fed the bins. To the east stood a 120ft-tall intake elevator, a pump room and the threestorey receiving house, for weighing and separating grain, with its own five-storey quayside elevator. Jennings’s innovative pneumatic intake plant comprised a tower that travelled about 370ft along a steel-framed quayside gantry, which covered a conveyor taking the wheat to the receiving house. Grain was transferred from the silo to the mill or barges by conveyor gantries at first-floor level.


Most of the eastern half of the McDougall’s site was redeveloped in 1935–6, when the nineteenth-century buildings were replaced with a three- and four-storey warehouse and, to the north, a five-storey process house, both of reinforced-concrete. The area south of the main pump house was built up with offal warehousing in 1937–8 and c1952, when a nine-storey reinforced-concrete drier house and single-storey warehouse were erected to the north-east.

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: britainfromabove.org.uk

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

The mill suffered considerable damage during WWII.

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust


In 1960 two steel-bin silo cylinders, each 30ft in diameter and 50ft high, were erected west of the main silo.

In 1962, McDougall’s (by now named Hovis-McDougall, after a 1957 merger) was acquired by the Rank company and carried on doing business as Rank Hovis McDougall Ltd.

1965. PLA tour guides on the roof of the silo


Rank Hovis McDougall closed the mill in 1982.

The last lorry out of McDougall’s

The buildings were demolished in 1984–5.

Today, the street name Wheat Sheaf Close (why two words?) is a small reminder of the mill.

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A Lifetime Behind Bars – Guest Article by Tony Alltoft

My thanks to Tony Alltoft for kindly allowing me to post a chapter from his book, A Lifetime Behind Bars, here. Tony spent a few of his younger years living above the Waterman’s Arms, a pub that his parents were managing for Dan Farson in the 1960s. Tony has accumulated a large number of photos and clippings from that period, some of which he has permitted me to use in blog articles, or to upload to the Facebook group, ‘Isle of Dogs – Then & Now’.

He has of course also gathered a lot of memories and stories from the period, which he has endeavoured to capture in his book. This guest article includes the book cover, table of contents and preface – to provide some context – followed by the chapter describing the Alltoft family’s time in the Waterman’s Arms.

Thanks again, Tony.


The start of this book is different from most books in that it was an accident!
In the many house moves that I have experienced in my early life, a heavy duty tin storage box containing my father’s business documents accompanied me. Its contents were never questioned and it wasn’t until some years after my father’s death in 1968 that I decided to use the box as storage for the archiving of household paperwork. However, the box was secured with a hefty padlock for which I did not have a key and therefore, a great deal of force was needed to open it. Having managed to prize open one corner of the box, a small bunch of keys fell out onto the floor. Fortunately, one of the keys on the bunch was the spare key to the padlock. Once opened, the box revealed several financial stock and inventory sheets relating to my father’s public houses that he had managed over the years. Whilst of no great value, my senti- mentality would not allow me to destroy them and they remain with me to this day.

In the process of sifting through the documents, I came across a note book which contained writing upon several of its pages accompanied by a selection of ‘scrappy notes’ and figures. Upon closer inspection it became apparent that my father had started to write a book about my parent’s time as publicans in the United Kingdom. Whilst I had an instant idea to complete his workings, I was of an age where I believed authors were born and not made and therefore felt to embark on such a venture was ridiculous and I simply replaced the note book into the box as a memory of my father.

Some years later and with the tin box still following me around the country, I had decided to undertake some genealogy work on the Alltoft family. This was not as a result of finding the note book in the tin box but, due mainly to a work colleague who was heavily involved in genealogy and the subject interested me especially with a surname such as mine. With a lot of hard work and time at the census office and St Catherine’s House during lunch breaks and after work, I managed to trace my father’s family back to the 1700’s and, as always, a selection of romantic stories emerged from the aunts and uncles most of which required additional validation. However, my grandfather’s records did raise a big question mark on the family history and moved me to try and discover more about the individuals of the family as opposed to simply compiling a large family tree ‘picture’.

In the early part of my father’s notes, questions still remain unanswered about my grandfather. He relates to him being a spy for England during WWII and, as records of a spy are unobtainable, the questions will probably never be answered. However, as the Alltoft family is a relatively small family, I felt compelled to keep going with the individual history if only for personal satisfaction. However, points of reference are few and far between and, coupled with the romantic stories which may at time take some believing, the task of compiling the facts has not been an easy one.

Following a further year’s analysis on my personal family history, the enthusiasm of those contacted waned and some became reluctant to talk about the family at all. Coupled with my own marriage, moving house several times and the birth of my two sons, (Graham and Philip), I lost momentum. In another move, the now essential tin box kept ‘nagging’ at me and, with one of its regular ‘sort outs’, the note book came to the fore. This time I took the trouble to read it with greater interest and I was delighted to find that some of the gaps which begged questions were answered from the genealogy I had undertaken. However, it also created many more questions!

Being a person who is more relaxed doing something than actually relaxing, my mind switched-on and a great urge to complete the book ensued. Although ‘switched-on’, I still felt it ridiculous in starting such a venture and found it difficult to know just where to start. Coupled with my original thought about what makes a successful author, I very nearly returned the book to the tin box.

In 1981 I commenced the work by rewriting the first chapter in my own handwriting so that I could get a feel for the subject and the style in which my father was trying to write the book. (I also have to note that home computers in the early 80’s were not the norm and I initially typed the fist three chapters on a typewriter!!). I then compiled a history of my parent’s movements during their time in the public house trade. At that point I discovered that there were obvious gaps which, as they happened before my birth, I felt it impossible to continue. I looked again at the tin box.

My line of work at the start of writing the book was a Computer Systems Analyst and I was fortunate to work in an office with a person who had written a book and subsequently had it published. To this day I must thank him for giving me the enthusiasm to continue. Although ‘embarrassed’ at being asked by him to submit the first chapter and a brief description of the others, his response was one that finally convinced me to complete the work.

Being biased towards my father’s text on the subject, I feel duty bound on occasions to quote those words which are written in the notebook. So, to start off, the following is the very first paragraph …..

It reads …..

Many books and novels have been written on the subject of pubs etc. but we felt that to share our twenty years experience in both the licensed and catering trades will provide some light reading and, we hope, pleasure for the people who bother to buy and read it. So, if you get this far, please don’t put it down with some disparaging remark, plod on and you won’t regret it.

Clearly his intention was to write a book for publication which, although he remarks that “many books and novels have been written on the subject of pubs etc.”, I believe he felt that writing at a working level would be different and more entertaining.

He also goes on to say ….

In the eyes of many people public houses are the root of all their problems especially in the eyes of the wives whose husbands spend the greater portion f their housekeeping in them. My story is not one of what is right or wrong with public houses, nor a history of them, but what it is really like running, (managing), some of the varied houses around the country from as centrally as Soho in London to as far a field as Devon. My stories cover the worries, fears, problems and of course, for the greater part of the time, the enjoyment of being the landlord behind the bar.

Throughout the book true aspects of the licensing trade emerge and all are true with as much detail as his notes and my memory will allow. I tend to use the first letter of the surname when writing about a specific person. This is because I am unable to contact them for their permission to publish or, in some cases I have not wanted to print their names because of repercussions.

The book takes us from the relative naïve days of training and running their first pub in London to a time when he was running a public house for a television celebrity in London where, due to its success, caused the Protection Rackets to ‘move in’ and ply their trade.
I should note here that it is now 2015, 33 years ago since I started this venture. Not that I have been working on it for all that time but, the paperwork did end up back in the box around 1982 until this moment in time.

Let’s get started.

Chapter 5 – The Waterman’s Arms

The above article appeared in the London evening news on March 22nd 1963 and reads ….

Hundreds of hopefuls applied to television personality Dan Farson for the job of manager of his pub, the Waterman’s Arms, on the Isle of Dogs. But the post has gone to Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Alltoft who for three years have been steward and stewardess of the Streatham Conservative Club in Blegborough Road. In a few months this East End pub has become famous. Dan Farson featured it in a television program about the origin of music hall and he told me this week: “When I bought the place in September it was derelict and was known as ‘the pub with no beer’. But I have made a terrific number of improvements and have engaged many of the entertainers who have appeared in my programme. Among them are the remarkable ‘Tommy Pudding’ and the waterfront singer Kim Cordell” Of Gordon and Doreen Alltoft he said “of all the people that wanted to take the Waterman’s Arms, they were the only ones with the qualifications I was looking for”. Before they came to Streatham, the Alltofts, who have one son, were at the British Legion Club in Chessington. Forty one year old Gordon was Chief Petty Officer in the Navy.

It was clear from the moment that they stepped through the front door that this was not going to be any ordinary boozer simply requiring supervision of the permitted hours of trading. The pub was already trading under a temporary management and had a contingent of staff. An extra dimension to the place was the entertainment factor about which Dan Farson was very passionate and made it clear would be the unique selling point of the pub. And of course, it was.

The first thing that my Father had to do was talk with each member of staff to get to know them and discover their skills etc. One piece of advice my Father was given is that people in the East end on London tend to be very close and ‘look after their own’. This was to be probably one of the best pieces of advice given. Most of the bar staff worked in the evenings when the pub was busy and needed more staff. However, Harry Pocock appeared to be the only full time member of staff and so my Father spoke with him first. His job there was mainly the Pot Man, (collector of glasses during the busy times), and general help during the day shifts. A really personable chap with no real qualifications in the trade and, probably the best way to describe him is very much like Billy Mitchell in East Enders; always wanting to please. However, unlike Billy Mitchell, Harry did actually do a good job. My Father also committed to him that he would get him more responsibilities in the fullness of time.

The remainder of the staff consisted of two brothers and two sisters, three of whom shared the same surname of ‘Whitear’. The two brothers were Johnny and Bobby and the wife of Bobby, Mary Whitear (nee Jones) and her sister Pat Pegg (nee Jones). They all had a brief meeting with my parents, (mainly my Dad) and, to cut a long story short, they all turned out to be excellent people with good bar skills. Johnny ended up being a very good friend of my Father’s and often deputised for him when having a day off or on holiday.

My Father was so fortunate to have inherited such a great bunch of staff that, not only got on well together, (just as well given that they were related), but were also as honest as the day is long.

The picture below, (not the greatest exposure), is of staff having a drink after closing time with my Father. From left to right: Harry Pocock, Johnny Whitear, unknown barman and my Father.

One story supplied by Mary Whitear was of the time when having their usual after session drink; Dan Farson showed his disapproval of such practice and tried to order the staff to go home. This was met with the annoyance of everyone after working so hard that evening and saw Bobby Whitear jump the bar with the look on his face that told Dan Farson to make a hasty exit. Bobby gave chase but luckily for Dan he didn’t catch him. I think Dan Farson learned a lesson that evening as he never approached the topic with my Father again. The practice remained.

The Waterman’s Arms, (formerly The Newcastle Arms and now called The Great Eastern), is situated on the Isle of Dogs, Millwall in the East End of London. When we were there its address was 1 Glengarnock Avenue and now even the road name has changed to 1 Glenaffric Avenue. Without this knowledge one could not now find the pub.

Daniel Farson was known as a TV presenter in the late 50’s and 60’s hosting his own chat show and producing a number of well received programs on the fledgling commercial network. Latterly he was also a respected writer, publishing in excess of 20 books.

He decided he needed a change and moved to the East End of London, living in Limehouse, (92 Narrow Street), for some time before buying The Waterman Arms in 1962, because he thought it might be “fun to run a pub”. Having fallen in love with the local area and all its characters (so much so that he made a one hour TV special about East End pubs called ‘Time Gentlemen Please’) he decided he was going to indulge his love of Music Hall and create his own Variety venue on the banks of the River Thames.

The above picture shows a relatively busy night with Kim Cordell singing. My Father can be seen serving in the foreground. (The picture was actually found in a photographic magazine in an article on Ambient Lighting).

Despite its many critics, the pub was very successful partly due to the television show which many thought was filmed at The Waterman’s, which of course it wasn’t, and partly due to the variety of entertainment in the evenings which of course were named artists and it was free to enter and plenty of free street parking.

Dan Farson visited the Waterman’s quite often but never got in the way of my Father’s management of the pub. The picture [below] is probably a rare picture of Dan Farson behind the bar talking to customers.

In the foreground on the right of the picture is Johny Whitear.

Every opportunity was taken to promote the pub’s success with the Old Time Music Hall theme. From the artists performing at the pub, at least two long playing records were produced and many articles written in national and local papers.

As well as Old Time Music Hall acts there were musical bands and an element of variety acts such as Mrs Shufflewick (comedian) and Bob Blackman aka ‘Bob the Tray’ who was famous for his rendition of the song Mule Train whilst smacking himself on the head with a metal drinks tray.

Of course one of the biggest stars ever to have performed at the Waterman’s was Shirley Bassey. At the time, she was six months pregnant and didn’t want to go on stage. However, Dan Farson seemed to have a way of never accepting “no” for an answer.

Many other celebrities visited the pub as can be seen from the picture below of Johnny and Bobby Whitear with Annie Ross and Tony Bennett. One particular evening Judy Garland came to the pub and although she wouldn’t sing on stage in front of the customers, she sang after closing to the staff.

Amidst all the entertainment etc. there was a small local trade that came to the pub mainly during the day time when the customers could sit quietly and sup their beer and put the world to rights.

The pub simply went from strength to strength and entertainment was put on virtually every night. Naturally all this activity came at a cost and I remember my Father telling me of one such issue. As the pub was so successful, customers would take the drinking glasses as souvenirs and, with the nightly breakages, the monthly bill to replace them was quite considerable naturally impacting the profitability of the business. One never knew why the drinking glasses were taken as souvenirs as there were no markings etc. to indicate from where they came.

It was clear that my Father had made the correct choice with this pub and my parent’s financial status had never been so good. In addition, he had free reign to make decisions about the running of the place autonomously and merely informed Dan Farson of what was going on when he visited; (although Dan Farson did tend to take the lead in respect of the entertainment). In fact, as time went on, Dan visited the pub less and less and communications between him and my Father were often by phone and even letter. (See below).

In fact, the pub ran so well that my parents started to have a regular weekly day-off and often went to Brighton to get away from it all. In addition whenever we went on holiday, usually to Devon, Johnny Whitear drove us there and back and we used taxis to get around during the holiday. So, a driving test was the next priority.

My Father passed his driving test in 1964 and had a new found love of cars. His first car was a Mk IX Jaguar, (nothing like starting off small when you’re a new driver), followed by a couple of other Jaguars 2.4, 3.4 models. He then decided to buy a new car a Mk3 Ford Zodiac (white) which, for its time, was impressive. It was all rather strange really because he had very little time off in which to drive them. However, I later learned that with some clever accounting with a local car dealer, (Chris Steel Cars), he rarely paid for any on them, hence the regular changing of cars. His final car at the Waterman’s was a Mk 10 Jaguar in which we travelled to Portugal.

Another perk of the job was that Dan Farson had his family home in Devon and would allow my parents to use it and, you know how much they loved Devon. I’m not too sure if he charged for its use or just let them use it as it was empty for most of the time due to him living in London. Anyway, my parents allowed me to take one or two friends with us when we went there and we had a great time.

Johnny Whitear pictured above as he had driven us to the house prior to my Father passing his driving test.

As well as my parent’s lot being greatly improved by the move to the Waterman’s Arms, so was mine. I started the part time ‘job’ of ‘looking after customer’s cars’ when they attended the premises of an evening. I think the customers only coughed up money for fear that I might damage their car if they didn’t, (as if). Along with the pocket money I received from my Father for helping at the pub, I felt very well off.

The biggest bonus for me living at the Waterman’s Arms was that I found a direction in life. Being grounded by my Father for getting into trouble with a group of ‘friends’ on the streets, I saw that playing in bands might be more constructive. (I have written about this aspect of my life in another document). Meanwhile, back to my parent’s story.

Dan Farson pushed all boundaries in respect of entertainment at the Waterman’s Arms and one aspect was to put on ‘Art Shows’. One such exhibition was the portrait paintings of Dr. Stephen Ward. Stephen Thomas Ward (19 October 1912 – 3 August 1963) was an English osteopath and artist who was one of the central figures in the 1963 Profumo affair, a British political scandal which brought about the resignation of John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War and, contributed to the defeat of the Conservative government a year later. Other names perhaps more familiar to people will be Mandy Rice Davies and Christine Keeler who were at the heart of the scandal becoming involved with Stephen Ward and a Soviet Diplomat at the height of the Cold War and threatened national security. It became known as the Profumo Affair.

Dan Farson seized the opportunity to ride on the back of the publicity and held an art show of Ward’s paintings. The article below appeared in the East London Advertiser on September 6th 1963.

Needless to say, the exhibition was a great success and brought many customers to the pub.

Continuing the art theme, Dan Farson introduced a local Rigger and Painter – Dick Whyte.

Daniel Farson says in his book, Limehouse Days, that it was he who ‘discovered’ (Farson’s own quotation marks) the Poplar-born painter, Dick Whyte, who at the time worked as a rigger in the West India Docks. Dick started painting in 1959 by accident, when his father who made model boats as a hobby had some paint to spare and Dick experimented with a picture. Dan saw it and a couple of others in the Gun on the Isle of Dogs and asked if he could meet him.

Dan Farson had just purchased the Waterman’s Arms. As part of his plans to provide old-style music hall entertainment, the pub was to be extensively redecorated, and Farson wanted Whyte to paint a mural behind the stage showing the view of Greenwich Naval College from the Island, (See left hand picture below). Whyte wasn’t keen. He didn’t think he had the experience or the skills for the job. Besides, he had only painted boats, cranes and similar; he had never painted grand architectural

He also produced the painting below which is more his style and shows The Waterman’s Arms in the background. I have to say that this picture is very accurate in detail as it was at that time in 1963.

An exhibition of his work was staged at the pub.

The following paragraphs were created by Mick Lemmerman, (a former resident of the Isle of Dogs and historian of all things from there), and placed on the Internet ….

I think it is a shame that I can find no more information about Dick Whyte and his work. All I have written here is taken from Daniel Farson’s book. There have not been that many ‘proper East End painters’, and he had a bit of a name in the 1960s, yet I can find no examples of Dick Whyte’s work on the Internet, no information about him at all.

What happened to Dick Whyte and his family? Did they carry on living as normal in their Poplar flat? And what about all his works? I asked Tony Alltoft if he knew anything about this (Tony lived above the pub at the time of Farson, being the young son of the pub manager Gordon Alltoft). He replied that his family had one of Whyte’s paintings, but it was stolen during a break-in…most likely by thieves who had no idea about what they were stealing.


I can confirm the above statement about one of Dick Whyte’s pictures being stolen from me.

I would like to take this opportunity to state that Harry Pocock did remain working for my Father at the Waterman’s and achieved the necessary skills to be an excellent barman and cellar man.

Apart from losing our dog, (a wire-haired terrier named Mickey), who ran off shortly after we moved to the Waterman’s, there were no real disasters. However, there was a feeling that the premises would benefit from having a couple of ‘guard dogs’ to alert us of any problems when they had the run of the pub after it was shut. Enter a German Shepherd and a Boxer / Labrador cross who were aptly named Bosun and Skipper.

Their arrival was welcomed by all, and especially by me. However, Pat the barmaid may well have had a different view. One evening she went to the toilet on the first floor of the pub and unbeknown to her the two dogs were loose on the upper floors. They actually chased her into the toilet and she just made it before the dogs did and managed to shut the door. The dogs remained outside of the toilet barking like crazy and Pat was naturally screaming for help but, with the loud music playing in the bar at the time, no one could hear her. As luck would have it a caretaker in a warehouse opposite the pub heard her screaming and phoned the pub and my Father was able to rescue her. Although not funny at the time, everyone later saw the funny side.

Our time at the Waterman’s, as you can probably tell, was a complete success and one that must have lifted my parents self esteem to great heights. However, the pub was to become the victim of its own success.

One particular evening my Father was called to the bar by a chap who looked rather menacing and who proceeded to demand a case of whiskey in payment for protecting the pub from other protection gangs. Noticing a large sharp object beneath the chap’s jacket he was taken aback and thought better than to argue with him. He agreed to meet him around the back of the pub and hand him the case of whiskey.

Naturally he was frightened for his family as the chap had suggested that he would harm his wife and child if he ever declined their demands which obviously suggested that they would be back for more ‘payments’.

The matter of protection rackets was well known in the London area especially involving public houses. My Father discussed the matter with Johnny and they both called Dan Farson the next day and explained what had happened.

Fortunately for my parents, Dan Farson was friends with one of the most notorious criminal gangs in London; the Kray Twins, (Ronnie and Reggie). It only took a word from Dan for the twins to put things in place for when the pub was approached again.

Approximately two days later the pub was approached again for ‘payment protection money’ but, this time, some rather heavy looking associates of the Kray gang were strategically placed around the pub waiting. The three men that approached my Father requesting payment were calmly and quickly removed from the pub and literally thrown into the river. Prior to their dunking they were given a few ‘gentle slaps’ and warned not to return for fear of worse to come.

A contingent of the gang remained at the pub for several evenings to tackle any further approaches. This approach protected the pub from here on out and, as my Father put it, “if you have to pay protection money, better pay it to the best ‘company’”.

This incident gave my parents much to consider and, with a lot of talk about this type of activity in London, they felt it was time to move on. They felt it was time to try and achieve their dream of owning a hotel in Devon and, with that, started the search for hotels in that area. From what I can gauge, although they had a good personal bank balance, it was a little too early to make this move. However, the search was on.

As luck would have it, a small hotel became available in Teignmouth which appeared to suit their requirements. Also, it was only a few miles away from their friends Annie and Wilf in Dawlish.

It all happened very quickly and in the October of 1965 we found ourselves moving to Devon to fulfil my parents dream. Naturally Dan Farson was upset at losing them but fully understood their reasoning. A new couple was quickly found to manage the Waterman’s and we simply moved out and off to Devon.

My parents kept in touch with certain people from the pub and heard that the new couple didn’t stay for long and, shortly after my parent’s departure; Dan Farson gave up the pub and retreated to his house in Devon to continue his writing.

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Island Pubs – Then & Now

This post is low on text and high on images: Then & Now photos of Island pubs. Nearly, but not quite, all old pubs are included – there are no photos of some old pubs (to my knowledge), and a modern view of some of pubs is not possible due to new buildings on the site. In all cases, click on the photo to see the full-sized image.

Anchor & Hope, 41 Westferry Road

Blacksmiths’ Arms, 25 Westferry Road

Builders’ Arms, 99 Stebondale Street

City Arms, 1 Westferry Road

Cubitt Arms, 262 Cubitt Arms

Dorset Arms, 377-379 Manchester Road

Ferry House, 26 Ferry Street

Fishing Smack, 9 Cold Harbour

George, 114 Glengall Grove

Glengall Arms, 367 Westferry Road

Great Eastern, 393 Westferry Road.

The Gun, 27 Cold Harbour

Ironmongers’ Arms, 210 Westferry Road

Kingsbridge Arms, 154-156 Westferry Road

London Tavern, 393 Manchester Road

Lord Nelson, 1 Manchester Road

Magnet & Dewdrop, 194 Westferry Road

Manchester Arms, 308 Manchester Road

Millwall Docks Tavern & Hotel, 233 Westferry Road

North Pole, 74 Manilla Street

Pier Tavern, 283 Manchester Road

Prince Alfred, 22 Tobago Street

Princess of Wales, 84 Manchester Road

The Queen, 571 Manchester Road

Robert Burns, 248-250 Westferrt Road

The Ship, 290 Westferry Road

Tooke Arms, 165 Westferry Road

Vulcan, 240 Westferry Road

Watermans’ Arms, 1 Glenaffric Avenue

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The Kingfield Estate

I bet there are not too many people who have heard of the Kingfield Estate. Not surprising, seeing as it never appeared on a map or street sign. This satellite photo shows its extent:

A weird shape for an estate, but of course there was a reason for it. In the mid-1800s, during the development of Cubitt Town, it was the intention to fill the area – including much of what is now Millwall Park – with new streets and houses. However, the financial collapse in the late 1860s put a temporary end to all building on the Island and the housing development did not get beyond this (an 1890s map):

Undeveloped land in 1890s

In the early 1920s. Poplar Borough Council purchased the land from the Charteris Estate, original owners of much Island land, and built houses of a similar design to those of the Chapel House Estate and Manchester Grove, the first of which opened in 1924.

Survey of London:

The original proposal was for 17 houses with two bedrooms, 38 houses with three bedrooms, and a block of six three-bedroom flats, all with living-room, bathroom, w.c. and scullery. During the building of the estate it was found that the six flats would cost more to construct than a similar number of houses with the same accommodation, and by rearranging the plan six houses were provided in the same space.

Kingfield Estate in the 1920s

The existing street pattern meant that only the merest nod in the direction of the Garden City spirit was possible. The houses are grouped in terraces of four or six dwellings and are slightly set forward or back to ease the otherwise straight lines. Because Kingfield Street had not previously been built up it was possible to lay it out with grass verges on either side, a feature all too rare in the area and not even to be found on the Borough’s other cottage estates.

Parsonage Street from Stebondale Street

Thomas Fitzgerald of 28 Billson St

Kingfield Street 1935 (Photo: Ada Price)

The area was seriously damaged during World War II (but Kingfield Street was remarkably unscathed).

Billson Street 1942 (Photo: Bill Regan)

Billson Street 1942 (Photo: Bill Regan)

1945 (Photo: RAF)

Destroyed houses in Parsonage Street and Billson Street were replaced with Orlit Homes (pits for their foundations can be seen in the previous photo), meant to be temporary but which are mostly still in use today (see the blog article Home Sweet, Defective Home).

Orlit house construction in Parsonage Street and Billson Street. At the rear left, the Builders Arms in Stebondale Street.

Ceremonial opening of the first Orlit home in Billson Street in 1946

The first Orlit residents, the Atheis family of 16 Billson St.

Billson Street, 1947

In Stebondale Street, local residents celebrated the end of the war.

Stebondale Street. Photo: George Warren

Stebondale Street. Photo: George Warren

And a few years later, in Kingfield Street and other streets, Islanders celebrated the coronation.

Kingfield Street (Photo: Ada Price)

Kingfield Street (Photo: Ada Price)

In addition the ‘temporary’ Orlit homes built on the Kingfield Street, prefabs were built in the surrounding streets.

Stebondale Street (Photo: Island History Trust)

Glengarnock Ave (foreground), Manchester Road (right)

Manchester Road (foreground), Kingfield Street (left), Seyssel Street (right). (Photo: Island History Trust)

In the late 1960s, the prefabs in Glengarnock Avenue and Manchester Road, as well as houses in Seyssel Street and Stebondale Street, were cleared to make room for new flats (the flats that our family moved into after leaving a Victorian tenement in Stepney). It must have been a bit of a shock for the original residents to find their once-quiet streets enclosed in this way.

Photo: Christopher Dunchow

Billson Street, 1977 (Photo: Mick Lemmerman)

Kingfield Street (Photo: Jan Hill)

Kingfield Street

Seyssel Street, 1971 (Photo: Christine Egglesfield)

Manchester Road, 1976

And in 1976, the peace was dramatically disturbed when a gas explosion destroyed No. 13 Parsonage Street and badly damaged No. 15. I was at home with my family just a few yards away at the time, and remember rushing out on to the landing before even the dust had settled, looking at where the house had been. Remarkably, nobody was hurt.

Photo scan courtesy of Marie Swarray

Today, if I visit my old estate, it doesn’t look very different. Greener, and harder to park the car, but – at least – there are still some familiar and friendly faces.

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