East Ferry Road – The Oldest Road on the Isle of Dogs

Until the arrival of the West India Docks at the start of the 1800s, the Isle of Dogs had few buildings or residents. There were of course the windmills which gave Millwall its name, and a little related industry, but these were along the river’s edge, primarily in the west. The ‘inland’ area was occupied largely by marsh and pasture land.

Extract of a 1700s painting of the view from Greenwich, showing ships sailing around the Isle of Dogs.

There were at the time a couple of paths heading south on to the Island from Poplar High Street; these paths are shown as Angel Lane and Arrow Lane on the following map.

Arrow Lane appears on maps in the following centuries variously named as King’s Road, King’s Lane, Blackwall Road and Harrow Lane. Its main purpose was to provide a route from Poplar High Street to the Greenwich Ferry (via St Mary Chapel).

1745

Incidentally, a short section of Harrow Lane still exists off Poplar High Street. I am amused that the mapmaker dropped the aitch on the map, but it was not unusual at the time for mapmakers to spell names as they heard them pronounced by locals.

Harrow Lane (right). The start of the medieval path from Poplar High Street to the Greenwich Ferry.

On the construction of the West India Docks, the northern half of (H)arrow Lane was obliterated by the construction of the West India Docks, apart from a short section in the north which is named King’s Road on the following map (1830).

1830

South of the docks, the old path was replaced by a fully-fledged road which had been somewhat straightened, and rerouted to the east (it was also renamed Blackwall Road). It was lined on both sides along its entire length by drainage ditches.

This road was built from 1812-1815 by the Poplar and Greenwich Ferry Roads Company, who constructed what would later be named Westferry Road at the same time. Both were toll roads, and there were toll gates in Westferry Road (just south of the later City Arms) and in East Ferry Road (next to the later Queen public house). The toll road is the ‘turnpike’ referred to in the following newspaper article:

1821

The article hints at the rural nature of East Ferry Road at the time, as does the following map. Many old Islanders still call the road Farm Road.

Chapel House Farm in 1830

1865. Newspaper report of a ‘150 Yards Handicap’ race (people, not horses) in East Ferry Road.

By the time of this race, building had started in earnest at the north end of East Ferry Road. Note that the road leading up to the dock entrance lock bridge was then also named East Ferry Road; Manchester Road had been constructed a couple of decades before, but its name originally extended only as far as the Queen public house (opened in 1855).

1870. Click for full-sized version.

In 1883, after years of public pressure, the Metropolitan Board of Works moved to have the tolls in East Ferry Road and West Ferry Road (as it was then spelled) abolished.

Minutes of the Metropolitan Board of Works

The Board got its way and the tolls were lifted in 1885. Survey of London:

The [Greenwich Ferry] company scrapped its horse-ferry service in 1844, but tolls continued to be collected. Pressure for abolition of the tolls grew from the 1870s, and eventually the Metropolitan Board of Works obtained powers to buy out the company. On 9 May 1885 there were celebrations as the toll-gates were removed.

9th May 1885. Celebrations around the removal of the toll gate, looking north. The Queen is just out of sight right of the photo. Click for full-sized version.

A map from around the same time shows the north end of East Ferry Road to be completely developed by then, with houses and streets which would change little until the start of WWII.

1892. Click for full version

This section of street was largely residential, with the East Ferry Road Engineering Works being the only industry. A small section of the firm’s East Ferry Road frontage can be seen on the left in this 1900s photo (Launch Street is on the right).

1900s. Island History Trust

The firm, which specialised in pneumatic machinery, started in 1874 on land leased from the Millwall Dock Company.

East Ferry Road Engineering Company

Advertisement for East Ferry Road Engineering Works

Survey of London:

[The firm had] Charles Henry Parkes, the Millwall Dock Company’s chairman, as its chairman, and his son, Charles Reginald Parkes, as its managing director. The engineering company, which was indeed virtually a subsidiary of the dock company, had its origins in Duckham’s Weighing Machine Company, which had been set up in 1872 by Frederic Eliot Duckham, engineer to the dock company, to manufacture a weighing machine that he had invented three years earlier for use at the Millwall Docks sheer-legs. The founding shareholders were virtually all Millwall Dock Company directors and staff.

“A suggestion of nepotism?” I hear you ask.

Just south of the works was a short row of commercial properties, including a large bank at No. 112, more or less opposite the George public house.

112 East Ferry Road

To its left, dining rooms and a boot and short store (which also served as a post office). These and other businesses in the area – including the George – were all built to take advantage of the trade offered by the adjacent Millwall Docks.

1900s. East Ferry Road (left to right) at its corner with Glengall Road, which at that time extended through Millwall Docks all the way to West Ferry Road.

Looking down Glengall Road in the opposite direction, the George can be seen on the left, and more commercial properties on the corner on the right.

1900s. Glengall Road, with East Ferry Road going from left to right in the foreground. Click for full-sized version.

Turning 90 degrees to the left and looking up East Ferry Road. Island History Trust

Diagonally opposite East Ferry Road from the George in 1892 was Millwall Dock Station, opened in 1871 (Crossharbour DLR is today on the site).

Millwall Dock Station in the 1920s, looking diagonally from the opposite corner (from outside the George). East Ferry Road is heading south on the left.

Millwall Dock Station in the 1920s, looking north up East Ferry Road.

The Mudchute got its name because it was the dumping ground for mud dredged from the docks, which had to be regularly dredged or they would silt up. A novel pneumatic device (designed by Frederic Eliot Duckham) was employed which pumped the liquefied mud through a pipe over East Ferry Road close to the George, dumping it on the other side.

The dock company had not yet dumped mud on the northern edge of its land, just south of the George, which meant that the ground was flat and solid. Landlord of the George, William Clark, leased a 400ft by 420ft plot on the flat land, planning to develop an athletics stadium for football, cricket and tennis, with running and cycling tracks. The stadium opened in June 1890 and was occupied by Millwall Athletic FC until 1901.

1892

By the start of the 20th century, so much wood was being imported via the Millwall Docks that the dock company was running out of room to store it all. They reclaimed the Mudchute land being leased by Millwall Athletic, and built new warehousing there (Millwall Athletic moved to a ground at the other end of East Ferry Road, behind the Nelson).

The challenge for the dock company was: how to transport the timber from the docks, over East Ferry Road, and into the newly-formed timber yard? The required timber conveyor needed to extend from the Glengall Road bridge over Millwall Inner Dock to almost Manchester Road in the east (the timber needed to transported in only one direction, of course, from ship to yard).

The solution was a so-called Timber Transporter, a demonstration of which Chief Millwall Dock Engineer, Duckham, had seen on a trip to Sweden.

The Timber Transporter crossing East Ferry Road into the Mudchute (ASDA is on its site today).

For approximately 650 yards along East Ferry Road south of the Timber Transporter, nothing was ever built. The west side of the road here was occupied by a railway line and the Millwall Docks, and the east side by the Mudchute. You had to travel south as far as Hawkins & Tipson’s Globe Rope Works before there was any sign of other buildings.

1930s. Click for full version

Meanwhile, back in 1892, there also wasn’t much to speak of at the southern end of East Ferry Road either.

1892

Other than the rope works, there were just a couple of buildings next to the Lord Nelson, and the fire station on the other corner.

The fire station, circa 1900. East Ferry Road is just visible on the left behind the fire station.

The Lord Nelson in the early 1900s, with East Ferry Road on the left.

Early 1900s. Left of the Nelson

Early 1900s. Further to the left (north)

The Welcome Institute, an organization established by a philanthropist called 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 Road to a new building at 197 East Ferry Road.

1905. Welcome Institute

Many readers will immediately recognise this as the later Dockland Settlement building, but it would be 1923 before the Dockland Settlement organisation took it over on the retirement of Jean Price. The photo was evidently taken from a side road of East Ferry Road. This was the newly extended Chapel House Street, which went just past Chapel House Street before 1904.

1916

This map also shows a row of twelve houses at the south, east side of East Ferry Road – Charteris Terrace, built in 1907. The row of houses still exists and you can find a sign with the name of the terrace on it without looking too hard.

It would be many years before houses were built along the full length of Chapel House Street, on the construction of the Chapel House Estate, opened in 1921. The houses along the south side of Chapel House Street and the west side of East Ferry Road look much like the houses west of Chapel House Street, but 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 similar in appearance to those built by the council.

1924. Locke’s houses in East Ferry Road from Millwall Park. Island History Trust

1935. Dockland Settlement

1920s. Hawkins & Tipson from Thermopylae Gate.

Meanwhile, further north, the George underwent a complete rebuild. Its Victorian design was replaced by something more attuned with the 1930s.

1930s. The George. Photo: Mr P. Holmes

1930s. Photo: Cathy Holmes

Then, World War II happened, and virtually every building in the northern half of East Ferry Road was destroyed by bombing. Rescue worker, Bill Regan reported the aftermath of the bombing during the night 28th June 1944 in his diary:

Awakened after dozing for about 15 minutes or so, at about 5.30 a.m. To Glengall Grove and East Ferry Road; Post Office, wrecked, the George, six shops also. Westminster Bank and Thorne’s joinery works completely demolished. Glengall Grove, Launch Street, Galbraith Street, proportionally damaged by blast. About a dozen Light Rescue men there, a light job, and they send for heavy, after almost completing the job. Got two bodies out, man and wife. The woman supposed to be eight months pregnant. They had just previously been bombed out of their home at Catford. Incident closed at 7.00 a.m.

The following map highlights the only buildings still standing at the north end of East Ferry Road in 1948. The remainder were either destroyed during World War II or were not economically recoverable and had to be demolished immediately afterwards. The southern end of East Ferry Road, on the other hand, got off pretty lightly, although the Globe Rope Works Nos. 201-203 (odd) East Ferry Road suffered some significant bomb damage.

1948

1947, Click for full-sized version.

c1950. Dockers in East Ferry Road (with the George in the background) waiting for the call-on.

c1950. East Ferry Road. Island History Trust

In 1950, Poplar Borough Council began clearance of the area and the development of a new estate – St. John’s Estate – named after the church in Roserton Street. The council built the estate in phases, and it was 1981 before the last building was complete (St John’s Community Centre in Glengall Grove). The length of time of the development, and the fact that some sections were built by the LCC, explains the wide variety of architectural styles in the area. Houses and flats in East Ferry Road, however, were among the first to be built.

c1950. Preparation for construction in East Ferry Road with St John’s Mission Hall, Roserton St, on the right and Manchester Road in the far background.

1950s. St John’s Estate

1960s. Looking past Rugless House over East Ferry Road towards Cardale Street.

1960s. The view down East Ferry Road from Oliver’s Wood Yard. Island History Trust.

As already mentioned, the southern end of East Ferry Road suffered very little serious damage during WWII (this applied also to the Chapel House and Hesperus Crescent Estates).

1947. East Ferry Road from Globe Rope Works (left) to Manchester Grove (right).

1950s. The Island Road race, annually organised by Dockland Settlement. The runners raced up East Ferry to the Queen and ran back down Manchester Road, turning right at the Nelson, a distance of 2 miles.

1958. Photo: George Warren

The centre section of the road in the 1970s. The gantry over the road was a leftover of the former Timber Transporter. It is very clear from this photo that the road went uphill to its highest point approximately in the middle (and still does). The apex is very close to what was originally the highest point in the Island – the location of St. Mary’s Chapel and Chapel House Farm (right of the road from this viewpoint).

1970s. Island History Trust

1970s

1970s

1970s. And….. downhill again. Photo: Pat Jarvis.

Circa 1980

Circa 1980. Not sure who I should credit this photo to. If anyone knows?

Circa 1980.

Circa 1980. This brick construction once supported the rail bridge which crossed East Ferry Road here. It is being renovated and strengthened to support the new DLR bridge. Photo Pat Jarvis.

This section of the road was less than welcoming, as can be seen from the photos. Around 1980, attempts were made to brighten things up a little, mostly facilitated by community or youth organisations, and executed by young Islanders.

Mudchute fence murals. Photo: Gary O’Keefe

Mudchute fence murals. Photo: Gary O’Keefe

Decorating a remaining wall of Hawkins & Tipson’s Rope Works.

The finished result. Photo: Gary O’Keefe

1980 was a low point in the history of the Island. The docks closed formally in that year, and many firms along the river were closed and their buildings demolished. The London Docklands Development Corporation started the next year, and plans were made for the redevelopment and regeneration of a large swathe along the Thames where the docks had once formed the basis of the local economy.

An early success for the LDDC was when ASDA agreed to build a new supermarket on the Island – leasing part of the Mudchute which was occupied earlier by Millwall Athletic and after that by the Timber Yard (complete with Timber Transporter).

1981. Construction of ASDA.

1983. ASDA shortly after opening.

The year that ASDA opened saw the commencement of the construction of the DLR. The new line followed the path of the former London & Blackwall Railway Millwall Extension. Crossharbour Station was built on the site of the earlier Millwall Dock Station, and a new station – Mudchute Station- was built further south in East Ferry Road.

It is said that the station was originally going to be called Millwall Park Station, but this was rejected because of (a) the negative association with football hooligans from a certain team over the water (a team which, ironically, played at three different grounds on the Island which were adjacent to the railway line), and (b) the possibility of visiting fans travelling to the station in error. I’ve not seen anything myself to back these assertions up.

Circa 1985. Construction of DLR viaduct over East Ferry Road, just north of the future Mudchute Station

Circa 1985. Construction of the first Mudchute Station. The remains of Hawkins & Tipson’s wall is on the right – beyond that, East Ferry Road.

Mudchute Station formally opened in 1987, but had to be relocated northwards, to the other side of East Ferry Road, ten years later when the DLR was extended under the river to Lewisham (because the line needed to start descending at an earlier point – if seen from the perspective of travelling south).

Demolition of the first Mudchute Station

All this jiggery-pokery with stations, viaducts, railway lines and tunnels means the path of this section of East Ferry Road is quite different to how it originally was. Until the early 1980s, if you travelled up East Ferry Road from the Nelson, there was a relatively sharp and angular ‘curve’ to the right at the rope works.

These days, again travelling in the same direction, East Ferry Road parts company with Locke’s houses almost as far south as Thermopylae Gate, and from there it follows a gentle meander northwards. Millwall Park was also extended at this point all the way to East Ferry Road. (Confused the heck out of me the first time I drove up East Ferry Road after these changes had been made, having not been on the Island for yonks. I wasn’t sure where I was anymore.)

Original path of East Ferry Road superimposed on recent satellite photo.

Another rerouting of East Ferry Road which caused me some confusion, was that at the corner of Glengall Grove and East Ferry Road (a place I tend to migrate to when on the Island, enjoying as I do a pint in the George). However, this junction has changed a few times over the decades.

Until the 1960s, this was a regular crossroads – Glengall Grove crossed East Ferry Road at this point – as is clear in many of the old photos at the start of this article. Glengall Grove was no longer a continuous road from Manchester Road to Westferry Road however – the road bridge over Millwall Docks had been out of action since before WWII, and the only way to cross was via a pedestrian ‘barge bridge’.

The barge bridge in the 1950s, looking towards East Ferry Road (Skeggs House is visible in the background). Photo: Sandra Brentnall

The PLA, who had never been fond of the public crossing the Millwall Docks (but who historically were required to permit public travel between the two halves of Glengall Grove), announced that they no had no plans to restore the road bridge. After arguments and discussions between the PLA and Poplar Borough Council, when even the idea of a tunnel was considered, it was agreed that a high-level pedestrian bridge would be built – a bridge that would soon informally be named the ‘Glass Bridge’. A bridge entrance building was built, and a garage was opened ‘next door’. The area in front of the dock gate – which never opened – was a small undeveloped plot that was used by locals to park cars and lorries.

1970. East Ferry Road from Glengall Grove

1970s. East Ferry Road from Glengall Grove. Photo: Jackie Jordan Wade

1980s. East Ferry Road (left) and Glengall Grove (right). A merge of screenshots from the Prospects TV series. Click for full-sized version.

The Glass Bridge was demolished in the mid-1980s, and replaced by a temporary Bailey Bridge. It was again possible to drive across Millwall Docks to Westferry Road.

1980s

The previous photo shows that the crossroads between Glengall Grove and East Ferry Road had been restored. The junction has been modified in such way that through traffic from the direction of ASDA is led along a newly-built road, Limeharbour. You have to go round the block if you want to follow East Ferry Road all the way to the Blue Bridge (I went straight up Limeharbour by accident….lost again!).

Much has also changed along East Ferry Road since 1990.

Starting at the Blue Bridge end, the Queen was demolished in 2004, and the few remaining older buildings across the road were illegally demolished in 2016.

2016. Preparing for demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2016. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

That row of buildings looked quite different in the past, by the way. Here it is in the 1980s, before the middle one was given another floor, and before the shop on the right was given a mock-Georgian appearance.

1980s

The previous photo shows the little newspaper kiosk that used to be there which at one stage was housed in a container.

Early 1990s. Photo: alondoninheritance.com

From here to Hickin Street not much has changed (I am referring only to buildings directly on East Ferry Road). Many blocks of flats have been renovated, and most have pointy roofs these days, but it is familiar territory.

1986. Screenshot from the Prospects TV series

2018

After Hickin Street, the dock side of the road – formerly the site of the East Ferry Road Engineering Works – is covered in new office and apartment developments.

1980s. Looking north. Island History Trust

2018

Between Glengall Grove and Thermopylae Gate, East Ferry Road is not the isolated place it once was. ASDA takes up a large section on the left, the dock fences and walls are gone – replaced by trees, bushes and neat walls – residential buildings and offices overlook the road on one side.

2010s

2010s

South of the shenanigans around the Mudchute DLR station bend, the other significant change is the closure of the Dockland Settlement, and the demolition of almost the whole building, to make room for Canary Wharf College.

2010

2013. Preparing for demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2013. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2018. Canary Wharf College

From here to the Nelson, East Ferry Road hasn’t changed that much. The background scenery has changed a lot, though – and keeps changing.

1980s. East Ferry Road from Ferry Street (sorry about the poor quality)

Circa 2000. Photo: Peter Wright

2010s. Photo: Peter Wright

People have travelled over this path since the Middle Ages. It has changed frequently over the centuries, and keeps doing so.

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The Isle of Dogs Police Station

By the early 1860s, many streets had been laid out in Cubitt Town, but very little had yet been built. Christ Church, Lord Nelson and Newcastle Arms had opened less than five years earlier, and there were a few houses in or off Manchester Road, but that was it.

South Cubitt Town, 1862

The church and two pubs were built in anticipation of the large population that would shortly be moving to the newly-developed Cubitt Town – a population that would also need a police station.

It was proposed to build the police station on land in the hands of the Greenwich Hospital Estate, who had leased the area directly opposite the hospital in order to…

..prevent the total closure of its vista, and to shut out the annoyances of gloomy unsightly and offensive buildings, that are sure to be erected.

The police station was built in 1865 at 126 Manchester Road, and is shown on this 1872 map. The map also shows that much had been built in the few years since 1862. The area would hardly change at all in the following decades, until the outbreak of WWII.

South Cubitt Town, 1870

The following is the earliest known photo of the police station, estimated to have been taken around 1910. There is a policeman standing guard outside the front door, but I suspect he was only there for the photo.

Circa 191-0

The following photo, also with a policeman on guard, shows a Manchester Road covered in horse dung. It appears that there are few people around, but the exposure times of old cameras were often so long that if you didn’t stand perfectly still, your image would be too vague to be perceptible.

1910s

I’m jumping around a bit in time, but this c1970 photo shows just how much remained unchanged. The shop immediately to the left of the police station has gone, however, destroyed during WWII.

c1970 (Photo: Island History Trust)

Survey of London:

The station provided accommodation for a married sergeant (or inspector) and married constable, their families and six single constables, with up to three prisoners. It had several characteristic defects:

Inside, the men’s recreation or day room adjoined the noisy charge room, and was therefore generally abandoned in favour of the more peaceful mess. Other adverse criticisms … included the absence of a bath, brush lockers and a parade room in the yard for the men to line up for duty or receive pay.

Upstairs, the absence of a water supply and of gas lighting in the smaller bedrooms was noted, while bed space per man was felt to be over-generous. But it was the arrangement of the quarters that really gave cause for concern.

As in a number of stations and section-houses, single and married quarters shared a staircase and landing, the door to the married quarters opening opposite that to the men’s room: ‘grave improprieties have naturally arisen from this mingling of occupation; and … women often refuse to live in a police station on this very account.’ The common landing was later partitioned, the door to the men’s room blocked up and a new entrance provided.

In 2019, it is hard to imagine policemen and their families living in a police station, but this was the case in many police stations until as late as the 1960s. It’s not surprising that this led to ‘grave improprieties’ in Victorian times. In the 1860s, London’s police had only just started becoming the police force that we would recognize today, thanks to the 1856 Police Act which saw a system for government inspection, audit and regulation for the first time. Until then, the police force had a poor reputation, and even in the 1860s more than 200 policemen in London were charged with being drunk while on duty. That there was little respect for the police is demonstrated by this 1800s newspaper article:

In response to the criticism of the Isle of Dogs Police Station, plans were drawn up for a restructuring, which included the addition of bath, and a WC and kitchen on the first floor:

Proposed alterations to Isle of Dogs Police Station (click for larger version)

We are very fortunate that a number of historic Isle of Dogs Police Station ‘Refused Charge Registers’ and ‘Occurrence Books’ have survived and are available online on the Open University website. No, I didn’t know what these documents were either until I came across them. According to the website:

Refused Charge Registers* are used for specific charges made by the police or private persons and where the charge is subsequently dropped.

Occurrence Books*, contain reports of enquiries/observations made by the police whilst on patrol; incidents, in which a crime may, or may not, have been committed, attended by the police; attendance of person at a police station; or a person, who previously has been bailed, is notified not to attend a police station to answer his recognizance.

* The Refused Charge Registers cover the period from approximately 1900 to 1960, and the Occurence Books cover the late 1960s.

The documents provide a fascinating insight into police business on the Island during the 20th Century, and are very telling about the life of Islanders. Some reports are sad, others amusing, while in at least the later ones there are some familiar surnames to me. There are too many documents to show them all here – I recommend you visit the site via the link above – but here are few:

Refused charge, 4th Nov 1909. George McCarthy (age 13) of 12 East Ferry Road, accused of being ‘beyond control of parents’

In this one, John Smith of Canning Town demonstrates the age-old Island profession of nicking stuff out of the docks. The PLA declined to press charges because the stolen corn mixture was practically valueless:

1st February 1910

One of the sadly-frequent entries, a wife accusing her husband of having assaulted her. Other entries which also saddened me were the reports of children being killed by lorries – quite a few of them too.

14th April 1910.

1920s. Rear of Isle of Dogs Police Station (Photo: Island History Trust)

The police station and its neighbours in Manchester Road (apart from No. 128) came through World War II with little damage.

1949

Life returned to normal, and the police carried on registering familiar events (mind you, I noticed that there was far more vandalism reported in the 1960s):

1968. Isle of Dogs Police Station Occurrence Book

I couldn’t help but smirk at the comment by PC Gibson in the following one, “The vehicle was alright when I left it there at 2 am”. Something I can imagine Bernard Breslaw uttering.

Isle of Dogs Police Station Occurrence Book, 5th May 1968

A couple of years after this I paid my one and only visit to the police station. We were messing around on the Thames foreshore (don’t tell my mum) when we found an unexploded anti-aircraft shell, probably something that had been fired from the mudchute during WWII. We did the sensible thing, picked it up, and took it to the police station. The police officer behind the front desk was not amused when we plonked it on his desk. I wonder if this ever made it into an Occurrence Book?

1968. Composite of a couple of photos by Hugo Wilhare.

In the early 1970s, it was decided to build a new George Green’s School on the Island – precisely on the site of the former Greenwich Hospital Estate (I wonder if that was a coincidence or not?). This meant the demolition of buildings in Brig Street, Ship Street, Barque Street and along a long stretch of Manchester Road which included the police station.

1972. Click for full-sized image

c1972

c1972. Photo: Pat Jarvis

c1972. The police station is just visible on the right. Photo: Pat Jarvis

The police station was one of the last buildings to go, in 1973, just over a century after its construction. George Green’s School and Community Centre began to rise on it site.

1974

The site of the Isle of Dogs Police Station today.

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The Unexploded Bomb Next to Canary Wharf

The Luftwaffe flew reconnaissance flights over London and the rest of Britain for years before the outbreak of World War II, and had marked targets – such as power stations, docks and gas works – in a set of aerial photos. London was divided into different target areas, and the easiest for bomber pilots to recognize from the air was the one enclosed by a distinctive U-shaped loop in the Thames: the Isle of Dogs.

Extract from a pre-War Luftwaffe aerial reconnaisance book.

The following Luftwaffe reconnaissance photo was taken during daylight in the evening of 7th September 1940, the first day of The Blitz. The arrows indicate identified bomb explosions.

The West India Docks are clearly taking a battering in this photo, but more than half the bombs have fallen on residential areas. In Millwall, explosions can be seen at the corner of Havannah Street and Commons Street (A), and especially in the area around Millwall Central School (B). South of Millwall Outer Dock is an explosion just west of St. Edmund’s Church (C). Further east, in Cubitt Town, there are explosions on Manchester Road opposite Manchester Grove (D), Saunders Ness Road near Island Gardens (E), London Yard (F), and Samuda Street (G).

Fire in West India Docks during WWII

By the end of WWII, the majority of the West India Docks’ sheds and warehouses had been destroyed, shown in black on the following map:

West India Docks sheds and warehouses destroyed during WWII (from ‘The Isle of Dogs During WWII’ by Mick Lemmerman)

Remains of import dock north quay warehouse after bombing in 1941. (This warehouse was just to the east of the warehouse which now houses the Museum of London Dockland.)

Many hundreds of high-explosive bombs fell on the Island during WWII, as well as thousands of incendiary devices and a few V-1s. Some of these, and anti-aircraft shells fired from the Mudchute, did not explode and embedded themselves deep in the soft Island earth.

The risk of encountering unexploded ordnance during construction on the Island is thus high, and all building firms are to this day required to carry out a risk assessment before building can even begin. Risk assessments offer no certainties, though, and explosive WWII leftovers are still uncovered during construction. Major finds on the Island – serious enough to require evacuation from a large area around the site – include a 1000 kg bomb found in 1988 and even a V-1 which was found off Marsh Wall in 2007.

Fifty years before that, in 1957, a 1,570 lb parachute mine was discovered by a PLA diver embedded in the mud at the bottom of the southwest corner of the West India Import Dock.

Location of parachute bomb

1950s Canary Wharf West India Docks (14)

In 1952, these gentlemen were walking past the parachute mine, just a few yards away. Untold ships moored there between the time that the parachute mine ‘landed’ and its discovery.

Here is the location in modern money (close to camera, in foreground)…..

Site of 1957 parachute mine find

Parachute mines were essentially heavy naval mines dropped by parachute on land targets. They were designed to detonate just above roof level, where the shock waves from the explosion would not be absorbed by surrounding buildings. Their explosive force was thus felt over a wider area; it was not uncommon for all buildings within a 100 yard radius to be destroyed, and windows blown in up to a mile away.

Unexploded parachute mine close to the Royal Docks in Canning Town.

On discovery of the parachute mine in West India Docks, the Royal Navy were called in to assist. In the following photo, the experts are conferring over their approach to its disposal, standing behind a ramshackle construction with flags and a light, warning ships to keep away – the type of construction that makes me proud to be British :).

Conference by warning flags and light. Ships in the dock were told not to use their propellers, and were only allowed to sail during the night because of the higher risk of detonation if the parachute mine was exposed to light.

Lieut. Commander Gordon Gutteridge, of HMS Vernon, the Mining and Torpedo Establishment at Portsmouth donned a frogman’s outfit and went down into the West India Dock to examine the parachute mine.

It was decided that the parachute mine would have to be defused while underwater as it would probably explode due to the change in pressure if it was first moved. The defusal would also have to take place in darkness.

Six naval frogmen took part in the work, and it took close to seven hours before the rusty fuse cover and the fuse itself could be removed, the final work carried out by Lieut. Commander M. Terrell.

Terrell (L) and Gutteridge (R) inspect the mine.

Gutteridge (L) and Terrell (R)

The mine is loaded into the back of a lorry.

‘Cor, I fancy a fag after that.

The parachute mine was transported to Shoeburyness where it was detonated in the Thames Estuary.

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Thames Portrait – From Westminster to Southend

Eileen Arbuthnot (aka Arnot) Robertson (1903-1961) was an English novelist, critic and broadcaster.

1931

Among her books was the 1937, “Thames Portrait”, based on a motor-boat trip from Lechdale in Gloucestershire to Southend, in which she tells stories of the places and people along the Thames. Liberally distributed throughout the book are photographs taken by a ‘H. E. Turner’, her husband about whom I can find little information.

The photos from Westminster to Southend are included here. I am thus drifting off my usual subject, the history of the Isle of Dogs, and I don’t usually post an article with only photographs (unless I do so by accident by pressing the ‘Publish’ button instead of ‘Save’ 🙂 ). However, the photos represent so well the hive of marine activity that was the Thames – and just two years before the outbreak of World War II – I could hardly not share them. Hope you enjoy them too….

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Westminster

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From Southwark Bridge

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Blackfriars

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‘St. Paul’s broods over the river’

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On London Bridge

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Dutch eel-boats (on Saturday), at Billingsgate

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Tower Bridge

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‘Loading in the Pool’

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‘Almost dead at low-water’

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Two hours before high-water, the Pool wakes up’

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Wapping

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‘The past looks at the present’ (is that Deptford Power Station?)

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Probably Millwall Docks, complete with Lascars.

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‘…an arduous business…’

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Woolwich Reach

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‘Woolwich Free Ferry Types’

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‘Dockland’s Children (“Skinny Liz”)’

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‘Brailing the mainsail’

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‘Barge menders’

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‘First of the ebb’

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‘The saddest sight on the Thames: the old men watching the young men work’

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‘Southend on Bank Holiday’

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‘The loveliest craft in our waters’

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‘Salt water’

 

 

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Lenanton’s

Lenanton’s timber firm was one of the longest-existing businesses on the Isle of Dogs. It was founded in 1864 and was still doing business in the 1990s, well after the docks had closed and when most everything else along the river had been demolished to make room for new apartments.

The founder of the firm, John Lenanton, was born in Portsmouth in 1834 to shipwright, Thomas Lenanton.

By 1864 he was a timber merchant and took over Batson’s Wharf, which was immediately south of the river end of Robert Street (named after Robert Batson, and later renamed Cuba Street). The business was a great success, and within 10 years the firm expanded southwards, absorbing Regent Wharf, just north of Regent (Dry) Dock.

1863

John Lenanton was awarded the freedom of the City of London in 1877, “admitted into the freedom of this City by Redemption in the Company of Shipwrights” (whatever that means).

The 1881 census reveals John to be the owner of a large house at 56 East India Dock Road where he lived with his wife Ellen and their children, his sister and her family, and two domestic servants. Ellen died in 1889, and John remarried. In 1901, John and his new wife Alice were living with one servant – the children had flown the coop – in the very well-to-do 1 Westcombe Park Road in Blackheath. (See also the article, Where the Other Half Lived: the Isle of Dogs & Blackheath Connection).

Modern London, 1888. Click on image for full-sized version.

Extent of Lenanton’s in 1895.  The pub on the corner of Cuba Street and Westferry Road was named Waterman’s Arms.

Most of the sheds shown in the previous map were destroyed by a large fire in 1900. An insurance map made shortly after the event shows what remained.

1900. Goad Insurance Map. “…originally produced to aid insurance companies in assessing fire risks. The building footprints, their use (commercial, residential, educational, etc.), the number of floors and the height of the building, as well as construction materials (and thus risk of burning) and special fire hazards (chemicals, kilns, ovens) were documented in order to estimate premiums. Names of individual businesses, property lines, and addresses were also often recorded.” British Library

John Lenanton died in 1917, leaving the business to be run by his sons.

In the late 1930s, Lenanton’s expanded again, taking over Regent’s Dry Dock, which they filled in.

Extent of Lenanton’s in the 1940s

Survey of London:

Extensive modernization was carried out. Plant and machinery for timber-handling and milling was electrified, using a DC supply from steam-powered generating plant. The principal buildings were now open sheds of steel and reinforced-concrete construction. A new neo-Georgian-style office block was built in 1937.

Because of the decline in Thames shipbuilding, less teak — used particularly for decking — was now held, and the firm specialized increasingly in softwoods.

1930s (Island History Trust)

1937. It appears from the photo that there are two church spires. Actually, they are both St. Luke’s – the photo is a montage of different originals. Click on image for full-size version.

1930s. A Lenanton’s lorry in Westferry Road, opposite the firm (Island History Trust)

1930s. Lenanton’s from the river. Morton’s is on the left, West India Dock Pier is in the foreground.

1937 (Island History Trust)

During WWII, Gerald Foy Ray Lenanton – grandson of John, and husband of writer Carola Oman – was appointed as Government ‘Timber Controller’, tasked with coordinating and ensuring the best use of timber in what was a time of reduced imports. In 1946 he was knighted for his efforts.

Gerald Foy Ray Lenanton

Lenanton’s, like many other buildings on the Island, suffered bomb damage during WWII. Arthur Sharpe, Auxiliary Fire Service (on BBC WW2 People’s War website):

The fire at Lenanton’s Wharf was some job. We climbed the crane with our hose to play down on the fire. There were three of us hanging onto the hose with a lot of water coming through. Finally we lashed the hose to the crane and got a breather. Suddenly a bomb dropped and the blast caught us. Down we came, unhurt but bloody frightened.

1948

Survey of London:

In the 1950s new concrete sheds were built, and extensive new plant, including vertical and horizontal log-sawing machines and an under-floor wood-refuse collecting system, was installed. The building construction was carried out by the firm’s own employees. Further improvements included redecoration of the entire premises to a uniform colour-scheme with blue for machinery, terracotta for ancillary equipment and stone colour for walls. In 1954–6 the office block was enlarged and remodelled and a works canteen was built above the entrance from Westferry Road.

1950s (Island History Trust)

1950s (Island History Trust)

1954

1950s. Lenanton’s Wharf. Children from St. Luke’s School Millwall, waiting for the royal yacht Britannia to pass with Queen Elizabeth II on board. Text and photo: Island History Trust

In 1958, Lenanton’s continued their expansion and acquired London and Oak Wharves, all but surrounding St. Luke’s School.

1968, St. Luke’s School was separated from the river by Lenanton’s yard. Photo: Hugo Wilhare

They also took over land on the other side of Westferry Road, between Manilla Street and Byng Street, on which they built new sheds.

Lenanton’s acquired and demolished St Luke’s school building in 1971 – the school moved to Saunders Ness Road in the same year. Lenanton’s replaced the school with a sheet-materials shed in 1973 – and renamed this section of their yard St. Luke’s Wharf.

1970s

1970s or 1980s?

1970s or 1980s?

The firm featured in a 1974 issue of Commercial Motor:

Economic activity in the Isle of Dogs has declined in parallel with the decline in waterborne freight transport. One of the firms I visited, John Lenanton and Son Ltd. timber merchants, has extensive premises backing onto the Thames. Small ship loads of timber are sometimes discharged from ship to the company’s own wharf but much packaged timber comes by road from Tilbury; it is consigned in such vast quantities from many producing areas as to make the use of small vessels impracticable.

Many of the drivers working from Isle of Dogs depots come considerable distances to work. Only two of about 20 drivers employed by John Lenanton live on the “Island”.

1970s

Mr A. A. Aston, transport manager at John Lenanton, complained that lorry drivers were as hard to get as vehicle spares! He has been two drivers short for a year and he sees no special urgency in hunting up spares for two 12 ton Scammell artics which are off the road, because of the known difficulty of recruiting drivers for them.

Lenanton has lost drivers to better paid employment and is constrained by membership of the Timber Trades Federation from bidding-up the wages of lorry drivers. The firm pays drivers a basic of £38.50 and drivers’ gross earnings are in the £40-£44 bracket, thanks to mileage and drop bonuses.

Although timber lorry drivers do not have the chances of pilferage that some road transport staffs do in other trades, the increased cost of timber, and its easy disposal, could tempt some drivers to supplement income in this way. Mr Aston said it was quite difficult to get other employers to furnish references for drivers but the company had had very little trouble over pilferage and in any case long service, trusted employees loaded the vehicles.

1980s. Photo: Tim Brown

1980. Lenanton’s from Strafford Street. The sheds are on the site of the former Regent Dry Dock. Photo: Connie Batten.

1980s. Photo: Peter Wright

1980s

1980s

1980s. Photo shows the expansion of Lenanton’s riverside premises over the years.

1987

From 1988, Lenanton’s and Seacon were beginning to be hemmed in by massive new residential and commercial developments on the Island.

1988

1989. Photo: Ken Lynn

1990

The writing was on the wall, and in the 1990s Lenanton’s closed, to be followed by the inevitable demolition and replacement with an apartment complex.

Photo: Jim O’Donnell

Photo: Peter Wright

What was built on the site of Lenanton’s. Photo: Peter Wright

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Hammond House Photo Album

Hammond House was built in 1937-38 on the eastern end of the former Universe Rope Works.

1895

Engineering works on former rope works site, cleared to make room for Hammond House, early 1930s

Engineering works on former rope works site, cleared to make room for Hammond House, early 1930s

Engineering works on former rope works site, cleared to make room for Hammond House, early 1930s

Survey of London

Hammond House consisted of three linked, four-storey, blocks of flats, built in 1937–8 for Poplar Borough Council and designed by Rees J. Williams, the Borough Engineer and Surveyor . When the lease held by the Millwall Engineering Company on the eastern third of the rope works site expired in 1937, the Council took possession of the land.

There were two threebedroom, 24 four-bedroom, and eight five-bedroom flats, plus four five-bedroom maisonettes. Some larger flats with four or five bedrooms were included to rehouse extra-large families living in overcrowded conditions, while the maisonettes seem to have been the first to be built by the Borough Council.

Hammond House shortly after opening.

Hammond House shortly after opening.

1953. Coronation Party. Island History Trust

1990s. Photo: Peter Wright

2000s. Photo: Peter Wright

2006. Photo: Peter Wright

2006. Photo: Con Maloney

2006. Photo: Con Maloney

2006. Photo: Con Maloney

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2011. Demolition

2011. Demolition

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Outside Christ Church – a Mainly Pictorial History

Christ Church was built during the second half of the 1850s to serve the recently started Cubitt Town development. At the time of its construction, there were only a few houses in the area: along Church Street, which connected Manchester Road to Stebondale street, and along Manchester Road itself. The church and the nearby Newcastle Arms must have been quite empty in the early years of Cubitt Town.

1863

Seven years later there were far more houses in the southern half of Cubitt Town. The junction of Church Street and Manchester Road – the subject of this article – would remain pretty much unchanged for the next seventy years, until the start of The Blitz.

1870

In the 1900s, the premises on both sides of Manchester Road south of the church were shops.

1900s

North of the church there were shops and houses on the west side, and the vicarage on the east side.

1900s

In 1891, Church Street became part of Newcastle Street, which before then ran from Manchester Road to Newcastle Draw Dock.

1895

Shops on the west side of Manchester Road during the 1900s included:

No. 153. Chandler’s Shop, Mrs. Lamont
No. 155. Greengrocer, Ernest May
No. 157. Bootmaker, Thomas Smith
No. 159. Newsagent’s, Alfred Morgan
No. 161. Laundry
No. 163. Confectioner, Ellen & Alice Dack
No. 165. Butcher, Arthur Partridge

And on the other side of the road:

No. 146. Butcher, Henry Thorn
No. 148. Toy Dealer, Samuel Spencer
No. 154. Dairy, Thomas Wakeling
No. 156. Fried Fish, Frederick Farrow

1910s. Newcastle Street (section leading to river), looking towards Manchester Road and the rest of Newcastle Street. Photo: Tony Clary.

Circa 1920. Manchester Road, opposite Christ Church on the corner of Newcastle Street. Clary’s Bicycle Repair and Gramophone Shop. (Photo: Tony Clary)

1929. Newcastle Street. Photo: Phyllis Holdstock

Newcastle Street was itself renamed Glengarnock Avenue in 1937, around the time that the following photo of the street was taken (view from Manchester Road). At that time, people took nowhere near as many photographs as today, but effort was usually made for weddings and other celebrations…

1930s. Newcastle Street / Glengarnock Avenue. Photo: Daisy Woodard

1930s. Bride and groom entering Christ Church. Newcastle Street / Glengarnock Avenue and Clary’s shop are in the background. (Island History Trust)

1919, opposite Christ Church. Going on an outing (Island History Trust)

1920s (estimated)

In the 1930s, the shops on the west side of Manchester Road included:

No. 153. Chandler’s Shop, Caroline Moriarty
No. 155. Greengrocer, Ernest May
No. 157. Boot & Shoe Repairs, Albert Street
No. 159. Newsagent’s, Alfred Morgan
No. 161. Cycle Agent, Albert Clary
No. 163. Confectioner, George Selby

As mentioned in many of my blog articles, World War II changed everything. In particular the west side of Manchester Road near Christ Church was heavily damaged (it’s amazing that a building as prominent as the Church itself, with its narrow spire, suffered only light damage). In this 1950 map, the free-standing buildings are prefabs which were built on the site of destroyed houses and shops.

1950

Circa 1950. Photo: Island History Trust

Circa 1950. Boy Scouts opposite Christ Church. Photo: Maureen Knight.

Late 1940s, opposite Christ Church Vicarage, with prefabs and Parsonage Street Orlit houses in the background.

Outside Christ Church. 1953. The bridesmaids at the wedding of Brenda Dow and David Mulford. Left to right: Shirley Dow (in apple green); Margaret Mulford and Peggy Dow (both in lavender). The bouquets were horseshoes of sea lavender and carnations. Onlooker, Mr Brotherwood of Mellish Street.. Text and photo: Island History Trust

Circa 1950. Neighbours watching a wedding group outside Christ Church. Photo: Elsey Family

1950s

1920s (estimate)

1920s (estimate)

1959 Manchester Road Glenis Franklin outside her house at 149 Manchester Road

1960. Island History Trust

Tremain’s fish shop. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Tremain

Tremain’s fish shop. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Tremain

Tremain’s fish shop. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Tremain

Circa 1960. Photo: B. Bennett

Year and origin unknown. Prob. circa 1950s

1968. Photo: Hugo Wilhare

1970. Edie’s Cafe, 148 Manchester Road.

The late 1960s saw major changes for the area: clearance of the prefabs and surviving premises on the west side of Manchester Road, followed by first the construction of the Schooner Estate, and then the flats in the area bounded by Glengarnock Avenue, Stebondale Street, Seyssel Street and Manchester Road. The construction of the latter involved blocking Glengarnock Avenue at Manchester Road (the river section was then renamed Glenaffric Avenue).

Circa 1970

1969

Circa 1970. Island History Trust

Circa 1968

1970s

1970s. Stephen Bezzina, Robert Naylor, don’t know, don’t know, Micky Battley.

1977-ish. Mark Fairweather, Mick Lemmerman

1977-ish. Stephen Bezzina, Mark Fairweather, Ricky Newark

The second half of the 1970s saw the closure and demolition of the premises on the east side of the road to make room for the new George Green’s School.

Late 1970s. Photo origin not known.

Late 1970s. Photo: Clare Dunchow

Late 1970s. Merge of two Pat Jarvis photos.

1982

1982

1980s

1980s

Circa 1980

1983

1980s. Photo: Peter Wright

1980s. Ada Price walking towards the Island Resource Centre.

1980s. Ada Price about to enter the Island Resource Centre.

c1985. Prospects TV Series

c1985. Prospects TV Series

In the late 1990s or early 2000s (I’m not sure when), new flats and houses were built in Glenaffric Avenue, and in the long-derelict area where Tremain’s chip shop and Bob Olding’s hairdressers were.

2008

Circa 2010

In 2013, new flats were also built in the corner of Manchester Road and Glengarnock Avenue.

2013

2013

2013

The only view which has remained more or less unchanged since 1860 is that of Christ Church.

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