Roffey and Cubitt Houses – A Largely Pictorial History

The Greenwood Housing Act of 1930 encouraged the large-scale clearance of slums and poor quality housing. Its full title:

An Act to make further and better provision with respect to the clearance or improvement of unhealthy areas, the repair or demolition of insanitary houses and the housing of persons of the working classes; to amend the Housing Act, 1925, the Housing, etc., Act, 1923, the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1924, and the other enactments relating to housing subsidies; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.

One important feature of this act was that housing subsidies were calculated on the number of people rehoused not the number of properties demolished or built. Poplar Borough Council and the London County Council – like other administrative organisations throughout the country – maximised their subsidies by building blocks of flats. On the Isle of Dogs this led to the construction of – amongst others – Hammond House, Dunbar House, the Westferry Estate in Cahir Street and the Millwall Estate near Kingsbridge.

All these flats were built on land which had been cleared of slums or factories. Two other  blocks of flats, however, were built on land which had never previously been developed: Roffey House and Cubitt House, built in 1933 on land around Judkin Street, nestled between the Millwall Dock boundary fence and East Ferry Road.

Judkin Street area in 1916. Roffey Street was built at the same time as Roffey House later.

Survey of London:

[They were] typical examples of the Borough Council’s 1930s ‘modern’ style … Each block contained 24 flats (12 two-bedroom and 12 three-bedroom dwellings). They were of four storeys, the external walls were in red brick with the top storey rendered, and the floor levels were delineated by concrete horizontal bands. Almost continuous concrete balconies with solid balustrades ran along one elevation, interrupted by two brick staircase towers with strong verticals.

Surnames of some of the earliest residents, according to 1939 Electoral Register:

One of these residents, Lydia Ellen Jane Laing, aged 45, at No. 12, was killed on 10th May 1941 (one of London’s worst nights of bombing during WWII) when Roffey House was seriously damaged.

Roffey House after clearance of rubble and sections damaged beyond repair. Photo taken by William Whiffin on behalf of Poplar Borough Council.

Roffey House after clearance of rubble and sections damaged beyond repair. Photo taken by William Whiffin on behalf of Poplar Borough Council.

Late 1940s. Roffey House after repairs. Photo: Poplar Borough Council

Late 1940s. Roffey House after repairs. Photo: Poplar Borough Council

The following post-War aerial image gives a good idea of the extent of the damage to the area. Virtually all pre-War terraced housing has either been cleared or is derelict, and the area was characterised by a large number of prefabs.

Late 1940s. Roffey House was, like Cubitt House, built with a pitched-roof. However, post-War shortages of building materials meant it was repaired with a flat roof.

Cubitt House in 1953. Photo: Island History Trust

1950s. Looking from Roffey House towards Cubitt House. Photo: Island History Trust

1963

Cubitt House in the 1970s. Photo: Island History Trust

Outside Roffey House in the 1970s. Photo: Island History Trust

1970s

In the early 1980s, Roffey House and Cubitt House were closed, scheduled for demolition. A handful of residents remained after others had been rehoused, while other flats were squatted.

The almost empty buildings were for a short while popular as the location for a couple of TV programmes – The Prospects and The Bill – and one of the flats was occupied by members of the heavy metal band, Iron Maiden, who used the building as a backdrop in one of their videos. A couple of screenshots follow, but at end of this article are links to videos on YouTube where you can see these and other scenes filled on the Island.

The Bill

Iron Maiden video

The Bill

Prospects

Prospects

Not much later, in circa 1988, the flats were boarded up once and for all, and the buildings demolished.

Cubitt House

Cubitt House

Roffey House. Photo: Ken Lynn

The site of Roffey and Cubitt Houses in 2019

ON FILM…..

 

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The Chapel House on the Isle of Dogs

The following is a detail from Joel Gascoyne’s 1793 map of the “Parish of St Dunstan, Stepney, alias Stebunheath” showing the marshy peninsula that made up the south of the parish.

In keeping with other early maps, Gascoyne’s map names the Isle of Dogs as only a small area compared to how we now know it. At its centre is “The Chappell”, built on what was then the highest area of the Island – higher than the high tide of the Thames and thus not prone to flooding. Before the construction of the river banks (or ‘walls’) this area was literally an island in the Thames at high tide.

Its dry situation meant not only that it could be built upon but that trees would grow there, as can be seen in this c1680 painting made at the top of the hill in Greenwich Park by Dutch painter, Johannes Vorstermans (anglicized as John or Jan Vorsterman).

Greenwich and London from One Tree Hill, Johannes Vorsterman

Little is known about the chapel or church at the site. In 1901, Walter Besant in his ‘East London’ described a visit to the Isle of Dogs:

Half a century ago this island was not only absolutely destitute of the great manufacturing  establishments which now belong to it, but it was  almost entirely without inhabitants. The only  points of interest it possessed were the ruins of an ancient chapel, whose origin was shrouded in mystery, and its singularly rich pasture-land,  which was celebrated for curing horses and cattle of distemper.

The Survey of London (Athlone Press):

The earliest reference to a chapel in the marsh dedicated to St Mary dates from 1380. This chapel may have been the old one, or perhaps a new chapel of ease [a chapel for parishioners who lived too far from the parish church] had been erected for the marsh-dwellers.

The Survey of London says also that this was likely the site of a small hamlet, with up to 80 inhabitants. However…

On Lady Day 1449 the river burst through the wall opposite Deptford, and it was almost certainly this flood which led to the hamlet’s abandonment.

On later maps, ‘The Chappell’ became the ‘Chapel House’, a collection of farm buildings with neat rows of plants and trees. Chapel House Street and Estate are named after the farm.

1797

Tantalizingly, the Survey of London, suggests there may once have been a substantial manor house south of the Chapel House:

The house seems to have occupied a moated site – no doubt that of the ruined manor house – south of the Chapel House. Of unknown date, it may have incorporated the old structure to a greater or lesser extent. Norden’s Map of Middlesex (1593) shows the house [named as Isle of Dogs Ferm] as having the status of a gentleman’s or knight’s residence.

The farm was mentioned in a couple of news articles, the first published in 1821, and the second in 1865 (when much of the Island was still farmland):

1821-07-14 Chapel House Farm - The Morning Chronicle Sat Jul 14 1821

1865-06-03 150 yards handicap race at Chapel House Farm

Remains of the chapel were still visible in the late 1850s, and this sketch was made just before the buildings were demolished and cleared to make room for Millwall Docks (opened in 1868)

1857

If you are curious about where the chapel was, its location is shown on Ordnance Survey maps: under the water of Millwall Docks Graving (or Dry) Dock:

1950

Under the water of what is now known as Clipper’s Quay:

c1988

Its elevated position is obvious if you stand close by in East Ferry Road, more commonly known by me and other Islanders as Farm Road!

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Merged old and new photos of the Isle of Dogs

I’ve been making some merges of old and new photos of the Isle of Dogs. Already posted on Twitter (https://twitter.com/IoDThenAndNow) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/theiodthenandnow), I thought I’d collect them and also post them here for readers who might not have seen them. I didn’t realise I had made so many in so short a time – I need to get out more 🙂

The Blue Bridge and its predecessor (old image dated 1949)

Ghostly figures from a 1900s postcard superimposed on the same location on a 2020 image. On the right, Mellish Street.

The Lord Nelson in the early 1900s

1857 photo of the construction of the Great Eastern taken from over the water, to scale on a 2014 photo.

West India Docks main gate in the 1950s and recently.

A 1957 outing for pensioners, given by Ted Tarbard, landlord of The George. (Old Photo: Tarbard Family).

Walking home along The Walls in the 1930s

1960s/2010s mix-up

The start of the 1954 Dockland Settlement Island Road Race. I don’t know which distance they are running, but one course involved running to the end of East Ferry Road, around the Queen, and back down Manchester Road to East Ferry Road before returning to Dockland Settlement, a distance of 2 miles. (Old photo: Island History Trust)

The Fire Brigade Station Isle of Dogs (as it was then named), shortly after opening in 1904. It was the replacement for an earlier building which was constructed in 1877.

Members of the North Greenwich Bowls Club in Island Gardens in about 1910 (old photo: Island History Trust). The club moved to a new green and clubhouse in Millwall Park next to the Dockland Settlement in circa 1960. The old photo shows a glimpse of Osborne House – a grand villa which was originally intended to be one of many built in the later Island Gardens (see this article for more information: https://islandhistory.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/island-gardens/)

St Cuthbert’s Church on the corner of Cahir Street and Westferry Road, destroyed by bombing on 7th September 1940, the first night of The Blitz.

Westferry Road at the corner of Ferry Street (photo taken from outside the fire station). Another in the series of great photos taken by Hugo Wilhare in and around 1968 (more here: https://islandhistory.wordpress.com/2019/03/16/a-walk-round-the-isle-of-dogs-in-1968-then-now-part-ii-manchester-road-mostly/)

A little bit of Manchester Road in the 1900s

Kids outside Arethusa House in the year of its opening, 1936.

St Edmund’s Church around 1910. Plagued with problems with its foundations since its opening in 1874, the original church was demolished and replaced in the late 1990s. This image is a double merge, if you look closely enough.

On 23 October 1976, 13 Parsonage Street was destroyed in a gas explosion. Fortunately, the residents, Rose and Charles Wright, had just popped round the shops and were not home at the time. My family was at home, in flats out of view to the left of this photo. The ear-deafening blast blew our locked front door open (without damaging the door or frame, which is odd – I am guessing that the shockwave briefly warped the door and frame). Old image courtesy of Marie Swarray, new image dated 2009.

Circa 1950, men standing outside The George waiting for the call-on at Millwall Docks.

Kingsbridge

Dunbar House, Tiller Road. Opened in 1932 and demolished in 1976. For the history of the flats, see here: https://islandhistory.wordpress.com/2021/01/28/dunbar-house/. Old photo: Gary Wood.

The ghost of the Glass Bridge.

There is almost half a centrury between these two merged photos of the Quarterdeck.

St Luke’s Church viewed from Strafford Street. Opened in 1870, the church was seriously damaged during WWII and was demolished in about 1960.

Thames sailing barges near the leadworks in 1930.

Quarterdeck

Powell’s Bakery, 116 Manchester Road (old photo taken in 1968 by Hugo Wilhare).

Post-WWI peace party in Ferry Street. Old photo: Island History Trust.

The Isle of Dogs Police Station at 126 Manchester Road. Built in 1865, it was demolished in about 1973 to make room for the construction of George Green’s School. Old photo, 1968: Hugo Wilhare.

1946. Some of the prefabs along Stebondale Street. The sign with the “S” on it points to the WWII shelter under the arches. Prefabs were meant to be a temporary solution to the post-war housing problem; those in Stebondale Street were occupied until c1970. Article here: https://islandhistory.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/island-prefabs/

Stan & Lou Salmon’s shop at 62 Mellish Street (old photo circa 1960, courtesy of Sandra Brentnall).

The London City Mission at 3 Glengall Road (later Grove) in 1924. Opened in 1880, the large building (it included a 400-seat assembly hall) was destroyed by WWII bombing. A new building on the site is now occupied by the Glengall Christian Centre.

1901 construction of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel Building.

The remains of Cumberland Oil Mills in 1982. Opened in the 1850s, the buildings were among the oldest on the Isle of Dogs. Much was damaged by fire in the late 1970s and the site was occupied by a scrap yard before all was cleared to make room for the Cumberland Mills housing development (I guess they dropped the “Oil” to make the name more attractive). Article here: https://islandhistory.wordpress.com/2019/09/07/cumberland-oil-mills/

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The V2 Rocket Strike on the Isle of Dogs

Towards the end of World War II, in September 1944, the German Wehrmacht commenced launching V2 rockets (mostly) against London and Antwerp. Known in German as Vergeteltungswaffe 2 (‘Retribution’ or ‘Vengeance’ Weapon 2), the supersonic missile was intended as a retaliation for the Allied bombings against German cities, but Hitler hoped also, forelornly, that it – and other new weapons – would turn the tide of the war in the Nazis’ favour.

V2 test launch at Peenemünde, Germany.

Travelling at more than 5,500 km/h at the peak of its trajectory (and at more than 2,500 km/h on impact) there was no way to intercept and destroy a V2 rocket once launched. Its supersonic speed meant also that there was no warning of an impending impact, no air raid warnings that an attack was expected. The warhead contained close to 1000 kg of high explosives. Wikipedia:

A scientific reconstruction carried out in 2010 demonstrated that the V-2 creates a crater 20 metres (66 feet) wide and 8 metres (26 feet) deep, ejecting approximately 3,000 tons of material into the air.

From September 1944 to March 1945, 1,358 V2s hit London, resulting in 2,754 deaths and 6,523 injured.

Aftermath of a direct hit on Woolworth’s, New Cross on 25th November 1944. 160 were killed and 108 seriously injured.

Having a range of 320 km (200 miles), and the coasts of Northern France and Belgium already in Allied hands, the majority of V2 launching sites were along the North Sea coast of The Netherlands. In December 1944 Dutch resistance reported that rockets had been transported to the Haagse Bos, a wooded recreational area which borders the centre of The Hague (Den Haag).

Allied reconnaissance photo of V2 rockets in the Haagse Bos. (Source: v2rocket.com)

At 01:28 on 24th March 1945, a V2 rocket was launched from the Haagse Bos, aimed at Poplar. Emergency Services reported that at 01:31 it hit Ovex Wharf off Stewart Street on the Isle of Dogs, destroying what was left of the already bomb-damaged wharf (the times are not precise; the rocket took about 5 minutes to travel from The Hague to the Island).

1939 (Map: Mick Lemmerman)

I have not found any reports of casualties caused by the V2 strike. Probably there were none due to it being the early hours on an industrial site. Other areas of East London were less fortunate. Three days later, on the 27th, a rocket launched by the battalion responsible for the Ovex Wharf V2 (Battalion 3./485) hit Hughes Mansions in Vallance Road, killing 134 people.

Hughes Mansions, Vallance Road

This was the last V2 to fall on London. In the following days, V2 battalions in the Haagse Bos retreated to Germany to avoid the approaching Allied forces.

As for Ovex Wharf, it was taken over by ship-repairing and engineering firm, Rye Arc Welding Company, who constructed a range of new buildings on the derelict site. They left in 1973 and now housing occupies the site.

Circa 1946

Former Ovex Wharf in about 1970

I went on a walk through the Haagse Bos and close-by Wassenaar not that long ago. At the time I had no real idea of its WWII history (it was not only a V2 launching site, it was an integral part of the ‘Atlantic Wall’) until I started encountering concrete bunkers and other remains. It’s a pretty and peaceful place; hard to imagine a missile being launched from these woods and then exploding on the Island five minutes later.

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The PLA Police Office in West India Docks

Until 1908, the Port of London docks were owned and run by separate companies who competed with each other for business – competition which was detrimental to their interests (they nearly all ran at a loss at the time), and damaging for Britain’s trade with the rest of the world.

The Port of London Act 1908 changed this, amalgamating the various dock companies, removing the competition, and creating the Port of London Authority which was given responsibility for the corporate governance and operations of all enclosed docks along the Thames (apart from Regent’s Canal Dock in Limehouse).

A consequence of this amalgamation was the merging of the various dock company police forces into a single PLA Police Force of more than 500 men who…

…were responsible for the protection of London’s commercial docks and had powers to stop and search people in the Docks and on docked ships. They dealt with criminal and accidental cases as well as giving assistance for state visits.
(Museum of London Docklands Website)

Dock policeman searching a worker (year unknown, but probably late 1800s). I think this photo is on display at the Museum of London Docklands and that’s where I took a photo of it.

The West India Docks were chosen as the site for the Chief Police Office, but at the time the location’s only police office was a small room in the corner of the Dock Offices (now known as the Ledger Building).

Illustration and plan: Survey of London (Athlone Press)

Therefore, a new building was built close by (opening in 1914). Survey of London:

C. R. S. Kirkpatrick designed a two-storey building, erected in 1914 by L. & W. Whitehead at a cost of £3,097. The Police Offices are of red engineering brick, with stone dressings and a steel-trussed and slate-covered hipped roof. The entrance is in the left side of a quadrastyle Doric portico, probably conceived as an echo of the hexastyle porticoes to the early nineteenth-century Customs and Excise office buildings near by.

Former Chief Police Office

Above the portico is the emblem of the Port of London Authority Police…

PLA Police emblem (this one was ‘lifted’ from the badge on a policeman’s helmet)

Dock workers walking towards the main gate, with the police office on the left. A screenshot from a short news film that was probably made in the late 1920s (on the right the Hibbert Gate is just visible, and this was demolished in 1932).

1937 A photo taken from the balcony of the police office – PLA police officers on parade. In the background, the wider entrance to the north quay as a result of the demolition of the Hibbert Gate.

From 1954 the building was no longer the Chief Police Office, but was given over to Divisional Police staff (Survey of London).

1960s

In 1981–3 it was converted to offices, with a caretaker’s flat, as part of the Cannon Workshops scheme (Survey of London).

1989

 

More recently, the building has been a hotel (which appears to have recently gone out of business).

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The Demolition of the Isle of Dogs – A Photo Album

After WWII whole Island neighbourhoods were cleared to make room for new housing estates, and after the closure of the docks in 1980 virtually all industrial and dock buildings were wiped away. There was a lot of empty space on the Island at the start of the 80s, as this 1982 aerial photo shows…

Click for full-size version

Outside of the docks, though, there are very few images of the demolition of buildings and structures which for decades had played important roles in the lives of many Islanders. The Queen pub, the original St Edmund’s Church, Kingsbridge Arms, the original Tooke Arms, Christ Church Hall, the Police Station in Manchester Road, the Princess of Wales (Macs), Cubitt Town Primitive Church, the Victorian houses that survived the War, Hawkins & Tipson’s Ropeworks, Kingsbridge, Capstan House, Leslie’s Café, Cubitt House, Roffey House – I can name many more – they all seemed to have disappeared quickly and without any photographic record of their demise.

I suppose that those who were redeveloping the sites were only looking forward to the new buildings and had no interest in what was there before, no interest in what was being demolished. And local residents? Perhaps the demolitions were not worth wasting valuable film on (the later introduction of digital cameras changed all that – recent demolitions have been exhaustively photographed – especially by friends Peter Wright and Con Maloney).

Anyway, here in this article are some of the rare demolition photos that I have come across in the last few years, arranged in chronological order.

1950s. St John’s Church, Roserton Street. Built in the 1870s, the church was damaged seriously enough during WWII for it to be abandoned (services were continued in the church hall across the road).

Early 1960s. The row of shops and houses in Manchester Road (opposite the Police Station). This row was not too badly damaged during WWII, but it and other buildings in the area were cleared to make room for the Schooner Estate. The image above is a merge of two photos courtesy of Christine Coleman and shows where Galleon House would later be built. In the background, the prefabs in Glengarnock Avenue and the rear of Parsonage Street houses beyond them.

Circa 1960, St Luke’s Church. A similar story to that of St John’s (above) – built in 1870 and sufficiently damaged during WWII for it to be abandoned, with services continuing in the adjacent hall. Article here. Photo: John Salmon.

1960s. Manchester Road, diagonally opposite The Queen (from where the photo was taken). These houses at the corner of Stewart Street were amongst the few along this stretch of Manchester Road that survived WWII. Photo: Island History Trust.

1960s Seyssel Street. Close to the corner with Stebondale Street, the demolition of houses to make room for new blocks of flats (the flats which surround Parsonage Street, Billson Street and Kingfield Street). Photo: Island History Trust.

1970. Central Granary, Millwall Docks. The Central Granary was the principal granary of the Port of London and a vital part of London’s grain trade until 1969, when the opening of the Tilbury Grain Terminal made it redundant. Article here.

1970s. St Luke’s School, Westferry Road. The school opened in 1865 and in 1971 it transferred to the former Cubitt Town School building in Saunders Ness Road. The original St Luke’s School building was demolished and its site absorbed into Lenanton’s. Article here. Photo: Peter Wright

1974. Rye Arc, Stewart Street. Ship-repairers and engineers, Rye Arc, took over Ovex Wharf immediately after the War (during which the wharf was largely destroyed, suffering also a V1-strike). Photo: Jan Traylen

1976. Dunbar House, Tiller Road. Built in 1932. Article here. Photo: Gary Wood.

1980s. Millwall Wharf, Manchester Road. Most of the wharf’s buildings were demolished, but those warehouses along the riverside were grade II listed and are some of the few old industrial buildings still remaining on the Isle of Dogs. Article here.

1980s. Pfizer, Westferry Road. The location, Atlas Wharf, was used by chemical firms from the start of the 1800s. In the early 1960s the site was acquired by Pfizer Ltd, who mainly manufactured citric acid there. Photo: Dee Bennett.

1983. Glass Bridge. Opened in 1965 and provided pedestrian access across Millwall Docks, from Tiller Road to Glengall Grove. Article here. Photo: Mike Seaborne

1983. Glass Bridge. Article here.

1985. McDougall’s flour silo. McDougall’s operated in Millwall Docks from the year after their opening in 1868. The silo, visible from all over the Island, was constructed in the 1930s. Article here. Photo: Mike Seaborne.

1985. McDougall’s flour silo. Article here.

1986. Morton’s. Opened in 1872, Morton’s was for a time one of the largest employers on the Island, and is also known as the birthplace of Millwall F.C. From the 1950s, when Morton’s was acquired by Beecham, the Millwall factory was gradually run down. Article here. Photo: Gary O’Keefe.

1986. Morton’s viewed from Westferry Road. Article here. Photo: Pat Jarvis.

1987. Canary Wharf, West India Docks. Built for Fred Olsen & Co. at West India Docks in the 1930s, and named to reflect the company’s significant fruit trade with the Canary Islands. Article here. Photo: Museum of London, Docklands.

1989. Rum Quay Warehouse (occupied by Limehouse Studios from 1983), West India Docks.

1990s. Lenanton’s, Westferry Road. Lenanton’s timber firm was one of the longest-existing businesses on the Isle of Dogs. It was founded in 1864 and survived until almost the end of the 20th Century. Article here. Photo: Jim O’Donnell.

2000. Tate & Lyle. Alpha Grove. The western extent of Millwall Docks land, running adjacent with Alpha Road/Grove was known as Broadway Works. A series of sugar manufacturing companies operated at the works, concluding with Tate & Lyle. Photo: Peter Wright.

2000s. Seacon. The freight firm (specialising in transport of steel) built two terminals on the site, the first of which was completed in 1976. Article here. Photo: Paul Albon.

2000s. Westwood, Harbinger Road.  Westwood’s had their origins in the firm started in 1856 by Joseph Westwood (and others) at London Yard, Manchester Road. The firm was wound up in 1971. Article here. Photo: Peter Wright.

Circa 2010. Morton’s, Cuba Street. Article here. Photo: Brian Grover.

2010s. Boropex, Westferry Road. The land east of the corner with Chapel House Street originally was used by a series of engineering companies (most notably, Matthew T Shaw) but was largely empty/derelict for many years before its demolition. Photo: Peter Wright.

2011. Hammond House, Tiller Road. Hammond House was built in 1937-38 on the eastern end of the former Universe Rope Works which used to dominate Glengall Road/Grove before it was itself demolished. Article here. Photo: Peter Wright.

2013. Dockland Settlement, East Ferry Road. Opened in 1923 in the premises of the former Welcome Institute. Largely demolished to make room for Canary Wharf College. Article here. Photo: Peter Wright

2013. Tobago Street warehouse. Article here.

2014. St Luke’s Church, Alpha Grove. The second church on the site, built to replace the bomb-damaged original church (see above). Article here. Photo: Peter Wright.

2016. Nos. 2-6 East Ferry Road. The illegal demolition of three Victorian ‘cottages’ at the north west end of East Ferry Road. Despite attempts by the council to reverse the demolition, or at least punish the perpetrators, the courts rules that no action would be taken (article about court decision here). Photo: Peter Wright.

2018. City Arms (later renamed City Pride), Westferry Road. Opened in 1811 at the western end of the City Canal and rebuilt in the 1930s, the pub remained closed and empty for some years before its demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2019. Manilla Street. Old warehouses opposite the North Pole pub. Photo: Con Maloney

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Miss Price and The Welcome Institute for Working Girls

In 1892 philanthropist Jean Warrender Price (1859-1942) took over a former oil and paint shop at 333 Westferry Road in order to be able to provide lunchtime meals and shelter to local working girls.

1892. Location of 333 Westferry Road

Survey of London:

Cheap hot meals were the mainstay of the Institute’s work, served to anything between 70 and 170 girls a day. In addition to informal counselling, classes were held in dressmaking, cooking and bible study, while a grand Christmas supper (to which young men could be invited) provided a highlight to the girls’ year.

Price was one of a small number of philanthropists devoting time to helping the Island’s poor. To be able to carry out her work she relied heavily on funds and donations solicited from churches, charitable groups and other philanthropists. Some local business owners could be called upon to donate or help, but these were the exceptions rather than the rule (virtually all large business owners did not live on the Island, and most would have nothing to do with the place).

1897

On 21st May 1897, “Miss Jean Price” was interviewed by social-reformer Charles Booth in the course of his groundbreaking survey into working-class life in London at the end of the 19th century (see this article for some of the results of his research on the Island).

Extract of Booth’s 1897 interview with Jean Price.

He described her as*…

…a bright, cheery, and eminently sensible little woman. She is a keen high churchwoman and lays great stress on the religious side of her work; none of the work must be entirely secular; efforts must be made to fit all to the church or to [illegible]; it is a mistake to carry on such work on purely secular lines. At the same time I could see no signs of any thrusting of religion upon the girls during my two nights.

* I find Booth’s handwriting occasionally difficult to read. Any transcription mistakes are my own.

Miss Price told Booth that when the Institute first opened it was almost impossible to get the girls to eat wholesome food; they would have nothing but cake, cheesecakes, and pastry. And…

…owing chiefly to this food they all looked pasty and anaemic – wiser habits have effected a great change in their appearance. With one or two exceptions they now certainly looked wonderfully healthy.

The girls were summed up by Booth as being of the regular factory type, though much more decent in their behaviour, and none badly dressed. They were apparently devoted to Miss Price, who found them quiet and orderly. She thought it notable that the girls could rarely be induced to play games, but they would have a sing if the mood was right.

One of Miss Price’s co-workers told Booth a ‘curious story’ which he felt illustrated the feeling of ‘this class’ on the question of death:

One of the girls was dying; her friends in the club who when told that there was no hope of her recovery clubbed together to buy a wreath for her coffin; they were exceedingly anxious that she should live long enough to see it and by permission of the doctor went with it to her room. She was immensely pleased and touched.

Between its opening and Booth’s visit, the work of the Institute had expanded to include – in addition to the lunchtime meals and shelter:

  • club for young girls meeting twice a week;
  • club for factory girls, twice a week;
  • mother’s meeting club;
  • provident bank;
  • coffee tavern.

The building was too small for such so much activity. Booth observed that, when it was busy, some girls would have to dine on the stairs and in the kitchen. He also wrote:

This is all held in a building of inadequate dimensions in the West Ferry Road. In the front is the Coffee Tavern, above which Miss Price and two other ladies live; at the back is the club room, a barn-like structure, long and narrow.

The building was also, like many others in the area, quite dilapidated. Revd. Free of nearby St Cuthbert’s Church described it as a little old-fashioned house, poor and badly built. The neighbourhood was renowned for its slum housing, and was prone to frequent flooding (the water often polluted by oil and other chemicals from local firms). One of Booth’s ‘Poverty Maps’ depicted the area as follows:

Booth Poverty Map and Legend. The Welcome Institute is highlighted.

In 1904, Miss Price decided that it was time to move to larger and better premises, and letters were written to newspapers to seek donations for the construction of a building somewhere on the Island.

The Times, 1st December 1904

In 1905 enough money had been raised to build new premises on a piece of undeveloped land nestled between East Ferry Road and the arches of the Millwall Extension Railway, immediately to the right of the entrance to Millwall Athletic’s football ground.

Survey of London:

The site was leased from Lady Margaret Charteris for 99 years at a rent of ten guineas a year. The small [construction] budget did not allow for much architectural display, and the facade is severely plain neo-Georgian in style. The ground floor originally contained a common dining-hall and a small dining-room, served by a kitchen and ancillary wing at the rear of the entrance lobby. The coal-house and lavatories formed a separate block at the back of this wing. On the other side, a second, larger, wing contained an assembly room, with a platform at one end. Staff quarters were placed on the first floor. The bay to the right of the street entrance was originally a single storey.

Foundation Stone. Photo taken in 1974 by Jan Traylen.

The following photo shows the Welcome Institute in 1905, the year of its opening. Most readers will immediately recognize the building as the premises of the later Dockland Settlement.

1905

Miss Price carried on working at the Welcome Institute until her retirement in 1923, at which time the Institute was closed and the building handed over to the Dockland Settlement organisation. Later, a statue was placed on the chapel staircase to commemorate her years of devoted service.

Commemorative statue of Jean Price. Photo: Island History Trust

Jean Price retired to Bath, where she died in June 1942. Her gravestone and memorial can be found at St Mary the Virgin, Bathwick–Smallcombe Cemetery (plot G.J.22). The memorial reads:

In Memory of
MISS JEAN PRICE
PIONEER AND FOUNDER OF
THE WELCOME INSTITUTE, ISLE OF DOGS
KNOWN AS DOCKLAND No 2
SHE SPENT HER LIFE
IN THE SERVICE OF OTHERS.
DIED RESPECTED AND BELOVED BY ALL WHO KNEW HER
ON JUNE 28TH 1942

“HE GIVETH HIS BELOVED SLEEP.”

If you are in the area, why not go pay your respects to someone who selflessly did so much for Island girls and women?

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The Corner of Chapel House Street and Westferry Road

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

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

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

1870.

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

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

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

1890

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

18th November 1896. The Morning Post.

1900. Chas E Goad Insurance Plan. British Library.

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

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

Early 1900s

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

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

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

c1920. Island History Trust

Burnett’s

Survey of London:

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

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

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

The Ship Public House

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

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

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

Maconochies

James Maconochie (1850-1895) and Archibald Maconochie (1854-1926) were two of eight siblings born in England to Edinburgh-born Archibald Maconochie Sr. and Elizabeth Richardson from Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire. The brothers’ first business was a fish-curing factory in Lowestoft, started in 1873. The business was a great success and it expanded to include food processing, packaging and canning, and they were one of the largest employers in the town.

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

WWI Rations

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

1934

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

1930

1930. 425 Westferry Road. Island History Trust

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

1935. Outside The Ship

1930s. Island History Trust

1935. Island History Trust

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

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

1930s

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

1940s. 413 Westferry Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1980s. Photo: Mike Seaborne

1984-ish. Screenshot from the TV series, Prospects

1984-ish. Screenshot from the TV series, Prospects

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

Some Comparisons With Present-Day Views

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

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Union Dock

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

1745

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

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

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

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

Survey of London:

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

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

1881

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

1916

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survey of London:

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

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

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

1937

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

c1950

c1950

Survey of London:

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

1970s

1980s

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

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

1991

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

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

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

c1890

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

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

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

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

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

And here I added some lines and annotations for highlighting…

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

This is today’s view, by the way….

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