The earliest recorded camera photographs were taken in the 1830s, with the first generally-accepted photograph to include people taken in 1838 (“Boulevard du Temple”, a daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre in Paris). In the next couple of decades the technology improved rapidly, and by 1850, cameras – although bulky – were mobile enough to transport to different locations to take photos of street and city scenes.
The very first photo of the Isle of Dogs that I’m aware of was taken from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich around 1855. Actually, it wasn’t intended as a photo of the Island – the main subject was the Royal Naval College and Hospital at the foot of the hill – but I was fascinated by what I could see in the background: a largely empty Isle of Dogs with just a few buildings along the riverfront.
A few buildings were immediately recognisable: the recently constructed Christ Church and Newcastle Arms (later Watermans Arms) on the left, and Cumberland Oil Mills and Newcastle Draw Dock to their right. However, the angle of the shot and the lack of other recognisable landmarks made it difficult at first to work out what was what. This was, after all, just a short few years after the construction of Manchester Road, which had virtually no buildings along it at the time. With much head scratching and Googling, however, things fell into place.
Two or three years later, the spectacle that was the construction of the Great Eastern at J. Scott-Russell’s yard, north of the later Burrell’s Wharf (see From Millwall to the Kop) attracted numerous photographers to the area, many working on behalf of journals or newspapers of the time.
1858. Isambard Kingdom Brunel posing in front of Great Eastern’s chains, built by Island firm Brown, Lenox & Co…..Embed from Getty Images
1858. The Great Eastern under construction….Embed from Getty Images
1863. John Stewart’s, Blackwall Ironworks….Embed from Getty Images
1865. James Ash & Co. North of Pier Street, which once extended to the river….Embed from Getty Images