A Walk Round the Isle of Dogs in 1968 (Then & Now) – Part I, Westferry Road

Recently, out of nowhere, a certain Hugo Wilhare started to post some photos in a Facebook group – The Isle of Dogs – Then & Now – of which I am co-admin. The photos, taken around 1968 or 1969 (I am guessing the former), are a record of a walk that Hugo took around the Island: starting at the corner of Westferry Road and Cuba Street, and covering the length of Westferry Road and Manchester Road.

The photos immediately grabbed everybody’s attention: many images showed buildings which Islanders had not seen in 60 years (virtually everything in the photos has since been demolished, largely in the few years after the photos were taken).

The late 60’s marked a massive construction of housing estates on the Island. This construction is visible in Hugo’s photos, as the tall towers of the Barkantine Estate rise up behind the Victorian shops and houses in Westferry Road which had survived WWII. A year or two later, and every old building between Byng Street in the north and Tiller Road in the south would also be gone, the rest following a few years later.

The Island in Hugo’s photos is the Island our family moved to from Stepney in 1969, when we went to live in Manchester Road, just opposite Christ Church. The chip shop, the baker’s, the pub, the sweet shop, the police station – I can see and smell them as if it was just yesterday – although their presence was short-lived from my perspective, as they were all demolished within five years of the photos being taken, in order to make room for George Green’s School.

Hugo and his family also moved to the Island from elsewhere. He was born in Donegal, Ireland just after WWII – and, while he was still a baby, the family moved to Dublin. When he was around 10 years old, his mother died, and not long afterwards, Hugo and his two sisters, Grace and Mary, moved with their father to London.

Living initially in Brixton, then East Dulwich, the Wilhares moved to Cahir Street in October 1961 (first in Brassey House). This was around the time that Hugo started his first job, at Babcock’s barge repairs. He had an assortment of jobs after that, before finding more employment stability working on the buses, from 1966 to 1971.

Hugo Wilhare, Robin Hood Lane, late 1960s

It was during this period that Hugo took his photos of the Island. I got the impression that he took the photos because he wanted a memory of the place, as he was moving away. Yet, it was 1973 before Hugo returned with his dad to Donegal, just over 15 years after arriving in London in the first place.

Fast forward 45 years, Hugo joined our Facebook group, and started sharing his photos, close to seventy of them in total. Nearly all the photos are reproduced here (I skipped a couple of ship photos which didn’t show the Island, but the other side of the water). Even old Islanders on Facebook were not always sure where the photos were taken, or what it looks like now, so I have included maps and ‘Now’ views.

Many thanks to Hugo for sharing his photos, and also to Peter Wright who followed much of Hugo’s route in the last couple of days, and took most of the ‘Now’ photos shown below (I also ‘borrowed’ a photo from Gary O’Keefe – cheers, Gary).

Blacksmith’s Arms, 25 Westferry Road

The pub opened as a beer house around 1895, and was converted to a restaurant in 2001 (first named ‘Rogue Trader’, but later renamed ‘Aniseed’).

27-35 Westferry Road.

  • No. 27. Originally an eating establishment (first, ‘Dining Rooms’ and finally, ‘Café’) before becoming a betting shop around 1960.
  • No. 29. A barber’s occupied in the 60s by Stelios Kalogirou and George Pieri.
  • No. 31. Wooding’s newsagents.

75-79 Westferry Road

A large sign on the side of No. 75 points the way to Bink Brothers Limited, wire rope manufacturers who operated for more than a century from their Strafford Street works (which backed onto Byng Street).

  • No. 75. Post office and stationers, occupied by Edward Taylor and family.
  • No. 77. Dorothy and Thomas Summerton (shoe and boot repairs?).
  • No. 79. Butchers, occupied by Brian and Yvonne Phillips.

Express Wharf, St. Luke’s School and Lenantons, Westferry Road

St. Luke’s School was built in 1873 and closed in 1971 when it transferred to the former Cubitt Town School in Saunders Ness Road. The building was demolished in 1973 and its land occupied by an expanding Lenanton’s timber firm.

Express Wharf stood on the site of Bullivant’s Wharf, scene of the Island’s worst wartime disaster when more than 40 were killed in a public air raid shelter (see The Tragedy at Bullivant’s Wharf for details).

125 Westferry Road (rightmost house, centre) and area

The advertising hoardings are on the site of the former Millwall Independent Chapel at 127A Westferry Road. Constructed in 1817, it is notable as being the first place of worship and burial on the Island since the medieval chapel of St Mary (the later Chapel House Farm). It closed early in the 20th century, and the building used for a variety of purposes before its demolition around 1950, by which time it was in a dilapidated state.

To the left of the hoardings is a row of shops and houses – Nos. 115 to 125 (from left to right).

  • No. 115. Formerly Betts’ butcher’s shop, occupied in the 1960s by Albert and Ivy Clark.
  • No. 117. Former United Dairies, I have no records of the occupants in 1968.
  • No. 119. Thomas Sinfield.
  • No. 121. No records for the 1960s, but Thomas Sinfield occupied the premises in the 1950s.
  • No. 123. No records.
  • No 125. A fried fish shop in the 1950s, and occupied by Florence Crathern in the 1960s.

Tooke Arms, 165 Westferry Road

Although the address of the Tooke Arms is still 165 Westferry Road, the original building was approximately 50 metres to the south, on the corner of Janet Street. It was first mentioned in records dating from 1853, and was demolished in 1970.

Wethey’s greengrocer’s shop in the 1930s (and perhaps 1940s), it was occupied in the 1960s by Edward Watts and family

Modern photo: Gary O’Keefe

The Barkantine Estate under construction in a photo taken from Sir John McDougall Gardens, which were not yet connected to the estate by a footbridge over Westferry Road. Only one old building can (just) be seen – probably Les Crane’s newsagents, nearby the not-yet-completed Tooke Arms.

205 & 207 Westferry Road

No. 205 was the second betting shop in this short stretch of Westferry Road (see also photo number 2). In the 1950s it was a greengrocer’s run by Albert and Winifred Wethey, formerly of 183 Westferry Road.

At No. 207, one of the many Jarvis Brother shops which populated the Island over the years. Electoral registers tell of a Hitchcock family living at the same address – perhaps they lived over the shop.

Today, this corner hosts a pretty and well-maintained little garden “dedicated to the memory of all those who have lived or worked on the Isle of Dogs”. It was opened in 2001, after long campaigning by local residents who at the same time wanted to prevent the corner being built upon by property developers.

A little side step here. Between 1920 and 1963. 221-223 Westferry Road, at the bottom of the previous map was used by G. Robinson & Sons, manufacturers of nuts, bolts, rivets and other metal objects. The very industrial-looking building, with its brick walls and corrugated-iron roof, was built in 1870, but between 1913 and 1915 it housed a cinema (and quite a large one at that, with more than 1000 seats and an orchestra platform). Known as the Millwall Picture Theatre, it was run by a Harry Rothstein, whose family operated several other local cinemas

233 Westferry Road

One of the Island’s largest pubs, and its only hotel, stood here: The Millwall Docks Tavern & Hotel (frequently named simply, The Dock House – not to be confused with the off-license at the top of Alpha Road which was also so named). A trace of the pub’s wall can be seen to the left of the first “Bob’s Bar” sign in the 1968 photo, and on the right side of this old photo of the pub….

Millwall Docks Tavern and Hotel, 1910s.

The pub was destroyed during WWII. and the site was occupied by a series of taxi firms and cafés.

Kingsbridge

When the Millwall Docks were connected to the West India Docks well before WWII, this entrance lock began to lose its usefulness (anyway, it was too small to handle larger ships, and the bridge and lock mechanisms were unreliable). During the war, in September 1940, bombing destroyed the middle gates and much of the surrounding machnery and lock structure.

Directly after the war, financial restrictions prevented any reconstruction and the lock remained unused. By 1955, the cost of reconstruction could no longer be justified and the dock was dammed at its inner gate (on the dock side).

The building of a dam at the inner gate meant that the road bridge (aka “Kingsbridge”) had to remain in place, never opening, and crossing a lock that would never be used. The structural solution would have been to completely fill in the locks, but this would have been much costlier, something unthinkable in the austere 1950s. Instead, the lock was allowed to silt up on the river side – and by the time of the 1968 photo above, the bridge wasn’t even crossing water. The bridge was removed in 1990.

View from Kingsbridge looking north

On the left in the old photo, E. Klein’s offices are visible – a firm and building which, remarkably enough, are still present in 2019. Beyond that are Arnhem Timber and Pfizer’s chemical works (the main product being Citric acid). Across the road, Nob Davison’s garage.

237-241 Westferry Road

  • No. 237 was a tobacconist’s, run by John Lewis in 1968.
  • The Howerd and Lowery families were registered as living at No. 239 in the 1960s
  • No. 241 was occupied by the Sheehys.

255-263 Westferry Road

The old terrace was demolished, and these new houses built (the centre of the new block is approximately where the bus stop is in the old photo). Occupants in the 1960s:

  • No. 255. Vaughan’s greengrocer’s
  • No, 257. Nixon’s tobocconist’s (possibly one of the Vaughans took the shop over at the end of the 60s)
  • No. 259. Newlands family, George Bowater
  • No. 261. Lilian Longley
  • No. 263, McIntosh and James families

St. Paul’s Church

St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church was opened in 1859, and became known as ‘the Scottish church’ due to its popularity with Scottish workers in the local shipbuilding industry (its foundation stone was laid by the Scot, John Scott Russell, whose firm built SS Great Eastern, and who was himself the son of a Presbyterian minister.

Around the time of the old photo, St. Paul’s was replaced by a new church at Island House in Castalia Square. The old building was then used for a variety of industrial purposes, before becoming ‘The Space’ arts centre in 1989.

St. Paul’s Church Hall

A substantial building was built at the rear of St. Paul’s by the Millwall Dock Company in 1873 (it was on dock land), a club for its permanent workers. Not a success, it closed in 1892 and the buildings were taken over by St. Mildred’s House, an institute for poor girls (see article, here). Later, St. Mildred’s House hall became the church hall.

St. Edmund’s Church

In 1870, the population of the Isle of Dogs was around 10,000, of whom 10% were Catholic (of largely Irish and Scottish descent). St. Edmund’s Church opened in 1874; school lessons were held on a small scale in the rectory, but most Catholic children were educated in St. Edward’s Chapel in Moeity Road and a day school at 68 Stebondale Street – before the construction of a large school behind the church in 1908.

St. Edmund’s School

The Vulcan

Until 1967, The Vulcan was run by a Reginald L. Rees (I suspect that everyone called him Reggie), In 1969, the occupant is listed as L. G. Wheeler. To the left of the pub is Deptford Ferry Road, which went up to the river and was lined on the north side by houses before WWII.  Beyond that, the gate house of Napier Yard, at that time occupied by Westwood’s.

Left to right: Manchester Road, Ferry Street, Westferry Road.

The shop on the corner of Manchester Road and Ferry Street (its address was 1 Ferry Street) was a greengrocers, I think, run by the Skeels family,

The shop on the other corner (2 Ferry Street) was another Jarvis newsagents in the early 60s, but by 1968 the occupants were the Easts.

The Fire Station

Externally, at the front and side at least, The fire station has hardly changed. It’s only missing the little door with emergency phone which started the bells ringing when you opened it – always fun when you were walking home from Harbinger school (to all the firemen who got pee’d off and whose time was wasted, I’m sorry).

In the following article – part II – a walk up Manchester Road with Hugo Wilhare’s photos.

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19 Responses to A Walk Round the Isle of Dogs in 1968 (Then & Now) – Part I, Westferry Road

  1. Sue Balsom says:

    Dear Mick
    I have recently subscribed to your excellent website and am enjoying the articles.
    Just out of interest I wonder whether you know anything about Henry Wickes butchers and grocery shop and ships’ suppliers in Poplar High Street?
    My mother and her sister worked there in the 1950/early60s and I would love to learn more or see old photos etc.
    Any thoughts or references would be much appreciated.
    Many thanks and best regards
    Sue Balsom

  2. Pingback: A Walk Round the Isle of Dogs in 1968 (Then & Now) – Part I, Westferry Road – London History

  3. londonhist says:

    Brilliant, I always enjoy your posts.

  4. Richard Debebenham says:

    Great old pictures that probably would have never seen the light of day 😁😁👍👍

    • Hugo J.Wilhare says:

      Absolutely correct Richard. When I returned home to Donegal, I made the decision to bring all my many hundreds of photos with me, about 20% Island related. They were all stored in an old suitcase over the last 45 years. I think I looked at some of the photos perhaps two or three times in total over that period. I had a vague notion that I would someday place them into a folder on my computer. Then at the end of March I accidentally came across “The Isle of Dogs-Then & Now” on Facebook. I have to thank Marrion Harrigan for signing me in and it was then I decided to put up the first set. I was stunned by the immediate response, in particular from Mick, Peter and Con. That first night I spent a couple of hours just reading the comments and realised that I was stirring many long dormant memories. That made me more determined to continue until I had all 60+ photos in place. And since then more and more comments continued to flow in. Only now do I realise the true value of my small collection, to the people of The Island and I am delighted to be able to share the photos.with everyone. As you rightly point out Richard, “old pictures that probably would never have seen the light of day” but for the efforts of a few individuals like Con, Mick and Peter I would never have thought of posting them on any public forum. Thank you guys for your wonderful work on behalf of all Islanders.

      • Hugo J.Wilhare says:

        I should read my message and make necessary corrections BEFORE I post it. I should have stated: ” At the end of February” and not the end of MARCH. It’s good job Mr Hopkirk is not monitoring my scribbles, because I managed to mess up my first post below. It reads as “many for generations of Islanders to enjoy well into the” but should read as follows :FOR many generations of Islanders to enjoy well into the FUTURE

  5. conmaloney says:

    This is an unsurpassed record of a place in time that now exists only in memory. Many thanks to Hugo Wilhare for taking these evocative photos, to Peter Wright for taking the ‘now’ views and to Mick for adding all important context. Local history at its best.

    • Thank you, Con – kind words.

    • Thanks Con, and also Thanks to Peter for his great “now” views. His photos have opened my eyes as to the different Island from my time living there. And of course Mick’s invaluable context contribution, which is extremely well put together and very informative.indeed. Plus your contribution Con, of bringing it all together. I can only guess at the massive amount of voluntary work involved by each of you three guys. You have brought my small collection of photos to LIFE and here’s hoping many for generations of Islanders to enjoy well into the, THANK YOU to Con, Peter and not least Mick. Looking forward now to “Parts 2 & 3”

  6. Rosina Smith says:

    Brilliant, well done to all involved.

  7. Janet Hill says:

    Hugo J.Wilhare thanks so much for posting all those interesting photos. I was born on the island in 1947 so your photos are very much my era. Thanks also Mick for all your work in explaining and putting them into context.

    • Hugo J.Wilhare says:

      You welcome Janet. I am “chuffed” (as they say in Manchester) that I have brought a little bit of pleasure and no doubt some sadness to a few of the Islanders who were around in the late 60’s to witness for themselves the locations I managed to get photos of. Also to be able to show all those who never seen the old Island before all the developments took place, how some of their areas looked back then.

  8. Peter And Mary Short says:

    Thank you for the info regarding your new site “Isle of Dogs, Then and now”, But although the page apears on my screen there doesnt apear to be a way to open, or join, or view the site. At 77, maybe its me, but my wife (who’s much brighter) cannot get in either. Am I missing something ? (Apart from brain cells). Would appreciate some help please on this matter. I am East End born and bred, but living in SA. Peter Short.

  9. Pingback: A Walk Round the Isle of Dogs in 1968 (Then & Now) – Part II, Manchester Road (Mostly) | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

  10. David Calder says:

    I work in The Wharf and try to go for a walk at lunchtime when possible. I had often wondered about the history of the surviving names and buildings which I pass and your blog has been an entertaining revelation so thank you. DC

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