The Rich Story Behind the Christ Church Benefaction Board

Christ Church in Manchester Road was built by William Cubitt (entirely at his own expense) on land contributed by the Countess of Glengall in 1855. The church was not consecrated until 1857 because, according to the Survey of London, the interior was not considered fit for the performance of divine service.

The names of those who contributed towards the endowment fund of the church in 1857  are painted on a ‘Benefaction Board’ which is mounted on a wall in the church. Next to each name is the amount of the contribution. £100 in 1857 is worth approximately £11,400 in 2020 after adjusting for inflation. The 10 shillings contributed by Mr. George White are today worth approximately £57.

Christ Church Benefaction Board. Photo: John Salmon

Certain names are recognizable because of their association with Island streets and locations: Glengall Grove, Samuda Estate, Johnson’s Drawdock and Ferguson Close are some examples. Other contributors were the founders of well known firms such as John Scott Russell, Pontifex & Wood and Brown & Lenox (Lenox is misspelled on the board, by the way).

I was curious to learn more about the people named, and discovered that the list is a  ‘Who’s Who?’ of people who were important to the development of Cubitt Town and the Isle of Dogs in general. That probably shouldn’t be a surprise – who else would a new church turn to for contributions except to local notables and business owners (mind you, calling them ‘local’ is stretching it, most of those named never lived on the Island)? Perhaps most surprising and interesting to me was learning what their relationship was with the place and with each other – and I suspect I only scratched the surface.

Top of the list, the Countess of Glengall, born Margaret Lauretta Mellish. She gained her title on her marriage in 1834 to Richard Butler, 2nd Earl of Glengall, Viscount and Baron Cahir, Co. Tipperary, Ireland.

Countess of Glengall. Margaret Lauretta Butler (née Mellish), Countess of Glengall by Camille Silvy
albumen print, 22 October 1860. Ref: NPG Ax61787. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons License.

Margaret Lauretta was herself very rich, being one of two heirs to a huge fortune left by William Mellish on his death in 1834 – a fortune earned mainly by selling meat and other supplies to the Royal Navy, particularly during the American War of Independence (he also owned or part-owned a number of whaling ships).

During his life Mellish had purchased large areas of land – often for grazing purposes – and by the 1820s he owned a sizeable section of the Isle of Dogs, which he used for fattening up his livestock (grazing land on the Island was famous for its quality).  This land later formed part of Margaret Lauretta’s inheritance.

1820s. Major landowners south of the West India Docks

In 1842, on the advice of their agent, John Hooper (who later contributed £50 to the Christ Church endowment fund) the trustees of the Countess of Glengall reached their first agreement with building firm, William Cubitt & Co. for the development of housing and industry on the section of the Mellish Estate which was east of East Ferry Road.

Among the first industries in the area that would soon be known as ‘Cubitt Town’ was the Victoria Iron Works in Wharf Road (a section which is now named Ferry Road).

c1870, The south western ‘corner’ of Cubitt Town

The business was the property of Crutched Friars wine dealer Henry Johnson (£100 contribution) and his brother Augustus William – who was an engineer and who managed the company. Johnson’s Draw Dock – next to the rowing club – is named after the brothers, and the section of Ferry Street from the the draw dock to Manchester Road was originally named Johnson Street. Henry also leased some land on the corner of East Ferry Road and Manchester Road where he built the Lord Nelson public house and a couple of houses.

John Scott Russell (£100) is most well-known as the builder of the Great Eastern at his yard off Westferry Road in collaboration with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In addition to his contribution to Christ Church, he was involved in the founding of St Paul’s Church and  laid the foundation stone in 1859.

John Scott Russell by Lock & Whitfield. Woodburytype, 1878 or before. Ref: NPG x133400. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons License.

John Scott Russell’s offices, later part of Burrell’s Wharf

William Dunnage, Richard Alchin, George Plucknett and William R. Rogers contributed £100 between them.

George Plucknett and William R. Rogers (born Rodriquez) were partners in William Cubitt & Co. – a name the firm kept after Cubitt himself had retired and had become active in politics, becoming Lord Mayor of London in 1860.

Records held by the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives refer to the owners of the lease for the land on which the Princess of Wales pub and adjacent premises were built. Clearly, William Dunnage was in some way involved with Cubitt’s company.

Lease for 79 years; 1. The Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital; 2. William Dunnage, George Plucknett, William Rodrigues Rogers, and Thomas Robinson, all of Grays Inn Rd., builders. 3. Robert William Gibbs of Cubitt Town, Poplar, builder. From 1. to 3. (at the request of 2.) of no. 16 Ship Terrace, Manchester Rd., Cubitt Town, and property on the same piece of land but around the corner in Barque Street; rent £32 p.a.

Richard Alchin was a builder who – with others – was responsible for houses on the east side of Ferry Street – diagonally opposite the Ferry House pub – and Nos. 2-28 (even) Manchester Road, as well as buildings in the West End. He was married to an Eliza Dunnage, which would explain his connection to William Dunnage.

Messrs. C. A. & T. Ferguson (£31 and 10 shillings) were ‘mast and block manufacturers’ who owned a mast pond on the site of what was known as Drunken Dock. Britannia Dry Dock was later built on the site – now the location of Ferguson Close, Mast House Terrace and Britannia Road. When financial problems caused the Fergusons to wind their business up in 1861, their land was taken over by the Ironmonger’s Company.

The mast pond, circa 1863. Click for full-sized version.

Proprietors of Sir Wm. Burnett’s Patent (£25). Says Wikipedia:

Sir William Burnett was a British physician who served as Physician-General of the Royal Navy. He was appointed surgeon’s mate on board the Edgar soon after his arrival at Edinburgh to pursue his medical studies. Later he served as assistant-surgeon in the Goliath under Sir John Jervis, and was present at St. Vincent and the siege of Cadiz. He also served with distinction at battles of the Nile and Trafalgar.

What Wikipedia doesn’t mention is that Burnett invented and patented a very effective preservative treatment for timber, canvas and other materials. His firm, William Burnett & Company, occupied Nelson Wharf (located opposite the present-day corner of Chapel House Street and Westferry Road). Later, the firm was primarily a timber and plywood importer, and was operating at Nelson Wharf as late as the 1970s.

1930s. Westferry Road. Burnett’s name is just visible on the sign on the left. To the rear of the bus, The Ship public house and Maconochies.

It is possible that the S. A. Hankey (£25) named on the board is wealthy merchant, Stephen Alers Hankey. Amongst his many ventures, he was a wine merchant in Crutched Friars in the City (as was Henry Johnson) and he was a partner in the white lead manufacturers, Champion, Hankey & Co. Although he had no apparent business on the Island, he seemed to have the right connections.

E. & W. Pontifex & J. Wood (£25) started their business in the late 1780’s at Shoe Lane in the City. They were lead merchants, iron founders, engineers, millwrights, copper smiths, refrigerator and boiler makers – and in the 1840s they set up a works in Westferry Road which was primarily engaged in the manufacture of dyes, varnish & (lead-based) paints.

c1870. Pontifex & Wood’s works, later renamed Millwall Lead Works.

Charles Price & Co. (£25) was one of the first firms on the Isle of Dogs – an oil works in the north of Millwall in 1805 (in 1872 the site was taken over by J. T. Morton). Charles Price erected a complex of buildings for crushing rapeseed and linseed, and for production and storage of tar, oils, turpentine and varnish. An old windmill on the site, long used for seed-crushing, was converted to an oil-refining house.

North Millwall with Charles Price’s ‘manufactories’

Price was a very wealthy man. In 1797, he was chosen as alderman of the ward of Farringdon-Without and served as sheriff in 1799. In 1802, he was chosen as one of the four Members of Parliament (MPs) for the city of London. In 1803 he became Lord Mayor of London and on 2 February 1804 he was created a baronet.

Sir Charles Price, Bt by Charles Turner, after Richard Carruthers. Mezzotint, circa 1819. Ref: NPG D40497. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons License.

Just north of Price’s Oil Works was the City Canal, owned by the Port of London Committee (£21) of the Corporation of the City of London (the City Arms, located at its western entrance, was named after the canal). The canal was not a success and in 1829 it was sold to the West India Dock company.

The Somes Brothers (£21), Joseph and Frederick, acquired the Canal Dockyard (just south-east of the later Blue Bridge) in 1844.

Canal Dockyard

This famous William Whiffin photo of the bow of a ship towering above Manchester Road was taken in the larger graving dock.

Circa 1920. Canal Dockyard on the right

The London Manure Company (£10 and 10 shillings) had its works between the Cubitt Arms and the river. The artificial manure manufactured at the works was made from crushed bones and sulphuric acid – an odorous process, described by the 1872 Saturday Review newspaper as such:

The nuisance is alleged to be of a twofold, or rather threefold, character. First, there is the accumulation of the materials of the manufacture, which are mostly rotten and foul-smelling ; next, there is the process of mixing and boiling them down with sulphuric acid; and then, after the manure has been manufactured, it is kept in great heaps, and an abominable smell is caused when it is dug up, and put into sacks for customers. It is asserted that the materials consist of the blood and refuse of slaughter-houses, stinking fish, putrid animal matter, and garbage of all sorts; and there is always a large stock of these things lying about the premises, while new supplies are frequently arriving.

On “mixing days” —that is, days on which the materials are boiled down—there is said to be an escape of pestiferous gases, and a kind of heavy steam, which leaves mould where it falls, and is accompanied by an acrid sensation in the mouth and throat. ” The fumes of the process,” said the Inspector of Nuisances, ” are particularly disgusting, and pervade the streets and gardens ; but the smell is worse in digging out the putrid mass, and putting it in bags, and taking it away.”

Saumda Brothers (£10 and 10 shillings) was an engineering and shipbuilding firm founded by Jacob and Joseph d’Aguilar Samuda. For a time they were the most prolific shipbuilders on Thames and built vessels ranging from tugs and steam yachts to large warships.

Joseph D’Aguilar Samuda by Camille Silvy. Albumen print, 8 June 1862. Ref: NPG Ax58410. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons License.

1860s

Survey of London:

Samuda Brothers began shipbuilding in 1843 in a yard at Orchard Place, Blackwall, and, despite the deaths in 1844 of Jacob and nine of his foremost engineers and workmen, Joseph continued with the business, establishing the firm as iron and steel shipbuilders in a new yard at Cubitt Town in 1852.

Samudas continued in business until Joseph’s death in 1885. Once existing contracts had been honoured the yard was closed and, although an attempt was made to sell the business as a going concern, the yard and its contents were sold as 1,300 separate lots at a five-day long auction in 1893.

The Commerical Gas Company (£10 and 10 shillings) was formed in the late 1830s in Harford Street in Stepney, on the Regent’s Canal. In 1850 they took over the Poplar Gas Light Co. which made them owners of the gasworks at the corner of Westferry Road and Union Road (Sir John McDougall Gardens are today on the site).

In the following years they took over other London gas companies until their eventual area of supply (until they were nationalised in 1949 and became part of the North Thames Gas Board) covered 7 square miles in Poplar, Stepney, parts of Bethnal Green and Essex.

Henry Bradshaw (£10) is one of the few contributors who could be called an Islander. Born in 1802 to local farmer James Bradshaw, his first home was a cottage on the Mill Wall. His profession was stated as ‘Grazier’ in the 1841 census and ‘Proprietor of Houses’ in the census a decade later. He was also – as is stated on the board – one of the two churchwardens (responsible for the movable objects in the church, and keeping order during services, both of which tasks were probably devolved to someone else).

Bradshaw built a number of houses in Millwall – including a terrace that he named after himself, Bradshaw’s Cottages – as well as the Union Arms (aka the Pin & Cotter) and the Glengall Arms. In 1853 he extended the Robert Burns public house, which he ran for a few years (one Bradshaw or another ran the pub until 1891).

1890. The public house (P.H.) mentioned in the map is the Glengall Arms

Money Wigram & Sons (£10) of Blackwall Shipyard were shipbuilders and shipping owners who started business as Wigram & Green (George Green, after whom the school is named, owned a quarter of the company). In 1876 they also leased a triangular piece of land to the south and south-west of Glen Terrace (on which Jack Dash House was later built).

In 1877. Wigram’s Blackwall yard was bought by the Midland Railway and developed as a coal dock, known as Poplar Dock (not to be confused with Poplar Docks, which were part of West India Docks), which survived until the 1950s.

Money Wigram by Camille Silvy. Albumen print, 23 October 1862. Ref: NPG Ax61787 (c) National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons License.

In 1806, Samuel Brown, then a Royal Navy lieutenant, began experimenting in the use of chains for naval use, and started chain manufacture in Narrow Street, Limehouse, as Samuel Brown and Co. A couple of years later he went into partnership with Samuel Lenox, and the firm was named Brown, Lenox  & Company. Brown & Lenox (£10) built their Millwall works in 1812, where they also made anchors, buoys and water tanks.

In 1816 they built a second factory at Pontypridd, which was to become their main chain works. Among their numerous customers was John Scott Russell who purchased their chains for use on the Great Eastern.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing in front of SS Great Eastern chains which were manufactured by Brown, Lenox & Co.

The firm’s works in Westferry Road works were the longest running that the Isle of Dogs has known, operating as they did well into the 1980s.

1980s. Westferry Road

Plymouth Wharf, in Saunder’s Ness Road close to the end of Seyssel Street, was taken over in the 1850s by Michael Pass & Co. (£10), manufacturers of ‘marble Temper, Greystone and Chalk-lime, Bricks, Tiles, Fire goods, River sand, Ballast, &c’. According to the Survey of London, the manufacturing process employed by the firm led to complaints of offensive smells and an investigation by the officers of the District Board of Works. Cubitt Town must have been a smelly place: the London Manure Company, already noted for its foul smell, was just a few hundred yards to the north of Plymouth Wharf.

H & MD Grissell (£5 and 5 shillings) were the brothers Henry and Martin De La Garde Grissell who ran an iron works on the Regent’s Canal. The brothers were responsible for the ironwork in a number of prestigious buildings in England and overseas, including the Covent Garden Opera House, the gates for the Royal Exchange, and the gates and railings round Buckingham Palace and at the British Museum.

They also constructed a large and ornate bathing kiosk which had been designed by Robert Stephenson for the Viceroy of Egypt.

1860s

The shell of the building was temporarily erected on the Isle of Dogs in the summer of 1858 (probably on a wharf in Ferry Street which since the 1840s had been leased by certain ‘Grissell Brothers’; the modern-day Felstead Wharf apartments are now on the site). According to Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History, the building was on:

premises belonging to Messrs. Grissell … and it was an object of great attraction. Every fitting was prepared, including a large quantity of beautiful floor tiles by Minton, much parquetry-work, stained-glass for domes, &c. But the kiosk was never erected ; for years it remained at Alexandria unpacked, the latest news respecting it being, that a more practical successor to the vice-regal throne had determined to utilize the structure by converting it into a railway station.

WJ & R Tindall & Co (£5 and 5 shillings) were shipbuilders, shipowners and merchants. In 1841 the company acquired land north of Napier’s Yard (opposite Cahir Street) on which they built a wharf, various workshops and warehouses, and a dry dock which would be later named Britannia Dry Dock (Britannia Road is more less on the site today).

1886. The cargo clipper Titania in Britannia Dry Dock (Photo: National Maritime Museum)

The 1858 electoral register for the parish of All Saints, Poplar describes William Stratton (£5 and 5 shillings) as the owner of ‘Freehold land in the Isle of Dogs Marsh’ (see map above). He leased part of his land to William Cubitt in 1850, enabling Cubitt to extend his development a little further to the north, as far as the later corner of Manchester Road and East Ferry Road. Later, Strattondale Street was created on other land belonging to Stratton. 

John Fuller (£5 and 5 shillings) was a barge builder who operated on a wharf at the end of Moiety Road from 1838. In 1865 his three lighterman sons took the wharf over, by which time it had been named Lion Wharf.

c1890

I have not been able to find out who Edward Hughes (£5) was (it is also such a common name).

Miss D. Stratton (£2 and 2 shillings) was in all likelihood Dora Stratton, sister of William. According to the 1851 census, she was unmarried at the time and living with her brother and his family at their Brighton home.

Orsi & Armani (£2 and 2 shillings) were business partners who had works at Livingstone Wharf (location of present-day Livingstone Place) in Ferry Street. immediately west of the Johnson’s iron works (see above).

The firm specialised in floor surfaces, and patented what they named ‘metallic lava’, an artificial stone which was prepared and moulded in fluid form. The partnership had actually dissolved by the time of the consecration of Christ Church, but Antonio Nicolo Armani continued to use the company name.

John Marriott Blashfield (£2 and 2 shillings) was a property developer and mosaic floor and ornamental terracotta manufacturer who was a partner in the cement makers Wyatt, Parker and & Co. who had a works at Millwall – on the site of the later Atlas Chemical Works and today’s Arnhem Wharf.

When the firm went bust in 1846, Blashfield took over their Millwall works. According to Grace’s Guide to British Industrial Industry:

In 1851 Balshfield was still describing himself as a “cement manufacturer’’ and at that time was employing 5 Clerks and 35 Men. With the reconstruction of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham in 1854 Blashfield was awarded the contract, to cast a series of colossal terracotta statues representing Australia, California, Birmingham and Sheffield by John Bell for display in the sculpture gallery at Crystal Palace. The sculptures were later destroyed when the Crystal Palace was burnt down.

c1860 extract from a Blashfield sales catalogue

Survey of London:

Buildings for which Blashfield supplied Parker’s cement included the Army & Navy, Carlton and Reform Clubs, the Lyceum and St James’s Theatres, the British Museum, the Houses of Parliament, the London Docks and the Winter Palace at St Petersburg.

In 1858, after developing his terracotta business for ten years, he sold the Millwall works and moved the concern to Stamford, Lincolnshire.

Census records mention a William Fossey (£1 and 1 shilling) who owned a yard in Westferry Road around 1850. There is no further detail, but William may have been family of Thomas Fossey who owned a large timber yard and warehouse at Batson’s Wharf (the later location of Lenanton’s timber yard).

James Saul (£1 and 1 shilling) is the name of another person who is hard to identify, even though this time it is not as common a name as Edward Hughes.

Update: Thanks to Graham Barker who uncovered this information:

East London Observer, 9 Feb 1861: obituary of James Saul of Limehouse It gives a sense of his character, including this extract, “Though not a man of education and refinement… [he gave] good service to the parish with which he was especially connected, by his shrewdness, common sense, energy, and business habits.”

East London Observer, 6 May 1861: auction of horses and omnibuses operated by the late James Saul This is the clincher, as it describes him as operating an omnibus service between Limehouse Railway Station and the Ferry House.

According to the Survey of London, a George White (10 shillings) was an iron-founder who built a row of houses in Tooke Street in 1854. It is probably ‘our’ George – the right time and place, and as a property investor he must have had a bob or two (or ten, in this case).

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8 Responses to The Rich Story Behind the Christ Church Benefaction Board

  1. Graham Barker says:

    Hello Mick

    Thanks for a fascinating post about the Christ Church benefactors.

    Intrigued, I did a quick search for James Saul and found a couple of newspaper snippets (attached) on The British Newspaper Archive. It looks like this James Saul is a very likely candidate for your mystery donor at Christ Church.

    East London Observer, 9 Feb 1861: obituary of James Saul of Limehouse It gives a sense of his character, including this extract, “Though not a man of education and refinement… [he gave] good service to the parish with which he was especially connected, by his shrewdness, common sense, energy, and business habits.”

    East London Observer, 6 May 1861: auction of horses and omnibuses operated by the late James Saul This is the clincher, as it describes him as operating an omnibus service between Limehouse Railway Station and the Ferry House.

    Hope that helps. All the best

    Graham

  2. Nicholas Sack says:

    A fascinating article, Mike. Good to learn about the enterprising and worthy folk who lent their names to streets that still exist.

    Loved the vivid report on the London Manure Co., 1872: “Abominable smell … putrid animal matter … pestiferous gases … acrid sensation in the mouth and throat.”

  3. Rich says:

    Hi Mick
    I have just spent the best part of an hour and half pouring over your comments which were very interesting indeed.
    I was fascinated by the comment with regards to the boiler explosion accident that killed one of the Samuda brothers and nine other men on on of the early ships.
    What a tragedy 🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️

  4. Gwen whiteside says:

    Thank you very interesting and loved to here a bit more about Brown and Lennox as my granddad was general manager there c 1920-30. My mum lived in a big house(her words) in the grounds until her dad’s death and then they had to move out but my nan was allowed to stay with her children for a year after his death. ________________________________

    • That’s interesting, Gwen. Brown & Lenox was on the site of a former mastmaker’s yard, and among the buildings was the mastmaker’s house, built in 1766, and described as “mastmaker’s residence, also built c1766. Brick-built and stuccoed, it had a dining room, drawing-room, kitchen and pantry on the ground floor and three bedrooms, a nursery and w.c. on the first. There was also a basement or semi-basement, containing a kitchen, larder and dairy. ” I don’t know when it was demolished, but it is still present on a map from around 1900, so this is most likely the house that your mum lived in. It was behind the Magnet & Dewdrop, close to the river, and on the “Mill-Wall”.

  5. Pingback: Henry Bradshaw: Original Islander | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

  6. Pingback: Church St aka Newcastle St aka Glengarnock Ave aka Glenaffric Ave | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

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