The Isle of Dogs, or Poplar Marsh, is a spot of ground of such fertility and excellence of grass, that it not only raises the largest cattle, but it is likewise the great restorative of all distempered beasts.
– The History of London, from its Foundation by the Romans to the Present Time. 1739, William Maitland
This was one of the many comments made in the distant past on the quality of the pasture on the Isle of Dogs. So valued was the Island’s grass that it was frequently used to fatten up cattle on its way from Essex and other counties on the way to London’s markets. It was here that Clerkenwell tenant farmer James Bradshaw and wife Mary settled in the late 1700s, and where they had at least two children, Henry (born February 1802) and Mary Ann (born June 1803).
Remarkable – for me at least, after years of research into the history of the Isle of Dogs – is that Henry Bradshaw is the first named person I have come across who in all likelihood* was born there, made all the more remarkable if you are aware that at the time of his birth just 150 people lived on the Island, distributed over about 30 households (estimates based on Poor Rate Books).
* Most records name his birth place as Poplar, an administrative name which covered the Isle of Dogs. At the time, neither of the place names Isle of Dogs or Millwall would have appeared on official records. The first specific addresses for Henry and his parents are all in the vicinity of the present-day Sir John McDougall gardens.
Henry’s name has stuck with me for another reason: he and his family became prominent Island residents and made a success of themselves in different trades and professions – as publicans, property developers, solicitors, teachers, coal merchants and others. During much of the 19th century, the Bradshaws were a part of the fabric of the Island and contributed to its development. Henry’s is a proper ‘local boy does good’ story.
As soon as he was old enough, Henry took up a profession similar to his father’s and became a grazier. By this time the West India Docks had been constructed (opened in 1802), but the area to their south remained sparsely populated pasture for many decades until the greater part was acquired for the construction of the Millwall Docks (opened in 1868).
His first recorded non-grazing venture was when he was in his late 30s. Survey of London:
In 1817 the area now largely covered by Cahir Street, Harbinger Road (British Street until 1929) and Hesperus Crescent was three meadows and a patch of swamp. There was no development on it until the late 1830s, when the Glengall Arms public house (No. 367 Westferry Road) was built by Henry Bradshaw.
Over the next few years Bradshaw added some very small cottages at the back of the public house, built terraced houses along the main road and the new Cahir Street, and more cottages along Marsh Street.
Also in the 1830s, Henry built a row of houses in Union Road (Sir John McDougall Gardens is now on the site of this lost road), the last of which was a beer house that later became The Union public house.
The 1841 census gives the Bradshaw’s address as ‘Earl of Glengall’. There is no mention of a street name, but adjacent addresses in the census are in and off Westferry Road. Perhaps ‘Earl of Glengall’ is a reference to (an early name for) the the Glengall Arms. Living at the address were:
- Henry Bradshaw, 40
- Catherine Bradshaw, 38
- William Bradshaw, 13
- Eliza Bradshaw, 9
- Charles Bradshaw, 7
- Henry Bradshaw, 5
Ten years later, and Henry Bradshaw no longer described himself as grazier in the census, but as a ‘proprietor of houses’ and his address was given as ’22 Mill-Wall’, a house that he had built for himself close to the row of houses he built in Union Road. The Bradshaws shared the house with the Brown family, relatives by marriage. Both families had their own servant, and it is evident that they were well off by Island standards.
Although responsible for the construction of two Island pubs by now, there was no evidence of Henry becoming a publican himself until the early 1850s. Survey of London:
[The Robert Burns public house] was built in 1839 … and was extended in 1853 by the local grazier Henry Bradshaw, the two bays on the left built on the site of an entrance way to the marsh wall path. Bradshaw, and later his son [probably Henry Junior, who later went on to run various pubs in the West End, near Piccadilly], ran the public house for some years.
Henry’s wife Catherine died in 1852 at the age of 49, and he remarried in 1855 to widow Sarah Ratcliff (néé Clayton) whose father Thomas Clayton was also a farmer.
In 1857, demonstrating that he was a man of standing in the community, Henry contributed to the endowment fund for the recently-opened Christ Church, where he was one of the two churchwardens (see article here).
Henry Bradshaw died at Herne Bay in 1867 and was buried in Islington (probably in Clerkenwell, where his father James came from).
What of his children? He and his first wife Catherine had six children (birth years are approximate):
- William Henry, 1828
- Eliza, 1832
- Charles, 1834
- Henry, 1836
- Richard, 1837
- Edward, 1838
William Henry also became a farmer once he was old enough, but made his money in market gardening (in the late 1800s he had a 40 acre market garden north of Chapel House Street), employing “10 men, 6 women and 4 boys”. Survey of London:
A local man, born in 1869, recalled this ground producing cabbages and mangolds for the London markets. He also recalled sheep on the site of Glengall Road Board School in the early 1870s.
Business was good enough for him to buy a large house in Strafford Street (in the terrace known as ‘Strafford Villas’ opposite the north side of St Luke’s Church).
William Henry also leased a number of houses on the south side of Strafford Street (Nos. 32-38, built in 1867), and to complete the parallels with his father, the farmer-turned-property-developer contributed to the construction of St. Luke’s School, and is named on its foundation stone.
William Henry’s daughter Emily also showed the enterprising characteristics of her family. Survey of London:
In one of the houses on the south side [of Strafford Street] Miss Emily Bradshaw set up a school in 1868, when she was 16. Although dismissed by the authorities as inefficient, it was on a slightly more ambitious scale than some such ‘adventure’ schools in Poplar. Held in a reasonably sized room (14ft 10in. by 15ft 5in.), furnished and used exclusively for the purpose, it was open 48 weeks in the year for four four-hour days and two morning-only days a week, and was attended by 10 boys and 24 girls, most of whom paid between 6d and 9d a week to attend (a few paid more).
And his son Charles went on to become a successful solicitor with a business and home in East India Dock Road (William Henry lived with him for a time when he was older and widowed) before moving to a home in the desirable Vanburgh Park in Blackheath. Youngest son Horace ran a Carman and Contractor business on the Island and was a shareholder in various businesses. Son Richard went on to become the landlord of the Lord Nelson public house.
I’ve not described all the ventures of the Bradshaw family throughout the 19th century, but enough I think to give a sense of what kind of family it was. In the 100 years from 1800 to 1900, the population of the Isle of Dogs grew from 150 to more than 20,000, and the Bradshaws not only lived through it all, they were an active part of its growth. A remarkable family.