Eating Out on the Isle of Dogs

To my knowledge (and I am open to correction), there was never a ‘proper restaurant’ on the Isle of Dogs before the appearance in the late 1980s of the Gaylord Indian Restaurant at 141 Manchester Road in the former premises of Evans’ fruit and veg shop. I was thrilled that there was an Indian restaurant just ‘around the shops’, but also astounded. A restaurant? On the Island? In the same row as the betting shop, the chemist’s, Sinfield’s and the launderette? That can’t be right! Thirty-odd years later and the restaurant is still going strong.

1986. Evans’ is boarded up and awaiting the arrival of Gaylord. Screenshot from the ‘Prospects’ TV series.

A ‘selfie’ before the word was invented. Gaylord’s in 1996. Left to right: Angie Lemmerman, Lorraine Lemmerman, puzzled woman on next table, Karen Holland (nee Lemmerman), Mick Lemmerman, Dineke de Vries.

By ‘proper restaurant’, I mean an eating establishment that you would visit primarily for social reasons, usually in the evening, often with friends, lovers or family. Historically there were businesses on the Island that described themselves as ‘restaurants’, but these catered for a very different type of customer: working men (mostly) and women (infrequently) who were looking for a daytime meal. Alcohol was rarely served, the food was simple fare, it was not unusual to visit and eat alone, and virtually all such establishments closed their doors at the end of the afternoon. They were what we would more recently call lunch rooms or cafes.

In addition to these were the places where you could buy cheaper, warm food to take away: pie shops, fried fish shops, and similar. Pub food was non-existent until relatively recently (unless you count crisps, peanuts, pickled eggs and pork scratchings as food).

The first places on the Island where it was possible to order sit-in food have their origins in Victorian coffee rooms or coffee houses. Initially, coffee rooms did what they said on the tin – they sold coffee – but by the start of the 20th century many also offered food. At the outbreak of WWI there were around 20 coffee rooms on the Island, mostly on the main roads where there was passing trade, like Westferry Road, Manchester Road and Glengall Road.

After WWI, however, mention of coffee rooms in trade and post office directories covering the Island all but disappeared. The businesses hadn’t disappeared, they just became more commonly known as dining rooms.

The oldest photo of dining rooms on the Isle of Dogs that I am aware of was taken just before WWI and shows the business that occupied two former shops at 124 and 126 East Ferry Road, just across the road from The George.

Early 1900s. From left to right, 128-124 East Ferry Road. The buildings were destroyed during WWII and later a petrol station was built on the site. Photo: Island History Trust.

Another indication of the potential trade in the area is provided by the following photo, taken around the same time, and showing more dining rooms diagonally opposite, at 89 Glengall Road.

Early 1900s. Glengall Road (as it was then named), with No. 89 on the right. The name of the owners, Dow, is shown above the front door. James & Susan Dow owned the business from 1895 to 1910. The final owners were the Fisher family, until the building was destroyed by during WWII.

The George wasn’t missing a trick either. Survey of London:

Its prominent position close to the docks and station was exploited by its landlords: rooms were available for businessmen’s meetings and dining rooms and a large billiards room for their relaxation.

A couple of decades later, a little further along Glengall Road, the Cox family opened dining rooms in a former chandler’s shop….

1935. 79 Glengall Road. Photo: Island History Trust

Just north of the West India South Dock entrance was Charles Rich’s dining rooms in the building which would later house Leslie’s Cafe.

1931

1980s. Leslie’s Cafe. Photo: Tim Brown

By the end of the 1950s, the name dining rooms was going out of fashion, and was being replaced by café (or cafe), taken from the French for coffee or coffee house. The dining rooms at 148 Manchester Road, owned by Edith Rutter in the 1950s, showed how names changed.

1950s. A girl across the road from Edith Rutter’s Dining Rooms. Photo Credit: ?????

Ten to fifteen years later and the business was known as Edie’s Cafe, but the old painted sign remained. The cafe was owned by an Edith Anderson, possibly the same Edith who owned the dining rooms but who had since married (or divorced, of course)?

148 Manchester Road in 1972

The interior certainly fits my memory of what cafes were like then….

1970. The interior of Edie’s Cafe

Another cafe, not far away, was Parkside Cafe in Douglas Place, a cul-de-sac at the end of which used to be the main entrance to Millwall Park (Island Gardens DLR Station is on the site).

1973

And also not far away was the cafe in Ferry Street which started life in 1910 as coffee rooms under North Greenwich Railway Station.

c1930. Mr. Allen outside his Ideal Bar, Ferry Street. Photo: Island History Trust

1950s. Ideal Bar decades after the station had closed (and was occupied by the Calder brothers, wharfingers). Photo: Island History Trust.

1973. George Allen, son of abovementioned Mr. Allen, not long before the Ideal Bar closed for good.

On 28th September 1940, The Millwall Docks Tavern & Hotel – a grand old building at the Kingsbridge entrance to Millwall Docks – was destroyed by bombing.

1933 (estimate). Millwall Docks Tavern and Hotel

All that remained (just about) was the adjacent shed – on the right in the above photo – which probably housed stables when the pub first opened in 1869. In 1951, Dennis McGinnis ran a refreshment bar in the patched up shed, but by 1968 the business was owned by someone evidently named Bob.

1968. Bob’s Bar

In the 1970s, Bob was succeeded by Norman.

c1977. Norman’s Nosh Bar. Photo: David Johnson

Later, Norman moved into more salubrious premises in the row of shops under Arethusa House.

1984. Norman’s Nosh Bar. Photo: Mike Seaborne

1984. Norman’s Nosh Bar. Photo: Mike Seaborne

Norman’s Nosh Bar was very close to my primary school, Harbinger. I lived opposite Christ Church, walked to and from school, and every day I passed Sid’s Cosy Cafe at 423 Westferry Road, opposite The Ship. It wasn’t much more than a shed really, like some other cafes on the Island, and it hadn’t changed much since its opening before WWI.

c1930. 423 Westferry Road. Photo: Island History Trust.

257 Westferry Road, opposite the Kingsbridge Arms (I’ve just realised that I frequently use pubs to reference a location 🙂 ) was a shop since the building was constructed in the 1800s.

Circa 1980. 255-277 Westferry Road. Photo: Island History Trust

No. 277 housed a cafe for a few years in the 1980s, until the buildings were demolished.

1983. 255-277 Westferry Road.

Every coffee room, dining room and cafe so far mentioned in this article is no more, and in almost cases the building has gone too. I planned to mention a couple of exceptions, including Harry’s Cafe at the north end of East Ferry Road, next to the old buildings which were recently illegally demolished.

2016. Harry’s Cafe

Unfortunately I just found out that Harry’s Cafe has since closed for good.

2021

The other exception was supposed to be the cafe in Island Gardens. However, this cafe is also permanently closed, earmarked for demolition, to be replaced with a pavilion-type building (the first design ideas for this building indicate it will be an oversized box-like structure which will be totally out of character in these small Victorian gardens).

1968. The old wooden Island Gardens Cafe.

2014. The rear of the ‘new’ cafe

Owner of the Island Gardens Cafe in the 1980s, former stevedore, George Attewell. Photo: Mike Seaborne.

Island Gardens Cafe, bricked up and waiting to be demolished.

Fish and chip shops, pie shops and similar were also prevalent on the Island (and, takeaway food is more popular then ever) offering warm food to be eaten outside in the street, or to take home. Fried fish shops became popular towards the end of the 19th century, when larger fishing boats and new trawling methods meant that fish could be caught in much larger quantities than ever before, driving down their price. Initially, some businesses sold wet fish, with fried fish as a side business, while others sold only fried fish and chips. By the way:

Most people think that Fish and Chips originated in England, this is not actually true. The real history of Fish and Chips is traced back to 15th Century Portugal where the dish really was invented.
https://www.docksidehhi.com/the-history-of-fish-and-chips

According to trade, electoral and other historical records, there are/were at various times fried fish (or fish and chip) shops at:

  • 6 The Quarterdeck
  • 50 Glengall Road
  • 80, 153, 156, 258 and 479 Manchester Road
  • 62 Mellish Street
  • 28, 33, 46, 91, 125, 329 and 427* Westferry Road

* This shop was actually in a small building at the rear of the address, accessible only via Chapel House Street

1923. Boddie’s Fish Shop at 50 Glengall Road. Photo: Island History Trust

Circa 1910. Deek’s Fish Shop at 28 Westferry Road. Photo: Island History Trust

1986. The Golden Fish Bar at 46 Westferry Road. Image: Screenshot from the ‘Prospects’ TV Series

1986. The chip shop at 62 Mellish Street. Screenshot from the ‘Prospects’ TV series. I don’t know if this was the real name of the shop, or if it was an invention for the TV series.

The chip shop at No. 6, The Quarterdeck – the Britannia Fish Bar – is relatively recent and doing good business. One other address – 153 Manchester Road – still houses a fish and chip shop (albeit one that has expanded the menu) and has a longer history.

I remember when the fish and chip shop opened at this address in the very early 1970s: The Skate Inn, owned by the Tremain family (hard not to remember it seeing as I lived almost above it and was a frequent customer).

1970s merge of a couple of photos by Pat Jarvis, showing The Skate Inn in the background

The Tremains moved to this address when their business just across the road at 156 Manchester Road was earmarked for demolition (ostensibly to make room for the new George Green’s School, but the school was not built that far east).

1960. Rose Mulock and Mrs Tremain outside 156 Manchester Road. Photo: Malcolm Tremain

1960. Mr Tremain inside 156 Manchester Road. Photo: Malcolm Tremain

An honourable mention must go to an entirely different kind of food shop: the Lickabowl pie and mash shop which was at No. 7, The Quarterdeck in the early 1980s. Pie and mash is my favourite food, and I did eat in the Lickabowl once or twice, but no pie and mash could ever be as good as that from Kelly’s as far as I’m concerned. I think most people prefer the pie and mash they grew up with, anyway. I am being diplomatic here, not wanting to start a debate about the best pie and mash, or whether the pies should be upside down, or which cutlery you should use. Unfortunately I have no photos of the shop, only of one of its adverts…

Another new development in the 1980s, as far as the Island was concerned, was the arrival of snack vans….

1980s. Tijen and Ahmet with their van in East Ferry Road. I am assuming that this and the following photo should be credited to them.

Tijen and Ahmet also sold food at the corner of Ferry Street and Westferry Road, across the road to the Fire Station where they later opened a restaurant. (I’ve enjoyed eating there a couple of times. This is not the first time I’ve mention this fact in this blog, and I am still waiting for some Turkish food as a reward for the free advertising 🙂 ).

1980s. Ferry Street on the left

Another van was the one run by Ernie Bennett. Michael Bennett:

Dad used to run the Isle of Dogs Angling club (may have been called Millwall Angling club) and used to take his caravanette into the docks whilst fishing and make cups of tea for the anglers.

1985-ish When he stopped working as a van driver, he decided to convert the caravanette into a snack bar, which he did himself, and was first used during the London Marathon. In fact, it was the first snack bar on canary Wharf.

Press clipping: Michael Bennett

My mum, Doreen, started working in their after a while serving people on the dockside near where the Britannia Hotel was built The snack bar then moved was the hotel was being built to just out side the dock gate in Byng Street, with a little area for tables and chairs.

Circa 1990. Ernie Bennett in front of his van in Byng Street. Photo: Michael Bennett.

The original caravanette actually caught fire out side their house in Strafford street one morning, we don’t know why. He then replaced this with a tow snack bar.

When Dad died in 1993 my Sister Sharon left her job at the bank of England and kept the van going with my Mum. After a few years the council placed a zebra crossing or zig zag lines by the pitch in Byng street so they had to move.

So they moved into the area by the Nat West Bank off of Marsh Wall. They stayed there until a few years ago when the rent and changing clientele made it unviable. Quite a few Island ladies helped Sharon and Mum over the years including Sharon and Michelle Harris, Pat Howell and my sister in Law Janet, our next door neighbour Carol.

2010. Photo: Michael Bennett

The story of eating out on the Isle of Dogs has almost reached the present. Today there is a very wide choice of ‘proper restaurants’ and takeaways – reflecting the huge growth in the population of the Isle of Dogs and in the change in clientele as Michael Bennett described it. You can always Google “Where to eat on the Isle of Dogs” and you will have your answer. Me? If I am not getting free Turkish food, I’m going for a pint and a packet of crisps in The George (even though they do sell good cooked food). 🙂

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11 Responses to Eating Out on the Isle of Dogs

  1. Peter Stone says:

    Pity my father isn’t still alive to read this… he could probably add a bit more information. He knew pretty much all the English/Italian cafes, restaurants and works canteens in London from the 1950s until the 1990s, especially those in East London. He started as a ‘traveller’ (i.e. a salesman) for a big wholesale grocery company in the 1940s. In the ’60 he set up on his own and supplied eateries with their dry groceries (sugar, flour, eggs, bacon, tea, coffee, etc.) from his warehouse in Stepney (in the ’70s) or Manchester Road on the Island in the ’80s.

  2. Mark Gould says:

    Fabulous bit of history Mick. I know its not island but nearby – Farina’s in Poplar- near the entrance of Blackwall Tunnel? Or is my memory playing tricks

  3. William Willson says:

    There was a cafe in Glen TTerrace which my grandfather used during his British rail rounds on the island. It later became a betting shop. My grandfather drove a 3 he’ll Scammel out of Bishopsgate. As children, he would give us all a
    ride on the low loader he was towing. I doubt if health and safety would allow it today.

  4. William Willson says:

    3 wheel Scammel

  5. Lesley Diss says:

    I seem to remember a café just round the corner of the lower end of Glengall Terrace (1950s-60s).. Does anyone remember it? I was so intrigued by the smells! Thanks for a great article, Mick.

  6. Jacqueline S says:

    I thought I’d see the Lotus Chinese Floating restaurant featured here (it was on Millwall Inner Dock). It was one of my first experiences of ‘eating out’ when I moved to the Isle of Dogs in 1998.

  7. Ian Bull says:

    I’ve read this blog in its entirety and found it fascinatingly informative.

    ‘Eating out on the Isle of Dogs’ reminded me of apparently insignificant occasions in the early 1980s. About halfway through there’s mention of the the café at 255-277 Westferry Road, Sandra’s Snacks. I used to have my lunch there and was served the most perfect egg & chips I’ve ever had or ever will have. That might sound like a minor reason to comment but I’ve never forgotten those simple yet perfect meals.

    I wonder if Sandra is reading? If so, thanks!

    I’ve no connection with the Isle of Dogs but a lifelong interest in Industrial History first took me there in the mid 1970s. I returned very frequently for many years but, now perhaps only four times each year.

    Keep going with this superb site, just about the best local history blog in the whole of Dockland. Thanks, Mick!

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