The End of the Island – Blackwall Entrance Lock

There are occasionally discussions in various Facebook groups – well, the ones that I’m a member of – about the geographical extent of the Island. The river’s an obvious boundary, but what about the northern boundary? Where does the Island end (or start)?

Isle of Dogs was first used as an official place name only as late as the end of the 20th century, when the London Borough of Tower Hamlets introduced various administrative “Neighbourhoods” throughout East London. You will not find a map before then with an official boundary.

Although the name existed for centuries before the arrival of the docks, I tend to use the docks for my own definition of the extent of the Island, with the northern boundary marked by the Limehouse Entrance Lock in the west, West India Docks, and the Blackwall Entrance Lock in the east. (Don’t bother looking for Limehouse Entrance on a map, the lock and basin were filled in almost a century ago, Westferry Circus is more or less on the site today.)

c1830

Many Islanders will remember the swing bridge that spanned Blackwall Entrance Lock, with its tight northern approach bend which caused buses and lorries to swing out on the other side of the road in order to get onto the bridge without mounting the pavement – or not, as in this case:

Blackwall Entrance Lock was the entrance to Blackwall Basin, where ships could turn and enter or exit the West India Import or Export Docks. Its construction lopped off the southern end of Blackwall – a 400 year old centre of shipbuilding and repairing – dramatically shortening Cold Harbour, the main road along the river at the time.

Blackwall from the Thames. Francis Holman, 1784 (National Maritime History Museum)

Survey of London:

The entrance to the West India Docks from the river at Blackwall was the most critical point of the original dock system. The fortunes of the dock proprietors turned on its suitability for shipping. The original intention was to provide a gated entrance, but in late 1799 it was decided that a lock should be constructed, to provide greater control over water levels and to reduce silting. Excavation of the lock pit began in 1800, before Jessop and Walker had settled the dimensions of what was to be the largest lock in England, at 45ft wide, 191ft 6in. long and 23ft 3in. deep at high water.

Six workers were killed during the construction of the lock due to a breach of the coffer dam which was meant to keep the Thames out, but this did not prevent the opening of the lock less than a month later, on 27th August 1802. The locks and lock gates were plagued with problems and needed to be frequently repaired in the following century. And, as with other entrance locks on the Island, the increasing size of ships meant it had to be rebuilt.

1894 reconstruction

1894 reconstruction

Official re-opening

Before the rebuild, the road south of the lock was known as New Road, and the road heading north to Poplar was known as Preston New Road (or Preston’s Road on other maps of the time).

c1870

Due to the increased distance between the lock gates, the road was rerouted a few yards to the east.

c1895

The ‘Engine House’ marked on the map was an impounding station, similar to the one in the west of the Island, which is still functioning and doing its job of maintaining the water level in the docks. Survey of London:

The Blackwall Entrance impounding station was made redundant in 1930 by the introduction of impounding machinery at the South Dock. In 1936 the building was leased to become part of Edwin Cooper & Company’s Northumberland Wharf oil and grease factory. From 1952 it was Raleana Works, the premises of the Thames Welding Company, a subsidiary of the London Graving Dock Company. The building was demolished in 1986.

1894

This 1950 aerial photo shows the building in 1950, along with a few other features – many long gone, but the area still has a few of its original buildings.

1950

Some of my favourite photos of the Island show men heading to or from work near the bridge.

Looking north

Looking south. I admit by my own definition this is not actually the Island, being a few yards north of the bridge.

Ah, not only men, spotted a woman in this photo. She looks quite posh for the Island.

And any photo of a bridger is always impressive, espcially when a large sailing ship is passing through the lock:

In 1929, a new, larger West India South Dock entrance was opened three hundred yards to the south (site of present day Blue Bridge). Around the same time passages were created to link the Import, Export and South Docks.

1936

This made the Blackwall Entrance Lock more or less redundant. It was closed completely in 1940 as it needed repairs but the war prevented these from taking place, and it reopened only for barge traffic from 1950.

This fabulous little film shows extracts from a 1960 documentary about Queenie Watts, who was from the Island. It starts with scenes of the entrance lock in use.

The bridge was always a popular place to take photos or make films of buses for some reason. Then again, I suppose it was an impressive sight, a large vehicle squeezing itself through a small space, sometimes at alarming speeds. I took it all for granted back then.

Photos of other types of vehicle, and even non-vehicle views, are also available:

The lock was last used in 1968, at a time when the West India Docks were almost wound down (work kept going at Millwall Docks, but only for another decade or so). In 1970, the lock was used as the backdrop for some scenes from the very awful film ‘The Walking Stick’, starring David Hemmings (I know it’s awful because I’ve seen it – I even paid for the DVD – but it was worth it to get some more images of the Island).

The entrance lock was already looking a bit forelorn in 1970. Photos taken in the 1980s show the decline.

The previous photo shows that something was afoot at the end of the 1980s; new houses and other buildings were being constructed on the former docks and industrial land, as can be seen in the following photos.

In 1987 the middle lock gates were removed and the entrance lock permanently dammed. Not long afterwards the bridge was removed and Preston’s Road was broadened and straightened.

The Island has changed hugely in recent years, but this is one of two areas where I have found it particularly disconcerting. All that stuff in and around the docks – it’s just new – and I can’t compare it with the past because I never went in the docks anyway (well… maybe, but I never nicked anything).

And outside of the docks, many original roads are largely still recognizable: Manchester Rd, Westferry Rd, Stebondale Street, Tiller Road, Glengall Road, Cahir Street, and so on – there’s plenty enough still there for me to know where I am. But, the first time I drove from East India Dock Road onto the Island after not visiting for a few years, I had no idea where I was, I literally stopped the car and reversed up the street when I realised that I’d just driven over what was once the Blackwall Entrance Lock. Where was the bridge, why was the road so wide and straight, where are all the old buildings? Where was I? It was only when I saw the Blue Bridge in the distance that I could calm down a bit. 🙂

I mentioned two areas where I have found the change particulary disconcerting; the other area is where The Walls were. Is it a coincidence that this is the western end of my self-defined, Island boundary? Both were areas where I would feel like I’d arrived home when heading south from Limehouse or Poplar, and now I don’t recognize them. Maybe I ought redefine my Island boundaries.

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The Public Library in Strattondale Street

It was good to hear that ASDA is abandoning its plans for a massive development on its mudchute site (see Second Tower Hamlets ‘people victory’ as Asda scraps Isle of Dogs development), but I didn’t realise that – had it gone ahead – the library in Strattondale Street would have been under threat. This risk was perceived by some protesters because the development plans included creation of new premises for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets’ Idea Store, which is currently housed in the library; the argument being that the council would then have fewer limitations on any considerations it may have to sell off the library to a property developer. A not unrealistic concern – the library was built in an era when the concern of philanthropists and local government for the welfare of those less well off was more apparent – when it wasn’t so dominated by dealing with budget cuts or financial efficiency.

The library in Strattondale Street was financed by Scottish-born, massively rich, American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who between 1889 and 1916 gave grants for close to 3000 libraries (half which were in the US) in the English-speaking world.

Andrew Carnegie, 1913

The library in Strattondale Street, officially opened in January 1905, replaced the library in Osborne House, in what is now Island Gardens. The land opposite Greenwich was owned by Lady Glengall and leased from her by William Cubitt. In 1852 they signed a 99-year sub-lease agreement with Greenwich Hospital. It was to have landscaped gardens (a “plantation”) with imported trees and shrubs, and five large villas were to be built a little back from the river so they could not be seen from the hospital.

But, there was no interest from buyers; the wealthy businessmen that the development was expected to attract did not want to live on the Isle of Dogs. Close to 50 years later, only one villa had been built, and the land that had been set aside for gardens had become a public open space, but it was far from landscaped. Locally it was known as ‘scrap iron park’. The one villa, Osborne House, was taken over by the London County Council in 1892 and became the Island’s public library.

Osborne House, Saunders Ness Road, in the 1950s

 

In 1900, the land between Strattondale Street and Galbraith Street – owned by Lady Margaret Charteris – was vacant and was purchased for £1,150.

1895

Plans were drawn up for the building, with the remaining land to be landscaped as public gardens.

First plan

Eventual construction. Image: Survey of London

 

Survey of London:

Most of the ceiling in the lending department fell to the floor seven years after the building was completed and there was some bomb damage during the Second World War; full restoration of the fabric followed both of those misfortunes. Because of the need for a hall on the Isle of Dogs which could be used for public meetings and social events, in the early 1960s it was decided to convert the newspaper reading room and erect a flank extension, providing a hall with seating for approximately 140.

I do remember going to the odd ‘do’ in the library around 1970, but mostly I remember how many books I borrowed from the place – keenly waiting for the place to open of a Saturday morning so that I could hand my books in and get new ones.

I visited the library a couple of years ago and took a few photos (I asked first). I mentioned to one of the staff that it still smelled the same as it did in 1970. He wasn’t sure if he should laugh or dial 999.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

War Damage to Shelters in Poplar

While researching the article, The Tragedy at Bullivant’s Wharf, I made use of some papers I had received from The National Archives: “Poplar Met Boro – War Damage to Shelters (POP/30)”. The papers describe the examination of the damage to a number of shelters (with an eye to improving shelter design), the cost of their repairs, and the accompanying correspondence between the council and central government bodies.

Cover sheet

Unfortunately, the papers didn’t contain that much information about the shelter at Bullivant’s Wharf, and they have been stored in a box since I wrote the article in January 2014. While having a bit of a clear-out last weekend, I decided not to simply throw the papers out, but to scan and share them here. A bit off the beaten track – i.e. not particularly about the Island – but still interesting for some, I hope.

The papers describe the damage to a few shelters by bombing Poplar, Bow and Stepney. The Poplar shelters in question, excluding Bullivant’s Wharf, were at various locations in the borough, but the papers gave particular attention to the shelters at:

  • Cording Street
  • Quixley Street
  • Latham Street
  • Broomfield Street

Cording Street

Cording Street (long) before and after the war, and recently:

1890, 1950 and 2015

Quixley Street

1890, 1950 and 2015

Latham Street

1890, 1950 and 2015

Damage to Latham Street shelters.

Damage to Latham Street shelters.

Damage to Latham Street shelters.

Damage to Latham Street shelters.

Damage to Latham Street shelters.

Broomfield Street

The Co-Operative warehouse was on the corner of Sharman Street and Broomfield, location of the RNLI store yard in the 1890 map:

1890, 1950 and 2015

Co-Operative Warehouse in Broomfield Street

As you would expect, the council set about the business of repairing shelters (where possible), while government bodies endeavoured to learn what they could from the damage. This was early in the war, and the government was conscious that it had much to learn about the impact of aerial bombing and the design of shelters.

The damage to the shelters at Latham Street received particular attention, as an answer was sought to the question of why only one of the two identical shelters was so severely damaged:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pictorial History of the Millwall Docks. Part 5: Closure

The introduction of containers for cargo handling in the mid-1960s was the beginning of the end for the India and Millwall Docks. Despite the Millwall Docks being amongst the most modern and well-equipped in the world, they could not handle container ships (not only were the ships too large to handle, by nature containers did not rely on warehousing).

With the PLA developing Tilbury as its main container port, the upriver docks saw a dramatic reduction in traffic. First to close were the East India Docks in 1967. A couple of years later and it was the turn of the St Katharine, London, and Surrey Docks. Around this time, parts of the India and Millwall Docks were also closing, including the West India Import Dock north quay and the Wood Wharves.

There was a small upturn in the fortunes of the Millwall Docks in 1969, when Fred Olsen redeveloped the east side of the Inner Dock for cargo handling and its cruise liner service, but this could not prevent the inevitable.

Survey of London:

In January 1976, with 14 berths still open, the PLA announced a plan to close the India and Millwall Docks, excepting bulk wine and tenanted berths. The Transport and General Workers’ Union opposed the changes. A compromise was reached that provided for continued operations at the South Dock and Millwall Docks, with £400,000 committed to improving certain sheds and berths, while the Import Dock south quay berths and warehouses were shut down. However, the India and Millwall Docks continued to lose huge amounts of money, with ever-declining traffic, illustrated by the fact that conventional bulk tonnage in 1976 was a quarter of its 1970 volume.

Facing liquidation in 1978, the PLA again proposed closing the up-river docks. The unions would not discuss closure, and the government urged compromise, refusing either to sanction closure or to subsidize useless facilities. A plan for the concentration of operations at both sets of up-river docks agreed in June 1979 involved keeping open the South Dock south quay, Bulk Wine Terminal, and Millwall Docks, but permanently closing the Import and Export Docks, the west ends of which were to be filled in. The Conservative Government that took office in 1979 responded to the PLA’s plan with the imposition of limits to central financial assistance, making continued operations at both sets of docks unviable.  In January 1980 the PLA announced that, unless working-practice improvement targets could be met, operations would be transferred out of the India and Millwall Docks to the Royal Docks from July. In fact, a strike shut down the docks in February and closure was brought forward and carried through between March and July 1980.

Most of the PLA’s India and Millwall Dock estate was vested in the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) in July 1981. Dock operations survived into the early 1980s at the bulk wine and tenanted berths. The PLA retained control of the water areas still in use and managed the redevelopment of parts of the estate not vested in the LDDC. The sale to the LDDC of most of the remaining PLA land and water area in the Isle of Dogs was agreed in 1983.

And so ended almost 200 years of enclosed-dock operations on the Isle of Dogs; a business which was responsible for its historical development, which employed men (and some women) from nearly every Island family, and which significantly influenced the colours, sounds and smell of the place. Suddenly the cranes were still and silent, and the ships’ horns were a distant memory.

Millwall Cutting, Inner Dock beyond that.

McDougall’s

A Fred Olson Shed

A Fred Olson Shed

Glass Bridge Closed

Glass Bridge Closed

Kingsbridge from the top of McDougalls

Looking across Barnfields towards the Outer Dock

Outer Dock

“Prospects”

“Prospects”

 

Inner Dock with partially demolished Glass Bridge in foreground, M-Shed and Millwall Cutting in background.

Glass Bridge Demolition

Temporary Glengall Bridge

M-Shed

M-Shed and Millwall Cutting

Inner Dock looking north

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Limehouse Hole

The origins of the name Limehouse Hole are not certain. This 1745 map mentions Limekiln Holes, in the plural, and possibly referring the stretch of river, rather than a place on dry land. My own theory is that a hole was a small harbour, a place to lay up ships, as in Mousehole in Cornwall (mind you historians debate the origin of this name too). This area was, after all, from the 17th century a plying place for watermen and it later became densely filled with shipyards and other dock-related industries.

1745

With a name like Limehouse Hole, it would appear to have no place in a blog about the Isle of Dogs. However, it streteched from Limekiln Dock in the north to the Poplar Breach in the south (which I described in a recent article) – just north of the present-day Westferry Circus.

Survey of London:

As London’s riverside was developed, and Limehouse spread eastwards in the seventeenth century, Limehouse Hole was built up with shipping-related enterprises. These characterized the area into the twentieth century. There were shipbuilders, barge-builders, boat-builders, ropemakers, sailmakers, mastmakers, blockmakers and ship-chandlers, as well as general wharfingers.

The eight acres of riverside land immediately south of the boundary between Limehouse and Poplar, empty save perhaps for a few small houses behind the river wall, were leased by Sir Edward and Sir John Yate to John Graves in 1633. Graves was a shipbuilder at the yard on the north side of the boundary, later known as Limekiln Dockyard and then as Dundee Wharf. In 1664 Samuel Pepys visited Margetts’s ropeyard and apparently decided to use it to supply the Navy.

In 1662 Margetts acquired the freehold of Graves’s eight acres, with an additional 2½ acres to the east. The estate subsequently passed by marriage to Cornelius Purnell, a Portsmouth shipwright. His son sold part of it in 1717 to Philip Willshire, who acquired the remainder in 1723.  The estate passed through Willshire’s family to Edward Emmett, whose heirs retained the property until 1809, when it was sold off in parcels.

Limehouse Hole, 1768, looking south east toward Batson’s Yard. Painting by John Hood

The foreshore of Robert Batson’s Yard is full of timber, imported for the construction of ships (mostly warships and East Indiamen). Batson was a substantial Island landowner – the first residential streets in Millwall were built on his land: Robert and Alfred Street named after his sons, and later renamed Cuba and Tobago Street respectively. At the end of Cuba Street was formerly Batson’s Wharf (absorbed into Lenanton’s Yard), while there was once a a Batson’s Street off Three Colt Street.

Hood’s painting shows Limehouse Hole Stairs on the left. These were at the river end of Thames Place, which connected with Emmet Street, and which disappeared not that long ago. Also notable is the public house at the top of the stairs; possibly known as the White Lion at the time, it would later be named the Chequers, and then the Horns and Chequers.

Curling & Young’s Shipyard in 1825

Survey of London:

In 1843 watermen attempted to recover business lost to steamboats by erecting a floating pier at Limehouse Hole Stairs. This had evidently gone by 1860, when the Thames Conservancy erected new stairs projecting on to the foreshore. Representations calling for a passenger steamboat service to the locality persuaded the Conservancy Board to erect a floating pier at Limehouse Hole Stairs in 1870. The pier, a walkway on three pontoons, was designed by Stephen William Leach, the Board’s engineer. It was removed in 1901 for the building of Dundee Wharf. In 1905–6 the LCC constructed a pier, consisting of two lengths of lattice-girder walkway to a pontoon, as one of several river piers erected for the ‘Penny Steamer’ service. It was removed by the PLA in 1948, but the stairs and Thames Place, though closed off in 1967, survived until 1990.

Limehouse Pier c1900

Limehouse Pier c1900, with Thames Place at the start of the pier, and the pub to the right.

In 1800 Batson’s yard was transferred to Cox, Curling & Company, shipbuilders, previously based at Duke Shore, Limehouse, and across the river. They enlarged the dry docks and demolished the house. The company was controlled in the early nineteenth century by Robert Curling and William Young. William Curling (c1770–1853). Jesse Curling and George Frederick Young succeeded them and from c1820 the firm was known as Curling, Young & Company. They built East and West Indiamen and, from the late 1830s, large merchant steamships, all of them of timber, not iron. The yard became known as Limehouse Dockyard, and the management as Young, Son & Magnay from about 1855, by which time at least one of the slips was covered with open-sided shedding. The firm continued to build large timber ships, but this was a declining section of the shipbuilding industry.

1862

John Garford (c1772–1850) was a prominent figure in Poplar, active in the formation of the parish and the building of All Saints’ Church. The road that ran from his wharf to the Commercial (West India Dock) Road still carries his name (see below). Until 1877 his family produced oilcake at what became Garford Wharf, with A. E. Burrell & Son using the eastern part of the premises as a paint factory from 1874. The main buildings were sold to William Taylor & Company for use as a paint factory called Taylor’s Wharf, and the long warehouse (215ft by 21ft) was used by R. J. Hanbury for storing rice, wheat, tapioca and hops, and was known as Limehouse Wharf. These wharves were combined as Venesta Wharf from 1900 to 1921 under the occupation of the Venesta Company, packing-case makers. The Royal Oak public house was rebuilt in 1878 and No. 12 Emmett Street, just north of the long warehouse, was the United Brothers’ beerhouse from the late nineteenth century until 1935.

In 1874,  Aberdeen Wharf was established by the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Company, and was used mainly for the storage of goods brought from Scotland.

1895

1937, and as with the other photos it’s worth clicking on this to see the full-sized version

P. R. Buchanan & Company, tea merchants, acquired Venesta Wharf in 1921, to replace a wharf at Wapping. The eighteenth-century warehouses were extended towards Thames Place in 1924 and 1928–9 with fourand six-storey blocks, and the Horns and Chequers was demolished. The old warehouses and the Royal Oak were replaced in 1935–7 with six-storey brick warehouses designed by Charles Dunch & Son, architects and wharf specialists. Buchanan’s Wharf was severely damaged in the Blitz. The south-east corner block survived, but the other buildings on the rectangular site were reinstated in 1950–2 as a six-storey warehouse, with A. J. Thomas and G. Hartley Goldsmith as architects. The building was brick with reinforced-concrete internal construction, rather than the timber and iron used in the 1935–7 buildings. It was similar in appearance to those lost; plain and bulky, with a touch of Classicism. Towards the river there were full-height pilaster strips beneath a continuous cornice. The eight divisions provided more than 1,250,000 cu.ft of storage for tea and rubber.

Thames Place from Limehouse Pier during WWII

This 1950 map reveals a lot of empty space where warehouses once stood.

1950

Year unknown, but possibly 1948

1970s

The remains of the damaged riverside warehouses were cleared in 1948–9 and the remaining 1870s warehouses were demolished in 1971–2. Aberdeen Wharf was cleared in the late 1980s for use by contractors working on Westferry Circus and other parts of the Canary Wharf site.

2017

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Me new book – A Dictionary of Lost East London

Excuse the blatant self-promotion for a moment, but I’ve just published another book. As the cover blurb says, “An absolute must for anyone interested in the history of East London or who is exploring their East London ancestry – a comprehensive dictionary of the lost streets, roads, alleys, lanes, public houses, blocks of flats, places of worship, schools, hospitals, docks, wharves and other places of note. Find out where it was and/or how it was renamed, with more than seven thousand entries covering centuries of East London’s past.” It’s available from Amazon at:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1547105003/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ep_dp_T-.pzbHKER3X9

This is the introduction….

In terms of the long history of London, the East End is a relatively new place. Take a look at a map of London in, say, 1600, and the area to east of the City walls is mostly farmland, punctuated with the odd village, such as Stepney, Poplar or Bow, connected by country lanes. In 1700, the area immediately outside of the walls had seen some development (Spitalfields, Goodmans Yard, for example) as had a strip of land along the river, but still there was nothing that could be described as East London.

By the end of the 1700s, however, the Industrial Revolution had caused an explosive growth in industry and house building, London spilled out of its old borders (from a population of 1 million in 1800 to more than 6 million in 1900), and East London was a fact.

Until the 19th century there were few rules regarding how places and streets should be named or spelled; the names developed organically and according to popular, local convention. The Metropolitan Board of Works, established in the mid-19th century sought to bring order to this situation. Not only did they take official responsibility for new names, they also carried out an extensive renaming, in order to facilitate their administration of London and to support accurate delivery of post by the General Post Office.

Fifty years later, much of the administration was delegated to newly-formed borough councils who mostly endeavoured to make sure that ‘their’ street names were unique and easily located. When, for example, a council was confronted with four of five separate Cross Streets within its area, it would likely rename four of them. When widening roads, or creating major new routes, it made sense to amalgamate multiple, differently-named road sections into one (take The Highway as an example, whose original names are mentioned later in this chapter).

A further, major influence on London street names was World War II, which caused the obliteration of many streets, with large numbers being buried under new council estates during the post-war rebuilding.

The frequent name-changing is a challenge to an avid family tree researcher and amateur historian like myself, and I am always interested in (old) documents which allow me to better identify the location of old addresses or buildings. Among the useful publications I have come across is “Lockie’s Topography of London” by John Lockie, published in 1810. Lockie spent seven years preparing the book, which he created for the insurers Phoenix Fire-Office off Lombard Street, for whom he was the Inspector of Buildings.

The topography accurately describes itself as providing “a concise local description of, and accurate direction to, every square, street, lane, court, dock, wharf, inn, public-office, &c. in the metropolis and its environs, including the new buildings to the present time, upon a plan never hitherto attempted.” The descriptions are short, clear, and indeed accurate; it takes little effort to identify the present-day location.

In the decades that followed its publication, books in a similar vein were published, including “A Topographical Dictionary of London and its Environs” by James Elmes, published in 1831. Elmes was born in Greenwich and was an architect of some note, as is apparent from his ample architectural descriptions of many of the buildings. Although not as comprehensive as Lockie’s Topography (nor did it claim to be), it was a welcome addition to my reference “library”. Both works are abundantly quoted in this book.

After finding other books of the same ilk, I started to think about combining them all, along with the readily-available street name change information on the internet, to provide myself with a handy list of everything in one place. I wasn’t planning to publish a book, it was meant to be for just my own use. The idea of making a book from it grew gradually, along with my realisation that it could be of use to other people too. I also thought I’d be finished in a few weeks.

That was 18 months ago! Once I had started, there seemed no end to it, apart from the obvious geographical boundaries. Mind you, the earliest drafts also included what is now Newham and Stratford and the north half of Hackney, before I decided that it was just too much (and also because these areas have seen nothing like the extent of the changes by areas clser to the City).

I would not dare to state that the end result is complete and comprehensive, there is always new research and information cropping up from somewhere, but in the same way that I drew geographical lines as a practical necessity, the law of diminishing returns meant calling an end to the research after much longer than the ‘few weeks’ I had in mind. Oh to have had Lockie’s seven years’ research time.

And here are some extracts….

There’s even an entry for ‘X’ 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Poplar Gut

I must admit to a childish, inner smirk whenever I see mention of the Poplar Gut, inspiring – as it does – images of beer bellies in the Watermans on the Island.  Or is it just me who thinks that?

In medieval times, the marshland that was the Isle of Dogs (Stebunheath, aka Stepney Marshes) was reclaimed by means of a wall, or bank, along the riverfront and drainage of the interior land (see The Mill Wall). There are records of the wall being breached by the Thames on occasion, most seriously at Limehouse Hole in the north west of the Island on 20th March 1660, which led to an area of the Island remaining flooded for many years after. This lake was known as the Poplar Gut (‘gut’ is an Anglo-Saxon word, meaning a narrow waterway or small creek, applied also to intestinal channels).

In this early 1700s map, Poplar Gut is visible, as well as an area of marsh to its west. It was here that the wall was breached.

The extent of the breach made it impractical to restore the wall at its original location – after all, the area was now underwater most of the time. Instead, a wall was built around the breach, slightly inland and – crucially – above the high tide level. This meant that the wall had a distinct bulge to the east, as is clear in the following map.

Survey of London:

The Poplar Commissioners of Sewers repaired the damage and rebuilt other sections of defective wall, at a cost of more than £16,000, raised by the imposition on landowners of very high rates of about £24 per acre. The work was done by William Ham, Orton Brooker and George Salmon, and presumably consisted of timber piling and planking, with chalk and clay fill and buttressing. The new section of wall was set well back from the river behind unprotected foreland that came to be known simply as the Breach. Most of the floodwater was drained, but approximately five acres of water remained, stretching eastwards from the Breach. This came to be called the Great Gut, or Poplar Gut.

This deviation of the wall and the marshland to its west became very significant to the further development of this area of the Island, with evidence visible even to this day, as we will see later.

This 1700s drawing shows the expanse of the breach on the right. The three ships in the centre are moored at what was known as the Breach Dockyard.

Survey of London:

In the early 1730s William Atterbury, a butcher, built a house at the south-west corner of the Gut; this became a public house which by 1750 was known as the Gut House, although it may originally have been the Shipwright’s Arms. In the 1790s a row of eight houses and William and John Godsell’s ropeyard were built south of the Gut House.

The houses didn’t stand for long, because in 1800 they were demolished to make way for the City Canal, built across the Island by the Corporation of London. The canal also took advantage of, and absorbed all of, Poplar Gut.

Survey of London:

Preliminary excavation of the canal started in 1800, by John Clark and Thomas Thatcher, from Wiltshire, and some direct labour. The main excavation and embankment work was contracted to John Dyson, of Bawtry, Yorkshire. He was not able to begin until 1801, because of delays with the installation, supervised by John Rennie, of a Boulton & Watt steam pumping-engine on the site that later became the Canal Dockyard.

The main excavation was completed in 1804, and the locks were approaching completion in July 1805 when the coffer-dam and preventer dam at the east end failed, causing a great wave to rush through the canal. Extensive repairs were needed and the opening had to be postponed until 9 December 1805. The canal was 3,711ft long between the lock gates, 176ft wide at the surface of the water and 23ft deep at its centre, dug only 17ft down, with the spoil used to build up the banks.

The City Canal was not a success, for it was not adopted as a worthwhile short cut. Its potential had probably been overestimated, and London’s growing number of wet docks and the arrival of steamers in the river further reduced its usefulness. From 1811 it became primarily a ‘receptacle for dismantled ships’.

Work started on the West India Docks well before the City Canal opened. One consequence of their construction was that the Gut House also had to be demolished. The owner at the time, James Oughton, then moved slightly further south to build the City Arms public house.

The West India Docks expanded further south, and eventually the City Canal became the South Dock.

By 1875 the transformation was almost complete.

I have to go back to the eastwards bulge in the mill wall. The curving road eventually became known as The Walls.

Drove round that road a million times in my Ford Escort, or on the top floor of a 277. I never imagined the curve of the road was defined by a 17th century flood.

And today, it’s still a bit of an odd place, south of Westferry Circus and still not built up. Only a matter of time, though.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments