Unique Images of Canary Wharf from the Late 80s to the Early 90s

I was fortunate to recently receive a lot of photos taken in the West India and Millwall Docks during the decade from the late 1980s. They show the construction and topping out of 1 Canada Square, as well as many views from the top of that building which show what the Island and further afield looked like after the docks and factories had been cleared away, and before the frenzied construction of apartment blocks and office buildings commenced.

Here are some of those photos, with little comment. I’ve not been sure what to do with them, how to best present them, but the only thing I was sure about is that they should be shared…..

Architectural Model



Topping Out






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A History of South Cubitt Town

I started this article with the idea of making a short, potted history of a small area on the Isle of Dogs – the area in which I grew up, so it has a special significance to me – but there turned out to be so much to say that it was impossible to keep it short.

This 1920s photo shows the extent of the little world in which I grew up, the southern end of Cubitt Town (mind you, I’m not that old, we moved there in the late 1960s, but this photo nicely shows how it was before the war).

1920s. Click for full-sized version.

It was a well-defined area, in some ways isolated from the rest of the Island, which itself was for many decades isolated from the rest of East London.

  • The western edge was marked by the Nelson and East Ferry Road (which I and everyone else called Farm Road). Beyond the Nelson were the lead works and industry and no houses for a long time, according to my young perspective.
  • In the south was the river.
  • In the (north) east, the Dorset Arms formed the boundary. Beyond that were estates with kids I didn’t know too well, unless they also went to Harbinger Primary School.
  • “Inland”,  Millwall Park and the Muddy marked the edge.

Nobody visited unless they had business there, or they were driving the long way round the Island because of a bridger at Kingsbridge or Blue Bridge (and even then you were probably better off driving via East Ferry Rd), or they were  lost.

In 1840, the area east of East Ferry Road was largely undeveloped marshland.


Its potential for development was first realised by William Cubitt, who made his fortune in a building firm in which he was a partner with his brother Thomas. Cubitt later went on to become an MP and then Lord Mayor of London (from 1860). Survey of London:

By four agreements made between 1842 and 1853, Cubitt was responsible for the development of much of the district. All but one of the agreements were with the trustees of Margaret Lauretta, Countess of Glengall, daughter and co-heir of William Mellish, who had inherited her father’s estate on the Isle of Dogs on his death in 1834. Her trustees, acting with the advice of their agent, John Hooper, first came to an arrangement with Cubitt in 1842.

The trustees were aware that the value of the land on the Isle of Dogs was diminishing and their agent was coming under pressure to lower the rents. The land was low lying and its draining and embanking, which were badly needed, could not be effected without a large input of capital. The area had no road access and it was thought at that time that the nature of the ground made it unlikely that a railway could ever be built across it.

Moreover, the foreshore was being steadily eroded by the wash caused by steamships, traffic which was obviously going to increase. Without the embankment of the riverside and the drainage of the inland areas the value of the estate could not be increased and was likely to diminish.

It was anticipated that Cubitt’s investment in the strip of land around the riverfront would benefit the adjoining parts of the Mellish estate by opening them up for development, particularly for house building.

By 1860, the principal roads had been laid out, and some building was complete: Church Street (later renamed Newcastle Street and now Glengarnock Avenue) is fully built, as are Christ Church and Newcastle Arms (later Waterman’s Arms and now the Great Eastern). Cubitt must have been very confident of his speculation if he was prepared to build such a large church and public house before hardly any houses were built.


1862, detail

It was around this time that one of the oldest photos of the Island was taken. Actually, the main subject of the photo is the Royal Naval College, but the Island is quite visible in the background; it is mostly empty, with some development along the riverfront, and the masts of the ships in West India Docks in the background.


c1855, annotated detail

Housing development continued at a fast pace but came to an abrupt end during the international financial crisis of 1866, caused by market panic after the collapse of the bank Overend, Gurney and Company. This not only brought house building to a halt in Cubitt Town, it devastated the shipping businesses along the Thames.


By now, though, in the approximately three decades since 1840, the start of this story, much had been achieved in Cubitt Town…..

1842 Construction of Manchester Road.

1888. Manchester Road, looking north just this side of Billson Street.

1888. Manchester Road, looking east (Stebondale Street on the left)

1845 Newcastle Draw Dock is built

1849 Land belonging to the Greenwich Hospital Estate – ‘Scrap Iron Park’, as it became known locally – is set aside as an open space. It would later be officially named Island Gardens.

1853 Construction of The Newcastle Arms (later renamed the Waterman’s Arms).

1854 Opening of Christ Church

1855 The Lord Nelson public house is built by Henry Johnson.

c1899. The Lord Nelson

1857 Cumberland Oil Mills, adjoining the Greenwich Hospital Estate, is established for the production of linseed oil and oilcake.

William Cubitt erects a timber pier roughly three-quarters of a mile along the shore from Potter’s Ferry (at the end of Pier St, which previously went as far as the river) and hires a steamboat to ferry passengers to Greenwich and other places on the opposite shore.

The premises of shipbuilder’s James Ash & Company. Pier St, then leading to the river, is on the right.

1859 Completion of the 200th house in Cubitt Town.

1861 The ‘Asphalte de Seyssel Company of Thames Embankment’ develops Pyrimont Wharf on Wharf Rd (later Saunders Ness Rd).

1862 Opening of the Princess of Wales (aka Macs) public house at 84 Manchester Rd.

Princess of Wales

1863 Charles Davis builds the Pier Tavern at 283 Manchester Road.

John and William Dudgeon, engineers and boiler makers, take a lease of the riverside site immediately south of Cubitt Town Pier. The firm lasts a little over a decade, but leaves the name Dudgeon’s Wharf as a legacy.

1864 A good year for pubs….

Henry Smallman builds the Cubitt Arms at 262 Manchester Road.

Cubitt Arms

The Dorset Arms is opened in Manchester Road, occupying one of the four houses in Dorset Terrace. It was later extended into the neighbouring house.

Dorset Arms

The Builder’s Arms, 99 Stebondale Street, is built at the junction with an intended extension of Billson Street.

Builder’s Arms

1865 The London, Blackwall and Millwall Extension Railway Bill is passed on 19 June. The bill authorizes the creation and maintenance of an extension to ‘…the quay or wharf or river wall on the northern shore of the River Thames at or near a point about 22 yards to the eastward of the draw dock or landing place at the southern end of Johnson-street’. It further authorizes compulsory purchase of land and ‘the construction of stations, sidings, junctions, roads, approaches, bridges, cuts, drains, tramways and other works and conveniences’.

Isle of Dogs Police Station is built at 126 Manchester Road. The station provides accommodation for a married sergeant (or inspector) and married constable, their families and six single constables, with up to three prisoners.

Police Station, c1910

1866 The Christ Church National Schools are erected at the northern end of the church lands (south side of Billson St). They serve as a Sunday School and as parish rooms for games, society meetings and concerts.

1871 Opening of the Millwall Extension Railway, extending the railway south from Millwall Junction to the Millwall Docks Station, and to the terminus at North Greenwich the following year.

1878. North Greenwich Railway Station (the rowing club is now on the site)

1890s (estimate), a steam train travels over the arches.

The economic crisis caused much suffering on the Island – so much so that there were campaigns in the national press to collect money for those impacted by ‘The Distress‘.

The individual stories were heart breaking……

It was several years before investment in manufacturing in the area revived, but shipbuilding never really recovered. It found its home in cheaper and more practical locations.

The failure to complete Cubitt Town as envisaged by William Cubitt meant that the Island never had anything like a middle class. Houses designed for better-off families could not be sold, and were occupied by multiple working families (frequently one family per room). They were poorly maintained, prone to flooding, and were slums in no time. According to British History Online:

The crash of 1866 brought house-building to a sudden halt. Moreover, emigration from the area resulted in large numbers of empty houses, particularly on the Isle of Dogs, where there were almost 800 empty dwellings in 1868, approaching a half of the total. Although an economic revival followed the slump of the late 1860s, the Island was not well placed to benefit from it and there were still 262 vacant houses in 1871. In such circumstances, building took some time to resume and the developments which were proposed either failed to attract investment or took a long time to get under way. Land prices fell considerably in the aftermath of the crash and some sites did not attract purchasers.

Manchester Rd, north of Millwall Wharf (Cubitt Arms on the left)

Manchester Rd, c1910, Stebondale St on the left (Island History Trust).

One of the problems of the housing in Cubitt Town was that many basements were liable to flooding during periods of heavy rainfall, when the sewers were unable to carry the sudden increase in volume. The difficulty was reported in 1866 and, although the completion of the outfall sewer alleviated it for a time, became increasingly frequent during the 1880s, with particularly severe flooding after storms in June 1880 and June and July 1888. The completion of the pumping station at Stewart Street in 1889 did reduce the incidence of flooding, but did not remove the problem. The area was affected during the disastrous flooding on 7 January 1928, when the river overflowed at Johnson’s draw dock.

The Medical Officer of Health found it ‘scarcely credible that . . . it is possible to build houses with sunken basements, without the intervention of concrete or other impervious layers on low-lying, damp soil difficult to drain and sewer and liable to floods and overflow of sewage’. Nevertheless, a report of 1890 showed that there were 711 houses in Cubitt Town with basements.  Many were found to be in a ‘deplorable unsanitary condition’ with foul and moist basements, and rising damp, which was partly attributable to the use of poor materials. There were occasional outbreaks of scarlet fever. The houses were, in general, poorly built and badly maintained; by the 1910s many were in bad repair and the streets appeared ‘dreary, slummy’ presenting ‘ugly vistas’.

Social researcher and reformist, Charles Booth (1840-1916), published his Life and Labour of the People in 1889. It, and later revisions – along with the work of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree – influenced government intervention against poverty in the early 20th century and led to the founding of – among other things – old age pensions, and free school meals for the poorest children. Distinctive among the book’s contents are the so-called  Maps Descriptive of London Poverty. These maps were colour-coded to indicate the income and social status of inhabitants, detailed to street level. They presented the south end of Cubitt Town as follows (see “The General Tone of the Isle of Dogs is Purple” for more information):

Booth Poverty Map of Cubitt Town (South), 1889

Booth’s publication described Stebondale Street and the area around it, in 1897, thus:

Has the character of being the worst street in the Island. Houses with basement floors, 9 feet below high tide, drains run backwards. Some looked very poor, but by no means all – had the air of a street that is improving – all the homes looked better than those in Gaverick, Crewe and Claude Streets mentioned above.

Church St Now named Newcastle St, of poorer aspect than Stebondale St – rents 8 /- a week from a notice board at one end “All homes in good repair”. Newcastle St looked the poorest in this block.

Parsonage St, Billson St, Kingfield St, Seyssel St – all of a better class than Newcastle St.

Pier St – though marked blue, was not given a different character to the foregoing.

Of amusements in the Island there are practically none. The Millwall Athletic ground football matches attract great crowds and have given the men some interest. Public houses get up sing songs of an evening, but there are no music halls.

Booth’s publication mentions Millwall Athletic, whose ground from 1890 was on the site of the present-day ASDA supermarket. From 1886 to 1890, the club, then named Millwall Rovers, played on a pitch behind the Lord Nelson, on land now occupied by the Manchester Grove estate.

The Nelson – like other pubs of the period – actively sought the patronage of sports clubs, not just because of the steady and reliable fees and custom from club members, but also because of the large crowds on home match days. The landlord of the Nelson managed to poach Millwall Rovers from their former home base in Millwall (see Millwall FC – The Millwall Year(s) for more information).

Satellite photo superimposed with football pitch with 1890s markings.

This 1895 map shows that the football team had already moved to its ground close to the George.

1895 (click for full sized version)

The map also shows that not many more houses had been constructed since 1870 (see map above).  A turn-of-century resident of Cubitt Town would easily have recognized it at the start of World War II; not much changed in the fabric of the area.

1895 Formal opening of Island Gardens

Previously, medical inspector to Greenwich Hospital, John Liddell, had complained that respiratory complaints among patients were rife due to the smoke from local factories. He wrote:

No casual visitor can fail to be struck with the dull & stupified air of a Greenwich Pensioner, or with the monotony & melancholy that pervade the Hospital, where one dull routine of existence is unchequered by any occupation or incident to beguile its weariness.

Liddell desired to create a healthy and pleasing environment to match that enjoyed by Chelsea Pensioners further up river. Amongst his recommendations was a scheme to purchase part of the riverside opposite the hospital, on the Isle of Dogs, an area which was not yet fully developed, in order to:

…prevent the total closure of its vista, and to shut out the annoyances of gloomy unsightly and offensive buildings, that are sure to be erected.

In other words, to hide the Isle of Dogs from view.

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. Initially, Lady Glengall stipulated that there should be no building at all on the land, but eventually she agreed to Cubitt’s idea for the creation of a well-to-do neighbourhood. 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. 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 end of the 19th century saw an energetic period of public park creation by the newly-formed LCC and other urban governments – understanding the importance of a healthy environment for city dwellers. In 1892, the LCC took over the land and the villa (named Osborne House). John James Selby described it in his 1905 book “The municipal parks, gardens, and open spaces of London; their history and associations”:

The ground when acquired for public purposes was in a very rough and neglected condition, and paths had to be formed, drained and fenced, which, together with other works, cost nearly £2,000. A residence had been built at one end of the ground, part of which is occupied by the foreman, whilst the remainder is used as a free library.

Osborne House

Near the centre of the gardens an inexpensive bandstand, surrounded with a rockery, has been erected, where performances are given during the season. In a corner of the ground is a gymnasium ; but the principal feature of the laying out has been the formation of a gravelled promenade along the river-front, which is nearly 700 feet in length. This is liberally provided with seats, and affords splendid views of the river and its surroundings.

1890s. Island Gardens

The following map shows the transformation from ‘scrap iron park’ to Island Gardens (inset).

1870. Map source: British History Online.

In 1870, the park extended as far west as Johnson’s Draw Dock. A couple of years later the western section of the park (shaded in the map) was acquired by the London and Blackwall Railway for the construction of North Greenwich Railway Station (now the site of the rowing club and Calder’s Wharf).

A couple of years later, the Island Gardens were officially opened by Councillor Will Crooks in 1895, more land was lost when an 1897 act of parliament gave the go-ahead for the construction of a foot tunnel from the Island to Greenwich.

1902 Opening of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

At the end of the 19th century, the London County Council first proposed to build a tunnel between the Island and Greenwich, as an alternative to the ferry.

A new free crossing would benefit working people on both sides of the river. Communications were so unreliable that some employers on the Island refused to allow their foremen and timekeepers to live on the southern bank because of delays at the ferry during foggy weather. The passenger steam-ferry from Greenwich Pier to North Greenwich Station was the only safe method of crossing the river at this point, but the penny toll amounted to an annual outlay of £2 12s – a considerable sum for the working men and women of the area. A new tunnel would also allow the inhabitants of the built-up industrial areas of Millwall and Cubitt Town to visit the more salubrious surroundings of Greenwich Park and Blackheath for recreation.
– Survey of London, Athlone Press

1901 newspaper tunnel impression

For an article about the history of foot tunnel, which opened in 1902, see Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

c1920 Opening of Millwall Park

The undeveloped, triangular piece of land between the railway, the rope walk and Stebondale Street was the property of the PLA. In 1905 it was sketched by Thomas Heath Robinson:

1905. Thomas Heath Robinson

In 1919, the London County Council bought the land and created a playground and public open space. They named it Millwall Recreation Ground, but many Islanders called it the new park (a name which stuck, and which is still used by some older Islanders).

This is probably the oldest photo of the park (although the year is unknown). It is looking past the paddling pool towards East Ferry Road.

An open air swimming pool was built in 1925, behind the Stebondale Street houses at the end of Parsonage Street.



The view from the Princess of Wales pub, with a hint of Stebondale Street on the left. The 6th shop in the row is No. 103 (see following photo) (Island History Trust).

Island History Trust: “Near the junction with Stebondale Street (the section now named Pier Street), looking towards the Dorset, and the London (Tavern) pub in the distance. The older child is Mercy Linghorn, the little one is June Inns. Donated by Grace MacFarlane. “

Island History Newsletter

72 Stebondale Street (Jan Hill)

Post WWI peace party, Ferry St (East Ferry Rd in background). Island History Trust.

Ship St, looking from Saunders Ness Rd towards Stebondale St, crossing Manchester Rod in the middle distance. (Island History Trust)

Brig Street, Manchester Rd in the background (Island History Trust)

Newcastle St (later Glengarnock Ave). Island History Trust

Wharf Rd, now Saunders Ness Rd, near Calder’s Wharf. Barque St on right. Row of houses was known as College View.

The 1920s and a partially frozen Thames. Cumberland Oil Mills are on the right. On the left, Island Gardens and Osborne House

Parsonage St, with Manchester Rd (and vicarage) in the background.  Photo by Haden or Harden? Comment from Gill Denman: I am related to the people I mentioned. I suspect the photo was taken by Mabel Brown’s father, he was apparently very into photography. The Pankhursts lived at 8 Parsonage Street, they left just before the street was bombed.  Why I asked about the surname Harden is that would be a surname connected to Henry Brown’s family, they would be my cousins, I’ve never met them or had contact with them. They might have a copy of his picture. I would be very interested to know where the family is.

17 Billson St. Photo: Island History Trust / Mrs. Mitchell

Seyssel St, 1920

New Developments

In the 1920s, Poplar Borough Council built new homes on undeveloped land in Cubitt Town – including land east of the Nelson, and in Billson, Parsonage, Kingfield and Stebondale Street. Survey of London:

Completed in 1921, [the Chapel House Estate, of which the houses in Manchester Grove were a part] was a worthy inauguration of the Borough Council’s housing programme and there was great pride at Poplar’s first ‘Garden City’.

These ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ set a standard which was scarcely surpassed, and all too often never reached, by later council developments; the quiet, almost villagey atmosphere provides a pleasant oasis and is a lasting testimony to the Garden City spirit.

Manchester Grove

It was not until May 1923, despite characteristically vigorous protests from the Borough Council, that approval was given for the Kingfield Street scheme under the rather less generous terms of the Housing Act just introduced by the new Conservative Minister of Health, Neville Chamberlain. The estate was finally completed in 1924.

Kingfield Street

In 1935, local firm R. & H. Green & Silley Weir built a group of cottage-flats for retired shipbuilding workers or their families, Jubilee Crescent.

Jubilee Crescent (Island History Trust)

Mayor of Poplar, George Lansbury, playing bowls at the ceremonial opening of Jubilee Crescent.

Around this time, Cubitt Town School in Saunder’s Ness Road was demolished, and adjacent land was purchased for the construction of a new, enlarged school.


Cubitt Town School, 1938


As was the case with the rest of the Island, industry was located largely along the river in south Cubitt Town. Unlike the rest of the Island, there was not much in the way of shipbuilding firms – probably because this industry (on the Island at least) was in decline at the time of the development of Cubitt Town.

Notable firms/works included Seyssel Asphalte, Storer’s Paints, Cumberland Oil Mills, Dudgeon’s, Grosvenor Wharf, Cubitt Town Wharf, and James Ash; some of whom are remembered in modern street names.

1900 insurance map

1900 insurance map

1900 insurance map

1900 insurance map

Cyclo Motors, opposite the Nelson

One firm that was not situated near the river was Hawkins & Tipson, who established their Globe Rope Works in East Ferry Road in 1881, with a rope walk that ran for 1,270 ft between the Mudchute and the later Millwall Park.

Rope Walk. Photo: Island History Trust / J. Studd

Aerial view of Hawkins & Tipson

Hawkins & Tipson Workers, 1905 (Island History Trust)

World War II

As stated in many of my blog articles, World War II changed everything. In the 50 years or so leading up to 1939, the Island’s fabric didn’t change that much. Firms came and went, but the houses, buildings and docks provided a physical environment which must have been comfortingly reliable.

Unfortunately for Islanders, the docks were a significant Nazi target. Making the docks inoperable would severely impact Britain’s economic and military capabilities, and this extended to destroying the homes, roads and other infrastructure of those who worked in the docks. And also, the U-shaped bend in the Thames was an unmissable target for the Luftwaffe. (For those interested in the full story of the Island during WWII, I recommend my book, The Isle of Dogs During World War II, Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I 🙂 ).

In 1938, anticipating war, the War Office took over an area of land in the Mudchute west of Stebondale Street, paying compensation to the 37 allotment holders whose plots were appropriated. Four concrete ack-ack gun installations were built around a central control bunker.

Mudchute anti-aircraft installation

On 7th September 1940, the first day of the Blitz, Stebondale Street was seriously damaged, and there was damage to surrounding streets (as well as the swimming pool in Millwall Park being damaged beyond repair). The following map shows the recorded locations and times of the bombs that fell that night.

Shortly afterwards, in night of 18th/19th September, tragedy struck when Cubitt Town School – which had previously been commandeered for use by the emergency services – was hit by a parachute mine. 24 people were killed. Rescue Work, Bill Regan, described it thus:

What a bloody mess, the whole guts blown away, only two end flanks standing. There were more than 40 people stationed here; I only saw one survivor, the gatekeeper, a man who lived in Pier Street, who had lost a leg in the 14-18 war.

He said he saw this parachute coming down, and thought it was a barrage balloon, it was a parachute mine, and he was lucky to be on the opposite side to where it landed, with a building between him and it. He was blasted into the road, but miraculously none of the debris had hit him. Within minutes we had located the spot they were likely to be, and got two people out, but I don’t think they were alive as were working without lights and they were at best unconscious.

I don’t know how many we recovered, our relief came on at 8.00 a.m., but we carried on until nearly ten, when a squad from the other end of Poplar came to help.

The victims were fire-brigade personnel, ambulance men, and a complete mobile operating theatre, [which was] billeted next to our depot, in the swimming baths, and always left for Saunders Ness when the sirens sounded.

(Bill Regan’s moving wartime diaries have been published by his daughter Ann, and are available from Amazon: Heavy Rescue Squad Work on the Isle of Dogs: Bill Regan’s Diary from the Second World War).

Cubitt Town School after the bombing

Significant damage also occurred in the night of 19th and 20th April 1941, when a parachute mine destroyed many houses in Billson St, Parsonage St and the surrounding area, killing many. Bill Regan again:

It took out all of Parsonage Street, all of one side of Billson Street, the other side was wrecked but not flattened, the Stebondale Street end, and the Manchester Road end, and parts of one side of Newcastle Street [Glengarnock Avenue] were totally wrecked, but parts still standing.

Billson St and Parsonage St. Photo: Bill Regan.

One statistic makes clear the extent of the damage during WWII: 75% of the houses that were present in Cubitt Town at the start of the war were either destroyed or considered unfit for habitation by the end of the war. The following map and photo show the areas around Billson Street which were in some way damaged (to varying degrees):

As a temporary measure, the post-war housing problem was partially solved by the construction of Orlit houses and prefabs. The following map (a bit vague, sorry), shows the prefabs built in Cubitt Town South (from the article, Island Prefabs):


Prefabs in Stebondale St, photo taken from corner with Glengarnock Ave.

Being detached bungalows, prefabs were not an efficient use of space, and by the end of the war the council was investigating how to quickly and cheaply build two-storey, terraced houses. Messrs Orlit Ltd of Buckingham Gate proposed prefabricated houses constructed with precast reinforced concrete (PRC), designed by the Czech architect Ervin Katona who had immigrated to England in 1938.

In 1945, German and Italian prisoners of war were drafted in to clear the sites, and construction commenced in November. In the following image, a still from an Imperial War Museum film, 3 ft foundations have been prepared for the houses on Parsonage St. and Billson St. In the background on the left is the Builder’s Arms pub which backed on to Millwall Park on Stebondale St.

In February 1946, after a construction lasting just 3 months, the first semi-detached pair of homes was officially opened in Billson St by Alderman C. W. Key, MP for Bow and Bromley, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health.

Official Orlit opening (Billson St)

The first proud family were Ann and John Atheis and their children who moved into number 16. They were undoubtedly happy with their three bedroom home with living-room, kitchen, bathroom and WC. Cookers and wash-boilers were provided, the costs of which were added to the rent.

Atheis Family

Billson St, 1948

For a detailed history of Island Orlits, see: Home Sweet, Defective Home.

1945 Plans are announced to unite the three parishes of Christ Church, St John and St Luke, with Christ Church as the parish church. Father Kingdon of St. John’s was not happy about it, and registered his protest.

Protest letter, Rev, Kingdon

1962  Opening of Betty May Gray House. Mrs Gray, who had no connection with the Society, or indeed with East London, had died in 1933, leaving the residue of her estate to be devoted ‘to the furtherance of practical measures of slum clearance’. The Isle of Dogs Housing Society managed to secure some of this money and built the block on land occupied by a couple of prefabs, a few bomb-damaged buildings and a debris.

In the same year, writer and broadcaster Dan Farson becomes the landlord of the Newcastle Arms, renaming it the Waterman’s Arms.

Farson (1927-1997)  was the son of American journalist James Negley Farson (prior to WWII, Dan had accompanied his father on an assignment to Germany and was patted on the head by Adolf Hitler, who thought he looked like a ‘good Aryan boy’). In his 1997 obituary by the Independent newspaper, the opening paragraph summed him up as, “Mythomaniacal, egotistical, and often unable to tell the truth or the difference between it and fiction –  the character of Daniel Farson – photographer, writer, and drunk .”

He was inspired to run his own pub, and create within it an old style music hall atmosphere, after making a documentary for Rediffusion about East End pub entertainment, at a time when he was living 92 Narrow St in Limehouse. He was fascinated by the local characters and pub culture (in addition to the sexual possibilities offered by visiting sailors).

After a major revamp, including creation of a plushly-decorated stage with a painted backdrop showing the Royal Naval College in Greenwich as viewed from Island Gardens a couple of hundred yards up Saunders Ness Rd, the Waterman’s Arms was ready to do business. It was a hit from the start – with well-known performers appearing on stage, and the rich and famous making their way along Manchester Rd to see and be seen.  Locals at the time recalled seeing Clint Eastwood, Francis Bacon (a good friend of Farson’s), Brian Epstein, journalist Nancy Spain, Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, and many others. For the full story, see Waterman’s Arms.

Roger Mitchell (sometimes known as Henry Champion at that time) performing on stage with the resident band, possibly the John Gale Trio. Photo courtesy of Roger Mitchell.

Dan Farson behind the bar.

Also that year, the Manchester Estate between Pier St, Manchester Rd and Seyssel St was built.

Manchester Estate shortly after opening

1963 Completion of the first part of the Schooner Estate, consisting of Galleon House, Capstan House and Nos 19–41 (odd) Glengarnock Avenue/Nos 139–149 (odd) Manchester Road.

Clearance of last-remaining houses (after WWII) to make room for the Schooner Estate. If you were to take a photo from the same place today, you would be standing outside the main entrance of George Green’s School and looking at the side of Galleon House. In the background of the old photo are houses and prefabs in Stebondale St.

Queenie Watts in Schooner St (renamed from Ship St in the 30s), with Galleon House being built in the background.

1964 The former Cumberland Oil Mills premises close.

1965 The congregations of St John’s and Christ Church are combined and Christ Church is rededicated as the Church of Christ and St John.

The site of the Builder’s Arms is acquired by the LCC, and incorporated into Millwall Park.

Completion of the last part of the Schooner Estate, consisting of Carvel, Clipper and Frigate Houses.

Schooner Estate shortly after opening

1966 Demolition of the Christ Church church hall and Billson Street buildings, which were damaged during WWII.

1966. The view from Galleon House, with a view of the clearance of prefabs to make room for the construction of the estate to which our family would move a couple of years later.

My flats not long after opening

1969 A boathouse for the Poplar, Blackwall & District Rowing Club is built on Calder’s Wharf. The club had been using a former North Greenwich station shed as premises.

Construction of the rowing club.

July. Five firemen and a demolition worker are killed, and five more firemen seriously injured, after an explosion in oil storage tanks at Dudgeon’s Wharf. The tanks were being demolished when a fire broke out. The fire was extinguished and the firemen were checking the site when the explosion occurred.

East London Advertiser

1971 The Globe Rope Works is closed and the buildings are demolished.

1972 Land to the east of the Christ Church, on Saunders Ness Rd, is sold for private housing.

Construction of what we called ‘the posh houses’ in Saunder’s Ness Road.

Cubitt Town School moves to the former Glengall Rd school premises. The former Cubitt Town school premises are occupied by St Luke’s Primary school, which transfers from West Ferry Rd.

Plans for a new mixed secondary school for 900 pupils, replacing the old George Green’s School in East India Dock Road, are approved by the Inner London Education Authority, thanks to protests and demands by Islanders in the years after their Unliteral Declaration of Independence (see “It Was All a Bit of a Joke”).

Architectural model of George Green’s School

Construction of George Green’s School meant the demolition of a large number of shops and houses along Manchester Rd and in the side streets, Brig St, Schooner St and Barque St.

1960. Mrs Stewart’s shop. (Island History Trust)

Suffragette and Labour activist Nellie Cresall entering the shop at 114 Manchester Rd. Screenshot from “Postscript to Empire”, 1962

Manchester Rd – Tremain’s Chip Shop – 1960 Mrs Martin, courtesy Sue Law

1973 The Isle of Dogs Police Station at 126 Manchester Rd is demolished.

Manchester Road police station, shortly before demolition. Old Police Station

1976 A gas explosion destroys No. 13 Parsonage Street and badly damages No. 15. Nobody is hurt.

Dad, friends and neighbours having a break from their Sunday football game in Millwall Park (can’t remember if this took place before or after the lunchtime session in the pub). Photo: Mick Lemmerman

1977 Mudchute land is leased to the Mudchute Association through Tower Hamlets Borough Council and a farm and garden are established.

Early days of the Mudchute Farm. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

Manchester Road, with the George Green construction site on the right.

George Green’s School and Centre are officially opened.


1987 Opening of the original Island Gardens DLR station, as the southern terminus of the initial system. It was built adjacent to the site of the old North Greenwich Railway Station.

Construction of the original Island Gardens DLR Station. Photo: Sophia Pettman

During (unofficial) testing, one of the trains overshot the end of the line.

March 1987

1988 The remaining buildings of the former Cumberland Oils Mills – chiefly a range of brick sheds and a chimney shaft – are cleared away for the Cumberland Mills residential development.

Newcastle Draw Dock, with the remains of Cumberland Oil Mills on the right.

This is where my story stops, close to 1990 and the opening of 1 Canada Square and other buildings in Canary Wharf. Why? For a number of reasons:

  • The demolition of so much of the Island’s industrial heritage – as typified by the previous photo – marks the end of an era in the strictest sense. The Island was marshland before the coming of the docks and industry, and for two centuries these factors greatly influenced what the Isle of Dogs was, and what it meant to live here (even after WWII when so much was destroyed). The arrival of the LDDC changed that fundamentally.
  • So much has changed since 1990 that it would require a whole article (or even a books) to do describe it properly.
  • The period since 1990 is very recent history, and – although it’s more than obvious that the changes are massive and fundamental – I think it is too soon to place events in a longer term historical perspective. If we look back further, over longer periods, it is easier to identity what was significant and what was characteristic of the time.

And also, if you remember, Cumberland Oil Mills appeared in the one of the first photo of this article. It’s demolition seems a logical place to also conclude.

[I had to omit loads of wonderful photos when preparing this article, unfortunately, but you always see them all at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/islandhistory/collections ]

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A Wander Around the Block Near the City Arms

The City Arms (later in life named City Pride) is no more, demolished just a few years ago, to be replaced by yet another tower.

To the left, a glimpse of the West India Dock Impounding Station, a pump house whose job is to maintain the level of the water in the docks – one of  the few ‘original’ industrial buildings still standing on the Island.

The small area around the City Arms, as shown in the following satellite image, saw some of the earliest development of industry on the Island, and has a rich history. So much so that this article took days to produce, instead of the few hours I imagined.

For much of the 18th century there wasn’t much of note down the west side of the Island, just a few windmills connected by a riverside path.


The west side of the Island was exposed to prevailing westerly winds blowing across the river and was particularly suitable for windmills. Joel Gascoyne’s 1703 map, “Survey of the Parish of St Dunstan’s, Stepney” shows seven mills – inspiration for the naming of Seven Mills Primary School on the Barkantine Estate.


There were more mills at other times – this 1750 map (created for ship’s navigation, so short on land features) has nine. I’ve counted a total of thirteen on various maps.


Sir Charles Price’s Oil Mill

I have highlighted in the map above the area covered by this article, which includes a windmill named the ‘Oil House’ (it was also known as the ‘First Mill’). The mill changed ownership many times during the 18th century, and was extended during this period to include – apart from an oil mill – a two-storey dwelling house with cellars, and a two-oven bakehouse and a granary. Eventually, the premises were known as Sir Charles Price’s Oil Mills, and one part of the site was made into an oil refinery. The owner, Charles Price (1747-1818) was a wealthy oil-man and banker, who became first an alderman of the City, then an MP, before eventually becoming Lord Mayor of London (in 1803).

West India Docks & City Canal

The peninsula that was the Isle of Dogs changed fundamentally on the construction of the West India Docks (opened in 1802) and the City Canal (opened in 1805), both of which are described in a previous article, An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse.

Plans for the City Canal and West India Docks (western end), 1799

The Gut House

A number of buildings in the north west of the Island, including the Gut House tavern (see The Poplar Gut for more information) had to make way for the construction of the canal and docks. The landlord of the Gut House rebuilt his pub just north of the new canal (map above shows the original site of the tavern).

The Gut House

Business Opportunities

Survey of London:

The building of the City Canal left a large area of surplus land between the west entrance lock and the marsh wall. The City was quick to exploit this valuable though as yet unembanked property, letting it in 1807 in three plots, each with river frontages of 95ft …. [one of the plots going in 1809 to Coulson & Co. who] built an iron foundry, reputedly London’s largest, called the Canal Iron Works.


The opening of the West India Docks also led to the revival of the fortunes of the Greenwich Ferry. Survey of London:

During the late eighteenth century the ferrying of horses and cattle appears to have been discontinued, footpassengers only being conveyed, but with the opening of the West India Docks the need for a regular horse-ferry revived. In the early nineteenth century a rival ferry service was set up by the Poplar and Greenwich Ferry Roads Company, both operators sharing the old landingplace, though not harmoniously. The Potter’s Ferry Society twice destroyed the company’s toll-gates-claiming that prospective passengers were using the Deptford Ferry in preference to Potter’s Ferry, to avoid having to pay the road toll — and the two bodies were involved in much litigation. During the 1840s the horse-ferry was discontinued, and in 1868 the company assigned its rights in the ferry to the society. In 1878 the society sold out to private operators and was itself subsequently dissolved.

The section of road from the canal to the Rope Walk (location of the present-day Cuba Street) was named Ord Street, a name it retained until the 1890s. The much longer section from there to the ferry was known as the ‘Deptford and Greenwich Road’ until it was renamed ‘West Ferry Road’ in the 1860s.

In 1811, the road from Limehouse to the City Canal (then known as Bridge Road, later part of West Ferry Road) was realigned. The Gut House was displaced yet again, for the second time in just over a decade. The landlord built his new pub just south of the City Canal and named it City Arms.

Seaward and Capel

In 1824 John Seaward (1786-1858) took over the Canal Iron Works, later joined by his brother Samuel and engineer James Capel.

John Seaward was a Jack of all trades, and master of a few of them. He was born the son of a builder in Lambeth, and initially worked with his father as a surveyor and architect. Later he managed lead mines in Wales, where he acquired a knowledge of chemistry, and became friendly with a few well known mechanical engineers of the period. Upon his return to London he oversaw the construction of a number of docks on the Thames, and became an agent for the Gospel Oak Ironworks in Staffordshire.  Seaward was at the same time connected with the Imperial Continental Gas Association and introduced gas lighting to several towns in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. (I’m getting worn out just listing his different employments.)

Survey of London:

They also designed large swing bridges, dredging machines, cranes, and other dock apparatus, plus machinery for lead, saw, and sugar mills. Among the improvements and inventions for which John Seaward was personally responsible were tubular boilers, which were used by the Royal Navy, disconnecting cranks for paddle-wheel engines, the telescopic funnel, self-acting nozzles for feed and for regulating the saturation of the water in marine boilers, double passages in cylinders both for steam and education, cheese-couplings used to connect and disconnect screw propellers to and from engines, and other minor improvements.

In 1850 the company built what is considered to be one if its finest works, engines for the RMS Amazon, a ship constructed for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. at Blackwall Yard by R. & H. Green (an early incarnation of R. and H. Green and Silley Weir). Unfortunately, the vessel was destroyed by fire off the Isle of Scilly on her first passage to the West Indies in 1852. The cause of the fire was never established.

The loss of the RMS Amazon

Samuel Seaward died in 1842 and James Capel left the firm in 1856, so – when John Seaward died in 1858 – the yard was auctioned. Canal Iron Works were taken over by William Jackson and Richard Watkins.

Marine engines continued to be built at the yard until 1882, when the site was sold to preserved-provisions manufacturer, J. T. Morton, who was expanding his Millwall factory.

The Toll-Gate

Ord Street in 1862.

Millwall Gate is a reference to the toll gate just north of Robert Street (later renamed Cuba Street). In 1885, the tolls were abolished and the toll gates in West Ferry Road and at the north end of East Ferry Road were ceremoniously closed.

Cermonial closure fof West Ferry Road toll-gate, 9th May 1885. Looking south towards Cuba Street (Morton’s is recognizable on the right)


John Thomas Morton was a provision merchant from Aberdeen who built up a large and successful business exporting canned and other preserved food. He opened his Millwall factory in 1872, and after his death in the 1897 the company was run by his sons Charles and Edward.

The firm was one of the biggest employers on the Island, and is renowned for being the birthplace of Millwall FC (described in full in: Millwall FC – The Millwall Year(s)). Their first factory was constructed on the site of Sir Charles Price’s Oil Mills:


By 1895, their factory had expanded to take over the site of Canal Iron Works in the north, and the Oil Works on the east side of West Ferry Road (which probably were also part of Sir Charles Price’s oil mills).


Morton named his wharf, “Sufferance Wharf”. Formally and legally, a place of “sufferance” was:

A place appointed by order under the hands of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise for the lading and unlading of goods liable to Customs duties (Section 14, Customs Consolidation Act, 1876)

A sufferance wharf was thus a licensed private wharf where dutiable goods could be kept until the duty is paid.

Morton’s workers

Morton’s workers

It was during the expansion of his Millwall factory that Morton constructed a number of buildings which were still standing a century later.

Morton’s from the river

Morton’s from the river

Morton’s from the river

Morton’s from the river

Morton’s from the river

Morton’s Workers

Westferry Road, opposite the City Arms

Westferry Road, opposite the City Arms

In the previous photo, Beecham’s can be seen on the left.  The Beecham’s company took over Morton’s in 1945 and gradually ran down the Millwall works (concentrating their Morton’s activities in Lowestoft instead). The distinctive Beecham’s building was built around 1950, on the corner of Westferry Road and Cuba Street, on the site of part of Morton’s factory that had been destroyed during World War II.


Westferry Road (foreground), Cuba Street heading up to the river. c1949




Cuba Street, Beecham’s Right

As mentioned, Morton’s also had premises on the other side of Westferry Road.

Morton’s from Westferry Road. On the right Cuba Stree heading east, and a hint of the Blacksmith’s Arms

Looking north up Westferry Road.

Same view later (Photo: Peter Wright)

Rear of Morton’s, Westferry Road, East Side

These buildings lasted longer than those on the west side of Westferry Road, and still had an industrial use until their demolition in 2007.

Looking through the gates (Photo: Steve White)

Cuba Street (East)

Cuba Street was originally named Robert Street, after Robert Batson on whose land it was constructed, along the south edge of a “Rope Ground”. This was a ropewalk, built shortly after the arrival of West India Docks, obviously intending to capitalise on business offered by the many sailing ships in the proximity. Wikipedia:

A ropewalk is a long straight narrow lane, or a covered pathway, where long strands of material are laid before being twisted into rope. Ropewalks historically were harsh sweatshops, and frequently caught fire, as hemp dust ignites easily and burns fiercely. Rope was essential in sailing ships and the standard length for a British Naval Rope was 1000 ft. A sailing ship such as HMS Victory required 31 miles (50 km) of rope.

The original owners of the ropeworks were Joad & Curling. George Joad (1764-1837) also made money selling mortgages to Jamaican slave-owners, even managing to acquire some estates in Jamaica as compensation from mortgage defaulters.


Survey of London:

About 1860 the ropeworks was occupied by the newly incorporated Telegraph Cable Company Ltd. Wire-rope and cables were manufactured at the works by a succession of companies until the mid-1880s. The western part of the site, fronting Westferry Road, then became the Royal Iron Works of Messrs Whitford & Company… Whitfords’ products included iron churches, bridges, staircases, tomb railings, verandas, fireproof floors and lightning conductors. In 1910 the works were sold to C. & E. Morton Ltd.

1895. Already used in this article, but repeated here for the sake of convenience.

Next to the Royal Iron Works, in 1887 Stephens, Smith & Company took a 63-year lease of No. 40 Cuba Street, which then comprised several old sheds, part of the ropeworks. These were soon replaced by a brick-built factory with a lofty skylighted roof.

Stephens, Smith & Company ceased to trade in 1969, by which time the Cuba Street works were in the occupation of another engineering company. For many years part of the building was sublet to a succession of firms, including F. F. Scott & Sons, shipping butchers and meat packers, who installed refrigeration plant in the early 1920s. The building, disused by the late 1980s, was demolished in 1990.

F. F. Scott vans and lorry in Cuba Street. c1930

F. F. Scott, Interior

40 Cuba Street (R)

40 Cuba Street (L)

40 Cuba Street (L)

West India Dock Pier

At the other end of Cuba Street, on the riverfront, was West India Dock Pier (now known as West India Pier). The original pier was built in 1875 by the East and West India Dock Company (as it was named at that time), as a place for City wool merchants to board or alight boats when visiting the new wool warehouses in the West India South Dock.

1920s. West India Dock Pier. Photo: Richard Milton



The pier was destroyed by bombing in 1941, and was not rebuilt until 1950. Possibly it would never have been rebuilt had it not been designated to serve visitors to the Festival of Britain Live Architecture Exhibition at the newly-built Lansbury Estate in 1951.

1951. Festival of Britain visitors

The pier has also appeared on screen.

Screenshot from the film, Four in the Morning, 1965

Screenshot from the film, Four in the Morning, 1965

Including being featured in a promo film made by Nico for her 1965 song, “I’m Not Sayin”.


Further Up Westferry Road

Between the old Morton’s buildings and the City Arms was, in the Seventies, as far as I remember, a rather plain box-shaped building, just in view on the right in this photo.

Westferry Road. Left, the old Morton’s warehouses. Right. City Arms

There also used to be houses here:


The remains of which can be seen in this photo:

But not in this one, which was taken a little further south:

Photo: Peter Wright. Beecham’s on the right. 

City Arms

Survey of London:

[City Arms] stands on ground purchased by the Corporation of London for the City Canal and developed in 1811–17 with two short rows of houses, Ord Street and Montague Place. Six 61-year building leases for 30ft-wide plots on the east side of the street were granted in 1811. James Oughton, proprietor of the Gut House, took the northernmost plot, on which he built the City Arms and Canal Tavern, a simple block with a three-bay north entrance front. The houses in Montague Place (renamed Osborn Close in 1937) were pulled down in the 1940s, following bomb damage.

Image and text: Island History Trust

Not long after this photo was taken, the brewers Mann, Crossman & Paulin acquired the vacant sites of Nos 5–9 Westferry Road, and in 1936 built a much larger, detached building.

Later, the pub would be renamed City Pride.

Impounding Station

The impounding station is a pump house that maintains the water level in the West India and Millwall Docks. It is built over what was originally an entrance lock to the West India Docks. Survey of London:

In 1856, when the outer gates of the lock had been removed for repair, the inner gates gave way at low tide and the South Dock suddenly emptied, scattering shipping. New inner gates were supplied by Hack & Son. The outer gates were replaced in 1863, by Westwood, Baillie & Company, presumably in iron. The dock company considered rebuilding the lock in 1877-82, but did not do so, perhaps because this was the least important entrance at the West India Docks. Its closure was determined in 1887, but it remained open until 1891.

The PLA built an impounding station over the lock in the 1920s, with pump-discharge pipes and sluicing-culverts, after first damming it with mass-concrete. The impounding station is still operating to this day.

What Happened Next?

Simply, everything was demolished (apart from the impounding station), that’s what happened next. The riverside Morton’s factories and warehouses were demolished in the 1980s.


To be replaced by Cascades, amongst other buildings.

Photo: Ken Lynn

Beechams was demolished, to be replaced by a block of something.

The former Morton’s buildings east of Westferry Road kept going for a while, until their demolition in 2007.

Photo: Peter Wright

Photo: Peter Wright

The West India Docks Pier’s been looking a bit sad, but I think these photos are a few years old.

The City Pride stuck it out for a while – even seemed to be doing quite well in the shadow of the new buildings,

But the value of the land on which is stood was much and much more than could be earned from pulling pints or putting on drag queen acts (might be going back a bit, there).

I’ve long given up caring about how the Island’s industrial heritage has been totally neglected and destroyed, but preparing this article has been saddening. I don’t expect us to preserve the past in pickle (do you see what I did there – a Morton’s reference), but Millwall was for many decades the centre of innovative engineering of global influence. This article covers just a small part of it – and I left out a lot in order to keep things brief – every street corner, every street, is drenched in history – and most of us don’t know it.

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An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse

I’ve known this print for a while, but recently came across a higher resolution version for the first time and managed to zoom in on various areas. This revealed an amazing amount of detail, including elements which are still recognizable today – albeit much changed and redeveloped.

Click for large version

The caption reads (most of the dodgy spelling is the artist’s, but some is the spelling of the time):

An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse for the reception and accommodation of Shipping in the West India Trade, representing the General appearance, when finished of that magnificent & truly national work of which a great part, by the energy, spirit & perseverance of the Directors appointed to superintend its excavation has been actually compleated in the short space of little more than two years from its commencement in Feb. 1800, insomuch that on the 27 of Aug. 1802 the Thames was permitted to flow into the larger bason, which is 2600 feet in length containing an Area of thirty Acres; & two Ships, the Henry Addington & Echo, being the first Vessels admitted, were received amidst the shouts of an immense concourse of spectators assembled to behold a scene so highly interesting to every well-wisher to the property & glory of his Country. The Canal on the left, running parellel to the Docks, is executing by the Corporation of London for the purpose of facilitating the navigation of the River, in affording an opportunity for Shipping to avoid its circuitous & often dangerous course round the Isle of Dogs; A Work co-operating with the other in the same grand Object which is to give at once Activity & Security to the commerce of the Metropolis.

To the Chairman, Deputy Chairman & Directors of the West India Dock Company this Print is with their permission inscribed by their Obedient and obliged Servent, William Danniell.

Drawn & Engraved by Wm. Danniell & Published by him at No. 9, Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square, London, Oct. 15, 1802.

William Dan(n)iell (1769–1837) was an English landscape and marine painter. Famous for his perfection of the technique of aquatint, a form of etching in which ink was placed in marks on a copper or zinc plate from where the image would be printed. Daniell made hundreds of these etches in his lifetime, including those made after a trip to India and many travels around Great Britain. His works include a number of elevated views of the docks along the Thames in London.

Daniell based his print on the designs for the docks as projected in 1800.


Excavation in 1802

Survey of London:

When work on the docks started it was intended that they should be ready for the arrival of the West India trade in the summer of 1802.  The first stages were completed smoothly, and on the first anniversary of the Act, 12 July 1800, William Pitt and Lord Loughborough, the Lord Chancellor, ceremonially laid the foundation stone of the first warehouse, at the south-east corner of what became No. 8 Warehouse. The stone carried a commemorative inscription, later replicated at the base of the clock-turret on No. 5 Warehouse, at the centre of the north quay.

This stone has since been moved and mounted on a plinth in Hertsmere Road, opposite the Cannon Workshops.

… on 27 August 1802 a crowd of tens of thousands, including many of the country’s most eminent figures, gathered for a grand opening ceremony. Invited guests were accommodated in No. 8 Warehouse and two ships entered the docks with great pomp. The occasion was regarded as a national event of the first importance and was reported in superlatives. Indeed, the scale of the work stupefied some contemporary observers: The Times referred to ‘the stupendous scale on which it has been planned’ and noted that the dock itself, ‘appearing like a great lake, was an object of beauty and astonishment’. The Import Dock, Blackwall Basin, Blackwall entrance locks and three warehouses were essentially complete and already formed the largest wet-dock system ever seen.

But anyway, back to the print. In 1800 there was plenty to see (this version has highlighted areas, for reference from later sections)…

Click for larger version

a. City of London
b. Limehouse
c. Poplar
d. West India Import Dock, North Quay (western end)
e. West India Import Dock, South Quay & West India Export Dock, North Quay
f. City Canal, Western Entrance
g. City Canal
h. Blackwall Basin
i. City Canal, Eastern Entrance
j. Cold Harbour
k. Blackwall Entrance

a. City of London

There’s not much to see north and northwest of West India Docks. Off in the distance is the City of London, with St. Paul’s Cathedral on the right, and Westminster Abbey further away on the left.

It is not surprising that there is not much to to see – at the time of the construction of the West India Docks, East London as we know it now was largely farmland.

1804, just after the opening of West India Docks

b. Limehouse

Right of centre, St. Anne’s Church.

Commercial Road was constructed between 1802 and 1806, intended for the shipment of goods to/from the City and the West and East India Docks. Before its construction, the main routes east from the City were Whitechapel Road, and the roads that we now know as Cable Street and The Highway (which converge(d) at the western end of Narrow Street). The construction of Commercial Road also cost St. Anne’s the northern end of its church yard.

c. Poplar

The settlement of Poplar was not much more than the houses on either side of Poplar High Street. As “High Street” means in the strictest sense, it was the path along the highest-lying land, which in this case was drier and more passable than the Thames marshland to the south; as can be observed by looking down Dolphin Lane, Stoneyard Lane or Harrow Lane from Poplar High Street (which the following, 1804, map describes as ‘Poplar Street’).

d. West India Import Dock, North Quay (western end)

Unfortunately this hasn’t zoomed in too well. The warehouses at the western end still exist and house – amongst others – the Museum of London Docklands.

Import Dock, North Quay, 1810. Looking east from approximately the site of the Hibbert Gate (where it is today, not where it was).


Warehouses further east along the North Quay were destroyed during World War II.



e. West India Import Dock, South Quay & West India Export Dock, North Quay

This depicts a double row of substantial warehouses in the area between the Import and Export Docks. Few of these warehouses were actually built – three decades later the need for warehouse space was less than projected – in part because the East India Docks were winning more business.


f. City Canal, Western Entrance

Another section which unfortunately has not zoomed too well. Before the City Canal was constructed, there was a tavern on the site of the western entrance, known as the Gut House (see The Poplar Gut for more information), which was demolished to make room for the canal. The owner of the Gut House purchased some land south of the canal entrance, and built a new pub, which he named the City Arms.


The City Arms (later, City Pride) has gone, but the “Pumping Station” – the West India Docks Impounding Station – is still there, maintaining the docks’ water level.

g. City Canal

The City Canal preceded the docks by a few years. As Daniell describes, it was created by the City of London Corporation, and was intended to shorten the route between the City and the sea (not just due to the shorter distance – the wide loop around the Isle of Dogs meant that ships would inevitably at some stage have to sail into the wind; as a consequence, it wasn’t uncommon for ships to be becalmed for days on end in the river off the Island).

City Canal, with West India Docks behind the dock wall in the background.

The wind problem wasn’t entirely cured by the straight line offered by the canal – it wasn’t wide enough for ships to tack. This, combined with the locks at either end, meant that ships would frequently have to be towed. In the end, the cost of passage proved too great for many ship owners, and the City Canal was not a financial success.

A forelorn looking City Canal, with West India Docks behind the dock wall in the background.

The dock company acquired the canal from the the City of London Corporation in 1829. By 1849 a timber dock had been constructed south of the City Canal, which was no longer a canal but had been converted for dock usage and was now known as the South Dock.


And in the 1860s, the South Dock and Timber Dock were combined and enlarged to form the South Dock. (And, as the map shows, the West India Docks had gained some competition from the newly-built Millwall Docks to its south).


This, largely, was the form the docks would retain for the remaining 100 years of their operations.

h. Blackwall Basin

The three docks were initially separate, with the docks connected by Limehouse Basin in the west and Blackwall Basin and the SW India Dock Basin in the east. The basins were essentially huge locks – ships would sail in from the Thames at high tide, the lock gate was closed behind them before the tide receded, and there they would wait until it was convenient to sail them into one of the docks. The opposite process was applied to ships leaving the docks.

Originally, Blackwall Basin was not walled, but had banked sides. Its shape was designed to facilitate the towing in of ships (don’t ask me how). In the 1920s, the PLA, who by then ran the docks, created passages to connect the three West India Docks, which caused Blackwall Basin and Limehouse Basin to lose their function as oversized locks (at the end of the same decade Millwall Cut was constructed to connect the Millwall and West India Dock systems). However, it did lead to the walling of Blackwall Basin and the opportunity to use it for berths and quays. Limehouse Basin, on the other hand, was filled in.



From the collection of the late Tom Bolton, with many thanks to his daughter Debbie Warren


i. City Canal, Eastern Entrance

This is the only image of the bridge over the City Canal of which I am aware, and – seeing as the print is based on plans rather than reality – it is highly unlikely to look like the timber bridge that was eventually constructed across the 45 ft wide canal entrance. The timber bridge survived until 1842, when it was replaced by an iron swing bridge, the first of many bridges on the site, the last of which is the Blue Bridge (see The Blue Bridge for more information).


Cutty Sark

c1970 (guessing)



j. Cold Harbour

This was one area that Daniell did not need to entirely envisage as some buildings were there before the construction of the West India Docks, and some are still there today (see You say Coldharbour, I say Cold Harbour for more information).

Rear of 3 Cold Harbour (aka Nelson House). Visible in print and in present-day photo.



k. Blackwall Entrance

For information about the Blackwall Entrance, see The End of the Island – Blackwall Entrance Lock.

Reconstruction in 1893


1963, screenshot from Queenie Watts documentary (that’s her in the headscarf)



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The Chapel House Estate

I went to Harbinger School, lived near Christ Church, and sometimes – when I was bored with walking home along Westferry Road and Manchester Road – I would take a longer route: Harbinger Road, Hesperus Crescent, through that funny footpath that went down hill to Chapel House Street, past Dockland Settlement into East Ferry Road, and then through Millwall Park to Stebondale Street.

What a difference! Westferry Road and Manchester Road were full of lorries and firms and smoke and noise; the longer route was quiet, with houses and gardens and trees – not like anything else on the Island. It felt more like the countryside (mind you, I had family living in Dagenham at the time – and I thought that was the countryside too).

The whole area around Chapel House Street and Hesperus Crescent is commonly known as the Chapel House Estate these days, but – formally – it was originally three different estates. This article restricts itself to the area covered by Chapel House Estate and Locke’s Housing in the following map; I’ll come back to Hesperus Crescent another time.

The estate was named after a medieval chapel (first mentioned in the twelfth century) and later farm which was located approximately at the corner of the present day Whiteadder Way and Spindrift Avenue – the highest point of the Island, and one of the few areas naturally above the level of the high tide of the Thames.


The following image combines an 1862 map with a satellite photo. Just a few years after the map was made, Chapel House Farm was demolished to make room for Millwall Docks. The map also shows the original path of East Ferry Road (still known to many Islanders as Farm Road), which was rerouted further east on the construction of the docks.

In 1895 there was a short Chapel House Street, L-shaped and going nowhere.


Survey of London:

In addition to grazing, there was some vegetable growing, notably on the Charteris (Mellish) land north of Chapel House Street, where W. H. Bradshaw had a market-garden in the late nineteenth century. 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. How far back this market-gardening went is not clear. Various pieces of ground were vaguely described as ‘garden’ in the Commissioners of Sewers’ cadastre of 1817, and in earlier deeds and land schedules.

In 1904, Chapel House Street became a fully-fledged street from Westferry Road to East Ferry Road (but no houses were built along it). The short section of dead-end street heading east would later be renamed Chapel House Place (now known as Julian Place).

9 Chapel House Street (Photo: Island History Trust / Mr. Oliver)

This 1916 map is interesting for showing the football ground recently vacated by Millwall FC, who had moved over the water (see Millwall FC – The Millwall Year(s) for more information). Also interesting is the line of the ditch heading just shy of northwards from the corner of Chapel House Street and Westferry Road. Look out for this line in other maps and images; it doesn’t go away and it’s still there today!


A procession passing the corner of Chapel House Street and Westferry Road in the 1930s.  (Photo: Island History Trust / Tony Atkinson)

“Homes Fit for Heroes”

Social Housing History (http://www.socialhousinghistory.uk/wp/index.php/homes-fit-for-heroes/):

Promises, promises, promises

After surviving the horrors of WW1, many returning soldiers, sailors and airmen were expecting the world to be a better place, where their life could return to some normality in a secure and safe environment and jobs for all. This expectation was raised by a speech by Lloyd George the day after the armistice where, amongst other promises, he said there would be “homes fit for heroes”. “Homes”, and not just houses; “fit”, implying built to a standard; and “heroes”, giving a sense of gratitude and deserving. Dreams never meet reality and what Lloyd George actually said was “Habitations fit for the heroes who have won the war”, which is a lot less punchy and emotive than the phrase everyone remembers, and the word “habitations” suggests something very basic. The press could not fit that sentence in a header in a newspaper column and so naturally shortened it to the phrase we now know. So, what was the result of this promise? Were those houses built all over the country immediately after the war? It will come as no surprise to historians that the reality fell a long way short of the promise, but for many reasons that even Lloyd George could not control. The legislation that followed his speech was well meaning and quite well thought through, but was hampered by two serious problems: the lack of funds; and the extreme shortage in the building industry of skilled manpower and materials.

It was only on the election of the first Labour Government in 1924 that Lloyd George’s ideas saw a chance of realisation, when the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, known as the Wheatley Act, after the then Minister of Health, John Wheatley, was passed. Survey of London:

The Wheatley Act not only provided higher subsidies, but it also envisaged a 15-year programme of housing built by local authorities at rents affordable by the working classes.

Under this Act, seven housing schemes, comprising 330 dwellings, were built by the Borough Council within the parish, together with a further scheme which was built partly under this Act and partly under the 1930 Act. Of these, two were further cottage schemes of the Garden City type and adjacent to the Chapel House Street development on the Isle of Dogs, at Manchester Grove (1925–6) and Hesperus Crescent (1929–30).

Houses in Chapel House Estate were designed – in a style described as Neo-Georgian – by Stepney-born Sir Frank Baines (1877– 1933), who was chief architect of the Her Majesty’s Office of Works from 1920 to 1927, and who also designed Thames House and Imperial Chemical House in Millbank.

Floor plans (Survey of London)

Originally, the council envisaged all-electric houses, but there were concerns that this would be too expensive for residents, and thus was gas also supplied (at that time even the lighting in most British houses was gas-fuelled, and less well-off people mostly had coal-fired ovens and heating). The houses also had a bathroom. This was quite remarkable for council housing at the time – a bathroom with fixed bath! Even better, each house had its own garden.

The houses were built on land acquired partly from the Charteris Estate and partly from the Strafford Estate, and were built by local building contractor, Griggs & Sons of 71 Manchester Road (location of Island Gardens DLR). Quite a job for a relatively small Island builder.

Survey of London:

Work began in December 1919, and on 30 January 1920 George Lansbury, Mayor of Poplar, ceremonially cut the first turf. The estate was complete by the end of 1921.

George Lansbury cutting the first turf.

Completion had been delayed by problems over the scarcity of materials and labour, and the consequences of these shortages soon began to manifest themselves. In July 1922 it was reported that several ceilings had collapsed, and in the case of one house this had happened no fewer than five times, while by 1924 all the properties required external painting.

Thermopylae Gate

Thermopylae Gate. Councillor  and local resident Mrs Nellie Cressal in white hat.
Photo: Island History Collection / Mrs J Snow.

The houses were designed without back extensions, as rear projections — a common feature of earlier speculative housing — were anathema to followers of the Garden City movement, because they shut out precious light to the back of the house.

Although the Locke’s houses look(ed) much like the houses west of Chapel House Street, they have a slightly different origin. When the lead firm, Locke, Lancaster failed to reach an agreement with the Borough Council in 1920 to house the workers from its lead works in Millwall, it formed a public utility society called Locke’s Housing Society Ltd. The Society built 36 houses, to all intents and purposes exactly the same as the Chapel House Street Estate designed by the Office of Works for the Borough Council. The tenancies were confined to its own workers (Survey of London).

1924, Millwall Park. East Ferry Road in the background. (Photo: Alice Hickman)

The inclusion of flats at the Chapel House Street scheme is almost certainly due to [the] conviction that there was a popular demand for such accommodation. The flats are arranged in three blocks of two storeys and attics around a cinder square or ‘quadrangle’ off Thermopylae Gate.  Unusually for flats, each dwelling is provided with its own back garden, albeit of differing size and shape.

Thermopylae Gate (Photo: Island History Trust)

Thermopylae Gate

As far as the houses on the estate were concerned, the Council agreed to provide one fruit tree for each garden, with the planting being done by unemployed ex-servicemen. The front hedges and trees overhanging the pavements are still an attractive feature. The chestnut paling fences needed repairing in the early 1930s and were replaced, on economic grounds, with wire-andconcrete posts.

Macquarie Way (Photo: Island History Trust, Tina Bennett)

Two public wooden shelters with seats and a sundial inscribed ‘No man lives for himself alone’ were erected in Macquarie Way, but these soon succumbed to vandalism.

1949, showing the foot bridge over a former factory railway line (which followed the path of the ditch mentioned earlier)

Unusually, some details of the early tenants on the estate, in 1922, survive, giving their occupations, any exceptional financial circumstances, and the size of their families. The impression given is that, generally, the 120 tenants were drawn from the upper echelons of the working classes. However, the most numerous single occupation, with a total of 22, is that of labourer — a vague description which might be applied to a multitude of activities and a range of abilities.

15 Chapel House Place. Chapel House Place, Isle of Dogs, pictured is the 1953 Coronation celebrations. Photo Includes: Doris Kirk, her mother Mrs Isabella Kirk, and Mrs Kirk’s brother-in-law Tom, Maureen Willing, Jenny Gillard, Josie Marshall, Alan Winch, Fred Winch, Colin Rogers, Keith Rogers, Tom Mathews and Billy Wootley. The man standing by the ladder is Jock Stewart. (Photo: Island History Trust)

Grouping individual occupations together, it is not surprising, on the Isle of Dogs, to find that the largest category was docks and shipping, with 28 who could definitely be assigned to this heading and another six who could probably be added to it. The next largest group consisted of the various industrial workers; there were at least 25 in that category, mainly skilled or semi-skilled. There were also about 12 who could be classified as clerical or professional, including a schoolteacher, a Labour Party secretary, and a trades union secretary.

Island History Newsletter

There were five widows. The tenants included 11 who were on Poor Relief, a further 11 who were on reduced wages, and one who was unemployed. The largest family, occupying a six-room house in Chapel House Street, consisted of a widow on Poor Relief and 11 children, of whom five were wage earners. There was also a number of families containing nine or ten members, though the majority were smaller. Conversely, there were five dwellings occupied solely by a husband and wife.

Back garden of 29 Chapel House Street in the 1930s. (Photo: Island History Trust / S. Moyse)

The estate survived World War II remarkably unscathed, as this LCC bomb damage reveals. Not a single house on the estate was destroyed or seriously damaged; only the houses along East Ferry Road suffered minor damage, and the houses close to Westferry Road somewhat more.

LCC Bomb Damage Map (with that ditch again)

1949. “DRY DOCK” marks the site of the orignal Chapel (House Farm).

After the war, life carried on, and virtually nothing changed on the estate. It was occasionally used as the backdrop for TV programmes such as Prospects, but other than that……

Macquarie Way

A change that perhaps was noticeable was the right to buy council houses in the 1980s. Architectural observers noted later that the physical harmony of the estate changed as virtually everyone made individiual changes to their house: different doors, different window frames, different fences, extensions, satellite dishes…….

But still, it is remarkable how the estate looks so similar to how it was when built almost a century ago.

Recent satellite photo. Can you see the line of the old ditch?


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McDougall’s Millwall

For many Islanders, including myself, few buildings were more familiar and more represented home than the McDougall’s flour silo. Visible from virtually anywhere on the Island, its distinctive appearance set it apart from all other dock, warehouse and industrial buildings. A landmark in the proper sense of the world.

McDougall’s from Millwall Park in the 1970s

I had the pleasure of a school trip to McDougall’s when I was at Harbinger. Our guide showed us the different areas, where we were received by different workers who explained what they were doing (I recall that they were all women, but I do have a bad memory), and at the end we were all given a half-pound packet of flour “to take home to mum”; a striped packet with an image of a bloke in a bowler hat. Well, it was the intention that we took the flour home, but a flour fight between Kingsbridge and Cahir Street put paid to that.

As is the case with numerous old Island firms, McDougall’s was started by a Scot, Alexander McDougall from  Dumfries. McDougall set up a manufacturing chemist’s business in Manchester in 1845 which 20 years later developed and produced a patent substitute for yeast – the basis for self-raising flour, which revolutionised home baking and established McDougall’s as a household name.

The owners of Millwall Docks, which opened in 1868, intended to sub-let the greater part of their quays to private companies at relatively low rates One of the companies who took advantage of the offer was McDougall Brothers in 1869 (by this time, Alexander had passed control of the company to his five sons). The firm built substantial premises – Wheatsheaf Mill – on the south east quay of Millwall Outer Dock.

In 1898, a great fire destroyed the mill, despite the efforts of fire engines from all over London.

McDougall’s after the fire

The mill was rebuilt, and was further extended in the following decades.


A visit from the king

1920s Christmas Dinner

Wheatsheaf Mill

Wheatsheaf Mill

Survey of London:

A quayside silo was projected in 1899, but not built until 1934, when it displaced V Shed  The silo’s civil engineer was J. H. Walker, Mark Jennings was the mechanical and electrical engineer, and the building contract went to Fred Mitchell & Son of Manchester. The silo was 100ft tall and had a capacity of 8,000 tons in ten 20ft-diameter cylindrical bins on massive reinforced-concrete columns and 50ft piles. The 6in.-thick concrete walls were cast in 2ft-square metal forms. Above the silo was an enclosed conveyor gallery, from which chutes fed the bins. To the east stood a 120ft-tall intake elevator, a pump room and the threestorey receiving house, for weighing and separating grain, with its own five-storey quayside elevator. Jennings’s innovative pneumatic intake plant comprised a tower that travelled about 370ft along a steel-framed quayside gantry, which covered a conveyor taking the wheat to the receiving house. Grain was transferred from the silo to the mill or barges by conveyor gantries at first-floor level.


Most of the eastern half of the McDougall’s site was redeveloped in 1935–6, when the nineteenth-century buildings were replaced with a three- and four-storey warehouse and, to the north, a five-storey process house, both of reinforced-concrete. The area south of the main pump house was built up with offal warehousing in 1937–8 and c1952, when a nine-storey reinforced-concrete drier house and single-storey warehouse were erected to the north-east.

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: britainfromabove.org.uk

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

The mill suffered considerable damage during WWII.

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust


In 1960 two steel-bin silo cylinders, each 30ft in diameter and 50ft high, were erected west of the main silo.

In 1962, McDougall’s (by now named Hovis-McDougall, after a 1957 merger) was acquired by the Rank company and carried on doing business as Rank Hovis McDougall Ltd.

1965. PLA tour guides on the roof of the silo


Rank Hovis McDougall closed the mill in 1982.

The last lorry out of McDougall’s

The buildings were demolished in 1984–5.

Today, the street name Wheat Sheaf Close (why two words?) is a small reminder of the mill.

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A Lifetime Behind Bars – Guest Article by Tony Alltoft

My thanks to Tony Alltoft for kindly allowing me to post a chapter from his book, A Lifetime Behind Bars, here. Tony spent a few of his younger years living above the Waterman’s Arms, a pub that his parents were managing for Dan Farson in the 1960s. Tony has accumulated a large number of photos and clippings from that period, some of which he has permitted me to use in blog articles, or to upload to the Facebook group, ‘Isle of Dogs – Then & Now’.

He has of course also gathered a lot of memories and stories from the period, which he has endeavoured to capture in his book. This guest article includes the book cover, table of contents and preface – to provide some context – followed by the chapter describing the Alltoft family’s time in the Waterman’s Arms.

Thanks again, Tony.


The start of this book is different from most books in that it was an accident!
In the many house moves that I have experienced in my early life, a heavy duty tin storage box containing my father’s business documents accompanied me. Its contents were never questioned and it wasn’t until some years after my father’s death in 1968 that I decided to use the box as storage for the archiving of household paperwork. However, the box was secured with a hefty padlock for which I did not have a key and therefore, a great deal of force was needed to open it. Having managed to prize open one corner of the box, a small bunch of keys fell out onto the floor. Fortunately, one of the keys on the bunch was the spare key to the padlock. Once opened, the box revealed several financial stock and inventory sheets relating to my father’s public houses that he had managed over the years. Whilst of no great value, my senti- mentality would not allow me to destroy them and they remain with me to this day.

In the process of sifting through the documents, I came across a note book which contained writing upon several of its pages accompanied by a selection of ‘scrappy notes’ and figures. Upon closer inspection it became apparent that my father had started to write a book about my parent’s time as publicans in the United Kingdom. Whilst I had an instant idea to complete his workings, I was of an age where I believed authors were born and not made and therefore felt to embark on such a venture was ridiculous and I simply replaced the note book into the box as a memory of my father.

Some years later and with the tin box still following me around the country, I had decided to undertake some genealogy work on the Alltoft family. This was not as a result of finding the note book in the tin box but, due mainly to a work colleague who was heavily involved in genealogy and the subject interested me especially with a surname such as mine. With a lot of hard work and time at the census office and St Catherine’s House during lunch breaks and after work, I managed to trace my father’s family back to the 1700’s and, as always, a selection of romantic stories emerged from the aunts and uncles most of which required additional validation. However, my grandfather’s records did raise a big question mark on the family history and moved me to try and discover more about the individuals of the family as opposed to simply compiling a large family tree ‘picture’.

In the early part of my father’s notes, questions still remain unanswered about my grandfather. He relates to him being a spy for England during WWII and, as records of a spy are unobtainable, the questions will probably never be answered. However, as the Alltoft family is a relatively small family, I felt compelled to keep going with the individual history if only for personal satisfaction. However, points of reference are few and far between and, coupled with the romantic stories which may at time take some believing, the task of compiling the facts has not been an easy one.

Following a further year’s analysis on my personal family history, the enthusiasm of those contacted waned and some became reluctant to talk about the family at all. Coupled with my own marriage, moving house several times and the birth of my two sons, (Graham and Philip), I lost momentum. In another move, the now essential tin box kept ‘nagging’ at me and, with one of its regular ‘sort outs’, the note book came to the fore. This time I took the trouble to read it with greater interest and I was delighted to find that some of the gaps which begged questions were answered from the genealogy I had undertaken. However, it also created many more questions!

Being a person who is more relaxed doing something than actually relaxing, my mind switched-on and a great urge to complete the book ensued. Although ‘switched-on’, I still felt it ridiculous in starting such a venture and found it difficult to know just where to start. Coupled with my original thought about what makes a successful author, I very nearly returned the book to the tin box.

In 1981 I commenced the work by rewriting the first chapter in my own handwriting so that I could get a feel for the subject and the style in which my father was trying to write the book. (I also have to note that home computers in the early 80’s were not the norm and I initially typed the fist three chapters on a typewriter!!). I then compiled a history of my parent’s movements during their time in the public house trade. At that point I discovered that there were obvious gaps which, as they happened before my birth, I felt it impossible to continue. I looked again at the tin box.

My line of work at the start of writing the book was a Computer Systems Analyst and I was fortunate to work in an office with a person who had written a book and subsequently had it published. To this day I must thank him for giving me the enthusiasm to continue. Although ‘embarrassed’ at being asked by him to submit the first chapter and a brief description of the others, his response was one that finally convinced me to complete the work.

Being biased towards my father’s text on the subject, I feel duty bound on occasions to quote those words which are written in the notebook. So, to start off, the following is the very first paragraph …..

It reads …..

Many books and novels have been written on the subject of pubs etc. but we felt that to share our twenty years experience in both the licensed and catering trades will provide some light reading and, we hope, pleasure for the people who bother to buy and read it. So, if you get this far, please don’t put it down with some disparaging remark, plod on and you won’t regret it.

Clearly his intention was to write a book for publication which, although he remarks that “many books and novels have been written on the subject of pubs etc.”, I believe he felt that writing at a working level would be different and more entertaining.

He also goes on to say ….

In the eyes of many people public houses are the root of all their problems especially in the eyes of the wives whose husbands spend the greater portion f their housekeeping in them. My story is not one of what is right or wrong with public houses, nor a history of them, but what it is really like running, (managing), some of the varied houses around the country from as centrally as Soho in London to as far a field as Devon. My stories cover the worries, fears, problems and of course, for the greater part of the time, the enjoyment of being the landlord behind the bar.

Throughout the book true aspects of the licensing trade emerge and all are true with as much detail as his notes and my memory will allow. I tend to use the first letter of the surname when writing about a specific person. This is because I am unable to contact them for their permission to publish or, in some cases I have not wanted to print their names because of repercussions.

The book takes us from the relative naïve days of training and running their first pub in London to a time when he was running a public house for a television celebrity in London where, due to its success, caused the Protection Rackets to ‘move in’ and ply their trade.
I should note here that it is now 2015, 33 years ago since I started this venture. Not that I have been working on it for all that time but, the paperwork did end up back in the box around 1982 until this moment in time.

Let’s get started.

Chapter 5 – The Waterman’s Arms

The above article appeared in the London evening news on March 22nd 1963 and reads ….

Hundreds of hopefuls applied to television personality Dan Farson for the job of manager of his pub, the Waterman’s Arms, on the Isle of Dogs. But the post has gone to Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Alltoft who for three years have been steward and stewardess of the Streatham Conservative Club in Blegborough Road. In a few months this East End pub has become famous. Dan Farson featured it in a television program about the origin of music hall and he told me this week: “When I bought the place in September it was derelict and was known as ‘the pub with no beer’. But I have made a terrific number of improvements and have engaged many of the entertainers who have appeared in my programme. Among them are the remarkable ‘Tommy Pudding’ and the waterfront singer Kim Cordell” Of Gordon and Doreen Alltoft he said “of all the people that wanted to take the Waterman’s Arms, they were the only ones with the qualifications I was looking for”. Before they came to Streatham, the Alltofts, who have one son, were at the British Legion Club in Chessington. Forty one year old Gordon was Chief Petty Officer in the Navy.

It was clear from the moment that they stepped through the front door that this was not going to be any ordinary boozer simply requiring supervision of the permitted hours of trading. The pub was already trading under a temporary management and had a contingent of staff. An extra dimension to the place was the entertainment factor about which Dan Farson was very passionate and made it clear would be the unique selling point of the pub. And of course, it was.

The first thing that my Father had to do was talk with each member of staff to get to know them and discover their skills etc. One piece of advice my Father was given is that people in the East end on London tend to be very close and ‘look after their own’. This was to be probably one of the best pieces of advice given. Most of the bar staff worked in the evenings when the pub was busy and needed more staff. However, Harry Pocock appeared to be the only full time member of staff and so my Father spoke with him first. His job there was mainly the Pot Man, (collector of glasses during the busy times), and general help during the day shifts. A really personable chap with no real qualifications in the trade and, probably the best way to describe him is very much like Billy Mitchell in East Enders; always wanting to please. However, unlike Billy Mitchell, Harry did actually do a good job. My Father also committed to him that he would get him more responsibilities in the fullness of time.

The remainder of the staff consisted of two brothers and two sisters, three of whom shared the same surname of ‘Whitear’. The two brothers were Johnny and Bobby and the wife of Bobby, Mary Whitear (nee Jones) and her sister Pat Pegg (nee Jones). They all had a brief meeting with my parents, (mainly my Dad) and, to cut a long story short, they all turned out to be excellent people with good bar skills. Johnny ended up being a very good friend of my Father’s and often deputised for him when having a day off or on holiday.

My Father was so fortunate to have inherited such a great bunch of staff that, not only got on well together, (just as well given that they were related), but were also as honest as the day is long.

The picture below, (not the greatest exposure), is of staff having a drink after closing time with my Father. From left to right: Harry Pocock, Johnny Whitear, unknown barman and my Father.

One story supplied by Mary Whitear was of the time when having their usual after session drink; Dan Farson showed his disapproval of such practice and tried to order the staff to go home. This was met with the annoyance of everyone after working so hard that evening and saw Bobby Whitear jump the bar with the look on his face that told Dan Farson to make a hasty exit. Bobby gave chase but luckily for Dan he didn’t catch him. I think Dan Farson learned a lesson that evening as he never approached the topic with my Father again. The practice remained.

The Waterman’s Arms, (formerly The Newcastle Arms and now called The Great Eastern), is situated on the Isle of Dogs, Millwall in the East End of London. When we were there its address was 1 Glengarnock Avenue and now even the road name has changed to 1 Glenaffric Avenue. Without this knowledge one could not now find the pub.

Daniel Farson was known as a TV presenter in the late 50’s and 60’s hosting his own chat show and producing a number of well received programs on the fledgling commercial network. Latterly he was also a respected writer, publishing in excess of 20 books.

He decided he needed a change and moved to the East End of London, living in Limehouse, (92 Narrow Street), for some time before buying The Waterman Arms in 1962, because he thought it might be “fun to run a pub”. Having fallen in love with the local area and all its characters (so much so that he made a one hour TV special about East End pubs called ‘Time Gentlemen Please’) he decided he was going to indulge his love of Music Hall and create his own Variety venue on the banks of the River Thames.

The above picture shows a relatively busy night with Kim Cordell singing. My Father can be seen serving in the foreground. (The picture was actually found in a photographic magazine in an article on Ambient Lighting).

Despite its many critics, the pub was very successful partly due to the television show which many thought was filmed at The Waterman’s, which of course it wasn’t, and partly due to the variety of entertainment in the evenings which of course were named artists and it was free to enter and plenty of free street parking.

Dan Farson visited the Waterman’s quite often but never got in the way of my Father’s management of the pub. The picture [below] is probably a rare picture of Dan Farson behind the bar talking to customers.

In the foreground on the right of the picture is Johny Whitear.

Every opportunity was taken to promote the pub’s success with the Old Time Music Hall theme. From the artists performing at the pub, at least two long playing records were produced and many articles written in national and local papers.

As well as Old Time Music Hall acts there were musical bands and an element of variety acts such as Mrs Shufflewick (comedian) and Bob Blackman aka ‘Bob the Tray’ who was famous for his rendition of the song Mule Train whilst smacking himself on the head with a metal drinks tray.

Of course one of the biggest stars ever to have performed at the Waterman’s was Shirley Bassey. At the time, she was six months pregnant and didn’t want to go on stage. However, Dan Farson seemed to have a way of never accepting “no” for an answer.

Many other celebrities visited the pub as can be seen from the picture below of Johnny and Bobby Whitear with Annie Ross and Tony Bennett. One particular evening Judy Garland came to the pub and although she wouldn’t sing on stage in front of the customers, she sang after closing to the staff.

Amidst all the entertainment etc. there was a small local trade that came to the pub mainly during the day time when the customers could sit quietly and sup their beer and put the world to rights.

The pub simply went from strength to strength and entertainment was put on virtually every night. Naturally all this activity came at a cost and I remember my Father telling me of one such issue. As the pub was so successful, customers would take the drinking glasses as souvenirs and, with the nightly breakages, the monthly bill to replace them was quite considerable naturally impacting the profitability of the business. One never knew why the drinking glasses were taken as souvenirs as there were no markings etc. to indicate from where they came.

It was clear that my Father had made the correct choice with this pub and my parent’s financial status had never been so good. In addition, he had free reign to make decisions about the running of the place autonomously and merely informed Dan Farson of what was going on when he visited; (although Dan Farson did tend to take the lead in respect of the entertainment). In fact, as time went on, Dan visited the pub less and less and communications between him and my Father were often by phone and even letter. (See below).

In fact, the pub ran so well that my parents started to have a regular weekly day-off and often went to Brighton to get away from it all. In addition whenever we went on holiday, usually to Devon, Johnny Whitear drove us there and back and we used taxis to get around during the holiday. So, a driving test was the next priority.

My Father passed his driving test in 1964 and had a new found love of cars. His first car was a Mk IX Jaguar, (nothing like starting off small when you’re a new driver), followed by a couple of other Jaguars 2.4, 3.4 models. He then decided to buy a new car a Mk3 Ford Zodiac (white) which, for its time, was impressive. It was all rather strange really because he had very little time off in which to drive them. However, I later learned that with some clever accounting with a local car dealer, (Chris Steel Cars), he rarely paid for any on them, hence the regular changing of cars. His final car at the Waterman’s was a Mk 10 Jaguar in which we travelled to Portugal.

Another perk of the job was that Dan Farson had his family home in Devon and would allow my parents to use it and, you know how much they loved Devon. I’m not too sure if he charged for its use or just let them use it as it was empty for most of the time due to him living in London. Anyway, my parents allowed me to take one or two friends with us when we went there and we had a great time.

Johnny Whitear pictured above as he had driven us to the house prior to my Father passing his driving test.

As well as my parent’s lot being greatly improved by the move to the Waterman’s Arms, so was mine. I started the part time ‘job’ of ‘looking after customer’s cars’ when they attended the premises of an evening. I think the customers only coughed up money for fear that I might damage their car if they didn’t, (as if). Along with the pocket money I received from my Father for helping at the pub, I felt very well off.

The biggest bonus for me living at the Waterman’s Arms was that I found a direction in life. Being grounded by my Father for getting into trouble with a group of ‘friends’ on the streets, I saw that playing in bands might be more constructive. (I have written about this aspect of my life in another document). Meanwhile, back to my parent’s story.

Dan Farson pushed all boundaries in respect of entertainment at the Waterman’s Arms and one aspect was to put on ‘Art Shows’. One such exhibition was the portrait paintings of Dr. Stephen Ward. Stephen Thomas Ward (19 October 1912 – 3 August 1963) was an English osteopath and artist who was one of the central figures in the 1963 Profumo affair, a British political scandal which brought about the resignation of John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War and, contributed to the defeat of the Conservative government a year later. Other names perhaps more familiar to people will be Mandy Rice Davies and Christine Keeler who were at the heart of the scandal becoming involved with Stephen Ward and a Soviet Diplomat at the height of the Cold War and threatened national security. It became known as the Profumo Affair.

Dan Farson seized the opportunity to ride on the back of the publicity and held an art show of Ward’s paintings. The article below appeared in the East London Advertiser on September 6th 1963.

Needless to say, the exhibition was a great success and brought many customers to the pub.

Continuing the art theme, Dan Farson introduced a local Rigger and Painter – Dick Whyte.

Daniel Farson says in his book, Limehouse Days, that it was he who ‘discovered’ (Farson’s own quotation marks) the Poplar-born painter, Dick Whyte, who at the time worked as a rigger in the West India Docks. Dick started painting in 1959 by accident, when his father who made model boats as a hobby had some paint to spare and Dick experimented with a picture. Dan saw it and a couple of others in the Gun on the Isle of Dogs and asked if he could meet him.

Dan Farson had just purchased the Waterman’s Arms. As part of his plans to provide old-style music hall entertainment, the pub was to be extensively redecorated, and Farson wanted Whyte to paint a mural behind the stage showing the view of Greenwich Naval College from the Island, (See left hand picture below). Whyte wasn’t keen. He didn’t think he had the experience or the skills for the job. Besides, he had only painted boats, cranes and similar; he had never painted grand architectural

He also produced the painting below which is more his style and shows The Waterman’s Arms in the background. I have to say that this picture is very accurate in detail as it was at that time in 1963.

An exhibition of his work was staged at the pub.

The following paragraphs were created by Mick Lemmerman, (a former resident of the Isle of Dogs and historian of all things from there), and placed on the Internet ….

I think it is a shame that I can find no more information about Dick Whyte and his work. All I have written here is taken from Daniel Farson’s book. There have not been that many ‘proper East End painters’, and he had a bit of a name in the 1960s, yet I can find no examples of Dick Whyte’s work on the Internet, no information about him at all.

What happened to Dick Whyte and his family? Did they carry on living as normal in their Poplar flat? And what about all his works? I asked Tony Alltoft if he knew anything about this (Tony lived above the pub at the time of Farson, being the young son of the pub manager Gordon Alltoft). He replied that his family had one of Whyte’s paintings, but it was stolen during a break-in…most likely by thieves who had no idea about what they were stealing.


I can confirm the above statement about one of Dick Whyte’s pictures being stolen from me.

I would like to take this opportunity to state that Harry Pocock did remain working for my Father at the Waterman’s and achieved the necessary skills to be an excellent barman and cellar man.

Apart from losing our dog, (a wire-haired terrier named Mickey), who ran off shortly after we moved to the Waterman’s, there were no real disasters. However, there was a feeling that the premises would benefit from having a couple of ‘guard dogs’ to alert us of any problems when they had the run of the pub after it was shut. Enter a German Shepherd and a Boxer / Labrador cross who were aptly named Bosun and Skipper.

Their arrival was welcomed by all, and especially by me. However, Pat the barmaid may well have had a different view. One evening she went to the toilet on the first floor of the pub and unbeknown to her the two dogs were loose on the upper floors. They actually chased her into the toilet and she just made it before the dogs did and managed to shut the door. The dogs remained outside of the toilet barking like crazy and Pat was naturally screaming for help but, with the loud music playing in the bar at the time, no one could hear her. As luck would have it a caretaker in a warehouse opposite the pub heard her screaming and phoned the pub and my Father was able to rescue her. Although not funny at the time, everyone later saw the funny side.

Our time at the Waterman’s, as you can probably tell, was a complete success and one that must have lifted my parents self esteem to great heights. However, the pub was to become the victim of its own success.

One particular evening my Father was called to the bar by a chap who looked rather menacing and who proceeded to demand a case of whiskey in payment for protecting the pub from other protection gangs. Noticing a large sharp object beneath the chap’s jacket he was taken aback and thought better than to argue with him. He agreed to meet him around the back of the pub and hand him the case of whiskey.

Naturally he was frightened for his family as the chap had suggested that he would harm his wife and child if he ever declined their demands which obviously suggested that they would be back for more ‘payments’.

The matter of protection rackets was well known in the London area especially involving public houses. My Father discussed the matter with Johnny and they both called Dan Farson the next day and explained what had happened.

Fortunately for my parents, Dan Farson was friends with one of the most notorious criminal gangs in London; the Kray Twins, (Ronnie and Reggie). It only took a word from Dan for the twins to put things in place for when the pub was approached again.

Approximately two days later the pub was approached again for ‘payment protection money’ but, this time, some rather heavy looking associates of the Kray gang were strategically placed around the pub waiting. The three men that approached my Father requesting payment were calmly and quickly removed from the pub and literally thrown into the river. Prior to their dunking they were given a few ‘gentle slaps’ and warned not to return for fear of worse to come.

A contingent of the gang remained at the pub for several evenings to tackle any further approaches. This approach protected the pub from here on out and, as my Father put it, “if you have to pay protection money, better pay it to the best ‘company’”.

This incident gave my parents much to consider and, with a lot of talk about this type of activity in London, they felt it was time to move on. They felt it was time to try and achieve their dream of owning a hotel in Devon and, with that, started the search for hotels in that area. From what I can gauge, although they had a good personal bank balance, it was a little too early to make this move. However, the search was on.

As luck would have it, a small hotel became available in Teignmouth which appeared to suit their requirements. Also, it was only a few miles away from their friends Annie and Wilf in Dawlish.

It all happened very quickly and in the October of 1965 we found ourselves moving to Devon to fulfil my parents dream. Naturally Dan Farson was upset at losing them but fully understood their reasoning. A new couple was quickly found to manage the Waterman’s and we simply moved out and off to Devon.

My parents kept in touch with certain people from the pub and heard that the new couple didn’t stay for long and, shortly after my parent’s departure; Dan Farson gave up the pub and retreated to his house in Devon to continue his writing.

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