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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Island Pubs – Then & Now

This post is low on text and high on images: Then & Now photos of Island pubs. Nearly, but not quite, all old pubs are included – there are no photos of some old pubs (to my knowledge), and a modern view of some of pubs is not possible due to new buildings on the site. In all cases, click on the photo to see the full-sized image.

Anchor & Hope, 41 Westferry Road

Blacksmiths’ Arms, 25 Westferry Road

Builders’ Arms, 99 Stebondale Street

City Arms, 1 Westferry Road

Cubitt Arms, 262 Cubitt Arms

Dorset Arms, 377-379 Manchester Road

Ferry House, 26 Ferry Street

Fishing Smack, 9 Cold Harbour

George, 114 Glengall Grove

Glengall Arms, 367 Westferry Road

Great Eastern, 393 Westferry Road.

The Gun, 27 Cold Harbour

Ironmongers’ Arms, 210 Westferry Road

Kingsbridge Arms, 154-156 Westferry Road

London Tavern, 393 Manchester Road

Lord Nelson, 1 Manchester Road

Magnet & Dewdrop, 194 Westferry Road

Manchester Arms, 308 Manchester Road

Millwall Docks Tavern & Hotel, 233 Westferry Road

North Pole, 74 Manilla Street

Pier Tavern, 283 Manchester Road

Prince Alfred, 22 Tobago Street

Princess of Wales, 84 Manchester Road

The Queen, 571 Manchester Road

Robert Burns, 248-250 Westferrt Road

The Ship, 290 Westferry Road

Tooke Arms, 165 Westferry Road

Vulcan, 240 Westferry Road

Watermans’ Arms, 1 Glenaffric Avenue

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The Kingfield Estate

I bet there are not too many people who have heard of the Kingfield Estate. Not surprising, seeing as it never appeared on a map or street sign. This satellite photo shows its extent:

A weird shape for an estate, but of course there was a reason for it. In the mid-1800s, during the development of Cubitt Town, it was the intention to fill the area – including much of what is now Millwall Park – with new streets and houses. However, the financial collapse in the late 1860s put a temporary end to all building on the Island and the housing development did not get beyond this (an 1890s map):

Undeveloped land in 1890s

In the early 1920s. Poplar Borough Council purchased the land from the Charteris Estate, original owners of much Island land, and built houses of a similar design to those of the Chapel House Estate and Manchester Grove, the first of which opened in 1924.

Survey of London:

The original proposal was for 17 houses with two bedrooms, 38 houses with three bedrooms, and a block of six three-bedroom flats, all with living-room, bathroom, w.c. and scullery. During the building of the estate it was found that the six flats would cost more to construct than a similar number of houses with the same accommodation, and by rearranging the plan six houses were provided in the same space.

Kingfield Estate in the 1920s

The existing street pattern meant that only the merest nod in the direction of the Garden City spirit was possible. The houses are grouped in terraces of four or six dwellings and are slightly set forward or back to ease the otherwise straight lines. Because Kingfield Street had not previously been built up it was possible to lay it out with grass verges on either side, a feature all too rare in the area and not even to be found on the Borough’s other cottage estates.

Parsonage Street from Stebondale Street

Thomas Fitzgerald of 28 Billson St

Kingfield Street 1935 (Photo: Ada Price)

The area was seriously damaged during World War II (but Kingfield Street was remarkably unscathed).

Billson Street 1942 (Photo: Bill Regan)

Billson Street 1942 (Photo: Bill Regan)

1945 (Photo: RAF)

Destroyed houses in Parsonage Street and Billson Street were replaced with Orlit Homes (pits for their foundations can be seen in the previous photo), meant to be temporary but which are mostly still in use today (see the blog article Home Sweet, Defective Home).

Orlit house construction in Parsonage Street and Billson Street. At the rear left, the Builders Arms in Stebondale Street.

Ceremonial opening of the first Orlit home in Billson Street in 1946

The first Orlit residents, the Atheis family of 16 Billson St.

Billson Street, 1947

In Stebondale Street, local residents celebrated the end of the war.

Stebondale Street. Photo: George Warren

Stebondale Street. Photo: George Warren

And a few years later, in Kingfield Street and other streets, Islanders celebrated the coronation.

Kingfield Street (Photo: Ada Price)

Kingfield Street (Photo: Ada Price)

In addition the ‘temporary’ Orlit homes built on the Kingfield Street, prefabs were built in the surrounding streets.

Stebondale Street (Photo: Island History Trust)

Glengarnock Ave (foreground), Manchester Road (right)

Manchester Road (foreground), Kingfield Street (left), Seyssel Street (right). (Photo: Island History Trust)

In the late 1960s, the prefabs in Glengarnock Avenue and Manchester Road, as well as houses in Seyssel Street and Stebondale Street, were cleared to make room for new flats (the flats that our family moved into after leaving a Victorian tenement in Stepney). It must have been a bit of a shock for the original residents to find their once-quiet streets enclosed in this way.

Photo: Christopher Dunchow

Billson Street, 1977 (Photo: Mick Lemmerman)

Kingfield Street (Photo: Jan Hill)

Kingfield Street

Seyssel Street, 1971 (Photo: Christine Egglesfield)

Manchester Road, 1976

And in 1976, the peace was dramatically disturbed when a gas explosion destroyed No. 13 Parsonage Street and badly damaged No. 15. I was at home with my family just a few yards away at the time, and remember rushing out on to the landing before even the dust had settled, looking at where the house had been. Remarkably, nobody was hurt.

Photo scan courtesy of Marie Swarray

Today, if I visit my old estate, it doesn’t look very different. Greener, and harder to park the car, but – at least – there are still some familiar and friendly faces.

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A Drive Through West India Docks in the 1960s

Archive film company Kinolibrary posted a great little film on YouTube. Titled “POV Through 1960s London Docks. 35mm Docklands”, it shows just over two minutes of a drive through West India Docks seen from the driver’s point of view.

The journey starts on the south quay of the West India South Dock, and winds its way around the southern edge of the West India Docks, more or less following the route of  the modern-day road, Marsh Wall, before ending outside what is now the Museum of London Docklands.

Even for a complete Island history nerd like me, much is unfamiliar. Of course, I never went in the docks – I had no reason to – but it surprises me how much open space there was, and how it all seems a bit shambolic, with goods piled up all over the place. I am sure there was a method to the madness and nothing ever went missing.

Looking at old and modern maps, trying to figure out the route, I thought it might be interesting to create some ‘Then and Now’ photos with the help of Google Street View. This turned out to be not so easy; although Marsh Wall follows some of the route, other parts of it have been built upon, or are now served by what are evidently private roads, where Google’s camera vehicles are not permitted. And also, there is very little left which is recognizable, only a few seconds of the film contain buildings which are still standing.

Still, I hope the results are interesting for residents of the Island old and new. The old maps, by the way, were published around 1950, at least 10 years before the film was made, so they don’t quite match the film in places. Clicking on most of the maps and images will display the full-size versions.

1. West India South Dock, South Quay (1960s)


2. Looking south from the south quay.

3. Looking west. The present-day Meridian Place approximately follows the path of this road.

4. A blurred, short glimpse of Central Granary as the vehicle turns to the right, to head west again.


5. The iron bridge over Millwall Cutting


6. Driving on to the bridge.


7. On exiting the bridge, the Western Granary warehouses are visible in the distance.


8. The electricity generating station on the left, and the old Morton’s riverside warehouse in the distance.


9. The rear of the City Arms in the distance.


10. City Arms closer by, and the South Dock visible again on the right.


11. City Arms (L) and the impounding station (R)


12. Canary Wharf is just out of view, beyond that low building in the middle foreground.


13. Former PLA police building in centre, and Salavation Army Hostel behind it.


14. The police station and hostel closer by


15. North quay warehouses on left.


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The Oldest Photos of the Isle of Dogs (a Selection)

The earliest recorded camera photographs were taken in the 1830s, with the first generally-accepted photograph to include people taken in 1838 (“Boulevard du Temple”, a daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre in Paris). In the next couple of decades the technology improved rapidly, and by 1850, cameras – although bulky – were mobile enough to transport to different locations to take photos of street and city scenes.

The very first photo of the Isle of Dogs that I’m aware of was taken from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich around 1855.  Actually, it wasn’t intended as a photo of the Island – the main subject was the Royal Naval College and Hospital at the foot of the hill – but I was fascinated by what I could see in the background: a largely empty Isle of Dogs with just a few buildings along the riverfront.

1855 photo background – click for large version.

1855 photo – zoomed in and enhanced

A few buildings were immediately recognisable: the recently constructed Christ Church and Newcastle Arms (later Watermans Arms) on the left, and Cumberland Oil Mills and Newcastle Draw Dock to their right. However, the angle of the shot and the lack of other recognisable landmarks made it difficult at first to work out what was what. This was, after all, just a short few years after the construction of Manchester Road, which had virtually no buildings along it at the time. With much head scratching and Googling, however, things fell into place.

1855 photo, annotated

Two or three years later, the spectacle that was the construction of the Great Eastern at J. Scott-Russell’s yard, north of the later Burrell’s Wharf (see From Millwall to the Kop) attracted numerous photographers to the area, many working on behalf of journals or newspapers of the time.

1858. Isambard Kingdom Brunel posing in front of Great Eastern’s chains, built by Island firm Brown, Lenox & Co.

1858. The Great Eastern under construction.

1860. Samuda’s Wharf.

1863. John Stewart’s, Blackwall Ironworks

1863. Millwall Ironworks. This is likely the still-existing building now known as The Forge!

1865. James Ash & Co. North of Pier Street, which once extended to the river

1867. Construction of Millwall Dock’s entrance lock gates.

1870. Yarrow’s yard, off Folly Wall, including the building that was the former Folly House Tavern.

1870s. West India South Dock

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

1880. West India South Dock

1885. The ‘Cocoa Nut Fibre Manufactory’, Elizabeth Place (west of Cahir Street)

1885. Ceremonial closure of Westferry Rd toll gate (north of Cuba Street)

1885. Ceremonial closure of East Ferry Rd toll gate (at corner with Manchester Road)

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

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

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

1890s. Brockley’s Brass Works, Chipka Street.

1890s. Ferry House

1890s. Greenwich Ferry. Island on the left.

1890s. Island Gardens

1893. Reconstruction of Blackwall Entrance Lock.

1894. Millwall Athletic FC.

1895. Fishing Smack public house, Cold Harbour.

1895. Island Rovers (I’ve not heard of a team of that name at that time, but that’s what the original caption said).

1895. Prince of Wales public house, Folly Wall, and the original pumping house.

1899. Millwall St. John’s football team (photo: Island History Trust)

c1899. The Lord Nelson

c1899. The original fire station, with the Lord Nelson in the background.

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The Island at Sea

It is well known that many Island streets and buildings are (or were) named after ships or barques or other types of sea-going vessel, or have a nautical theme. It is surprising just how many:

Akbar House, Alastor House, Arethusa House, Argyle House, Barque Street, Bowsprit Point, Brassey House, Brig Street, Capstan Square, Carvel House, Castalia Square, Clipper House, Conway House, Exmouth House, Finwhale House, Fishing Smack Public House, Galleon House, Great Eastern Public House, Halyard House, Harbinger School, Hesperus Crescent, Kedge House, Kelson House, Killoran House, Knighthead Point, Launch Street, Lingard House, Llandovery House, Macquarie Way, Mast House Terrace, Michigan House, Midship Point, Montcalm House, Montfort House, Montrose House, Pinnace House, Quarterdeck, Rawalpindi House, Rodney House, Schooner Street/House/Close, Ship Public House, Ship Street, Spinnaker House, Tamar House, Thermopylae Gate, Topmast Point, Triton House, Warspite House.

Not to mention those names to do with sailors and sea voyagers (Nelson, Chichester, Cabot, etc) or with shipbuilding (Dunbar, Yarrow, Samuda, Mast House, etc).

I thought it time to catalogue everything as much as I could. I expected this article to be a dry statement of facts – and admittedly that’s what it is in some places – but research also revealed dramatic and tragic stories. The sea was evidentally a hard place, and although these stories have an only tangential connection with the Island, they are worth retelling.

Akbar House, Cahir Street

See section on Arethusa House, below, for old photo.

The Akbar was a Protestant reformatory ship for boys who had been in trouble with the law (basically,  a floating borstal). It was moored in the Mersey from the latter part of the
nineteenth century, along with other educational ships:

  • Clarence, a reformatory ship for Catholic boys
  • Training Ship Indefatigable, for poor and orphaned boys whose fathers were seamen
  • HMS Conway, for training boys from better off backgrounds to be officers in the Merchant Navy


Conway, Akbar and Indefatigable

Life was tough on the reformatory school ships, and corporal punishment routine. In 1994, the BBC interviewed George Kirby, born in Liverpool in 1922, who had been an inmate on the boys’ training ship Cornwall, moored in the Thames. The video includes some shots from a newsreel item about the training ship Arethusa, filmed in 1931, not long before George’s ‘education’.

The training ships on the Mersey closed after World War II, due to the drop in demand in Britain for merchant seamen.

Alastor House, Strattondale Street

The barque ‘Alastor’ was built in Sunderland in 1875. Sold to Norwegian owners in 1895 she traded under the Finnish flag from 1928 until June 1939, when she carried timber from Sweden to Millwall Docks, her last commercial voyage. After that she was laid up in the Blackwater Estuary in Essex and then used for military purposes for the duration of the war.

The original caption for this photo describes it as the Alastor in either in Millwall Docks or Birkenhead. Doesn’t look like Millwall Docks to me.

Barque Alastor

Post-war she was renamed Bounty and used as a restuarant at Ramsgate (not a commercial success). There were plans to tow her up the Thames to feature as an attraction at the Festival of Britain, but these plans came to nothing and she was broken up at Grays c1952.

Alastor as ‘Bounty’, Ramsgate

Arethusa House, Cahir Street

Arethusa House (L), Akbar House (R)

HMS Arethusa was a 50-gun frigate, launched in 1849 from the Pembroke Dockyard and served in the Crimean War. In 1861 she was converted to a steam screw frigate.

Decommissioned in 1874, Arethusa became a school and training ship at Greenhithe on the Thames, providing refuge and teaching maritime skills to destitute young boys who had been sleeping rough on the streets of London, training them for a career in the Royal Navy or Merchant Navy. She was broken up in 1934 (but replaced by another ship which was renamed Arethusa).

See the section on Alastor House, above, for film of the Arethusa.

Arethusa, c1900

That ships were dangerous places is revealed by this gravestone at the churchyard of St. Philip, Penn Fields, Wolverhampton. I read elsewhere that the boy’s death was the result of an accident, but have no further details. The Bible quote (from Isaiah 43:2) does infer that he drowned.

Argyle House, Marshfield Street

Argyle House, like other blocks in the neighbourhood, is named after a merchant ship which was a regular visitor to Millwall Docks. However, an internet search reveals two ships named SS Argyle, one of which was lost off Cuba in 1946 and the other deliberately scuttled in Scapa Flow in 1914 in order to block a sea passage to deny access to enemy ships. It does seem odd to name a block of flats after a ship which was lost at sea, so I’m going for the scuttled SS Argyle.

SS Argyle

Built in 1872 by Gilbert & Cooper, Hull, the SS Argyle was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914. The vessel was scuttled in Skerry Sound on the 17th September 1914.

During World War I strong defences were put in place throughout Scapa Flow to protect the British ships against attack. Anti-submarine netting was suspended across some of the larger channels into the Flow. Blockships were deliberately sunk in the smaller channels to further prevent the possibility of the Germans gaining access into Scapa Flow.
– http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com

If you’re into diving, you can always go visit the wreck: http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com/wrecks/blockships/ss-argyle.php

WWI blockships in Scapa Flow

Barque Street

Revealing yet again my ignorance of maritime matters, I had to look up ‘barque’ in an online dictionary to find out what that means. It is:

…a sailing ship, typically with three masts, in which the foremast and mainmast are square-rigged and the mizzenmast is rigged fore and aft.

Mmm, I think I am a little the wiser.

Bowsprit Point, Barkantine Estate

A bowsprit is:

..a spar running out from a ship’s bow, to which the forestays are fastened

The bowsprit of the Cutty Sark

Brassey House, Cahir Street

The only entry in this article named for a person and not a ship. I made the exception because all the other buildings on the estate in Cahir Street are named after (training) ships, and it was Lord Brassey who played a key part in their establishment (the ships, that is).

In 1880 Brassey’s book The British Navy was published. In 1886, he started The Naval Annual (generally referred to as Brassey’s Naval Annual). In the year 1890 it was felt by Brassey and a few others that it was time some effort was made to better train apprentices, because at the time apprentices were being used merely as drudges to do all the dirty work aboard ship, and were not receiving in instruction in navigation and other skills.

Known as the ‘Brassey Scheme’, vessels were acquired by Brassey and his business partners. Apart from practical seamanship, training instructions were provided on board the vessels to teach the cadets arithmetic, algebra, geometry, navigation and nautical astronomy. The first vessels acquired for the new scheme were the iron ships Harbinger and Hesperus.

Brig Street

A brig is:

…a two-masted square-rigged ship, typically having an additional lower fore-and-aft sail on the gaff and a boom to the mainmast.

A brig

Capstan Square

A capstan is:

… a broad revolving cylinder with a vertical axis used for winding a rope or cable, powered by a motor or pushed round by levers.

Royal Navy cadets pushing a capstan

Carvel House, Manchester Road

Carvel built or carvel planking:

… is a method of boat building where hull planks are fastened edge to edge, gaining support from the frame and forming a smooth surface.

In contrast with clinker built hulls, where planked edges overlap, carvel construction gives a stronger hull, capable of taking a variety of full-rigged sail plans, albeit one of greater weight. In addition, it enables greater length and breadth of hull and superior sail rigs because of its strong framing, and is one of the critical developments that led to the preeminence of Western European seapower during the Age of Sail and beyond.

Clinker and carvel comparison

Castalia Square

Castalia Square in the 1970s

The Castalia was an unusual twin-hulled paddle steamer built in 1874 by the Thames Ironwork and Shipbuilding Company for the English Channel Steamship Company. It was designed by the worryingly-named Captain Dicey, who thought that the twin hull would make the vessel more stable, thus leading to less seasickness among the passengers (there was room for 700).


Aboard the Castalia

Not a success – in large part because it was simply too slow – the ship was advertised for sale in 1881 on the instruction of the mortgagees, Messrs Bailey & Ridley. Two years later it was sold to the Metropolitan Asylums Board who converted it into a hospital ship for contagious diseases (primarily smallpox) with room for 150 female patients (male patients were housed in another ship, the Atlas, moored adjacent to the Castalia). Its engine and paddles were removed, and hospital blocks were built on the by-then bare deck. In 1885, it was reported that a child born on board the ship had been named Castalia.

After conversion to hospital ship, off Dartford.

On 9 December 1898, the SS Barrowmore was in collision with the Castalia. Some of the patients jumped overboard. Castalia had to be dry docked for repairs at the yard of Blackwall firm, John Stewart. In December 1904,  she was sold by auction at the Bull Hotel, Dartford, Kent, for breaking.

Clipper House, Manchester Road

A clipper is:

…a fast sailing ship, especially one of 19th-century design with concave bows and raked masts.

The clipper, Cutty Sark in 1869

Conway House, Cahir Street

Conway House (nearmost, bottom left) immediately after WWII.

HMS Conway was a naval training school or “school ship”, founded in 1859 and housed for most of her life aboard a 19th-century wooden ship of the line. The ship was originally stationed on the Mersey near Liverpool, then moved to the Menai Strait during World War II.

Launched in June 1839, she was entirely built from West African hardwoods and copper fastened, with copper sheathing anti-fouling to her under parts. She had survived the Baltic Blockade during the Crimean War, later protecting British possessions in the Caribbean and ‘showing the flag’ along the eastern seaboard of North America 50 years after the British surrender at Yorktown.

HMS Conway

HMS Conway


While being towed back to Birkenhead for a refit in 1953, she ran aground and was wrecked, and later burned.

“What was it you said, sir, Port is right, and Starboard is left?”

Exmouth House, Cahir Street

There were two training ships named Exmouth: No 1 from 1876 to 1905 and No. 2 from 1905 to 1939. The first ship was loaned to The Metropolitan Asylums Board by the Admiralty and had been named after Viscount Exmouth.

The Exmouth was laid down in 1840 and was a screw ship of 91 guns. She was commissioned in 1855 and served with the Baltic Fleet. She was crewed by some 500 boys. The Exmouth was replaced by another vessel named Exmouth in 1905 and remained anchored off Grays until 1939. The second Exmouth remained at Grays until the start of World War II when she was used for other purposes.

TS Exmouth

TS Exmouth

TS Exmouth

Finwhale House, Glengall Grove

HMS Finwhale (S05) was the fifth Porpoise class submarine of the Royal Navy. She was launched on 21 July 1959 and first commissioned on 19 August 1960. During her first commission she went further under the ice than any other submarine at the time. She was recommissioned on 27 January 1964. In March 1965 on her second Arctic patrol she further eclipsed her first ice patrol, penetrating 95 miles into the ice. She was used as a harbour training vessel between 1979 and 1987. She left under tow for scrapping in Spain on 28 March 1988.

HMS Finwhale (L), HMS Alcide (R) – in West India Docks

HMS Finwhale in West India Docks

HMS Alcide (L), HMS Finwhale (R) – in West India Docks

HMS Finwhale in a warmer looking climate.

Fishing Smack Public House, Cold Harbour

A smack was a traditional fishing boat used off the coast of Britain and the Atlantic coast of America for most of the 19th century and, in small numbers, up to the Second World War. Large numbers smacks operated in fleets from ports in the UK such as Brixham, Grimsby and Lowestoft as well as at locations along the Thames Estuary. In England the sails were white cotton until a proofing coat was applied, usually after the sail was a few years old. This gave the sails its distinctive red ochre colour, which made them a picturesque sight in large numbers.

A smack near Brightlingsea (I do think they are pretty boats).

Galleon House, Glengarnock Avenue

Galleon House (left)

A galleon was:

…a sailing ship in use (especially by Spain) from the 15th to the 18th centuries, originally as a warship, later for trade. Galleons were typically square-rigged and had three or more decks and masts.

A galleon. Does this look like a block of flats?

Great Eastern Public House

Two Great Easterns for the price of one. The first (actually, the last), in Glenaffric Avenue, and formerly known as the Waterman’s Arms, and – before that – the Newcastle Arms. The second (actually, the the first), on the corner of Westferry Road (foreground) and Harbinger Road (right), and destroyed during the Blitz. The playground of Harbinger Primary School is now on the site.

I discussed the Great Eastern at length in this article.


D51533 The ‘Great Eastern’ under construction at Millwall

Halyard House

A halyard is:

…a rope used for raising and lowering a sail, yard, or flag on a sailing ship.

They could have also just called it a rope.

Harbinger School

My school.

The Harbinger was the last sailing ship specially built and fitted for carrying passengers. In more ways than one she was a remarkable vessel, and differed in many interesting details from the stock type of Clyde-built iron clipper. In her rigging and sail plan, she had various fittings which were peculiar to herself.

To begin with, she was the only iron ship which had the old-fashioned channels to spread the rigging: and in another way she went back many years by never bending a sail on her crossjack yard. Instead of this sail she spread a large hoisting spanker, and she always carried a main spencer or storm trysail, a sail very often seen on down east Cape Horners, who found it very useful when trying to make westing off Cape Stiff.

Harbinger was a very lofty ship, measuring 210 feet from the water-line to her main truck, and, unlike the Hesperus, she always carried her skysail yards crossed. Her jibbooms were of unusual length—I say jibbooms, for outside her ordinary jibboom she carried a sliding gunter or flying jibboom. On these she set a whole fleet of jibs, and, as if they were not sufficient, she had cliphooks for a storm staysail on the fore stay.

I have no idea what that was all about, but I am well impressed with the concept of a ‘hoisting spanker’.

Hesperus Crescent

In 1873-4 Robert Steele & Co., the celebrated builders and designers of some of the fastest and most beautiful tea clippers, built two magnificent iron clippers for the Orient Line. These were the Hesperus and Aurora, sister ships. In 1890, the Hesperus was bought by Devitt & Moore for Lord Brassey’s training scheme.

Kedge House, Tiller Road

A kedge is a an anchor, much like the traditional form we would draw if asked to draw a picture of an anchor.

A kedge anchor

Kelson House

A kelson or keelson is:

…the member which, particularly in a wooden vessel, lies parallel with its keel but above the transverse members such as timbers, in order to provide the framework more stiffness.


Killoran House, Galbraith Street

S.S. Killoran was built by the Alilsa Shipbuilding Company of Troon and was launched in 1900.

On August 10th, 1940, the barque Killoran was sunk by the German auxiliary cruiser Widder under command of Korvetten-Kapitän von Rückteschell. It has been reported that the commandant of the Widder was reluctant to sink Killoran, and that it was the ship surgeon who pressed him into doing it.

The surgeon had been filming the voyage, and needed the sinking to have a good ending to the film, and threatened to report the commandant to Berlin if it was not done. The true seamen on board the Widder regarded the sinking as a murder.

Killoran was owned at time of her sinking by a finnish shipowner (Gustav Erikson). At the same time (August 1940), Germany delivered troops to Finland to assist their war against Russia. In the movie, it was told that the Killoran was sailing for British orders and must have been sunk for this reason.

  • wrecksite.eu

SS Killoran

SS Killoran in Britannia Dry Dock

SS Killoran in Britannia Dry Dock

SS Killoran in Britannia Dry Dock, visible behind the houses in Deptford Ferry Road

The sinking of the Killoran, 10th August 1940

Knighthead Point, Barkantine Estate

A knighthead is:

…either of two timbers rising from the keel of a sailing ship and supporting the upper end of the bowsprit.

Launch Street

A launch is an open motorboat. Originally a launch was the largest boat carried by a warship in the age of sail. The word comes from the Spanish lancha (“barge”) and Portuguese, from Malay lancharan (“boat”), from lanchar (“velocity without effort”).

On the River Thames the term “launch” is used to mean any motorised pleasure boat. The usage arises from the legislation governing the management of the Thames and laying down the categories of boats and the tolls for which they were liable.

Lingard House, Marshfield Street

Built in 1893 in Norway, and sold in 1915 to Adelaide company, T. Wardle & Co. who renamed her Wathara. In 1925 she was sold to the Finnish company Gustaf Erikson who restored her name to Lingard. In 1935, on a voyage to Millwall Docks with timber, she collided with the Swedish SS Gerd which was hit in the side and sunk with the loss of the entire crew. The Lingard suffered heavy damages and was towed to Gothenburg, Sweden where she was condemned. After becoming a club house for the Norsk Sejlskute Klubb (Norwegian Sailing Club) and a storage hulk for the Germany army, she was scrapped in 1946 (however, part of the aft deck is taken care of by the Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum, Oslo).

Llandovery House, Chipka Street

 Built in 1914 in Glasgow as RMS Llandovery Castle for the Union-Castle Line, was one of five Canadian hospital ships that served in the First World War. On a voyage from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool, England, the ship was torpedoed off southern Ireland on 27 June 1918. The sinking was the deadliest Canadian naval disaster of the war. Tragically, 234 doctors, nurses, members of the Canadian Army Medical Corps, soldiers and seamen died in the sinking and subsequent machine-gunning of lifeboats. Only 24 people, the occupants on a single life-raft, survived. The incident became infamous internationally as one of the war’s worst atrocities. After the war, the case of Llandovery Castle was one of six British cases presented at the Leipzig trials.

After the war, the captain of U-86, LieutenantHelmut Patzig, and two of his lieutenants, Ludwig Dithmar and John Boldt, were arraigned for trial in Germany on war crimes. On July 21, 1921, Dithmar and Boldt were tried and convicted in the case became famous as one of the “Leipzig trials”. Patzig was able to avoid prosecution as he fled the country and avoided extradition; and though Dithmar and Boldt were convicted and sentenced to four years in prison, they both escaped. At the Court of Appeal, both lieutenants were acquitted on the grounds that the captain was solely responsible.

The sinking of the Llandovery Castle

Macquarie Way

Photo: Island History Trust

Sydney Morning Herald, 1953:

Last Days Of The Old Clipper Ship Macquarie By A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

“FOR sale by tender. Floating mechanical coaling plant Fortuna . . .as she lies.”

This advertisement, which appeared recently in the “Herald,” marked the last chapter in the story of one of the most celebrated of the old wool and passenger clippers. The Sydney Harbour coal hulk Fortuna, in thc days of her prime when she was called the Macquarie, was a great name on the England-Australia route.

Her story began on a June morning in 1875, when the firm of R. and H. Green, of Blackwall on the Thames, launched an iron ship for their own use. Into it they had put the finest materials, including plates originally stockpiled for a South American man-of-war. The new ship bore upon her bow and stern the name “Melbourne,” after the port with which she was to carry on most of her trade.

Her dimensions proclaim her to have been a really big ship as wind-ships went – 1,852- tons’ register, 269. feet long, and 40 feet in beam. In comfort she was a great advance on her predecessors. Her cabins and saloon, panelled in cedar, were larger, better lit, better furnished and more adequately ventilated than was the general custom of those days.

She carried a surgeon, and with her one-time consort “Sobraon ” later H.M.A.S. “Tingira.” was known, as a “hospital ship because the men of Harley Street and Macquarie Street so
often prescribed tor their patients a sea voyage in one of these comfortable vessels.

Until 1887 “Melbourne” traded to thc Victorian capital. In thal year Greens sold her to Devitt and Moore, who placed her in the Sydney trade. On her arrival on December 27, the shipping and shiploving community turned out in force to admire the big iron Blackwaller towing up to Central Wharf, Miller’s Point. They noted her splendid appearance, the long line of painted ports, and the heavily gilded gallery of imitation windows, painted on the stern, indicative of ber direct descent from the East lndiamen of seventy years and more earlier. Most of those frigate-built ships were of teak construction, and three only were fashioned in Iron.

“Melbourne” was the third’ and last. In 1888 her name was changed to “Macquarie.” She was undoubtedly best known in Australia under this name.

A new period in her career opened in 1897, when she became one of Lord Brassey’s cadet ships, still under the ownership of Devitt and Moore, providing, ocean training under sail for the future officers of the British Merchant Service. Her fittings were of the best for this- purpose, and a special schoolroom was constructed in the ‘tween decks for instruction in matters of theory – over 200 midshipmen and cadets. passing through her in her six years as a schoolship.

In these latter years sail owners were resigned to thc encroachment of steam. Nevertheless Devitts kept “Macquarie” and her consort “Illawarra” In service as long as possible. They disposed of the former in 1904 “to Norwegian interests. She had cost £46,750 to build, but her new owners got her for a mere £4,500 – and at the same time changed her name to “Fortuna.” As such she traded to many parts of’the world, making at least two visits to Australia.

But another change was in store for her. In 1909 the Wallarah Coal Co. bought her for a coal hulk in Sydney harbour. Mechanical coaling gear was fitted in 1920, capable of delivering 200 tons of-coal into a steamer’s bunkers per bour, and tho old ship pursued this grimy, but most useful trade, until a few weeks-ago.

So many of her owner’s former clients now fire their ships with oil fuel that the need for a mobile coal hulk is almost negligible, the shore gear at Ball’s Head providing all that is required. Also, the 78-year-old hull would require expensive repairs if she were to continue in service.

Whatever becomes of her In the near future, the picture of this lordly and spotless ship as she was in her great’days, surging along under a press of sail, will Fix this textbe in the minds of all who admire the old ships: . – “For Sale by tender ? . . as she lies.” the old Fortuna has been bought, and it is understood that her new owner will have her broken up. So passes the last of the Blackwall’ Frigates, and the very last deep sea sailing ship built upon the Thames.


Michigan House, Westferry Road

The SS Michigan was built by Harland & Wolff, Belfast in 1891 as a cargo ship with limited passenger accommodation.The Michigan was sold to the U.S. government in 1898 for service as a military transport during the Spanish-American War. In 1899 she was renamed Kilpatrick and was allocated to the Atlantic fleet. In August 1909 she participated in war games off the coast of Massachusetts, pretending to be “a modern battleship of the all-big-gun type” stationed to protect the landing of troops intent on ‘capturing’ New Bedford.

In 1920 the USAT Kilpatrick was sold to the American Black Sea Line, renamed Acropolis, rebuilt to 5,083 tons (including the weight of a dummy funnel), and fitted out with accommodation for 250-cabin and 600-third class passengers. She sailed as an emigrant ship between New York, Piraeus, and Constantinople between April 1921 and September 1922. She was sold in 1923 to the American owned Booras Steamship Company and renamed Washington. She commenced the first of two voyages for her new owners on May 1, 1923, leaving New York for Piraeus and Constantinople, and the second and last on July 7, 1923, when she sailed from New York via Boston. Later the same year she was sold to T. C. Phelps, of New York, who renamed her Great Canton and scrapped her the following year in Italy.

Midship Point

The midship is:

…the portion of a ship between the bow and the stern.

Montcalm House

The Montcalm was built for the African Steamship Company and managed by the Elder, Dempster Line. She carred accommodation for 12-second class passengers and was fitted to carry cattle eastbound and emigrants westbound. The Montcalm sailed on her maiden voyage from Avonmouth to Montreal and was chartered by the Atlantic Transport Line in November 1898. She commenced direct London to New York services on December 24 of that year. In 1898 her shade deck was enclosed and in 1899 she was rebuilt to 6,981 gross tons. January 27, 1900 saw her sail on her last London to New York voyage. On April 5, 1900, she sailed for Capetown as a Boer War transport and completed six New Orleans to Capetown voyages.

June 1902 saw her sail on the first of four Avonmouth to Montreal voyages and in 1903 she was sold to the Canadian Pacific Line. In August 1914 was requisitioned by the British Admiralty and was used as a transport with the British Expeditionary Force until October when she was converted into a dummy of the battleship HMS Audacious. As such, she was one of several decoy ships based at Scapa Flow while the real vessels were at sea. When this fleet of decoys was disbanded in 1915 she became a naval store ship.

She was purchased by the British Admiralty in January 1916 and operated by the Leyland Line. She was converted to a tanker that October and transferred to the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company (Shell) as the Crenella. She was torpedoed by U 101 off Ireland on November 26, 1917, but managed to reach port.

After the war she was purchased by the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company, and in 1920 was to Runciman’s Velefa Shipping Company of London. In 1923 she was sold to Christian Nielson & Co., and became a Norwegian whaling depot ship renamed Rey Alfonso. By 1925 she was owned by H. M. Wrangell & Co., of Haugesund and in 1927 was sold to the Anglo-Norse Co., of Tronsberg and renamed Anglo-Norse. She was sold yet again in 1929 to the Falkland Whaling Company and renamed Polar Chief.

Laid up for the 1930 season, in 1941 ownership transferred to the Ministry of War for service as a transport, and she was renamed Empire Chief. She survived the war and was returned to the South Georgia Company in 1946 under her previous name, Polar Chief. She was finally scrapped at Dalmuir in Scotland in 1953.

Montfort House, Galbraith Street

The “Montfort” was built in 1899 by Palmers Co Ltd, Jarrow-on-Tyne for Elder
Dempster’s Beaver Line. She was a 5,519 gross ton ship, length 445ft x beam
52.2ft, one funnel, four masts, twin screw and a speed of 13 knots. Built
primarily as a cargo vessel, she had accommodation for only 12-1st class

Launched on 13/2/1899, she sailed from the Tyne on her maiden voyage to
Quebec and Montreal on 26/4/1899. In May 1899 she made her first of four
Avonmouth – Montreal passages. She was transferred to trooping duties for
the Boer War and commenced her first of three Liverpool – Capetown voyages
on 11/11/1899. She also made one round voyage from each of Halifax, New
Orleans and Fiume to Capetown.

In 1900 she was refitted to carry 30-1st class and 1,200-3rd class
passengers and her tonnage increased to 7,087 tons. Her first passenger
voyage between Liverpool, Quebec and Montreal commenced on 17/7/1900 and she
received several refits to various tonnages between 1901-1903. In 1903, the
“Montfort” went to Canadian Pacific together with the rest of Beaver Line’s
Canadian fleet and her accommodation was altered to carry 30-2nd and
1,200-3rd class passengers. The following year the company switched it’s
service from Avonmouth to London/Antwerp to Canada and on the eastbound
journey, the third class berths were frequently dismantled in Montreal and
replaced with portable stalls to carry upwards of 1,200 head of cattle to

In 1909, she was again rebuilt to 6,578 tons and on 6/12/1916 was torpedoed
and sunk by the German submarine U.55, 170 miles from Bishops Rock, Scilly
Islands, with the loss of 5 lives.

Montrose House

The SS Montrose  was built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Glasgow, Scotland, as the passenger ship SS Montrose for the Canadian Pacific Steamships Company and was launched on 14 December 1920, sponsored by Lady Raeburn, the wife of the Director-General of the British Ministry of Shipping.

Montrose ran aground on 7 August 1925 in the Saint Lawrence River in Canada.[1] She was refloated on 10 August 1925 and drydocked for repairs to her rudder and port propeller.

On 31 July 1928, Montrose collided with the British cargo ship Rose Castle in the Saint Lawrence River, Quebec, Canada; Rose Castle beached herself to avoid sinking but was refloated on 3 August 1928.

On 4 September 1939, Montrose was requisitioned by the British Admiralty for World War II service with the Royal Navy and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. Her conversion was completed on 6 November 1939 and she was commissioned into Royal Navy service as HMS Forfar (F30).

Pinnace House, Samuda Estate

A pinnace is:

…a light boat which was carried aboard larger boats or ships, mainly used as a tender.

A pinnace aboard a sailing ship


A quarterdeck is:

…a raised deck behind the main mast of a sailing ship. Traditionally it was where the captain commanded his vessel and where the ship’s colours were kept. This led to it being used as the main ceremonial and reception area on board, and the word is still used to refer to such an area on a ship of even in naval establishments on land.

Rawalpindi House

HMS Rawalpindi was a British armed merchant cruiser, (a converted passenger ship intended to raid and sink enemy merchant shipping) that was sunk in a surface action against the German battleships Scharnhorstand and Gneisenau during the first months of the Second World War.

Rawalpindi was requisitioned by the Admiralty on 26 August 1939 and converted into an armed merchant cruiser by the addition of eight elderly 6 in (150 mm) guns and two 3 in (76 mm) guns. She was set to work from October 1939 in the Northern Patrol covering the area around Iceland. On 19 October in the Denmark Strait, Rawalpindi intercepted the German tanker Gonzenheim (4,574 grt), which had left Buenos Aires on 14 September. The tanker was scuttled by her crew before a boarding party could get on board.

Whilst patrolling north of the Faroe Islands on 23 November 1939, she investigated a possible enemy sighting, only to find that she had encountered two of the most powerful German warships, the battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which had been conducting a sweep between Iceland and the Faroes. Rawalpindi was able to signal the German ships’ location back to base. Despite being hopelessly outgunned, 60-year-old Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy RN of Rawalpindi decided to fight, rather than surrender as demanded by the Germans. He was heard to say “We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that. Good-bye”.

The German warships sank Rawalpindi within 40 minutes. She managed to score one hit on Scharnhorst, which caused minor splinter damage. 238 men died on Rawalpindi, including Captain Kennedy. Thirty-seven men were rescued by the German ships, a further 11 were picked up by HMS Chitral (another converted passenger ship). Captain Kennedy — the father of naval officer, broadcaster and author Ludovic Kennedy — was posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches.

Rodney House

Schooner Street/House/Close

Ship Street, briefly named Schooner Street before George Green’s School was built on its site.

A schooner is:

… a type of sailing vessel with fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts, the foremast being shorter than the main and no taller than the mizzen if there is one. While the schooner was originally gaff-rigged, modern schooners typically carry a Bermuda rig.


Spinnaker House, Byng Street

A spinnaker is:

… a sail designed specifically for sailing off the wind from a reaching course to a downwind, i.e. with the wind 90°–180° off bow. The spinnaker fills with wind and balloons out in front of the boat when it is deployed, called flying. It is constructed of lightweight fabric, usually nylon, and is often brightly coloured. It may be optimised for a particular range of wind angles, as either a reaching or a running spinnaker, by the shaping of the panels and seams. Some types of spinnaker can be carried by the side of the boat, but still in front of the mast. This is called “flying a shy spinnaker”, and is used for reaching.


Tamar House, Plevna Street

HMS Tamar was a Royal Navy troopship built by the Samuda Brothers, and launched in Britain in 1863. She served as a supply ship from 1897 to 1941, and gave her name to the shore station HMS Tamar in Hong Kong (1897 to 1997).

The 1863 incarnation of HMS Tamar was the fourth to bear that name, which is derived from the River Tamar, in Cornwall, and the ship’s crest is based on its coat of arms.

Tamar was dual-powered with masts and a steam engine, giving a speed of 12 knots. She originally had two funnels, but she was re-equipped with a more advanced boiler and reduced to one funnel.

In 1874, she formed part of the Naval Brigade that helped to defeat the Ashanti in West Africa, during the Ashanti War. Tamar took part in the bombardment of Alexandria in 1882.

In 1897 Tamar was hulked as a base ship and relieved HMS Victor Emmanuel as the Hong Kong receiving ship. She was used as a base ship until replaced by the shore station, which was named HMS Tamar, after the ship.

The Tamar had been towed out to a buoy on 8 December during the Battle of Hong Kong during World War II. Amidst a curfew of darkness and bombardment by the Japanese forces, the orders came at 2100 hours on 11 December to scuttle her. She was scuttled at the buoy on 12 December 1941 once it was clear that the advance could not be arrested, to avoid being used by the invading Japanese Imperial forces. As the ship’s superstructure became airlocked, the ship refused to sink for some time, until the Royal Artillery was called in to administer the coup de grâce.

A mast from this ship is now erected outside Murray House in Stanley, Hong Kong.

In late 2014, during dredging work for the Central–Wan Chai Bypass, the remains of what strongly appears to be HMS Tamar were discovered at the location where she is believed to have been scuttled.


HMS Tamar in Malta

Thermopylae Gate

Thermopylae was built for the Aberdeen Line, which was founded in 1825 by George Thompson. Thermopylae was designed for the China tea trade, and set speed records on her maiden voyage to Melbourne—63 days, still the fastest trip under sail.

In 1872, Thermopylae raced the clipper Cutty Sark from Shanghai back to London. Thermopylae won by seven days after Cutty Sark lost her rudder. From 1882 onward, Thermopylae took part in the Australian wool trade; however, on this route Cutty Sark proved faster.

In 1897 she was sold to Portugal for use as a naval training ship and renamed Pedro Nunes. On 13 October 1907, the Portuguese Navy towed her down the Tagus river using two warships, and before Amelia de Orleans, Queen of Portugal, she was torpedoed with full naval honours off Cascais.

Topmast Point

Traditional ships’ masts are not single spars but are made of two or even three spars. The mast above the lower mast (aka mizzen, main or fore mast) is known as the topmast.

Topmast, which is not at the top, those pesky maritime people.

Triton House, Cahir Street

Built at Blackwall in 1846, fitted out and commissioned at Chatham a year later.

17 Oct 1854 1st Bombardment of Sebastopol – see p. 437 at http://www.archive.org/details/royalnavyhistory06clow

24 Nov 1857 departed England for anti-slavery duties on the West Coast of Africa.

8 Feb 1858 off Tachin, boarded the Spanish brig Don Juan in accordance with the appropriate Treaty for the suppression of the Slave Trade.

18 Mar 1858 ashore enquiring about slaves for the schooner Hanover, supposed to be lurking in the offing. Remained in search of the human cargo that the Hanover hoped to slip in and embark, in order that the Triton would be ready for her.

4 Feb 1859 when at anchor off Killongo observed a vessel in the offing : following a chase of 4 hours was detained the slave brigantine Name Unknown, supposed George Louhse, and being without flag or papers she was sent for adjudication to the Vice-Admiralty Court at St. Helena and on 7 Mar 1859 sentenced to be condemned. 8 Oct 1860 Prize money due payable.

20 Apr 1859 was in the River Congo when the USS Marion arrived in the River and the the following day seized the American slave barque Orion, with all he crew, which she sent to New York for adjudication, followed a few days later by the American brig Ardennes, who arrived in the River with the Pluto, in which case Commander Brent of the Marion considered that the master had perjured himself to the authorities at Jacksonville by stating that he was sailing for the Canaries, whereas he never went near the islands, nor had any intention of doing so despite having 2 “passengers” on board who had been furnished with passports for those islands, but were most probably more interested in the vessel’s prospective slave cargo ?

4 Jul 1859 detained a slave schooner, Name Unknown, which was sent for adjudication to the Vice-Admiralty Court at St. Helena and sentenced to be condemned.

8 Aug 1859 anchored near Point Padrone, having spoken to the Vesuvius to the south of Snake’s Head, regarding various meetings the Triton had had with the American ship Memphis, which when first visited was supposedly disguised as a whaler, whilst plainly engaged in the slave trade, and that her movements were closely watched from 14 Jul when her movements became most suspicious.

8 Aug 1859 having received information from the ship’s boats that the suspected American slave vessels Ottawa and Lillie Mills had gone up the River Congo to Punta da Lenha, departed in pursuit to anchor in company with them and on 10 Aug went on board the Lillie Mills to inspect her papers. Her master, R. H. Weeks, stated that he was a former RN seaman who had served on board HMS Dido in 1848, who now claimed to be a citizen of the United States.

11 Aug 1859 followed the Ottawa down river, which being so closely watched left the river for the sea and thence to the southward, and was suspected of seeking a slave cargo elsewhere, such as Ambrizette or Moanda.

17 Aug 1859 detained off Bahia Fonda, a few miles to the north of Ambriz after a chase of over 3 hours the slave schooner, Name Unknown, supposed Juana, and without papers or flag, her crew having deserted, which was sent under the command of Mr. Edward C. Smyth, Second Master, for adjudication to the Vice-Admiralty Court at St. Helena and on 15 Sep 1859 sentenced to be condemned.

11 Sep 1859 boarded the American ship (former barque) Emily, which had been acting suspiciously by anchoring the previous evening in Bahia Fonda Bay, only normally used by vessels involved in the slave trade, however her papers being in order she was allowed to go about her business.

13 Oct 1859 boarded the American brig Taverier, of New York, which, whilst her papers appeared to be in order, it being noted that there was no means of proving their authenticity, and raised some points which might suggest that there did appear to be some problems with the papers, but that could only be resolved by a U.S.N. officer, which would appear to have been confirmed by the fact that she was detained by the Viper on the 4 Nov 1859 with 518 negroes on board.

22 Dec 1859 with the Viper, chased a slave brig, Name Unknown, but supposed Dos Hermanos, but lost her.

24 Dec 1859 chased and detained in Lat. 7° 17′ S., long. 12° 14′ E., off Bahia Fonda, a slave brig, Name Unknown, supposed Dos Hermanos, about 200 tons, as she was preparing to embark her human cargo. She was sent to the Vice-Admiralty Court at St. Helena for adjudication in the charge of Master’s Assistant C. J. Bigley and on 23 Jan 1860 sentenced to be condemned.

9-10 Jan 1860 detained in Lat. 5° 8′ S., long. 11° 52′ E., a slave barque Name unknown, supposed Pamphylia, with 6-700 slaves on board, 200 youngsters, for their own safety, being removed to the Triton, both vessels departing for the adjudication to the Vice-Admiralty Court at St. Helena where on the 13 Feb 1860 the Pamphylia was sentenced to be condemned.

13 Apr 1860 detained in Lat. 3° 25′ N., long. 11° 1′ W., a slave ship, Name Unknown, supposed Roanoke, which was sent for adjudication to Sierra Leone and on 25 Apr 1860 sentenced to be condemned.

7 Jan 1861 returned to England from the West Coast of Africa.


Warspite House

Training Ship Warspite was owned by The Marine Society. Originally moored at Woolwich, she was accidently destroyed by fire in 1876. Another ship, HMS Conquerer was obtained from the Royal Navy and it was this ship, renamed Warspite that came to Greenhithe. Her moorings were downstream from Arethusa off from Charles Street. In 1918 by an act of arson by three boys protesting about conditions, she was also destroyed by fire. They’d already had one attempt foiled during the day but suceeded after lights out. In 1922 The Marine Society obtained yet another ship, HMS Hermione, a victorian cruiser and moored her off Greenhithe as Warspite. She lasted about ten years but was moved several times as she was obstructing Everard’s ships and was finally moved to Grays, Essex until she was broken up for the war effort in 1940.

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You say Coldharbour, I say Cold Harbour

We better get this out of the way immediately; I am sure some of you may be asking yourself, “Is Cold Harbour actually a part of the Isle of Dogs?” It’s a valid question – the area has always been isolated from the rest of the Island, and it does have a different feel to it in some respects, heightened by the number of old and sometimes very large houses it contains and the distinct lack of post-war council housing. Not just a different place, but from a different time perhaps (after all, it is the oldest surviving street on the Island).

Deciding on what constitutes the boundaries of the Isle of Dogs has been keeping hundreds (well, a handful) occupied since time began (er…..since Facebook was invented). Being an avid collector of all things to do with Island history, I decided a long time ago that I needed to draw the line somewhere, if only for my own peace of mind. West, south, and east are easy – no arguing with the route of the Thames – and I also decided it should be water that defines the northern boundary; an Island has got to be surrounded by water, right? That made it easier – my Isle of Dogs is bounded in the north by the north side of the Limehouse Entrance Lock, the West India Import Dock, Blackwall Basin and the Blackwall Entrance Lock. (Don’t look for the Limehouse Entrance Lock on a map, by the way, it was filled in decades ago. Westferry Circus is now on its site.) By this definition, Cold Harbour is a part of the Isle of Dogs.

This 1890 map also supports why I spell the streetname Cold Harbour and not Coldharbour. It was always spelled with two words, until the 1950s, when the council replaced the two or three street signs, and misspelled the name. There was no decision to rename the street, it was simply a spelling mistake. This still happens – recently, a street elsewhere on the Island was suddenly spelled “Saundersness Road” – but, with social networking and email and other electrickery, it was not too difficult to bring it to the attention of those who could correct it.

So what, actually, is a Cold Harbour (a common placename throughout the British Isles, sometimes corrupted into Coal or Cole Harbour)? Harbour has nothing to do with shipping – it means harbour in the sense of a refuge, from the Middle English herbergeCold is from a Saxon word, cealt, which means not only cold as in temperature, but also as in bare or uninhabited. According to one definition by G. Basil Barham of the East Herts Archæological Society:

The Cold Harbours are all in the vicinity of one or other of the great Neolithic or Roman roads, and were originally the remains of partially destroyed Roman or Romano-British dwellings, or settlements [sometimes protected by earth walls, timber, or ruined stonework]. Travellers used them as being more or less secure places in which to spend a night. As the places became known, traders gathered there to distribute goods and do business, and eventually the places once more became villages, but retained the old generic name.

Cold Harbour is clearly a very old thoroughfare (or place) – older than the Mill Wall path which went down the west of the Island; older even than Dolphin Lane, (H)Arrow Lane or any of the other medieval lanes which crossed the Island marshes from Poplar in the north. That said, it is difficult to imagine Cold Harbour as being on the route to anywhere. As this 1745 map shows, Cold Harbour was a bit of a dead end – the southern end of Blackwall, a major shipbuilding area of the time.

Survey of London:

Coldharbour is virtually the sole remaining fragment of Old Blackwall. Until relatively recently it was little known and little seen, being obscured by the nondescript industrial premises on the east side of Preston’s Road. These have now been mostly cleared away, exposing what is left of Coldharbour to passers-by in the newly widened Preston’s Road.

The roadway here is the only surviving section of an old riverside road leading southwards from Blackwall Stairs before petering out somewhere near the present entrance to the South Dock of the West India Docks. This old road almost certainly originated as a pathway along the top of the medieval river embankment called the Blackwall. A deed for a house on the east side, leased in 1626, describes the house as having been built on ‘part of the wall commonly called Blackwall’, and the street as ‘the way which lieth on the same wall called Blackwall’. The name Coldharbour …  formerly applied to the whole stretch of roadway, and was only restricted to the southern section after the road had been cut by the construction of the Blackwall entrance to the West India Docks.

Buildings had begun to appear in Coldharbour by the second decade of the seventeenth century, as the wave of development encouraged by the opening of the East India Company’s shipbuilding yard at Blackwall in 1614 gradually spread southwards along the riverfront, and the opening of Browne’s (later Rolt’s) shipyard in the late 1660s probably gave a further boost to the process.

Detail from the 1750 engraving ‘A View of Blackwall looking towards Greenwich’. by Boydell. Cold Harbour is in the centre of this detail.

The construction of the West India Docks disected the riverside road and isolated Cold Harbour from the rest of Blackwall.


William Daniell’s 1802 painting, “An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse for the reception & accommodation of Shipping in the West India Trade” provides a very detailed view of Cold Harbour at that time.

I’m jumping around a bit, now, but I find it interesting to compare this with recent aerial photos and maps.

c1950. Photo: britainfromabove.org.uk. Click for large version.



Anyway, back in the 1800s, some larger houses and businesses were built along the riverfront:

1 Cold Harbour, Isle House

Dockmaster’s residence, built for the West India Dock Company in 1825–6, to the designs of their Principal Engineer, (Sir) John Rennie.

3 Cold Harbour, Nelson House

There are stories of Lord Nelson meeting Lady Hamilton in this area – but there is no evidence to suggest a link between him and this house (first purported in 1881). The original Doric columns on either side of the front door were stolen in the 1980s – who steals Doric columns, is there a market for Doric columns? Survey of London:

In 1924–5 the house was converted into two dwellings, for occupation by PLA police families, by the introduction of a glazed screen (burnt in the fire in 1990) across the first-floor landing, and the conversion of the north-west room on the first floor to a bathroom and the south-west room on the top floor to a kitchen. In 1935 the PLA granted a 21-year lease of Nos 1 and 3 to the Bethnal Green and East London Housing Association, which divided the properties for letting to weekly tenants.

5 & 7 Cold Harbour

Survey of London:

Probably the two houses built here in 1809 by Richard Gibbs, a local shipwright, but a rebuilding in the early 1820s cannot be ruled out. The houses erected about 1809 replaced the two shown in Daniell’s view. By 1799 the northern house, whose site had been leased to Ralph Mayne in 1637, was ’empty and ruinous’, and it was pulled down before 1807, when Gibbs bought the freehold of the empty site, together with the standing house to the south.

In 1834 No. 5 was let to the West India Dock Company for an Assistant Dockmaster’s house, and No. 7 was similarly occupied from 1851. The dockmasters left when the leases expired in 1871. Between 1877 and 1890 one, or possibly both, of the properties were partly occupied as a coffee house. According to the directories, the proprietor in 1881 was William Keld, but the census shows that there were two William Kelds, one at each house. At No. 5 was a 32-year-old lighterman with a family of seven, a nurse and female servant, and at No. 7 a 55-year-old boat proprietor, presumably the former’s father.

9 Cold Harbour

Site of the Fishing Smack pub, which had been around since at least 1750. It was demolished in 1948, but a single glazed-tile column remains (see previous photo).

Site of the Fishing Smack


15 Cold Harbour

The current building was constructed in 1843–4 by Benjamin Granger Bluett, a joiner, mast- and blockmaker on the site of an older house. Survey of London:

In 1894 the Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB), which occupied the adjoining wharf to the south as an ambulance station, bought the freehold of No. 15, and in 1895 it enclosed the former mastmaking shop, subdividing the area to make dressing-rooms, bathrooms, waiting-rooms and stores. It also built a range of waterclosets and an observation ward against the south wall of the house. Edwin T. Hall (1851–1923) designed and supervised these alterations. Ownership of No. 15 passed to the LCC in 1929, when it took over the MAB’s responsibilities. In 1969 the GLC transferred the property to the borough council.

1939. 15 Cold Harbour on the right. Managers Street on the left.

North Wharf

I described the Metropolitan Asylums Board’s Ambulance Station in another article (click here).

It was around the time that the asylum board took over the wharf (in the 1880s) that Managers Street was constructed, named after the managers of the Metropolitan Asylums Board.

19 Cold Harbour (Blackwall River Police Station)

Opened in 1894 on the former Brown’s Wharf and closed in the 1970s. Survey of London:

The Blackwall Station, one of only two permanent river-police stations ever built on the Thames (the other was at Wapping), was designed to accommodate a division of the Thames police formerly based on board The Royalist, a hulk moored off Folly Wall. The inconvenience of this floating headquarters had long been felt, and in 1875 it was suggested that the station should be relocated on shore in the former Railway Tavern at Brunswick Wharf. This proposal was rejected, and it was not until 1889 that other land sites were seriously considered, the choice of Brown’s Wharf being approved in 1890.

Concordia Wharf (L) and the River Police Station (R)


27 Cold Harbour (Gun Public House)

Doing business since the 1700s, the pub has been variously named the King and Queen (1722), Rose and Crown (1725), and Ramsgate Pink (1750). It was renamed the Gun (and sometimes referred to as the Gun Tavern) in 1771. For more photos, click here.

Nos 29–51 (odd) Cold Harbour

Built in 1890. No. 51 was demolished due to the widening and realignment of Preston’s Road.

That same widening of the road meant also the loss of Leslie’s Café 😦

West India Dock Tavern

The terraced housing in the previous section was built on the site of a grand tavern known as the West India Dock Tavern. Opened in 1830, with the owner, Samuel Lovegrove, expecting to profit from the proximity of the docks, it was not a success and remained open for not much more than a decade. For its full story, read my earlier blog article, The West India Dock Tavern.

1835 map showing “Lovegrove’s W. India Dock Tavern & Stairs”

Little is known or reported about the early history of the other side of the street. It was always predominantly industrial, but this 1870 map reveals that there was some housing in the northern section at the time. New Road was the new road between the West India Dock entrance lock and Preston(‘s) Road in the north (so-called due to it passing through the former Hall-Preston Estate):

By 1910 it was getting fuller:

Cold Harbour survived WWII remarkably unscathed, as this (sorry, poor quality) London County Council Bomb Map reveals, in spite of the V1 (flying bomb or Doodlebug) strike marked by the circle on the left. My theory is that the Luftwaffe – primarily targetting the docks – did not release their bombs until spotting the Thames, which generally saved those premises along the river in the east of the Island as the bombs passed overhead. A study of the wider LCC Bomb Damage Map for the Island does bear this out.

Uniquely, Cold Harbour retains a feel of the past, a piece of the Island (yes, it’s the Island 🙂 ) that shows its age, like these two Herberts in the Gun a couple of years ago.

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