Tag Archives: Isle of Dogs

London Docklands – A 1976 Strategic Plan

There have been numerous studies over the years looking into how London should develop and that detail a vision and proposals for the future that are frequently very different to the past. Many of these proposals get no further than the written page, however it is fascinating to see how London could have developed into a very different city if some of these proposals had been implemented.

In the early 1970s, East London and the London Docklands were suffering from the closure of the docks, loss of industry and employment and the gradual exodus of people. The area had also never fully recovered from the significant damage of wartime bombing.

My posts on the 1973 Architects Journal issue covering East London have explored some of the original issues, and these can also be found in a strategic plan published in 1976 by the Docklands Joint Committee.

I found the 1976 publication documenting the strategic plan in a second-hand bookshop, having been originally from the Planning Resources Centre of Oxford Brookes University.

The front cover provides an indication of the type of change proposed for the London Docklands, from derelict docks and industrial buildings to housing and schools more likely to be found in the suburbs, rather than East London.

London Docklands

The 1970s were a decade of confusion in the development of the London Docklands.

Dock closure had started in 1967 and continued through to 1970 with the closure of the East India, St. Katherine’s, Surrey and London Docks. Although the West India and Millwall Docks would not close until the end of the decade, the future of these historic docks was clear due to their inability to support the rapidly increasing containerisation of goods passing through the docks. Development of docks at Tilbury, Southampton and Felixstowe were the future.

The area covered by the docks, the industries clustered around the docks, and the housing of those who lived and worked in East London was significant, running from Tower Bridge to Beckton where the River Roding entered the Thames.

The Conservative Secretary of State, Peter Walker was clear in his views that the task of development was outside the scope of local government, and as a result a firm of consultants, Travers Morgan were hired to investigate the possibilities for a comprehensive redevelopment of the area.

The proposals put forward by Travers Morgan in their 1973 report proposed a number of possible development scenarios which included office development, housing and even a water park, however their proposals had minimal input from those who still lived and worked in the London Docklands. The Travers Morgan report was opposed by the Trades Unions and local Labour authorities and the Joint Docklands Action Group was setup to coordinate opposition.

Labour took control of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1973, and in the 1974 General Election, Labour formed a minority government. The Travers Morgan proposals were abandoned.

The Secretary of State for the Environment established the Docklands Joint Committee in January 1974. The objectives of the committee are summarised in the opening paragraph of their report:

“The overall objective of the strategy is: To use the opportunity provided by large areas of London’s Dockland becoming available for development to redress the housing, social, environmental, employment/economic and communications deficiencies of the Docklands area and the parent boroughs and thereby to provide the freedom for similar improvements throughout East and Inner London.”

The committee was comprised of representatives from the GLC and the London boroughs both north and south of the river that came within the overall boundaries of the docks (Newham, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Greenwich and Lewisham). The Government also appointed representatives to the committee and community organisations were represented through the Docklands Forum who had two members on the committee.

The proposals produced by the Docklands Joint Committee were very different to those of the earlier Travers Morgan study. Travers Morgan had identified a future need for office space, along with housing and retail, however the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee focused on what the existing inhabitants required and how their skills could best be used and therefore developed a future based on manufacturing and industry.

Another difference to the earlier Travis Morgan study was in the way that the Docklands Joint Committee aimed to involve and consult the local population of the docklands. Public meetings were arranged, a mobile exhibition of the proposals toured the area, and in the words of the preface to the proposals “every effort will be made to ensure that everyone affected has the chance to know what is being proposed, and why, and to make his or her views known.”

The Strategic Plan as a draft for public consultation was published in March 1976 with a request that comments should be sent by the 30th June 1976.

The plan was very comprehensive including the routing of roads, public transport, industry and housing. Four maps within the plan provided a summary of the Docklands Joint Committee’s recommendations for how land use across the docklands would transform over the coming years.

Docklands Development Phase 1 – Up To 1982

London Docklands

The first phase of docklands development would start to expand established district centres and new housing would be built in Wapping, around the Surrey Docks/Deptford area (expanding the existing Redriff estate) and new housing in the south-east quarter of the Isle of Dogs.

The development of large industrial zones would commence, centred on the Greenwich Peninsula and along the river to Woolwich, the areas around the River Lea and Beckton.

The targets of the district centres were:

  • Wapping could have about 20,000 sq.ft of shopping, centred round a supermarket, together with a health centre, although this might be in temporary accommodation;
  • On the Isle of Dogs the southern centre could have a shopping centre of about 60,000 sq.ft together with a health centre;
  • Surrey Docks could also have roughly 60,000 sq.ft of shopping, centred around a large supermarket together with a health centre;
  • The East Beckton centre could be the furthest developed, with around 60,000 sq.ft of shopping, a secondary school. health centre, and community centre

For transport, short-term improvements would be made to the North Woolwich and East London line along with improvements to bus services and existing roads.

Docklands Development Phase 2 – Up To 1986

The second phase of docklands development continues the work of the first phase with expansion of housing in Wapping and the Isle of Dogs, with substantial new housing in Beckton. The plan proposed that by the end of phase 2 development across the Surrey Docks would be complete.

The plan was rather vague on new transport projects, however by the end of phase 2, the intention that a new underground line from Fenchurch Street Station would have been extended to Custom House. The strategy document described this new underground line as:

“New tube line (River line) – The Docklands Joint Committee have endorsed the proposed route from Fenchurch Street to Custom House but there are two alternative routes from Custom House to Thamesmead, shown dotted, which are to be further examined.”

In the map below, the River line is shown as a line of wide and narrow dashes out to just north of the Royal Victoria Dock. Other diagrams in the report show the two options for extending the route on to Thamesmead, one via Beckton and the other option via Woolwich Arsenal.

London Docklands

Docklands Development Phase 3 – Up To 1990

Phase 3 up to 1990 is where the major changes were implemented and would have resulted in a very different docklands to the area we see today.

Phase 3 included the filling in of the majority of the old docks, with the exception of the Royal Albert and King George V docks. The report does acknowledge that the ability to make these changes is very dependent on the future operations of the Port of London Authority on the Isle of Dogs and the Victoria Dock in Newham. This highlighted one of the key challenges for the Docklands Joint Committee in that they did not own any of the land across the docklands so the implementation of their proposals would be very dependent on large owners such as the Port of London Authority and the availability of significant funding.

Phase 3 aimed to address the lack of open space available to the residents of the Isle of Dogs and Poplar. In the north of the Isle of Dogs there is a new large area of green which the plan proposed as:

“The open space area not only provides space for playing fields for a secondary school associated with the district centre, but will also help relieve the deficiency of playing fields and open space in Poplar.”

Phase 3 would see the work in Beckton complete with new housing east of the district centre. In Silvertown and North Woolwich the release of land around the Victoria Dock would allow the extension of the Poplar and Silvertown industrial zones to the east.

For transport, phase 3 identified the possible route of a new road, the southern relief route (shown by the line of circles in the diagram below). The route shown would have involved two river crossings, complication by the need for opening bridges. The benefit of the route across the Isle of Dogs was, although dependent on the future of the Millwall Dock, it would pass mostly through vacant land. A disadvantage of the route was identified as the significant additional traffic the new road would feed into Tooley Street and the resulting addition to the congestion on the approach to Tower Bridge.

London Docklands

Docklands Development Phase 4 – Up To 1997

Phase 4 completed the development across the docklands, however still with options for train and road routes.

In the Isle of Dogs, there would be further additional housing, however the main feature is continuous open space from the north, through the centre of the peninsula, to link up with Mudchute in the south.

In the Silvertown and North Woolwich area, there would be additional housing and open space to occupy the area once covered by the Royal Victoria Dock.

The map shows the route reserved for the proposed road, and the two options for extension of the proposed River line on to Thamesmead.

London Docklands

The map for phase 4 shows how different the docklands would have been if the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee had been implemented.

By completion, the allocation of the 5,500 acres within the Docklands area would have been:

  • 1,600 acres for industry
  • 1,600 for housing
  • 600 acres of public open space and playing fields
  • 600 acres for community services and transport

The remaining 1,100 acres was assumed to be still held by the Port of London Authority (the Royal Albert and King George Docks), the Gas Corporation at Greenwich and Beckton and the Thames Water Authority, also at Beckton.

Although the report documented the considerable redevelopment of the whole Docklands area, the report also identified as a priority the need to retain many of the older buildings that could still be found across the area.

An appendix of the report listed 101 buildings that were a priority for retention. An extract from the appendix is shown below with one of the maps, and following a list of the buildings in the Poplar and Isle of Dogs area.

London Docklands

London Docklands

The number in the third column is the floor space, not a financial value.

The need in the report to list buildings that should be retained is similar to the 1973 Architects’ Journal on East London which also listed buildings across East London that were at risk. There was considerable concern that wholesale development of such a large area of land would include the destruction of many of the historic buildings that could be found across East London. Many of these had lost their original function which placed them at further risk.

Following publication, a number of problems were quickly identified with the proposals.

The emphasis on industrial and manufacturing space rather than office space did not align with the wider environment across the country with the gradual decline in manufacturing and the potential growth in financial services and wider service industries that was taking hold in London.

The Docklands Joint Committee had no real powers and no direct access to finance for the purchase of land and the implementation of the proposals. This was further complicated by the lack of local authority finance due to the economic conditions of the mid to late 1970s.

The Docklands Joint Committee was also intended to coordinate the response of the individual local authorities that covered the docklands, however all too often these local authorities acted in their own interest. Examples being the work of Tower Hamlets to relocate Billingsgate Market and to bring the News International print works to Wapping in the early 1980s.

The Docklands Joint Committee did try to bring in private finance late in the process, however this was opposed by some of the local action groups who did not agree to the use of private finance in the development of the area.

In the meantime, the people of the Docklands were getting more and more frustrated with the lack of action, endless studies and consultations, but no significant development. Jobs and people continued to leave the Docklands. When the Docklands Joint Committee report was published in 1976 the population of the Docklands was round 55,000 and by 1981 this had reduced to 39,000.

The House of Commons expenditure committee examined the work of the Docklands Joint Committee in 1979  and came to the conclusion that since the committee had been formed, very little had been done.

As well as coming in front of the House of Commons Expenditure Committee, 1979 was also the year of another event that would seal the fate of both the Docklands Joint Committee and their proposals when a Conservative Government was elected.

Michael Heseltine as the Secretary of State for the Environment created Urban Development Corporations, one of which would focus on the London Docklands as the London Docklands Development Corporation.

The objective of an Urban Development Corporation was stated in the  Local Government, Planning and Land Act:

“Shall be to secure the regeneration of its area by bringing land and buildings into effective use, encouraging the development of existing and new industry and commerce, creating an attractive environment and ensuring that housing and social facilities are available to encourage people to live and work in the area.”

The Conservative ideology was also that private rather than public money would fund and drive much of the development of the Docklands.

Financial deregulation would also drive the demand for a new type of office space consisting of large open floor trading areas with the space to install the complex IT systems and their associated cabling that was a challenge in the more traditional buildings of the City of London.

The Docklands would change beyond recognition over the following years. The London Docklands Development Corporation published a glossy summary of their work in 1995 titled “London Docklands Today”. To emphasise the degree of change, the publication included a few before and after photos, including these of Nelson Dry Dock, Rotherhithe:

London Docklands

London Docklands

And these of the West India Docks in 1982 and 1993:

London Docklands

London Docklands

The Docklands area today continues to develop. The Isle of Dogs seems to be a continual building site, however it could have all been very different if the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee were not now just an interesting footnote in the development of London.

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The Westferry Road, Emmett Street Newsagent

Gala Day London by Izis was published in 1953 and brings together the photography of Izis Bidermanas with the words of writers. artists and poets of the day. The aim of the book was to have:

“Twenty-two amongst the most representative of our writers, poets and artists have contributed original texts relating to the photographs. Together their work forms a unique anthology both of the creative impulse which is alive in Britain today and of how London appears to our generation.”

The book is a wonderful collection of full page black and white photographs of London and Londoners, providing a snapshot of the city in 1953.

Westferry Road

Izis Bidermanas was born in Lithuania in 1911, but moved to Paris in 1930 to pursue his interest and career in photography. Being Jewish, he had to leave Paris during the war and escaped to Ambazac in south central France, part of Vichy France. It was here that he changed his first name from Israëlis to Izis to try to disguise his origin, but he was still arrested and tortured by the Nazis. He was freed by the French Resistance, who he then joined and took a series of portraits of resistance fighters which were published after the war to great acclaim.

After the war he returned to Paris to continue his photographic career and also started publishing books which portrayed his subjects in a humanistic, affectionate and nostalgic style.

Izis published a couple of books of London photography in 1953, The Queen’s People and Gala Day London – both full of wonderful photos that capture London at a specific point in time.

So why am I featuring Gala Day London for this week’s post?

It was one of my father’s large collection of London books and I was browsing through the book a few months ago and found one of his photos between two of the pages. Written on the back of the photo was “Newsagent – Emmett Street / Westferry Road, 5th September 1986”.

The photo was inserted alongside the page that had the following Izis photo:

Westferry Road

And this is the photo I found inserted in the book, my father’s photo taken on the 5th September 1986:

Westferry Road

Remarkably the photo is of the same location. Under the white washed walls, the bricked up windows, the loss of all the signage and the bollards on the pavement the building is the same.

The Emmett Street sign appears to be the same, but has been moved lower down the wall and painted over so is not immediately obvious. The larger wall of the building behind can also be seen in both photos.

It is incredibly sad to compare the two photos. What had in 1953 been a typical East London newsagent was now derelict and waiting for demolition as part of the redevelopment of the area around Canary Wharf.

My father’s notes on the back of the photo gave me the location – Emmett Street and Westferry Road so I had to find the location today.

The map below is an extract from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas of Greater London. I have put a red circle around the junction of Emmett Street and Westferry Road where I believe the newsagent was located.

Westferry Road

I then checked the 1895 Ordnance Survey map as this is far more detailed and at the same junction there is a building on the corner of the junction with the same angled corner of the building where the entrance was located. I knew the building was on this side of the street as in my father’s photo the pole in front of the wall is casting a shadow, so the wall is facing south.

Westferry Road

The Ordnance Survey map is on the wonderful National Library of Scotland web site and the site has the ability to overlay a modern map on the 1895 map with adjustable transparency, so with a modern overlay and transparency the map looks like this:

Westferry Road

The link to the NLS site for the map is here.

The map gave me the exact location for the newsagent – underneath Westferry Road where it runs up to Westferry Circus.

A note on Westferry Road. In the 1895 OS map, the road is named as Bridge Road. At the time Westferry Road only ran as far north as the entrance to the South Dock, from there onwards it was named Bridge Road, presumably as this part of the road crossed the entrances to the South Dock and the Limehouse Basin.

By the 1940 map, Bridge Road had been renamed West Ferry Road.

Today, it is still the same name, however in the 1895 and 1940 maps it is West Ferry, today on maps and signs the two words have been combined to Westferry Road.

A couple of weeks ago I had a day off from work and for a change the weather was brilliant so I headed out on the DLR to Canary Wharf and took the short walk to Westferry Circus.

Emmett Street today has been lost beneath all the development of recent decades. Hotels, apartment buildings and one of the entrances to the Limehouse Link Tunnel have all erased this street. Emmett Street developed during the early 19th century to provide a link from Three Colt Street to Bridge Road along the back of the buildings constructed along the river front.

Westferry Circus was partly built over the old Limehouse Basin and the Limehouse entrance from the river. It is an elevated structure built higher than the original level of the land so Westferry Road slopes upward to meet Westferry Circus.

This is the view of Westferry Road as it slopes up to Westferry Circus. I tried to accurately locate the old newsagent building by referencing its position on the National Library of Scotland map, using the buildings alongside, the black lights along the edge of the road which appear visible as black dots on the overlay map, and the position of Ontario Way.

I have marked the location of the newsagent building using red lines in the photo below:

Westferry Road

It depends how the land levels have changed with all the building work, but the top of the upper floor of the newsagent would probably have been above the current level of the road.

There are also roads running either side of the elevated approach road to Westferry Circus. This is the view from the side, again I have marked where the old newsagents was located:

Westferry Road

This is the view looking up towards Westferry Circus. The newsagent was on the elevated road, to the left of the direction sign. I doubt if the three men sitting outside the newsagent could have imagined that their view would be changing to this over the coming decades – I wonder what they would have thought?

Westferry Road

As the weather was so good, here are a couple more photos, this one looking across Westferry Circus:

Westferry Road

And this one looking from the edge of Westferry Circus along the Thames to the City. It was here that the Limehouse entrance from the river ran across the open space at the bottom of the steps to a set of locks roughly where I am standing.

Westferry Road

It was fascinating to find my father’s photo in among the pages of Gala Day London. It was one of a number he took in the 1980s around the Isle of Dogs and East London.

The layout of the book consists of an Izis photo on the right hand page and a poem or descriptive text on the left. A wide range of authors and poets contributed to the book including John Betjeman, Laurie Lee and T.S. Lewis.

Opposite the Emmett Street photo was a poem written by Clifford Dyment, a poet, literary critic, editor and journalist, who lived from 1914 to 1971. His contribution appropriately is to the wonderful variety of the corner shop:

Westferry Road

The lines “it may be sherbet suckers, dabs, straps of liquorice” perfectly describe my memories of corner shops as a boy.

I do not know why Izis singled out this newsagent out of all the newsagents and cornershops there were across London at the time, or if the photo was natural or had been set up. The majority of his work in the two London books look natural. The following from the introduction to Gala Day London provides some clues of how he selected his subjects:

“Izis Bidermanas is both a foreigner and a poet who uses a camera. When we look at his photographs we recognise that the obvious subjects have been avoided and that ‘there is a poetry of cities which has nothing to do with things that receive three stars in the guide books. Perhaps it has been specially by way of Londoners rather than by stone and stucco that he has grown to know London. His pictures are above all an evocation of daily life. He has had a capricious sitter and has not attempted to bend her to his will but has preferred to attend upon her whim. This attitude has probably been responsible for the sense of humanity which arises from the pictures.”

It is always strange to stand at places such as Westferry Circus and look down on the view today knowing what was once here – it was then time to move on and make the most of the weather as I had a few more East London locations to track down and photograph.

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West India Dock Impounding Station

Last weekend was the annual Open House event across London, two days when it is possible to visit so many locations across the city that are not normally open. I only had Sunday free this year, and planned a walking route that would take in five locations that I have walked past many times, but never had the opportunity to see inside.

The route would start on the Isle of Dogs and end just outside St. Katharine Docks. My first visit was to the West India Dock Impounding Station:

West India Dock Impounding Station

The Isle of Dogs has, and continues to undergo, significant development. The first building on my OpenHouse list is a low brick building between Marsh Wall and Westferry Road, surrounded on almost all sides by massive building sites.

This unassuming building is the West India Dock Impounding Station and since 1929 has provided the critical function of maintaining the water levels in the West India Dock complex and helping to reduce the build up of silt.

Side view of the building from Westferry Road:

West India Dock Impounding Station

The complex of interconnected docks (West India Dock Import, Export and the South Dock) form a large expanse of water. From the opening of the docks it was a challenge to keep the docks from silting up. Opening of the lock gates between the docks and river would frequently bring in a large quantity of water carrying silt which would be deposited across the docks.

The water level would also change. As well as the inflows and outflows when the lock gates were open, there was also evaporation from the large surface area of the water, as well as leakage through the walls and base of the docks.

The docks needed to be frequently dredged and there was an early attempt at a system to manage the flow of clean water into the docks built where Poplar Dock is now located, but these methods did not work well, or offer a long-term, cost-effective solution.

Plans for a new impounding station (impounding means the replenishment of a reservoir and in the case of the docks, the management of water into the docks) were ready in 1913, however construction of the new station did not start.

Modified plans were ready in 1921 and between 1926 and 1929 the new impounding station was built across the disused western entrance to the South Dock.

This view is from Westferry Road, looking along the disused entrance to the South Dock out towards the River Thames. The entrance now provides the water intake from the river to the pumps in the impounding station.

West India Dock Impounding Station

Externally, the building appears to be a simple, brick building with no hints of what could be inside. What does make the building stand out today, is that it is one of the very few surviving buildings in this area from when the docks were operational. So much has been demolished over the past decades.

The isle of Dogs was heavily bombed in the last war, but the building also survived intact throughout this period. I searched through photos of the area on the Britain from Above web site and found the following photo from 1934. The West India Export Dock is on the left of the photo, and to the right of this dock is the South Dock. The West India Dock Impounding Station had been completed five years before this photo was taken and is just visible between the South Dock and the river. The red circle surrounds the building.

West India Dock Impounding Station

To show the overall expanse of water that was topped up by the West India Dock Impounding Station, I took the following photo during a flight over London in the early 1980s. I have again circled the location of the building. the South Dock is behind the building, the West India Export and Import docks are to the left.

West India Dock Impounding Station

The building is slightly deceiving from the outside in that the machinery is all below ground level which is apparent on entering the building and looking down on the three large pumps and their associated electric motors that occupy the floor of the building.

West India Dock Impounding Station

These are all the original 1929 machines, apart from the normal wear and tear replacement or refurbishment of components. Each of the pumps consist of three component parts:

  • the large doughnut shaped housings for the impellers that pump the water from the river into the dock
  • a large electric motor that runs the pump
  • a smaller electric motor that acts as a starter motor – the pumps are direct drive, there is no gearing so the torque needed to get the pumps running is considerable

The photo below shows the drive between the electric motor and the pump. The large boards resting up against the wall at the back of the photo are blanking panels inserted across the lower half of the pump when the top half is removed to gain access to the impeller. Without sealing the pumps, water would escape into the building, which it did in the 1970s causing a minor flood in the building.

West India Dock Impounding Station

The pumps only operate when water needs to be transferred into the docks, so they do not run all the time. Generally only one pump is needed, the three pumps provide a level of redundancy to ensure that the impounding station can still work even with two pumps out of service for maintenance or repair.

Depth of water gauges:

West India Dock Impounding Station

The pumps and electrical equipment still have their maker’s name plate, giving the manufacturer, location and year of build:

West India Dock Impounding Station

Original meters showing the electrical feed to the motors:

West India Dock Impounding Station

Each of the pumps consists of three main parts. In the photo below are the electrical motors. On the left is the smaller starter motor which generates sufficient torque to get the larger motor and pump moving and on the right is the large motor which drives the pump. The box to the left of the starter motor is full of resistors used to absorb excess electricity generated by the starter motor when the main motor is running.

West India Dock Impounding Station

The electric motors drive the impellers which are housed in these large doughnut shaped pump housings. Water is drawn in from the Thames via the old inlet to the South Dock, and through a wire mesh which traps items floating in the water from being drawn into the pumps.

West India Dock Impounding Station

For each pump, there is a large blade that opens or closes the flow of water into the South Dock. The following photo shows two of these. When open, the blade is retracted into the large metal housing above floor level, when closed the blade is lowered to block the flow of water in the pipes below floor level, from the pump into the South Dock.

West India Dock Impounding Station

Monitoring water levels and control of the pumps is now mainly automated, however some of the original monitoring equipment is still in place. The photo below shows the original water level monitor. Water would rise up and down the large black pipe. A float on the top of the water column was connected by a cable to the gauge on the wall above.

West India Dock Impounding Station

Original tools:

West India Dock Impounding Station

The water level on the inlet from the river is monitored automatically, however a monitor also provides a view of the inlet.

West India Dock Impounding Station

As I mentioned earlier in the post, the West India Dock Impounding Station managed to survive the blitz and the significant bomb damage that devastated much of the Isle of Dogs. The building included an air raid shelter for the workers in the form of a heavily protected room at one end of the building. This can be seen in the photo below with the thick concrete layer between the room and the entrance level above.

West India Dock Impounding Station

I was really surprised to learn that the West India Dock Impounding Station is not listed. Given the amount of building on the Isle of Dogs where any spare land seems to either be occupied by a recent build, or is currently a construction site this is a real worry.

The building seems surrounded by over bearing building sites at the moment which are very visible on leaving the building.

West India Dock Impounding Station

I can only hope that in a world which seems to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, the building is protected from the developments which seem to be covering much of this area.

After leaving the West India Dock Impounding Station. I crossed over Westferry Road to the Thames path and crossed over the inlet from the river. Five large wheels control the opening and closing of the inlets to the Thames.

West India Dock Impounding Station

Each with a reminder of the old London Docklands Development Corporation.

West India Dock Impounding Station

A final look back along the inlet towards the West India Dock Impounding Station.

West India Dock Impounding Station

The opening of the West India Dock Impounding Station for Open House was organised by the Canal & River Trust and their guides were incredibly knowledgeable about this historic building.

Despite not being listed, I hope that the building will be protected in the future and continue to manage water levels across the docks using the original machinery within the 1929 brick building.

Now off to Limehouse for two more OpenHouse locations which I will cover in my next post.

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The Massey Shaw Fireboat – On The River Thames, 29th December 2015

The weather in December seemed to be an endless run of overcast days and rain and in the run up to the 29th December 2015, I was checking the weather forecast on a daily basis and much to my surprise the forecast looked to be gradually improving with finally a sunny day forecast along with this December’s unusually very mild temperatures.

When the day arrived, and as the last of the overnight rain cleared, I made my way to the Isle of Dogs on a very quiet Underground and Docklands Light Railway, reaching South Quay just as the first hint of the dawn sun broke the dark of night.

The Massey Shaw fireboat is moored in the South Dock on the edge of the main Canary Wharf office complex. The plan for the day was to leave South Dock after nine and then travel up to central London to carry out some demonstrations of the Massey Shaw’s fire fighting capabilities during the early afternoon as part of the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the 29th December 1940.

With the original 1935 engines running, and the expert volunteer crew having run through the process of preparing the boat for the day, pulling up the anodes, lifting the fenders and casting off the ropes, the Massey Shaw edged out into the South Dock as the December sun lit up the buildings of Canary Wharf.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 1

The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas of Greater London has the mooring position of the Massey Shaw highlighted with an arrow and shows the entrance to the Thames through the locks at the South Dock entrance which is still the route through to the river.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 37

The locks are essential to maintain the water level in the docks whilst the height of the river fluctuates with the tides. At the time we left it was low tide so whilst the Massey Shaw waited in the lock, the water level dropped as water drained out into the river.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 2

With the level of the water within the lock having dropped to that of the river, the lock gates start to open and the River Thames opens up.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 3

Leaving the lock. It was fascinating to think of all the ships that have passed through this entrance coming from, and departing to, the rest of the world when these docks were in use.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 4

Moving out into the river. The weak December sunshine was a very welcome sight.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 5

Passing Greenwich.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 6

The route into London gave me an opportunity to learn more about the history of the Massey Shaw and how the boat steers and handles on the river and we had soon passed through central London, and reached Lambeth, opposite the old headquarters of the London Fire Service. Turning round, it was now the run back to the City and demonstration of Massey Shaw’s fire fighting capability.

Passing under Lambeth Bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 38

The London Eye.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 39

Approaching Hungerford Bridge, it was time to test the Monitor. The Monitor is the steerable, high pressure jet which is a permanent fixture on deck. Additional water jets and hoses can be connected to the outlets running along the edge of deck, dependent on the type of fire.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 7

Switching one of the engines to power one of the water pumps results in a high pressure jet which can easily be directed towards a fire.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 8

The pressure of the jet is such that it was used not only to pour water onto a fire, but also to knock down walls where these had been left in a dangerous condition, or to provide a firebreak between buildings to prevent a fire spreading. Coming up to Southwark Bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 9

The monitor can be positioned at a high angle with the jet then able to reach the upper floors of the warehouses bordering the Thames, or onto ships.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 10

The Massey Shaw then carried out the first demonstration in front of the location of Dowgate Fire Station, however the light was much better for the second demonstration so I will cover later in the post.

After the first demonstration it was back to moor on a swinging mooring at Bankside with the weather continuing to improve.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 11

Passing under the Millennium Bridge provided a unique view of this foot bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 12

A good opportunity to enjoy the river and city in late December sunshine.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 13

A visit by the RNLI Tower lifeboat.

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The RNLI depart.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 40

Now heading back to the second demonstration, powering up and testing the water jet whilst passing Queenhithe. The attention to detail during the restoration was such that although a post war wheelhouse has been added, the lifebuoy is in the same position as when the Massey Shaw was operational – see the photos from the 2nd World War in yesterday’s post.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 15

Standing off the location of Dowgate Fire Station, and adjacent to the railway bridge into Cannon Street station, the Massey Shaw gave the main display using her on deck Monitor.

The Merryweather pumps on the Massey Shaw are each capable of pumping 1,500 gallons of water per minute through the main Monitor and the other deck outlets. This equates to an incredible 11 tons of water an hour.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 16

The following video shows the Massey Shaw in action.

Although the many warehouses that ran along the Thames have long since disappeared, the river edge continues to be populated with buildings that edge directly onto the river. These buildings, along with the many different types of craft that continue to travel along the river require the ongoing support of a Fire Service that can approach a fire from the river and support their land based colleagues, as well as providing rescue services on the river.

As part of the commemorations on the 29th December 2015, the Fire Dart, one of the fire boats currently in service with the London Fire Brigade arrived to demonstrate current fire fighting capabilities.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 17

Although of a very different design and using completely different construction materials, the function is basically the same – pump large volumes of water from the river at high pressure onto a fire.

Note also the very different uniforms of the crew compared to the wartime Massey Shaw (see yesterday’s post) where today life saving and protection from water and the elements are essential functions of the clothing worn by the crew. Comparing the uniforms of today with that of the men who fought fires during the war or sailed to Dunkirk in what appears to be have been little more than a thick jacket and trousers and a flat hat only adds to my admiration of these early fire fighters.

The Fire Dart, one of two current London Fire Brigade fire boats based at Lambeth at the river fire station demonstrating the use of their water jet.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 18

The main monitor on the Fire Dart is more flexible than that on the Massey Shaw in terms of the type of water jet that can be swiftly delivered. The jet can be quickly changed from delivering a single high pressure jet for force and distance, through to a cloud of water spray.

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The Fire Dart in front of London Bridge.

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Watching the Fire Dart run through its demonstration.

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Now both the Massey Shaw and the Fire Dart run up their main deck Monitors.

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The two jets at full pressure. Although the Fire Dart has more flexibility in how the water jet can be configured, the Massey Shaw jet appeared to be capable of slightly higher pressure, reaching higher than the Fire Dart.

Amazing to see two fire boats in actions, although 80 years separate their design, construction and materials, they are still performing the same basic function.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 24

The Fire Dart having finished demonstrating 2015 fire fighting capabilities, now heading back to Lambeth.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 25

It was then time to head back to the Isle of Dogs and enjoy the river and views of London on a very mild December afternoon.

Passing HMS Belfast on the river in a relatively low craft gives an appreciation of the size of the Belfast not always appreciated from the shore. It also gives an indication of what it must have been like to approach a large cargo ship in difficulties or on fire in the much smaller Massey Shaw.

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Approaching Tower Bridge.

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Looking down the river towards Rotherhithe.

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And a final view back towards the City.

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Passing Greenwich and approaching Greenwich Power Station.

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Running between the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Peninsula. I could not quite believe that this was late December.

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The flag of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

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All too soon we had returned to the South Dock on the Isle of Dogs. Since departing, the tide had risen and there was some discussion as to whether the Massey Shaw would fit under the bridge, even with the mast on the wheel house lowered.

Although the bridge states West India Dock, as can be seen from the 1940 map shown at the start of this post, this is the entrance to the South Dock, with the West India Docks (import and export) being the two more northerly docks, although they are interconnected. Manchester Road is the road passing over this bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 34

In the end, the safest decision was to raise the bridge to allow the Massey Shaw to enter the lock without any risk.Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 35

It was a remarkable day out and hopefully a fitting tribute to those who worked on the Massey Shaw on the 29th December 1940.

The attention to detail during the restoration means that being on, and seeing the Massey Shaw in action is as close to experiencing the fireboat as it would have been in 1940 as it is possible to get.

It was a fantastic experience on a mild and calm sunny day, but consider what it must have been like for fire fighters on the boat on a cold winters night, soaked by the mist from the water jets, fighting fires as the City continued to be bombed with smoke and burning embers being blown across the river.

My thanks to the Massey Shaw Education Trust for the day, and to the whole volunteer crew who provided a wealth of information on the history of the Massey Shaw and the operation of the boat.

I hope that yesterday and today’s posts have provided some insight into this historic craft.

The web site of the Massey Shaw Education Trust can be found here for more details of events and how to support this remarkable craft.

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London Streets In The 1980s

The 1980s in London was a decade of considerable change. Long established industries, street scenes, shops and ways of life were being swept away and the often divisive politics of the time were visible painted along the walls.

The mid 1980s are only 30 years ago but walking along London’s streets today I still find it surprising how considerable the change has been in many areas.

For this week’s post, I would like to take you back through a snapshot of London Streets in the 1980s, with some of the photos we took, mainly of south, east and north London.

Local, independent shops once served the majority of London’s residents, often run by the same family for many years. Many of these were in their final years, clinging on whilst much around them had closed:

Street Scenes 1

 

Street Scenes 4

 

Street Scenes 5

Many had already long closed, waiting for demolition and the rebuilding of whole streets:

Street Scenes 18

What Londoners would look for when eating out would also soon change. This was before the streets were populated with identical coffee shop brands:

Street Scenes 19

The corner shop was a standard feature of many residential streets. Many of these had closed or were put into some temporary use whilst awaiting either redevelopment or demolition:

Street Scenes 20

 

Street Scenes 21

A somewhat forlorn tribute to West Ham waits for what will become of these buildings:

Street Scenes 22

The Isle of Dogs is an area where much has changed beyond all recognition. Here a newsagent has found a novel way of continuing business using a shipping container:

Street Scenes 16

But there were large areas of the Isle of Dogs where businesses had closed down for good:

Street Scenes 15

Much of the old industrial and dock areas of the Isle of Dogs were a wasteland with the redevelopment of Canary Wharf, housing and riverside apartments yet to come. Closed gates, vacancy signs that would never again advertise another vacancy sat alongside graffiti that emphasised the perceived lack of concern from the government of the time to the plight of those affected:

Street Scenes 14

There had also been the rise of far right groups. Joe Pearce was imprisoned under the Race Relations Act for publishing the Bulldog magazine and became a cause celebre for these groups. Free Joe Pearce slogans could be found across the east of London, usually with a different slogan added underneath by groups opposing the far right:

Street Scenes 17

Whilst for some groups, anarchy was the only route:

Street Scenes 23

The start of redevelopment was also in evidence across the Isle of Dogs. This is Maconochies Wharf  where clearance and preparation was underway for the building of houses. A mural on the adjacent building emphasising the historical traditions of the Isle of Dogs:

Street Scenes 26

Street advertising for cafes and restaurants was much in evidence. This one in central London at Holborn – the “Perfect Businessman’s Venue” where you could get a 3 course set menu for £7.50

Street Scenes 13

Similar advertising signage could be seen across London’s streets:

Street Scenes 3

At least they were very colourful, even if the representation of what was on offer was probably not very accurate:

Street Scenes 11

 

Street Scenes 6

 

Street Scenes 12

This was a time when murals were very much in evidence. Ranging from those that would cover the whole side of a building:

Street Scenes 24

Street Scenes 25

More London Murals from the 1980s can be found in one of my earlier posts here.

Through to more individual efforts:

Street Scenes 8

Signs from a much earlier period were also much in evidence on buildings that would soon be lost:

Street Scenes 7

Only 30 years ago, but in many ways the London Streets in the 1980s were very different to those of today.

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The View from Greenwich Park and the Isle of Dogs

There are a number of locations across London where the juxtaposition of areas where there has been really significant changes with those where there has been almost no change over many decades can be seen. One of the best locations for this is from the top of the hill next to the old Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park.

My father took the following photo in 1953 looking out across the Queen’s House and the old Royal Naval College across to the Isle of Dogs.

Old Greenwich hill

I took the following photo 61 years later in 2014 from the same location. Greenwich Park, the Queen’s House and the buildings of the old Royal Naval College have not changed. Even the paths across the park have stayed in the same position, despite the Equestrian events held on this area during the 2012 Olympics.

The view across to the Isle of Dogs is where the changes have been significant. Not just in the buildings that have changed what was a flat landscape into one where tall office blocks fill the horizon, but also in the core function of these areas, employment, traffic on the River Thames and how the landscape of London has changed over the decades.

New Greenwich hill

The area just across the River Thames from Greenwich Park is the Isle of Dogs. Here were some of the major docks that during the 19th and much of the 20th centuries were part of the complex of docks along the Thames that made London the busiest port in the world.

I took the following photo in the early 1980s. This was just after the docks had closed in the 1970s, but before the significant re-development of the docklands had started. At the time I was flying regularly between London and Amsterdam and always got a window seat as when the approach was over London the views were fantastic. I was always the one glued to the window! This is an evening photo on a route which took the flight in over Essex. across east London to the south of London to Heathrow.

isle of dogs

The Isle of Dogs is in the centre of the photo. The loop of the Thames (if I remember Geography from school this is a “meander”) around both the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Peninsular (future home of the Millennium Dome, now the O2) is very clear from this height.

I have added the names of the docks and the location of Greenwich Park where my father and my photos were taken in the following graphic.

London Docks Photo v3

 

The West India Docks were opened in 1802 and in total consisted of 54 acres of water. The Millwall Dock was opened in 1868 and consisted of 36 acres of water in the shape of an L (visible in the above photo).

The docks further east in the photo (Victoria, Albert and George V) were the last to be built in London and were the largest area of enclosed dock water in the world. The Victoria was opened in 1855, the Royal Albert in 1880 and the George V dock was opened in 1921, its’ construction having been delayed by the 1st World War. The soil excavated from the Victoria dock was used to complete the construction of Battersea Park, which until then had been partly marsh land.

The Regents Canal Dock is at the end of the Regents Canal were it enters the Thames at Limehouse. The canal connects the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington with the Thames. The canal was opened in 1820 with the dock constructed soon after.

The Greenland Dock is almost all that remains of the Surrey Commercial Docks that once covered most of the peninsular. The core of these docks was started in 1697 and with various developments lasted until 1970.

The complex of office blocks in Canary Wharf which now dominate the view from Greenwich Park have been built across the area that was occupied by the West India and South Docks. Parts of these docks remain but are now confined within an ever growing number of very tall office blocks.

The following map is from the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London and shows this area of dockland in detail. Compare the significant number of docks that made up the Surrey Commercial Docks on the left page with the 1980s photo. These have almost all disappeared.

Docklands Map

There is a description of the Isle of Dogs in a “Peepshow of the Port of London” by A.G. Linney published in 1929:

“As has been established, its island area has been halved, but within the truncated region remaining cut off from the “mainland” many industries, mostly of a smelly sort (oil refining, chemical manufacture, candle making) are carried on; there are some timber yards and foundries. Poverty is not discernible on any wide scale, but it has to be admitted that the streets are sombrely depressing, though to my view the small streets of Millwall and Cubitt Town are boulevards when compared with the utterly drear, blank depression of those rows of houses such as one finds in pit villages of South Yorkshire and Durham”

The reference to “its island area has been halved” is to the area occupied by the docks which as can be seen from the map occupy a significant percentage of the Isle of Dogs.

The closure of the docks from the end of the 1960s to the 1970s resulted in the loss of a culture, often unique to a specific set of docks, and a chain of related industries that had made this part of London a major trading and industrial community.

It would take until the mid 1980s for any form of redevelopment to start across the acres of derelict land left after the closure of the docks, the results of which can now be seen from Greenwich Park.

Quite what the residents of the “small streets of Millwall and Cubitt Town” would have thought of the Canary Wharf development and the financial services industries that have now replaced the docks would be interesting to know.

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