Tag Archives: Isle of Dogs

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.

alondoninheritance.com

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.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 14

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.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 19

The Fire Dart in front of London Bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 20

Watching the Fire Dart run through its demonstration.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 21

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

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 22

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.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 26

Approaching Tower Bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 27

Looking down the river towards Rotherhithe.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 28

And a final view back towards the City.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 29

Passing Greenwich and approaching Greenwich Power Station.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 30

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

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 31

The flag of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 32

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.

alondoninheritance.com

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.

alondoninheritance.com

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.

alondoninheritance.com