Home > Architecture & Urban Design, Local Interest & History, Things I Like... > The Mystery of the Isle of Dogs Lighthouse

The Mystery of the Isle of Dogs Lighthouse

On my way to the DLR I walk past a piece of land that has been vacant for many years and has consequently always been very overgrown. Recently however (and for reasons unknown) the site was cleared and when it was, an intriguing object appeared from out of the undergrowth….

It looks to me like a small lighthouse or a beacon of some sort but located more than 100m from the river’s edge. It’s a roughly conical structure about 3m high which appears to be made of rendered brickwork, much of which is now falling away with age. On the top of the brickwork are a series of timber and glass windows that go all the way around the tower and then the whole thing is covered by a rather interesting, almost onion shaped, shingle covered roof.

Being me, I thought it might be interesting to try and find out more about this structure, so I set about scouring the internet for some clues. Sadly on this occasion, and despite putting some effort into the task, I’ve had to admit defeat. The internet has been unusually and uncharacteristically unhelpful.

From online historical maps, all I have really been able to deduce with any certainty, is that in 1862 there didn’t appear to be anything that would suggest the need for such a lighthouse, the land being shown as a large vacant site owned by W. Cubitt & Co. As an aside, William Cubitt was an interesting man who became Lord Mayor of London in 1860 and who between about 1840 and 1860 was responsible for much of the development of this area, ultimately taking his name, Cubitt Town.

In Booth’s Poverty map of 1899, a shipbuilding yard is now clearly marked, stretching from the shoreline, right through to the approximate position of the lighthouse. It seems not unrealistic to think, that the lighthouse might have been constructed sometime during this 40 year period, as part of the navigation system for getting ships into the dock.

The 1951 map extract then describes this structure as a dry dock (known as Poplar Dry Dock), and I would imagine that the lighthouse might still have been in use up until at least this time. By the mid 1970’s however, the dock feature has completely disappeared, and the site has been renamed Empire Wharf, the name that the road still has today.

So an interesting if not wholly succesful exercise based mostly on guesswork, and if anyone coming across this post can shed anymore light on the Isle of Dogs Lighthouse, I would be very grateful to hear from them.

  1. April 3, 2013 at 21:11

    The truth is very dull – it is a folly, built in the late 80s / early 90s. I lived from 1960 in the flats just across Manchester Rd, 50 yds away.

    • April 3, 2013 at 23:29

      Hi Mick
      Oh no, say its not true.. I had such high hopes for it being something special as well.
      It’s looking rather sad for itself at the moment as the timber glazing and roof are now in a pile on the floor. I suspect it’s not going to be around for much longer which I think is a shame..
      thanks for taking the time to visit and comment.

      • April 4, 2013 at 12:34

        Someone posted a link to your blog on an Island-related Facebook group, and the lighthouse started a bit of a discussion. This is the best answer so far….

        “Think the land was previously the garden of Christ Church Hall. When they planned the Police station that bit of land corner of Glenworth and Saunders-Ness was to be part of the police parking area. Ted Johns objected and fought for a wildlife/community garden …… Think the lighthouse was a feature to represent local maritime history.”

        If the name Ted Johns doesn’t mean anything to you – I recommend you Google for information – Ted was a really interesting and colourful figure.

  2. April 4, 2013 at 13:59

    Hi Mick
    I have indeed come across the name Ted Johns before, but never really looked into who he was. Having just read two obituaries and an entry from eastendlondonhistory.com, I can see that he was a key figure in the area. Thanks for the update on the lighthouse, very interesting.
    I joined the IoD facebook group a while ago actually, some fascinating stuff on there…

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