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Going to the Dogs…

November 8, 2015 4 comments

CoverA couple of years or so ago, I was looking through one of the many second hand shops on the Walworth Road when I was working down in that neck of the woods, and came across a box of old magazines published in the early 1970’s by the Architectural Association, a highly regarded institution based here in London.

11One magazine in particular caught my attention as it contained an article about my own bit of London, The Isle of Dogs. So I handed over my 50p, read the article on my way home that evening, told And all about it, agreed that we should follow the route the first sunny Sunday that came along, and then promptly forgot all about it…

Until recently that is, when I was asked about my island life, and whether I thought the place was worth visiting. After I’d said yes of course, it’s a brilliant place, I remembered the magazine and scanned the article for this post.

Spread out over 10 pages was a fascinating walk through the Isle of Dogs. Written originally back in early 1972, it describes the island as I can only now imagine it, a fact brought home by the opening paragraph which reads..

“The Isle of Dogs shares with Tibet and Timbuctoo, the reputation for being one of the least inhabited parts of the habitable globe”..

Obviously the opinion of an architectural academic and not one of the local islanders, the writer (Hubert Murray) begins his introduction to the walk with reference to a recent Tower Hamlets Planning survey that recorded the most common complaints of the people who lived on the Island (poor bus services, poor shops, lack of schools and too many tower blocks being the most common) and ends it with the bombshell that nothing was likely to happen in the short term until a decision had been made about whether to build an urban motorway across the IoD, a drastic and disastrous sounding solution to relieve traffic problems in  Greenwich and Blackheath… Remember this is nearly 10 years before the LDDC was set up in 1981 to create the success/ wonder/ hell hole/ expensive/polarised/ integrated/ etc. etc. (delete as appropriate) place that the Island has become today…

The walk starts at the top of the island on the east side in Poplar at the recently completed Robin Hood Gardens (a big favorite of the architectural profession at that time), heads down to Island Gardens before heading up around the west to Limehouse. Sights and landmarks on the way include: The Gun, Kelson House, The Watermans Arms, Edies Cafe, various allotments and the Globe Ropeworks building (now sadly long gone).

It makes for interesting reading, describing an area that has, for better or worse, long since been polished up, and one day I’d like to think we really will get round to following the route, finding some of the locations of these photos and seeing what still remains 43 years later…. 14

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Lazy Post no. 14 – Sammy the Seal…

April 21, 2014 1 comment

P1050889_cropOver Easter we had the very good fortune to see of all things, a seal in the Millwall Inner Dock here on the Isle of Dogs…

There was a small group watching the water around one of the rafts that the nesting birds use, where the seal carrying what appeared to be a length of plastic pipe, was doing his best to annoy the coots on the raft.

One of the people there said they’d seen the seal two weeks previously and it had the pipe with it then as well. At one point the seal disappeared below the surface and then a couple of minutes later, rose vertically out of the water clutching the pipe, looked around a few times and then sank straight back down again, still holding the pipe. I’ve never seen anything like it…

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Searching the web, it seems that the seals name is Sammy and he’s been here for about 13 years.. Which is not quite as long as I’ve been here, and begs the  question, why didn’t I know about him before now?

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Anyway, it seems the fishmongers at Billingsgate Market up at the top of the island have been feeding him salmon all these years, which is why he stays presumably.

This is a link to a BBC news report from last year which shows Sammy in action…

The Isle of Dogs Lido…

February 26, 2014 2 comments

Lido location_planeWere are currently having our bathroom redone, and in the process of trying to find somewhere locally that we might go and have a shower for the next couple of weeks, I’ve discovered that many years ago, there used to be an open air swimming pool on the Isle of Dogs.

Opened in 1925, the pool was located within the red square marked on this now familiar, but still pretty amazing aerial photo of a German Bomber over the Docklands sometime during the 1940’s.

The other photo with a red square on it below, is from the 1930’s (ish) and shows the eastern side of the Island as it was in its industrial heyday, a pretty rugged place for an outdoor swimming pool I think you’ll agree…

The pool itself was about 50 x 18m in size, cost £10,495 to build and was free to get in until 1930. Surrounding the pool were changing rooms and ancillary support buildings and the stepped diving structure you can see in the bottom photos.

Wikipedia tells me that the term lido didn’t really come into common usage in the UK until the mid 1930’s, and that everything built before then was simply called a swimming pool. Like many things however, the name and the lifestyle they proposed became fashionable and eventually all such pools came to be described as a lido (which is simply the Italian word for beach by the way).

Sadly it was just such a plane as on the photo above that bombed the Isle of Dogs pool in 1940, making it unusable and forcing it to close after only 15 years. The lido buildings were later demolished and the land cleared to make way for an adventure playground, and latterly the sports field that lives there today…

Thanks to the ever informative Island History site for much of this info…

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The Traffic Light Tree is Back…

February 2, 2014 Leave a comment

P1030370aA while ago I wrote a post about the sad and surprising disappearance of what is possibly the Isle of Dogs’s most infamous artwork, The Traffic Light Tree by Pierre Vivant.

Well I’m happy to confirm to all of you that were as worried as me, that it has recently reappeared on the other side of the island.

It will obviously take a while for the grass to grow and for it to look as comfy in its new home as it did in it’s old one, but I for one am very happy to see it back…

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Click the map above if you’re interested in where it now lives, red light = old home, green light = new…

John Betjeman on the Isle of Dogs…

July 24, 2013 Leave a comment

P1210527aI recently discovered that the nations favorite poet (certainly mine anyway) John Betjeman, that esteemed arbiter of good taste, sensible architecture and Gentlemanly manners, visited the Isle of Dogs back in the Spring of 1956.

Writing a piece for his regular “City & Suburban” column in the Spectator Magazine (a facsimile copy of which can be found here), Betjeman describes my chosen little bit of London as “a cut off kingdom”, remote and populated by proud people and ruined buildings… I get the distinct impression that his visit so far east of the city was something of a novelty, a change from the more leafy suburbs and halcyon times of which he always wrote so eloquently.

Along with this more usual interest in churches, public houses and dockside wharfs, its interesting to note that Betjeman writes about a then recently completed housing scheme, Castalia Square, comparing it favorably with the more widely known Lansbury Estate in Poplar at the top of the Island. Lansbury was a key aspect of the 1951 Festival of Britain, and is a subject I’ve written about in detail previously.

I must say I’ve walked through the Castalia Sqaure area many times, and although the houses are indeed nicely proportioned with now well established gardens and tree lined courtyards, the square itself must have looked very different 60 years ago, as since its refurbishment back in the 90’s, the large commercial building fronting the square looks rather nondescript and undistinguished, or maybe this is a later addition and wasn’t there at the time of John’s visit…

He’s dead right about Island Gardens though. A beautiful little park with an amazing view of Greenwich and well worth a visit, especially from the south with a walk through the foot tunnel, which I’m surprised Betjeman didn’t mention in his article. Maybe it was still closed after being bombed during the war.

Anyway I’ll leave you with a picture of the great man himself, as full of life as always, and the complete text of his piece…

John Betjeman“In the evening sunlight on Monday, I went to that least visited part of London, the Isle of Dogs. It’s more than a square mile of docks, houses: shattered Victorian churches, no train service, no cinema, a bus service, and only approachable by swing bridges. The people on the Island are proud of it and don’t like living anywhere else. Poplar people on the mainland don’t like coming to live on the Island.

It is a cut-off kingdom, the remotest thing you can find in London, and was very badly bombed in the war. Among the ruins three sights well worth the journey are to be seen. (1) Coldharbour, near Blackwall Basin, where some fine Georgian merchants’ houses have the water washing up to their walls and where a public house looks over Blackwall Reach. (2) Island Gardens on the southern tip of the Island, which commands the best view of Greenwich Hospital there is. Reflected in the water one sees the doomed Union Wharf beside the Hospital, with its weather-boarded houses, Queen’s House, and in the background the trees of Greenwich Park and the outline of the Observatory.

(3) One of the best new housing estates I have seen since the war, comparable with Lansbury, intimately proportioned, cheerful and airy and yet London-like. It is called Castalia Square and makes one realise. when one compares it with the gloomy blocks of ‘artisans’ dwellings’ of the mid-war and pre-1914 periods, how good modern architecture can be. In all the destruction I record in this column, it is a pleasure to be able to write about something newly built which makes one’s heart rejoice.”

Snow in Mudchute Park…

January 22, 2013 Leave a comment

As I’ve written before, living here on the Isle of Dogs, it’s sometimes easy to forget that you’re in Zone 2, a short journey to central London and within sight of Canary Wharf.

I took these photos of footpaths and routes around Mudchute Park and Farm whilst I was out walking yesterday morning. I was taken with the way the trees and fences seemed to point towards something unspecified in the distance, enticing me onwards towards the end of the track…

The grey skies, white snow and dark trees all conspired to create a monotone landscape that only heightened the sense of the unfamiliar, so that for an hour or so on a Monday morning, I was able to step out of my usual surroundings and be somewhere I hardly recognised, only 5 minutes walk from home…

(And no I didn’t use Photoshop to remove any people.. there really was no one about at all)

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Home…

January 16, 2013 1 comment

A quick post of an amazing photo I’ve just found online of the place I call home.. The Isle of Dogs in London. That’s us bottom right, with Canary Wharf at the top in the centre, and Greenwich just out of shot at the bottom…

How wonderful the River Thames looks as it lazily meanders its way west, under Tower Bridge, past the City and on into the distance…

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