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Mike Seaborne’s Isle of Dogs, Then & Now

November 8, 2016
by the gentle author

No part of the East End has changed more in the last generation that the Isle of Dogs. Between 1983 & 1986, photographer Mike Seaborne recorded it prior to redevelopment, as part of a project with the Island History Society, and then returned in 2014 to capture the same views as they are today.

View from Alice Shepherd House, looking across Manchester Rd towards West India Docks

Canary Wharf, looking east

South West India Dock, looking east

View east from the Plate House belfry, Burrell’s Wharf

View north from the Plate House belfry, Burrell’s Wharf

View south from the Plate House belfry, Burrell’s Wharf

View from Montrose House

Westferry Rd to the south of the old entrance to Millwall Docks, looking north

The Blacksmith’s Arms at the junction of Westferry Rd and Cuba St, now converted into a restaurant

Westferry Road opposite Burrell’s Wharf, looking west

Castalia Sq, Jill Skeels & Madelaine Harvey still working at the hairdresser’s in 2014

Mellish St at the junction with Alpha Grove

Castalia Sq, Ray Whiting, who ran the greengrocer’s in the eighties, still lives locally

Westferry Rd opposite Gaverick St (later Mews), looking south

At the junction of Westferry Rd & Deptford Ferry Rd, The Vulcan has been converted into flats & a restaurant

Arethusa House, Westferry Rd – in the early eighties Norman’s Nosh Bar was popular with workers clearing the Mast House Terrace site opposite

At Burrell’s Wharf

Junction of Westferry Rd & Manilla St, looking south. The Anchor & Hope closed in 2005 & was still empty in April 2014

Maconochies Wharf, a derelict industrial site acquired in the early eighties by the Great Eastern Self-Build Association

Billson St – the ‘temporary’ Orlit pre-fabricated houses built after WW2 still survived in 2014

Pier St, looking west – view of the entrance to the Mudchute from Urmston House

Cubitt Town Junior School

Westferry Rd, looking south from the junction with Cuba St

Glengall Grove from Finwhale House, looking north

Looking east from Montrose House towards Westferry Rd & Millwall Outer Dock

Photographs copyright © Mike Seaborne

You can see more of these photographs at www.80sislandphotos.org.uk

10 Responses leave one →
  1. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    November 8, 2016

    I find it surprisingly difficult to assess what I think of these photos, in some ways it can be easy because they clearly show that certain parts of the Island have changed so dramatically that you need to compare the photo from previous times in order to establish that it is actually the same place and yet other photos show almost no change at all, one thing that dose strike me with the areas of most chance is how the scale and close proximity of the new buildings project a very clostrophobic atmosphere in direct contrast to the open spaces of the past, the photo of Gaverick St is particularly relevant to me because my grandmother was born there in 1896 and lived there for many years, I can remember her telling me that in the old days with the street litterally backing right onto the river in the spring when the tides wer particularly high Gaverick St world regularly get flooded and it was common for the whole street to be under three feet of water, looking at the images from the first set of photos its hard believe that over 30 years have passed since they wer taken, life passes so fast, its a wonder I’m even still hear.

  2. November 8, 2016

    Great photos. I lived in Bow in the 80s and would drive to Asda on the Island as it was the largest supermarket in the area then.
    I love the irony of the ‘Wall Of Excell nce’.

  3. Malcolm permalink
    November 8, 2016

    I lived on the Island and I know the story of its decline.
    By the early 1980′s, when the first photographs were taken, the Island had become a desolate place. Most of the industry had gone, along with the docks and more than 12,000 jobs. The dreadful estates of maisonettes and flats built in the 1960′s were in a shocking state of decay and dereliction. These estates had been built after the unnecessary demolition of terraced houses that had been declared slums, which they most certainly were not. This was another example of town planners and architects destroying houses and communities in pursuance of their idiotic ideology. When the terraced houses – along with some “temporary” prefabs – in Manchester Road, from West Ferry Road to Glengall Grove, were demolished in 1964-5 and the first estates of maisonettes were built, the Island was no longer a community. The people who lived in the terraced houses were shipped out to the suburbs and people from Islington and Camden were moved in. Islington and Camden at this time were considered to be ghastly slums but the beautiful regency houses mostly survived, having been bought up very cheaply in the late 70′s and early 80′s by shrewd affluent types who saw the potential in living in big houses close to the City and West End. When all the docks finally closed (another politically motivated bit of vandalism) Mrs Thatcher decided that business and finance were more important than people and the so the Docklands Development Corporation set about building the New Jerusalem of finance in Canary Wharf whilst virtually ignoring the needs of the existing population. In the 17 years of the LDDC’s existence only a single new secondary school – George Green, a former Grammar School which re-located from Poplar – was built and 1 new primary school, despite the fact that funding was supposed to be available for two secondary schools, as well as 11 primary schools, 3 post-16 colleges and 9 vocational training centres. This despite the fact that more than 20,000 new “homes” have been built. Many of these dwellings are expensive flats that are not designed with families in mind, of course. The story of the Island is a cautionary tale that illustrates very well how the needs of a local community are always ignored, forgotten and buried under the expediency of hopeless local councils, short termist politicians and the greed of developers.

  4. Philip Marriage permalink
    November 8, 2016

    A remarkable set of photos and a worthy record of changing times. For better or for worse? There’s no denying that few of us would want to time travel back to the conditions of the past but it is such a shame that the scale of the new developments – mentioned by Robert above – in too many cases has overwhelmed the integrity of the earlier community.

  5. November 8, 2016

    God is in the details — at least, for me. The highlight for me was seeing the two hairdressers,
    still standing in the doorway, still smiling, and still hard at work. Still looking lovely, too.
    Here’s to the ladies!

  6. Theda Bara permalink
    November 8, 2016

    I hate that it’s changed so much… I spent a lot of time on the island as all my dad’s family lived there… it makes me so sad to think that they are all gone, along with the close knit community that it was back in the 1950s-1960s. Some people are able to visit the place of their childhood and it won’t have changed very much at all, unlike the east end… it’s as though my past has been eradicated.

  7. Mick permalink
    November 8, 2016

    I lived on the Island when Mike Seaborne was taking his photos – and it wasn’t a pretty place – but there was more than the dereliction and decay as shown here.

  8. Stephen Barker permalink
    November 10, 2016

    Looking at the photos I was reminded of the British Gangster film ‘The Long Good Friday’ which was set against the backdrop of the docks becoming available for re-development. The quality of the buildings put up is not particularly inspiring.

  9. January 12, 2017

    Fantastic Work! We have all seen many things change and we have enjoyed working with you all, regards Alex Neil

  10. Brian Serjeant permalink
    January 15, 2017

    My Dad was born (1894) & raised at 24 Manchester Road, which was a fine, tall terrace (now replaced by 1960s/70s junk). Does anyone know where I can find archived pictures of that terrace?

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