Dockers full transcript
Welcome to Memoryscape
Dockers: A Walk from Greenwich to the Millennium Dome
Warning: This sound walk should only be attempted with the understanding that the creators of memoryscape cannot accept any legal responsibility for loss, harm or injury you may suffer when doing this walk. The route is along a public footpath. Stay aware of your surroundings. Expect the unexpected as you would in any other part of London. This walk will stick closely to the Thames path. If you decide to venture onto the foreshore at low tide, do so with great care. Stay close to your access point or you might run the risk of being cut off by the tide. This walk can take at least 2 hours to complete. Give yourself enough time to reach the end before dark.
Hello. My name is Toby Butler. I'm a cultural geographer and I will be taking you on a unique sound walk along the banks of the river from Greenwich to the Millennium Dome. I'm going to be giving the directions but the guides to the hidden history of this landscape are people who have actually lived and worked at London's docks and wharfs. Most of the people you will hear from today were interviewed 20 years ago when the docks were redeveloped. In 1982 the Museum of London proposed a major new museum in Docklands. As well as collecting objects and archive material, curators also began an oral history project to record testimony of those who had worked in London's docks and riverside industry. 200 interviews were made and this collection is kept at the Museum in Docklands near Canary Wharf. You will hear extracts from some of them today. Now don't even think about listening to the rest of this at home. This is a walk. You need to be here to understand it, to feel it. So get over to the famous sailing ship, The Cutty Sark, at Greenwich. You can get there on the Docklands light railway, Cutty Sark stop. When you find the ship join me at track 2.
Now, you should be standing in front of the Cutty Sark. Please make sure you have your earphones on the right way. This is the left side, this is the right side. The Cutty Sark is a tea clipper that has become one of the most famous tourist attractions here at Greenwich. I won't tell you about the history of the ship because this is no ordinary walk. Instead you will hear from Louis Dore whose grandfather actually worked on the Cutty Sark.
My grandfather was a Jew and my grandmother was Irish, and on my father's side they were French and German. So I'm a bit of a cocktail you know, but I didn't know my grandfather was a Jew until just before my mother died. It was quite a dark secret, a skeleton in the cupboard never spoken about. But the curious thing about it was that he was a seaman on the tea clippers, that's the Cutty Sark. And of course these seamen were well paid. When he left the sea at about 25 he had quite a lot of money because he'd saved it up because he didn't smoke or drink and didn't carouse like other sailors. And when he married my grandmother he took a little shop in the Jago and he make toffee and sweets and ice-creams. And also of course he knew a lot about tea and he used to go to the docks and buy chests of tea and blend the tea and he had a lot of, he used to visit a whole, not just this district, but all the right way round, Highbury and all the way round and take these special customers for his tea.
So, you get the idea. We will be passing, and often ignoring, some of London's most famous buildings and attractions. Instead we are exploring the hidden history of the landscape around you through the voices of the people who lived and still live here. Towards the river you will see a building with a glass dome. This is Greenwich foot tunnel. It used to be used by thousands of dockers to get from their homes to Mill Wall and the West India docks on the other side of the river. You should begin the next track, track 3, when you get inside the domed building. Stop your player now.
Now we're inside the domed entrance to the tunnel. Listening to these recordings, I discovered that the foot tunnel was also used as an air raid shelter in the First World War. It was used to shelter dockers' families from the bombs dropped by German airships, Zeppelins. But on this walk you don't have to take my word for it. We are now going to take the steps down to the left. If you are not able to use the stairs, you can take the lift down instead. Let's go.
I awoke to guns, their shattering roar
destroyed my rest and I could sleep no more.
I rose and threw the window open wide,
the sky a rosy, ruddy red I spied.
And on the roof above me, loudly clattered,
like hail stones, shrapnel, everywhere bespattered.
As a child of seven, never had I been so terrified at what I'd heard and seen
What is it mum, I asked, that sky so red?
It's just a Zeppelin raid, she calmly said.
And what, I asked, is making all that noise?
The guns she answered, fired by our soldier boys.
Ah, guns, I'd seen such things before.
My father had one when he went to war,
carried on his shoulder, long and thin,
Could a gun like that make such a din?
My mother just as ignorant as I
was sure they could, then pointed to the sky.
There it is, she said, the Zeppelin
I saw it there a tiny little thing
A finger long, it probed into a cloud.
But still the guns barked furious and loud.
Then stopped. It's over now, my mother said.
Come on now, back you go to bed.
Now walk down the tunnel a little. Stop at the red box. Keep listening. This is Annie Pope, a factory worker.
When I was at school I remember the 1914 War which we never had many teachers and what the girls used to do, we used to sit and knit socks for soldiers, because we were in the war. My father was in the war and during the war we used to just go to school. My mother had to go to work
Where was she working?
In the Millwall docks to do with the airmen. To help the airmen. And we used to take shelter down in the Greenwich subway when we was children. And um then then the war was over, this is the 1914 war and I can still remember a bomb dropping in a street not far from where we lived. It was only a small crater, not like the Second World War. It was a small crater and it was nothing compared with the other war at all. And also I can still remember the Zeppelin going over what came down in Cuffley. I can see it now in my mind's eye coming down in flames.
Now turn around. We are going back up to Greenwich, but this time we won't take the stairs. Call the lift by pressing the button next to it. Remember you can always replay the last track to hear instructions again. When the doors open go inside and start track 5. You can stop the player now.
Memory is not like a film or a video that can be rewound and played back. Time and space tend to become displaced. And what one remembers as having happened at this or that time, or in this or that place can often be found to be chronologically and spatially out of accord with well researched histories of the times and places concerned.
When you leave the lift turn right. Outside the building turn left.
From now on we will be following the river path. Keep the river and Greenwich pier on your left. Continue through the stone bollards and follow the river walk. Don't go into the park on your right, stick to the path by the river. 200 meters ahead you will find a granite obelisk right next to the river path with Bellot written on it. When you get there play track 7. You can stop the player now.
I suppose really I first became aware that docks existed when I was about six, six or seven I suppose. My father took me up to Petticoat Lane market, the Sunday market, and I noticed a lot of, to my mind, people dressed in pyjamas. Uh these were, as I later found out, were Laskers and due to their religion they were dressed in white trousers with a white smock. I asked my father who they were and he said oh they were Laskers and they came off the ships in the docks and I wanted to know what docks were and he said to me that he would take me down one of these days and show me the docks, which he did. What I thought was strange was that all these Laskers.
At Petticoat Lane were buying live chickens and just carrying them by their legs upside down and they were taking them and I asked my father what they were doing with these chickens. Oh he says, they are taking them, taking them down to the docks he says and they're going to have a meal. I remember seeing quite a number of these ships that you could see with chicken coups and goats, actually on deck. I don't expect you'd see that today.
Once I got knocked about by one of the teachers me mother went up there and knocked her about and every time I was played up a bit then she used to say to me ‘I suppose you'll bring your mother up here again'. But we were really poor though, you know we were, I mean used to have to go to free breakfasts, free dinner and we used to have free boots, they used to give you boots to wear and sometimes you'd have one big one and one small one. So one hurt you like hell and the other one used to flip off your feet. It wasn't too bad really.
What did you father do?
He was a, he went to sea, he was a seaman for years and then he gave it up I think when my youngest brother was born and he worked in the docks, he was a docker. He wasn't a stevedore, he used to go down there you know every day to get a job, line up outside, and then if he was lucky he was taken on and done a couple of days work, and if he wasn't he used to come home you know and me mother used to go down the fields doing a bit of pea picking and she used to have a, um she used to go round the streets selling because I remember her sitting me on a, she used to have a donkey and a cart and she used to sell salad stuff.
We could have a big hole in the front of our jerseys but we always had good boots. Always, my dad had a thing about boots. And uh we let our kids run about with nothing on their feet. But my dad said you've got nothing on your feet again, put something on your feet. I believe it was because they didn't have too many boots about when they was kids. I don't know but I you know I got this feeling. But yeah he was a nutter with boots. We, I never cleaned a boot til I was about, well til I joined the Scouts so must have been 11. Not when I was in the cubs. Dad always did all the boots, because he had a thing about boots, he used to whiten our slippers in the summer, ah dear.
Back in 1924, when I was 14 things were so bad at home, money wise we was actually starving and I used to go to school with no boots on or shoes and I can assure you that I'd run to school with no shoes and socks on, in bare feet in frost, not snow, but in frost and that is a fact. I don't tell nothing but facts. Because I loved school and that and the atmosphere at home was very bad.
By the way, all the people speaking in this walk are listed in the CD cover that accompanies this walk. The Thames walk now leaves the river bank for a short time. Walk with me now past the door of The Trafalgar and take an immediate left. Look out for the house numbers along this lane and when you get to the bollards outside number 22, play track 9. You can turn off your player now.
Peter Kent is an artist, illustrator and local historian who lives on this street. Later on the walk you will see his sketches on plaques showing the history of the riverscape.
Well here is high bridge, this is one of the historic landing places on the Thames just down stream from the Tudor Palace and the Royal Naval College. This actually you see this this draw dock - theres a gate which opens up and gives access for vehicles or people trying to launch a boat or and such and things like that. If you note it's just the width of a track or a small wagon. The reason is because this was the public access onto the foreshore and barges and ships used to lie alongside and hang trolleys and so forth and wheel down to off load the ship and then they were taken onto the streets of Greenwich via this this narrow entrance. It's now used in fact by the rowing clubs. We've got two rowing clubs here, we've got the Globe and the Curlew rowing club and you can see just behind you is their boat house where they store their eights and their fours and what have you. So the most unusual thing about this beach, it has a firm standing, and at low water you can walk right down to the water's edge without sinking into the mud. But just across the river there if you tried to do that you'd be you know up to the top of your wellies.
One of the interesting things about high bridge is that it goes back yonks and the Doge of Venice in fact wouldn't permit his galleys to go any further upstream into the upper pool, the upper, the conventional wharfs, because of the pirates and you know all about that why the River Police was formed and so forth, to protect the river. But the Doge wouldn't permit his elegant vessels to go any further up there and they actually came ashore here and were off loaded from this very spot. And if you look down at low water and you look on to the, on to the foreshore you'll find all sorts of most interesting objects because barges used to be repaired and ships used to off load here.
As I said, a lot of their cargo, remains of the cargo, got spilled and can still be found in the shingle. Extraordinary place.
What kind of things, bits of coal or?
Coal yes, coal tiles and of course because of the ship repair, the boat repair, all the little bits and nuts and bolts whatever you would find. One of the interesting things which bit you'll find children on the foreshore and all other people, mudlarks, they're looking for pipes, clay pipes and because this length of the river used to be full of pubs and taverns and so forth and what happened in those days, in the early days, that you when you ordered a pint you could also order a fill of tobacco and you used the clay pipes which were available over the counter. So there were one two three four pubs along here and of course, uh, as the inevitable thing this clay pipes they snap. So they chucked them in the river didn't they. The other interesting things about the clay pipes that not everybody, not all the ones you find on the foreshore came from the pubs because there was in fact there was a small factory just behind here just off Crane Street here where pipes were actually made. It was a garden industry and people had a very small kiln and they used to produce these pipes, very simple things to make, and then sell them on to the pubs and of course Greenwich had a multitude of pubs because where there are sea farers you need pubs.
Carry on along the lane. We've got a few minutes walk ahead of us. After a while you will pass the Cutty Sark pub on your right. Keep on walking past the pub and you will eventually come to Lovell's Wharf. Its name is painted on the wall. Play track 11 when you rejoin the river at Lovell's Wharf. You can turn your player off now.
Here at Lovell's Wharf you can see the concrete pillars that made up the base of a crane. These enormous cranes used to unload cargo from the ships and barges. These were a major feature along the riverscape. Mr Ellis was a crane driver and later became a crane-driving instructor. Stand still here and listen.
Cargos, to give you some idea the variety could start in the morning from a packet of pins and you would handle everything from a pin to an elephant in the same days work. You see we were the outlet for the whole of the industries in this country. And whatever goods were manufactured came via the docks for export.
Now the essence of uh efficiency in the dock, we were all piece work. Now you could have uh a lovely team of good labourers, workmen, underneath you but if you hadn't got a good crane driver then everybody suffered. So you had to be of some extreme capable to get jobs in the better gangs. I was the first crane driver ever to land over eighteen hundred of butter in one day from one gang. I also landed five hundred tons of flour in one day, with the gang. Now these were extreme quantities and, but I must be fair and say that when it come to the butter job that record of mine was broken twice in the same week, because the other crane drivers all decided to have a go and they beat it by a hundred or two here and there you know. Now that's what happens. It's a great competitive world you know, but it was crane driving at its best, there's no doubt about it.
Now I used to, in the main, drive for the New Zealand Shipping Co. and to me it was like throwing darts. I could pick the bacon up and I could throw it from the barge, round and over the key, up the top of the building and down through their loophole in one go. And of course the speed was fantastic and many a time the foreman in charge of the gang, that I was driving for, whilst they were delighted you know that they was getting such a supply, he often came to me and said ah we've got to stop, we've got to stop. And he'd stop the job for quarter of an hour, so they didn't murder the rate because the rate was such where you could earn this fabulous money. But providing they had done 2000 plus they were content. I could've done five thousand.
If you had done 5000 the rate was cut?
The rate were cut immediately, I mean there was quite, always this feeling, and there was always this observation by the companies, if they thought they were, had got a rate that had been fixed to high they'd call the unions in and say look, look, you know, and they had the paperwork to prove that this quantity was being done and the union could only agree to the fact that whilst the men worked hard to achieve it, the rate was pretty, pretty generous. So that's how we used to sort of regulate the quantities to maintain the rates being paid.
Any rate, we got our official tea breaks by coming down. But the evening one, we used to swing the bottle in the window, they used to put our tea in the milk bottle, they used to tie rope round the top, or string, put a loop on the crane hook and they'd say ‘right' and you'd take it up and now you'd swing it and you'd have to judge it so that the bottle comes at the window and you could take it off without breaking the window. That's how we used to do it.
Here at Lovell's wharf the Thames path rejoins the river. Up ahead you should see one of the last boat repair yards on the tidal Thames. It may not be here for long as there are plans for redevelopment. Along the walk ahead you are likely to see lighter barges, barges without engines, that were often used to transport goods up river to smaller wharfs that could not accommodate the big ships. They were the responsibility of lightermen, hired to move them safely around the river. Walk along the path as you listen.
My father was a lighterman. He worked for Union lighterage. And they used to make money by dredging for coal and that was seen to be a fiddle. Because although they actually dredged off the gas works for it at Beckton, I mean they used to actually thieve it out of coal barges as well. Uh and it was a noted thing all like, and they would tell you, when you went up Bow Creek that um every child, every youngster would throw stones at you, knowing full well that there was only one thing you could throw back and that was the coal you had in the barges. And so it was a real sort of a tea leaf paradise.
Boys drowned there, did drown round the cut. Cause snag is, they'd go underneath the barge and the barge being a flat bottom, kids trying to get out, well what you've got to do is to dive down and whichever way you're going, keep swimming, but people panic under there and go backwards, lighterman will tell you better than me, and people panic and go backwards and forwards, if you keep going the way you're gonna go you're gonna come up. But quite a few boys were drowned in the cut so that was one other place that we was never allowed to play.
You, one was towed about, mainly on the main river, but course when you went in docks or up creeks, talk about being without the paddle, well of course if you were up the creek without the paddle it would be not much use unless you got on the bank and pulled the barge along with the line over you shoulder, something I've done quite often.
But in the in the docks for example the tug would drop the lighter, loaded shall we say, at King George dock and you'd be locked in with all the other barges that were going in, and supposing you were making your way, just to say for example, to a ship that was going to say West Africa, uh, which might be half way up King George dock, well you had to get the barge there so you used what, what equipment you had, which consisted of a decent length of line, uh a hitcher, a boat hook, long big boat hook, not a small one, with a great big hook and spike on the end of it, uh and sweeps, two sweeps, so that you could, so long as the wind again wasn't against you, either row, pull or poke, a common term, the use of a hitcher, which meant that you put the spike up against another barges hatch combing, something like that, and put your shoulder, you're standing on your barge, put your shoulder into the end of the pole and push your barge up the dock. Or, you'd even learn to lasso. That was quite fun. The idea was that you'd stand in a certain position and throw a line onto a bollard which was perhaps 20 or 30 feet ahead of you, so that you could pull the barge along on that.
But of course if you was on a tug well then you were working solidly for 24 hours. And uh, but a lot of people liked that, they liked tugging and um generally the people that went in the tugs did stay in the tugs. They never ever came out again onto the craft, you know they enjoyed tugging and they liked a set routine and life I suppose, but the majority of lightermen that's exactly what they didn't like, they liked uh a life where they didn't know where they was going to go the next day, or what time they was going to finish work, come to that. And it, suited us, you know. It was nothing like, not that I've ever worked in a factory, but I mean knowing from what people tell me you sort of stand at a machine and uh its a rigid regime. Well it's nothing like that on the river you know you sort of everyday is different, you're somewhere different every day and something happens different every day. You go in a different every day and have a drink with someone different every day, it's just that type of trade you see, and a very interesting life, all in all.
You always seemed to be hanging about, that's another thing that was bad about being on lighters, you always seemed to be hanging about, waiting. Either waiting for the tug, waiting for the dock, waiting for the ship, waiting for the, the stevedore to say that he wanted your barge with your cargo in it. There was an awful lot of waiting about which of course can become very debilitating really in a way, unless you've got some other idea and of course one of my ideas was I'd carry books around with me and I'd have a good old read, about this that and all the other.
Well we've all got our various ways I mean I finished up working in security. A lot of them went cabbing. That was the thing they turned to, taxying. And they done the knowledge for 2 years and finished up cabbing. And I think that probably um appeals to lightermen because it's once again a trade where you please yourself. If you want to go to work you go to work and if you don't you don't.
Stop walking at Enderby's Wharf. You will see some machinery there surrounded by grey painted railings. You can usually walk inside the enclosure and there are several information plaques about the underwater cable industry that is based here. When you get there have a good look around and when you are ready to hear more play track 14. You can turn your player off now.
You are now at Enderby's Wharf. This wharf was used to supply cable ships that laid underwater cables. You should be able to see a black and white repeater by the fence near the path. Repeaters were used to link the underwater cables. Peter Turbin was an instrument maker who worked here.
Well I spent a long while with Cable and Wireless instruments making instruments which were operating on the end of international cables across the Atlantic and across the Pacific. Their main industry was owning cables that ran between all sorts of countries and they made a profit on the traffic that they carried. And they were all round the world there's no question about that, totally global. Um and to maintain these cables which go faulty then they had a fleet of cable ships and it was at the stage when cables were changing from telegraph cables which transmitted Morse code etc to coaxial cable which transmitted radio frequencies under the sea and you could talk over the cable and talk to someone at the other end. They hadn't a ship that could handle the vast ranges involved. They wanted ships that would lay about eleven hundred miles of cable in one go.
And so they built a new ship and it was called the Cable Ship Mercury. And it was at the final stages of that building that I became involved because one day somebody came to me in the development lab and said um would you be prepared to go and work down at Greenwich on the cable ship, we need some instrument type makers work done down on the ship. On these cable systems you would, the repeaters in those days were about twenty, twenty six miles apart exactly, I remember now, twenty six miles apart. And once the ends, the terminations were in position at the end of each repeater, the jointers would come along and join the thing up
So when you loaded you just winded the cable, then you loaded the repeater and joined the cable on board, and that was quite a difficult job in its own right, is it?
It took about four hours to do the job because on this modern systems we are talking about every joint was x-rayed to make sure there wasn't any particles in the core of dust or dirt, a really nice operation, I can call it a nice operation. When we were, I explained earlier about doing wiring in the dairy on the ship, when you pulled an equaliser apart, that room was air conditioned and double-locked air sealed and we used, and we wore the same equipment as they wear in the factory today making it, that's like a milkmaid's outfit, you wore nylon gloves, you were restricted to the types of food you should eat before you go in, particularly oranges and things, the acid didn't come out from your skin, but they still do all this, wear gloves, and you have tacky mats each side of the doors. If you went to Greenwich you would see this all and then we called it the dairy because we looked like dairymaids. And so at Greenwich they still make the repeaters and they ship them to Southampton so that when a ship is loading the two parts come together down there.
Unlike any other ship its the only ship that loads up at one port with a lot of cable and finishes up at the last port with no cargo at all. The only ship that does that I think, which caused some fun in the United States actually. We pulled into Guam on one occasion and customs, you wait for the customs boat, the pilot boat that came out and we were there for hours and the reason was because the man, the customs man had never ever before been confronted with an empty ship whose manifest showed it leaving with 8000 tons of cable and arriving here with nothing, what has happened to this cable. And nobody could convince him that we'd put it on the bottom of the sea.
Carry on along the Thames path until you get to the next big publicly accessible jetty. You will be able to walk all the way to the end. When you get to the end of the jetty play the next track, track 16. You can turn your player off now.
By the 1980's the docks were almost derelict. There were many reasons for the decline.
Even while I was at work the Port of London was a hive of industry. I mean the wharfs as far as you could see both sides of the Thames, and all very very busy. Shipping right up to London Bridge shipping, and ships come in on and off every high water and that did slowly start to decline and you noticed maybe a wharf here or a wharf there sort of closing up but in the 70's it seemed to happen very very quickly, the decline.
I went to the Port of London Authority to apply for a pass which would allow me within the dockyard system so I could draw ships, I was fascinated by ships. And through the years and demise of the docks the demise of the shipping leaving this upper stretches of the river, one by one these great docks were closed and the warehouses and the cranes, everything was, everything became derelict. And it was acres and acres of dereliction, an amazing expanse of water with not a ship, not a boat to be seen. And that is really the site for the Canary Wharf development.
In 1965 Lord Devlin published a report on the future of the port transport industry. Devlin recommended a weekly wage and sick pay for the dockers instead of the old system of casual labour and piecework.
You know they got a bread and butter job sort of thing, it was, they had jam on both sides after the Devlin report really. But um before then it was miserable conditions as Harry says you know like OK you got sacked with 2 hours notice and all of this caper. Those things was done away with.
I mean and before I mean like um even as Devlin says they don't need dock piece work, this is what he done away with was the piece work.
He bring in a ship system with a basic payment to be paid, a basic wage to be paid and thats it. I think everyone knew what was gonna happen and uh and it did happen and that was the docker just sat back and um, and didn't really put himself out to, to move cargo the way he used to. And it showed because I mean ships were hanging about here for weeks instead of days and so that did have a bad effect on the port, I felt.
Well I can tell you exactly how it's been changed because um what were looking down here, we're looking at industrial plant. Look we've got the Tate and Lyle works then we've got the cable works, the gas works, there's the gin refinery there, then we've got the um the wharf there, the Victoria Deepwater Wharf. Little by little as the value of the land changes and it becomes prime development that'll all go, that'll all disappear. It'll probably go to China or somewhere like that, as industry as gone, you know, to the Far East.
Before we walk on you may wish to look at the plaque on the railings. It's full of information about the buildings and industry that you have walked past today. Stop the player now and when you are ready to move on play track 18.
Walk back along the jetty and turn left onto the Thames path. You will be following the path around a boat breaking yard. The path will rejoin the river soon. When the path comes to a junction make sure you turn left following the sign to the dome. When the path rejoins the river play the next track, track 19. You can turn your player off now.
The path is uneven here and quayside has no railings so do be careful. Keep the river to your left and follow the path towards the Millennium dome. Walk while you listen.
Eerie I suppose is the word, to find absolutely everything, nothing going on. Grass growing over all the railway tracks, nobody at, in the docks, no ships, no cranes working, no noise, no nothing. Absolute devastation.
The actual decline of the docks came about was nothing to do with labour in the docks whatsoever. The first change that hit us was in 1956. It was the clean air act.
Anyone under the age of 40 will probably not remember the famous London pea-souper. The thick yellow fog which occured usually from about November onwards. Besides its usual vapour content, the vapour phase, its main constituents came from factory and household chimneys, all burning Derby brights or nuts, the two forms of coal then available. This noxious effluvium could be smelled, tasted and even felt between the teeth, as a fine sort of grit. The game among school boys, and this is rather horrible but it is true, the game among school boys was that of seeing who produced the biggest, the best and biggest gob. An ordinary grey one earned few marks, the yellow ones were good, but a green one was a winner. That is except in the case of a less frequent green one with red spots. Such a one swept the board. Getting the things off your chest and coughing up two bob bits were illusion to these jolly games.
The Clean Air Act, that hit the lighterage companies, the lighterage industry drastically. That was a tremendous blow that very few people can relate to. Because what you had at that time, you had Samuel Williams handling coal, you had River Lighterage handling coal, you had Cory handling coal, you had South Met handling coal, you had Harrisons, five large companies based on coal. Once that act came in the coal industry collapsed in London. All they was doing was supplying power stations and gas works. So those companies went to the wall by the 60's, most of them uh that handled coal. And that was the first blow that hit the lighterage industry. I think cause what started to happen from that was the break up, there was a congestion of shipping in London, the ports in Europe hadn't started after the war and we still had an empire, so the port of London never knew what it was to market the port. Everybody come to London because it was the Empire, they all come to London, the congestion was there. No-one did it anything, they did very little to make it work. So ships was hanging about in the Surrey for six months waiting to get gangs, I mean that was the stupid bit of it. The Empire started to change, it went to a Commonwealth, that was the first start, and then you know they got their own shipping companies saying well we aint gotta go to London I mean you've got this whole empire fly the flag business, you can go anywhere. And then you had Europe coming on ... after the war that started, cause it was flattened, started to build up this system.
An ordinary ocean going ship coming from say Australia or New Zealand full of dairy produce, when it berthed up in the port of London, for discharging purposes it would require approximately three to four hundred men, ship and quay. Now when you went on to containerisation, you dropped down to about twenty men on ship and no more. So you see immediately the repercussion it had. And that's why the exodus from the docks was vast, because they had far too many men.
And if you can visualise an aperture or a hole and you take out a 40 foot, that is in length, container and lift it up and if you look back it is an enormous hole you've made in there. In fact what you've done is lift it up, 38 tons of goods, as one complete unit load on to a lorry and trailer.
Keep to the riverside path. Look out for a huge industrial jetty leading out onto a floating dock. When you pass this up ahead, find one of the benches on the right of the path before playing the next track, track 21. You can turn your player off now.
Take a seat on the benches after the industrial jetty. On the other side of the river you can see the entrance to West India docks where Canary Wharf now lies. The area on the other side of the river to your right is know as Blackwall. Many people that worked on the docks and wharfs used to live there before a second road was built under the river in 1967, the Blackwall Tunnel. You may be able to see the low dome shaped cap of a ventilation shaft on the other bank. Tom Stothard lived here before his neighbourhood disappeared.
With the building of Blackwall tunnel, the area which was Blackwall was entirely destroyed. The um, all the public houses on the front, Blackwall itself and the old houses were demolished. In Gazeley Street there was Bodger Steeds, Rudder Clap. In our own street there was another one he was Dobber man. Further down the street was Inky Davis, Pokey Morgan, and there was Ginger Pete…
and then going down to Gazeley Street there was Bean Carrington. Chris Cobb was a boilermaker and he also did plate riveting on the ships in the graving dock and his brother in law Sid Howell, he was also in the same trade. And the remarkable thing is that just about the same time each lost an eye as a result of riveting. Chris Cobb was a left hander and he lost his left eye and Sid Howell was a right hander and he lost his right eye. But I believe that afterwards they formed up a pair when doing the repair work.
Well Gazeley Street was a funny street really. It had um a number of Irish people living there, some Welsh people, people who'd come from Norfolk and Suffolk, there was a Jewish family. And the Irish families they were related and they could never really see eye to eye with each other, with the result that day after day the ladies of the house, which were I suppose 8 or 10 houses apart, would come out and pick up the row with which they had the day before. The only thing was the rows were carried on from their respective doorways. When the row had gone on sufficiently long enough or one was losing the best way she got out of it was by turning her back onto the other lady, smacking her behind three times and walking off indoors. But no diva ever left the stage with such dignity as those Buckley family ever did.
Carry on along the Thames path, don't leave the riverside. Keep on going until you get to a road, Drawdock Road, before you play the next track, track 23. You can turn your player off now.
There's always rubbish washed up on the Drawdock here. Driftwood from the Thames is seen as a nuisance now, but it used to be used for firewood by some people in Blackwall. Listen here and when you are ready walk and listen along the Thames path, don't leave the riverside.
Rubbish - a great place for dumping uh shopping trolleys, you name it, the odd refrigerator and things people dump in the Thames, its a disgrace really.
Keith Murray, salvage officer
So you put the driftwood barges down at strategic points all the way down the river. Um when I say all the way down, we do have one at Gravesend but basically it stops at the Greenwich area because that's were all the shouting stops I suppose. Its where the driftwood is seen as a public nuisance, where people object strongly to it, its where you get the refuse, and we talk about driftwood but most of it is refuse, its not um. Originally this service, the idea of this service was to remove the timber that would damage ships, you're talking about piles off jetties and things like that, we still get them, and they're still a menace to ships. But the big hue and cry now of course is conservancy and things like that and this, all the rubbish, all that plastic that gets thrown in, and this is the big thing we're chasing. People now want the place made nicer. Must be different group of people to the ones who throw it all in.
There was an extremely poor family. Their name I cant remember, but the father had been a Navy diver and um was incapacitated, and there were lots of children, all very young, but one of them, Shamus I've never seen him in boots, shoes or stockings in my life, and it was his job to go down to Blackwall foreshore every morning, every evening to see if he could find any driftwood that had got thrown up onto the foreshore or onto the causeway. And he would gather it all together, pull it up to the top of the causeway and carry it home, or if any of us were about, we'd help him to take it home. Now the peculiar thing about this is that when that timber was put at the top of the causeway nobody else ever took a piece, that was Shamus's wood.
The next stop is an art work. A slice of reality, a cross section of a ship that has been placed in the water. Stop the player now and when you get there play track 25.
This is a sculpture called Slice of Reality by Richard Wilson. For me this is a kind of memorial to a way of life that has disappeared here in London.
We used to teach them every part of ship from the truck at the top of the mast, right down to the keel. Those were all the decks and naming them and explaining what these decks are called, main decks, haul-up decks and so on. And we had to teach them the skills that were necessary for them to know to operate when they're down the hold of the ship because, whilst you've got a square opening known as the hatch, once you got down there and worked further and up back, it could be anything up to 30 foot underneath there. Now the cargo had to be made up, it was either brought out by means of rollers and things like that, there was no fork lifts then, or it was hauled out by the cranes. So all these things had to be taught to these men. Down the hold they'd break up into four separate pairs, there was usually eight down the hold, and you work round the clock. So there's 2 there, 2 there, 2 there, 2 there.
You would make up your square, or you would work side and side mainly because you need somebody on the square and need the others carrying away. So you would then make it large enough to take a set in comfort and then you would land on top of that, this would be 3 or 4 bags high, so as you could then comfortably get that bag stood up onto your shoulder and you would hump it then on your shoulder and carry it in, run it in, underneath and stow from the bulk head at the end of the hold where you were working and you would then start to stow.
But then the bananas come in, that was another bit of fun. Fun there again because there'd be big old rude dockers… and what used to make me laugh they would be scared of spiders and things like that. And the bloke used to come along with a bit of straw and a big old bruiser bloke running up the dock and the bloke is chasing them with a bit of straw like he had a spider. It used to be silly stuff like that. Used to make the world go round though.
Anthrax and all that sort of stuff was very, whatsaname, in those days cause that used to come off the pelts. The animals they used to have the pelts come over that used to be turned into leather eventually. And they used to be dirty and wet, and anthrax was just used to be patches all over your arm. And they used to have notices up all over about that... anthrax... we always used to have plenty of laughs though.
Pat O' Driscoll, barge mate
Stowing bags, stowing timber and so forth. Well we often had to be able to do things like that simply because if we'd left it to the gang there'd have been places in the hold which they'd said were inaccessible, there's nothing in at all, which meant that the cargo was not safely loaded or we couldn't load the assigned quantity because they'd been leaving too many holes underneath. So come lunchtime or after they'd all gone home we often had to see if we could undo some of the mess and put cargo in places where a bloomin great gang of blomin great blokes had said they couldn't get it there, just the two of us.
Next day, Wednesday 11th March we weren't wanted, one quay crane was fully occupied and the other was out of action, a docker had driven it along the quay with the jib up and it had hit a mooring wire. Typical.
After this we're going to go back on ourselves and leave the river. Go back along the path, keeping the river to your right until you reach the end of the steel railings and get to Drawdock road where you listened to the track about the driftwood. You will eventually pass through a security barrier. Walk straight on to the Millennium motel, a blue building on your left and play track 27 when you are outside. If you want to replay this track for directions play track 26. You can turn your player off now.
This cafe has served lorry drivers for many years who have come here to take goods from the wharfs. Before hearing from Philip Moore, the current manager of the motel, Eileen Gibbons describes what it was like to work in the mobile canteens that supplied dockers with tea in the 1940's.
It was like an ice-cream van you know it had a lid, a side that come up and you had shelves all the way round it. All the drivers were ex-army girls, you know ex-drivers from the Army and they used to take us to the quays and we used to sell their tea and their cakes and things like that. We'd sell it to them and get a lot of saucy remarks about the tea being like dishwater and how much washing up water you put in it ha ha. And I said not before we start, after. And then you did have some water to start with, you know to do your washing up with and uh when you finished, when all the men had been served you'd pour your washing up water in your tea urn to make that extra cup you know the tuppences you'd get on the gallon ....
to pocket for yourself .....
that's right yeah. Mind you, this is the gods truth, I never ever done it because I was too scared. I was brought up terribly honest by my father.
So what was the attitude of the dockers towards you apart from as you said making wry remarks and whatever
Oh they treated us with a lot of respect. I mean if they had anything a bit of meat or anything going that something had broke open accidentally I mean uh they'd give it to you. Nothing that you'd go to prison for, you know. I remember once they give me a lovely little toy for my son that someone had come across and little things like that. But they were very very good men, very good men.
This is a kind of frontier land here, there's nothing around here. There's no uh no other establishments, its very weird, the people that've stayed here, I mean we've got the caravans round us, they're either immigrants or gypsies or a mixture of both, we have all sorts here. Um and you can buy whatever you want, I mean if you want it you can get it, you know. So its very strange, they're very strange people. We get on as a kind of co-existence amongst us. And every now and then that boils over. But I'm here to try and keep all that in check, I don't know how I do it. But there you go. How do you do it? I don't know, you just talk your way out of it, I'm no fighter so its uh a matter of being diplomatic I guess.
Some of them are my caravans, some belong to people that have brought them along. A lot of them are workers that work up, work down here to pay the mortgage and then they go back up North for the weekends. There's 2 or 3 like that. And we've got a family living here, well 2 families living here now. We had a baby born here not so long ago. And we've got 8 bedrooms upstairs and they're again they're just workers that are working in London and push off at the weekend. You get a lot of DSS here, people that are displaced and need somewhere desperately to stay and they'll come here, otherwise we don't get anyone.
I believe its been running as this for at least 20 years. When the Dome was being built the underground was being built, it was both at the same time, this place was full and they use to hot bed the beds so one shift would come out and then another shift would go into the beds. They had 20 caravans round here, the bar was open 24/7 and it was just full of characters. And the odd fight used to go off you know it was a great, very interesting place, I wasn't here then. In a way thankfully I wasn't. I wouldn't want to run a 24 hour bar but yeah no there was some great stories that have go on.
But they're building, they're hopefully building over the road in April. So there'll be house going, there's thirty or forty thousand houses coming round here and we're in the middle of it, so if we're not sold before then we should reap the benefits of whatever's going off, yeah. There's compulsory purchase being thrown about at the moment. Yeah we will go. Whether it's a month, whether its 6 months or 5 years I dont know I'm hoping the earlier the better. It'll be another Canary Wharf. In 10 years time you'll come and you wont recognise it, it'll be high rise and swanky stuff yeah.
And I'm all for progress and this area's uh a dump, its a mess, it's mainly a mess because it is going to be regenerated, I mean no-one's going to spend any money on something that is going to be regenerated. But no I'm all for it I think its great I think this will be, be good for the area, jobs, money etc, I think it will be great for the area. I'm sad because this what we have here is a unique bar cafe come whatever and there's some stories to be told about what's gone on here, and yeah it'd be sad to see that go, but that's progress. I guess.
Singing – Take me back to dear old Blighty
I hope you've enjoyed this sound walk. There's another memoryscape walk along one of the prettiest stretches of river in London at Hampton Court. If you want to know more about the history of the river and the docks, one stop away on the Jubilee line at Canary Wharf you can see the redeveloped dock and visit the Museum in Docklands which is based in an old sugar warehouse. It's well worth a visit. You can get further information about these memoryscape walks by visiting a website memoryscape.org.uk.
[Final directions to Greenwich North Underground station] Have a safe journey home.
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