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Silvertown and Neighbourhood (Archer Philip Crouch)
History of the West ham parish
(Extracts from 1900 )
From Chapters Six - North Woolwich
West Ham was only a small village at the beginning of the 19th Century. Old Bow Bridge stood, but was practically the same structure as that built seven centuries earlier. The new bridge did not replace it until 1839. Stratford was full of pleasant suburban residences belonging to rich citizens. Maryland Point was so named by a merchant who made his money in Maryland. Forest Gate was not known by that name, comprising of Woodgrange and Upton. A toll-gate from which the locality took its name, stood at the entrance to Wanstead Flats.
Silvertown and North Woolwich did not come into existence till many years later than 1800. At that date only one house was to be seen in the wide expanse of marsh between Bow Creek and Barking Creek. This was called the Devil’s House and stood on the banks of the Gallion Reach, to the east of the present Albert Docks. The house was finally bought by the Albert Dock company, who pulled it down on making the Dock entrance.
The right to ply a ferry between Woolwich and the Essex side was an ancient privilege, first mentioned as far back as 1308. At the beginning of the 19th century, a horse ferry was in use, with the ferryman living in an old barge which was subsequently replaced by an Inn on the river bank – the Old Barge Inn.
In 1811, a rival ferry ran between Charlton and Plaistow, to enable the Kent inhabitants to take advantage of the improved Barking Road. Prince Regents Lane linked the ferry with the Barking Road, joining at the ‘Old Greengate Inn’ at Plaistow. The Prince Regent public house arose near to the ferry, which existed until 1847, when the North Woolwich Railway was built, and a newer public house of that name was built higher up Prince Regents Lane, later renamed the Prince of Wales.
From 1811 to 1828, there were only three buildings between the Bow Creek and Barking Creek. In 1828, a settlement was built at North Woolwich at a cost of £10,000 which later fell into decay.
The Eastern Counties Railway was incorporated in 1836, and in 1839 the first section from Devonshire Street to Romford was opened. The railway from Stratford Market to North Woolwich was not commenced until 1846 Messrs Kennard, Brassey and Peto were associated with the railway, soon joined by Bidder. They purchased the entire acreage from Bow Creek to Gallions Reach, and from Barking Road to the Thames for probably, two figures an acre. This now (1900) would not be worth less that four or five thousand pounds an acre. The railway was opened in June 1847, two steam ferries connecting it with South Woolwich.. The extension of the South Eastern railway from Greenwich to South Woolwich took place in 1849, thus the North Woolwich railway lost the major portion of its traffic. The North Woolwich Gardens were opened by 1851, and latterly purchased for the public by 1890.
The first firm to take advantage of the new railway, and settle on the river bank was C J Mare’s shipbuilding business, around 1846. Although initially successful, the firm became insolvent by 1856 and was taken over by the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company Ltd. In 1851, the Howard brothers built a glass factory and a wharf on two acres of land; and in 1852 S W Silver & Co, well known outfitters in Cornhill, moved their waterproofing business from Greenwich, which included Howards acreage when they also failed.
In 1855, the opening of the Victoria Docks produced an extension of the railway, with stations being built at Tidal Basin and Custom House. William Cory & Son, coal merchants acquired their coaling station within the docks, and this cheapened seaborne coal, thus making it possible for Silvertown factories to compete successfully against their northern rivals. Mr Cory also conceived the idea of a floating wharf anchored in the river, avoiding dock dues, and this was made in 1859 by the Thames Ironworks.
Population increases in the district were now rapid, and Charles Dickens describes the area, in ‘Household Words – September 1857’ as:- “a suburb on the border of the Essex marshes which is quite cut off from the comforts of the Metropolitan Buildings Act; in fact, it lies just without its boundaries, and therefore is chosen as a place of refuge for offensive trade establishments, turned out of town; those of the oil-boilers, gut-spinners, varnish-makers, printers’ ink-makers, and the like. Cut off from the support of the Local Managing Act, this outskirt is free to possess new streets of houses without drains, roads, gas or pavement.”
It continues, “The houses are run up at the cost of only £80, and are mere band-boxes placed on the ground. The ditches at the back of them are nothing more or less than cesspools. The area in this district covered by dikes alone amounts to 140 acres. The surface of the country lies 7 feet below high water mark, with the result that in winter the roads become impassable”.
Two years later, the Rev H Douglas, who was appointed two years earlier as the resident clergyman wrote to the Times, in appeal against this wretchedness. He wrote under the heading “Londoners Over the Border”.
The district was occupied, he wrote, chiefly by works for transforming the refuse of slaughter-houses into manure, and for the manufacture of vitriol and creosote.
The habitable area consisted of islands of liquid filth, surrounded by stagnant dikes, though with proper drainage it might be made as salubrious as Stepney or Pimlico. Poverty alternated with fever. Every gust of prosperity brought an influx of strangers to the neighbourhood; every succeeding stagnation overwhelmed the district with destitution. At the time of writing, the cry for food and fire was frightful. Amongst other distressing cases of illness, three whole families were down with fever, and in one day no less than seven accidents had occurred.
There was a speedy response, and within several weeks, Mr Douglas was able to report that he had received sufficient funds for his present needs. A second appeal for funds, in order to build a new church, new schools, and a parsonage was equally successful. The new site chosen for the church was at the Eastern end of the Victoria Docks, and met with some resentment due to its position away from the current residents. Additionally, many of the poor people turned against him for spending monies on a new church rather than affording them further assistance. A Commission of enquiry was appointed by the Bishop of London, which questioned the lack of book keeping, but also suggested that the Rev Douglas had actually used some of his own money amongst his parishioners. He resigned his appointment, and finally became rector of Edmondthorpe. Oakham, where he died in 1897.
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