As mentioned last week, there are a number of official English Heritage blue plaques in London which commemorate events rather than people.

Alongside the blue plaque commemorating the first V1 flying bomb to hit London (the subject of last week’s entry) is a blue plaque commemorating the site where one of world’s most famous ships – the SS Great Eastern – was built.

THE_GREAT_EASTERN_(_launched_1858_)_largest_steamship_of_the_century_was_built_here_by_I.K._Brunel_and_J.Scott_RussellThe plaque is located at Burrells Wharf, 262 Westferry Road, on the Isle of Dogs in the Docklands, and it was there that the design of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who had previously designed the SS Great Western and the SS Great Britain, was realised under the direction of naval architect and ship builder John Scott Russell, of J Scott Russell & Co.

The ship, which had a double hull and immense paddle wheels, took some five years to build at a site in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs (if you’re interested in the etymology of the latter, see our earlier post here).

It was supposed to be launched before a crowd of thousands on 3rd November, 1857, (the Great Eastern Ship Company had sold tickets). But the launch was unsuccessful as the equipment supposed to haul the ship to the water failed (and it was during this unsuccessful attempt that the ship was apparently initially christened SS Leviathan;  her name was changed to the SS Great Eastern soon after).

A couple of further unsuccessful attempts were made before, on 31st January, 1858, the 211 metre long ship – aided by an unusually high tide – was finally sent into the Thames (unusually, it was launched sideways).

The outfitting of the ship, which started in January, 1859, took six months and on 6th September, the ship made its maiden voyage from London to Weymouth, a voyage which was marred by the tragic death of a number of stokers in a boiler explosion. Sadly, Brunel himself died soon after the maiden voyage, not in the sort of triumphant circumstances he might have hoped for.

While it was originally designed to sail to India and the Far East, it was in the Atlantic where the ship took up the passenger trade. Her first voyage to North America took place in June the following year and the SS Great Eastern continued to cross the Atlantic over the next few years (including during the American Civil War when she took British troops to Canada) but, blighted by back luck (including, in 1862, running into an uncharted rock in New York harbour) and facing the competition of faster, smaller ships, she was never really a commercial success.

Sold off, the SS Great Eastern was reinvented in the mid 1860s as a cable-laying ship and did so in various parts of the world until, after being laid-up in 1874, sailing to Liverpool where she became something of a tourist attraction and a floating billboard before eventually being scrapped in 1889.

There was legend that two skeletons were found between the two hulls when the ship was broken up – that of a riveter and his ‘bash boy’ (a young lad charged with heating and putting the rivets in the hole) – and it was believed by some that it was their deaths which had brought the ship such bad luck.

The plaque was erected in 1992.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia

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Limehouse

This part of East London is believed to take its name not from lime trees nor from a house bearing that name. Rather it owes its origins to the process by which chalk shipped from Kent was converted into lime.

The process of ‘lime burning’ – which took place in these parts on the northern bank of the River Thames – involves heating the chalk in a bottle-shaped kiln, also known as an oast. Hence ‘lime oast’ became corrupted into Limehouse.

St-Anne's-LimehouseThe earliest reference to the name comes from the early medieval era but in later centuries the area was noted not so much for its lime-burning but its links with shipping – particularly following the opening on the Limehouse Cut in 1770 which linked the Thames with the River Lea and allowed goods to taken from the north of London directly to ships on the Thames without the need to navigate around the Isle of Dogs (see our earlier post on the Limehouse Cut). Limehouse Basin (pictured above, from the Limehouse Cut) opened in the early 19th century.

The area, which became increasingly industrialised as a result, is also known for its links to the Chinese community – and this included, in the Victorian era, opium dens, but the association ended around the 1950s by which time the Chinese community had largely moved to Soho (where Chinatown still stands today).

Among the area’s most prominent buildings are the Nicholas Hawksmoor-designed church, St Anne’s Limehouse (pictured), and the historic pub, The Grapes.

Now the UK’s largest inland fish market (and located in Poplar, east London), the history of Billingsgate Market goes back centuries.

Known originally by various spellings including Blynesgate and Byllynsgate, Billingsgate may have been named for watergate on the north bank of the Thames near where the market was originally established (an alternate theory is that it was named for a man named Biling or an mythological British king, Belin).

The right to collect tolls and customs at Billingsgate, along with Cheap and Smithfield, was granted by King Henry IV in 1400.

Billingsgate only became particularly associated with fish in the 1500s and in 1699, an Act of Parliament was passed making it “a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever” (this was with the exception of eels, restricted to being sold by Dutchmen from boats in the river – a reward for the help they provided after the Great Fire of 1666).

While for much of the market’s history, fish was sold for stalls and sheds around the ‘hythe’ or dock at the site known as Billingsgate, in 1850 the first purpose-built market building was constructed in Lower Thames Street.

Deemed inadequate for the task at hand, however, it was demolished after slightly more than 20 years of service. A new building, designed by then City Architect Sir Horace Jones and constructed by John Mowlem, was opened in on the same site in 1876. In the late 19th century, it is said to have been the largest fish market in the world. The heritage listed former fish market building in Lower Thames Street (pictured above) is now used as a venue for corporate events, catwalk shows, post premiere parties and concerts (see the website for more www.oldbillingsgate.co.uk).

In 1982, the market was relocated to a 13 acre site on the Isle of Dogs, just to the north-east of Canary Wharf. The building contains a trading floor with some 98 stands and 30 shops as well as an 800 tonne freezer store. An average of 25,000 tonnes of fish and fish products are sold through its merchants every year and the market has an annual turnover of around £200 million.

The role of the fish porter – who traditionally have been the only people licensed to move fish around the market – was opened up to anyone following a fiercely fought battle between the porters, traders and the City of London Corporation earlier this year.

The market is open to the general public and tours can be arranged – head to the website for details.

WHERE: Billingsgate Market, Trafalgar Way, Poplar (nearest Tube Station is Canary Wharf); WHEN: 4am to 9.30am Tuesday to Saturday (children under 12 are not permitted on the market floor and non-slip shoes are advisable); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/business/wholesale-food-markets/billingsgate/Pages/default.aspx.

Where is it? #28…

May 11, 2012

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Well done to all those who guessed this was at or near Canary Wharf (although, as with our previous Where is it? on Little Ben, there is a slight trick to this one, because it’s no longer there). This is indeed Pierre Vivant’s sculpture, Traffic Light Tree, which was formerly located on the Heron Quay roundabout at the junction of Heron Quays, Marsh Wall and Westferry Road just outside the Canary Wharf development on the Isle of Dogs. The eight metre tall structure contains 75 lights and was installed in 1998 in place of a London plane tree which was apparently ill from pollution. In 2005, the roundabout was voted the best-looking in the UK in a poll by Saga Motor Insurance. That, however, didn’t save the structure from being removed late last year due to the remodelling of the roundabout. Tower Hamlets Council, who own the sculpture, called for suggestions for new locations following its removal and reportedly received about 200 replies. As far as Exploring London is aware, it currently remains in storage and no new site has yet been revealed (although the council has reportedly said it will remain somewhere on the Isle of Dogs). We’re checking with Tower Hamlets for further information…