Silvertown and Neighbourhood (Archer Philip Crouch)
History of the Plaistow
(Extracts from 1900 )
North Woolwich Part 3
From Chapters five
Silvertown & Neighbourhood – chapter V
Plaistow – Dr Dodd – Dick Turpin – East ham – Barking Road – Body snatching – Smuggling
Several interesting old buildings still survive in Plaistow , Cumberland House Farm, which lies to the south of the Northern Outfall sewer, and only a mile and a half from Silvertown, used to belong to Henry, Duke of Cumberland, brother of George III. Here he kept his racing stud, on account of the excellent pasturage, afforded by the marshes. The duke died in 1790, at the early age of twenty four. The house, with its wainscoted walls and double doors, remains just as it was in the lifetime of its royal possessor. Still older is the barn in the adjoining farmyard. It is said to have been a tithes barn, to which tenants brought their tithes in corn, and no doubt, originally belonged to Stratford Langthorne Abbey. Its beams are made of horse chestnut, which the wire-worm will not touch.
Mr John Spencer Curwen, in his “Old Plaistow”, has given an interesting account of Old Plaistow houses, many of which have been pulled down within the last few years. In one of the latter resided Dr Dodd, who was hanged for forgery towards the close of the eighteenth century. Dr Dodd became curate of All Saints church, West ham, in 1751, and renting a house in Plaistow took pupils to augment his income. Amongst them was Philip Stanhope, the illegitimate son of the earl of Chesterfield, and the recipient of the celebrated letters. An old boot maker names Piegrome, who lived in Plaistow, used to show a pattern for a pair of buckled shoes marked “Honble Philip Stanhope”.
Four of Lord Chesterfields letters are addressed in 1766 “T Master Philip Stanhope, at Dr Dodds house at West ham, in Essex”. In a letter written about this time, he speaks of Dr Dodd as “the best and most eloquent preacher in England, and perhaps the most learned clergyman. He is now publishing notes upon the whole Bible, as you will see in the advertisements in many of the newspapers”. The noble Earl fortunately did not live to see the learned annotator of the Scriptures die a felon’s death upon the scaffold.
A taste for extravagant living seems to have been the cause of Dr Dodd’s downfall. In 1766, he took a chapel in Pimlico as a private speculation, and the fashionable world soon flocked to his sermons. The flatteries of his wealthy congregation did much to spoil him, and their society tempted him to live beyond his mans. In 1777 his affairs became so embarrassed that he forged a bond for £4,200 in the name of his late pupil, who had now become Lord Chesterfield. The forgery was easily detected, and in spite of the efforts of numerous sympathisers – amongst them the celebrated Dr Johnson – and a petition signed by 23,000 persons, the unfortunate clergyman paid the extreme penalty of the law.
Brunstock Cottage, where Edmund Burke lived from 1759 to 1761, is still to be seen in Balaam Street, Plaistow. Part of the house was pulled down to make room for a new road, but the main portion is the same as when the great orator inhabited it. In Richmond Street tands Richmound House, once, according to local tradition, the residence of the Duke of Richmond. The secretary of Jeyes Sanitary Compound Company Ltd, whose manager now inhabits it, has informed the writer that the name of the Duke of Richmond does not figure in the title deeds..
In Greengate Street, Plaistow, the walls of a house that once belonged to the earl of Essex still stand, a coronet surmounting the wrought iron entrance gate. The Earl of essex, who was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, and subsequently beheaded by his fickle sovereign, is said to have resided here. The house – a large one , containing sixty bedrooms – was pulled down in 1836, and the present building, which now serves as a lodge to the new Recreation Grounds, erected.
Plaistow, in the eighteenth century seems to have been the resort of men who broke the laws and paid the penalty for it. Dick Turpin, the famous highwayman, who, like Dr Dodd,came to a violent end at the hands of the public executioner, figures largely in its annals. Dick Turpin was the son of an innkeeper who owned “The Crown Inn” at Hempstead in Essex, and who combined the trade of butcher with that of retailing beer and spirits. Born in 1705, this son was apprenticed at an early age to a butcher in Whitechapel, from which post, presumably for ill conduct, he was dismissed. The young man then obtained a situation with a farmer called Giles, who lived in Richmond Street, Plaistow. From this employer Dick Turpin stole two oxen, which were recognised as he was trying to dispose of them at Waltham Abbey Market. Constables were sent to arrest him, but their quarry jumped out of a window and escaped.
Dick Turpin now became the leader of a gang of smugglers operating between Pliastow and Southend, and made the calling unusually profitable by appropriating the goods of rival smugglers. While engaged in this congenial occupation he married an east ham girl called Hester palmer. The district soon became too warm for him, and Turpin withdrew to Epping Forest, where he varied the pastime of stealing deer with daylight house breaking. While dividing the spoils at an alehouse after an adventure of the latter kind, he and his gang were surprised, but though all his confederates were captured, their leader managed to make good his escape.
Dick Turpin, and a man named King now became partners, making a cave in Epping Forest their head quarters. This cave is still pointed aut at High Beech, between the Loughton ann Kings Oak Roads. The two men are said to have lived here for six years, Dick Turpins faithful spouse spouse journeying to and fro to keep them supplied with food. According to popular report there was a certain element of generosity in the highwayman’s lawless disposition. Hearing that a widow whom he had robbed was being pressed by her landlord for rent, he threw some gold pieces in at her doorway as he galloped past her house. On another occasion, he stopped a country dealer who had only 15 shillings – all that he was worth – upon his person. Turpin said that he must have the money, but told his victim to stand in Newgate Street at noon the following Monday, with his hat in his hand, and wait to see what would occur. The man did so, and a stranger dropped ten guineas into it.
Thus poor people felt a good deal of sympathy for Dick Turpin when, in 1737, the Government issued a proclamation offering £200 for his arrest. This proclamation described him as a man “about thirty”, by trade a butcher, about 5feet 9 inches high, brown complexion, very much marked with small-pox, his cheek bones broad, his face thinner towards the bottom, his visage short, pretty upright, and broad about the shoulders”. From the description it would appear that the admiration which he excited among the fair sex was more due to his glamour of his deeds than the beauty of his person.
Soon after the proclamation had been issued, Dick Turpin, during one of his rides, fell in with a gentleman mounted on a thoroughbred horse. As his own was a poor one, Turpin invited the stranger to exchange with him. There was no refusing the highwayman’s invitation, supposed as it was by his usual method of persuasion, and when the gentleman reached home, his mount was found to be a horse which had been stolen from the Plaistow marshes. A few days later, a London Inn Keeper recognised the thoroughbred which Turpin had with him, and tried to arrest its rider. In the scuffle which ensued Dick Turpin accidentally shot hi partner King. The notorious highwayman effected his escape, but the loss of his friend, which he seems to have felt a good deal, gave him a distaste for his old haunts, and it was now that he is supposed to have made his celebrated ride to York on Black Bess.
Unfortunately for those who like to cherish this tradition, there is good reason to believe that the description which Harrison Ainsworth gives of the ride in “Rookwood” is solely the offspring of the authorsa imagination. The story is traceable to an earlier malefactor named Nicks, who in order to prove an alibi, performed or attempted to perform the ride in 1676. Daniel Defoe refers to the story in his “Tour of Britain”.
In Yorkshire Dick Turpin, under the name of Palmer, set up as a horse dealer, the majority of the horses which he sold having been acquired by his usual methods. He did well in business, and had excited no suspicion till arrested for shooting a game cock in a foolish freak., and Dick Turpin was thrown into prison. The inquiries which followed elicited the fact that many of the horses found in his possession had been stolen from their rightful owners. In this extremity, Turpin wrote to his brother at Hempstead, asking for assistance. He neglected, however, to pay the postage, and his brother refusing to do so, the letter lay at the village Post office. Here it caught the eye of the village school master, who recognised the hand writing. “Thus it was”, says Mr Curwen, to whom the writer is indebted for most of these particulars, “that the Yorkshire people found that their prisoner was the great Turpin”.
The identity of Palmer, the horse dealer and Dick Turpin the highwayman was satisfactorily established at York. The prisoner was tried at the Assizes for horse stealing and condemned to death, the sentence being carried out on April 7, 1739.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Plaistow was still a sleepy little village, altogether out of the beaten track and hidden by th lofty elms which grew around it. The Barking Road was not yet built, and the only route from London to Barking lay through Ilford. There was, indeed, a narrow bridge over the Roding at Wall End, called Cow Bridge, but this was only large enough for cattle, and when a trap made use of it one of the wheels had to be taken off. A man at the bridge gatehouse used to charge so much for assisting in the operation.
The upland farms of Plaistow were devoted to potato growing whilst those on the marsh grazed sheep. The habitable world ended and the marsh began at Greengate Inn, which still stands at the bottom of Greengate Street. From Greengate Inn the shipping in the Thames could easily be seen, and at high water with good glasses the names of the ships were legible.
A hundred years ago there was only one constable in Plaistow. He wore no uniform, but carried somewhat ostentatiously a pair of pistols, which no doubt had quite as good a moral effect. Very few of the inhabitants possessed a parliamentary vote. In the General Election of 1768 only four persons from Plaistow voted, and they had to go all the way to Chelmsford to do so. London was reached by a daily coach, the fares for which were 3s return inside and 2s outside. For this formidable journey of six statute miles, the seats had to be booked on the previous night. Another way of getting to London was to walk.
Still more remote from the public highways, if possible, was the village of East Ham. Owing to its proximity to Barking, a good many sailors lived there. The village used also to suffer from the raids of the press gangs, who would steal up from barking Creek at night in search of prey.
In 1807, the remote little village of Plaistow and East Ham were roused from their sleep of many centuries duration by the commencement of the making of the Barking Road. The East India Dicks, which lie on the Middlesex side of Bow Creek, had no means of communication with the Essex side, except by a wide detour across Bow Bridge. The dock company decided to build a new road, which would give facilities for goods from Essex intended for their docks, and also provide a shorter route from Barking – where all the fish for London were landed – to the metropolis. An iron bridge was thrown across Bow Creek close to the eastern end of the docks, and an almost straight road built to Barking along a line which separated the uplands of Plaistow and East Ham from the marshy levels to the south of them.
The road, which was completed in 1810, did not at first realise the expectations formed of it. Being built for the most part on marshy ground, it became very rotten, and heavy traffic avoided it. The driver of the barking coach used to send his team along the paths on either side of it. Several years elapsed before the man at the toll gate on the Iron Bridge took enough money to pay his own wages. The foot passengers were nearly all of the poorest class, and the toll keeper was often driven to accept a pocket knife in pawn, owing to the unavoidable absence of the regulation halfpenny. As late as 1845, there were only six houses between Plaistow and the Iron Bridge.
The Barking Road did not at once bring full enlightenment to the old world villages of Plaistow and East Ham, and body snatching survived its advent a good many years. A regular gang existed at Barking, and whenever a burial took place at East Ham church, the grave had to be watched at night till nature had rendered the corpse valuless for sale.
Smuggling also continued to flourish, in the neighbourhood, though this was winked at, if not actually encouraged by the inhabitants who got their luxuries cheap on account of it. Smacks used to bring tobacco and spirits up Barking Creek, and land them on the marshes. The goods were taken away in deep-bodied carts fitted with false bottoms.