This page gives you some basic information about the Island History Trust. See other pages for more details.

Research your own Island History

The entire Island History Photograph Collection and Archive can be visited at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive in Bancroft Road, Mile End, London E1

There are many other useful resources there, for your family and local history research; the friendly staff will help you to find your way around!

For opening times and directions to the Borough Archive, telephone 0207 364 1290 or go to

Bullivant’s Wharf

The campaign to have a memorial plaque erected on the site of the Bullivant’s Wharf disaster has been successful, thanks mainly to relatives and descendants of some of those who died. Permission having been granted by the relevant authorities, a plaque is now on view on the river walkway between Hutchins Street and Cuba Street. (see also Wartime Memories)

The 1980s Island

Heritage Lottery

In 2013, Island History was awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant towards the costs of cataloguing and archiving Mike Seaborne’s 1980s photographs of the Island.

You can now see these photographs on the dedicated web site:

Visit this website to go back 30 years to the Island as it was just before redevelopment, when some of the traditional industries still survived, and the physical environment still bore traces of its Victorian and mid-twentieth century character.

Mike Seaborne’s 1980s Island photographs can also be viewed in hard copy at the Borough Archives, as above.

Saunders Ness Road and old Cumberland Oil Mills
Saunders Ness Road and the old Cumberland Oil Mills, early 1980s; photograph copyright Mike Seaborne

Between the two world wars, a mainly white working-class community had lived around the docks and factories built in the nineteenth century on the Isle of Dogs. The Second World War was shattering in its effect, but more far-reaching changes came in the following three decades. By 1982, the Island and Islanders faced the final and complete erosion of a way of life which had originated in the Industrial Revolution. The docks and most of the factories had been closed down; plans were on the table for a complete transformation of the built environment. This was the moment when London photographer Mike Seaborne arrived with his camera. He discovered that the then very new Island History Project was working on a similar scheme to his own – to record the Island, and Island life, before the places and people had altered forever. Mike and the Island History Project soon began a collaboration which was to last for many years.

Glengall crossing of the Millwall Dock
When Mike Seaborne took this photograph, he was standing with his back to Tiller Road, looking east towards the old Glengall crossing of the Millwall Dock. Stand there today for a completely altered view, along the new Pepper Street – but still crossing the dock! copyright Mike Seaborne

Mike’s work of making a photographic record of the 1980s Island was funded by a small grant from local government arts money, supplemented by voluntary input from Mike and Island History staff. Mike photographed the streets, pubs, small shops, new ASDA superstore, community meetings and protests; he spent hours with established Island companies Burrell’s, Tate and Lyle, and Lenanton’s, recording everyday working life; he captured phases in the construction of the Dockland’s Light Railway as it carved a route from Limehouse to Island Gardens across the old Canary Wharf and over the docks. He pictured small businesses at work – car-repair workshops and cafes; he took his camera into Cubitt Town School and George Green’s Centre.

30 years on, thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and to more voluntary input and more support from Island History, Mike’s fantastic photographs have been digitised, archived and catalogued. The nearly 1,500 images are an invaluable record of the Island in the 1980s. See for yourself the haunting beauty of derelict industrial workshops, the desolation of the abandoned docks and the vibrant life of the traditional Island community at Email Mike your comments and say “thanks” for the great job he has done.