While no doubt an exaggeration, it points to the fact that this growing area was a potential home for many different people.
An article in the Stratford Express from June 1901 records a crowd of at least 5,000 people gathering for a procession led by Father Rudolph McCarthy of Silvertown’s Catholic church, noting in attendance: ‘Irish people… Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Lithuanians, [and] Portuguese’.
Proximity to the Royal Docks made the area a hotspot for seafarers, who often stayed temporarily while their ships were in dock.
St. Luke’s church (planned by Henry Boyd, vicar of St. Mark’s Church in Silvertown) ran a mission for foreign sailors from 1896 on the north side of the docks, while a mission for Japanese sailors existed on Elizabeth Street, North Woolwich.
While some returned to their home countries, many stayed and made a home. Kamal Chunchie, a Sri Lankan minister, opened The Coloured Men’s Institute in 1926 located where the Silvertown flyover is today, providing a safe space for people of colour to socialise and find refuge.
While areas such as Forest Gate, East Ham and Manor Park in the north of the borough attracted large immigrant communities over the decades following the Second World War, in Silvertown and North Woolwich this was not the case.
Two major changes occurred to the population in what is now the London Borough of Newham after the Second World War. Firstly, it shrunk, falling from 314,977 to 207,926 between 1951 and 1981.
Many residents who were deemed ‘skilful’ left to towns in places such as Essex and Hertfordshire, while the number of places to live in the area also fell.
The areas housing stock had been greatly depleted by the number of bombs that fell during the war, while even more was earmarked for slum clearance programmes: a 1967 report stating Newham to have the highest number of slums across the country.
The number of households in the area fell from 96,402 in 1951 to 74,289 in 1981.
The second change was that the area covered by the borough became more racially diverse, with the provision of housing dictating where new migrants lived.
As council housing increased across the borough, Newham followed a policy that any potential tenants must have lived within Greater London for five years and Newham for one year, and that those who had lived in the area longest would be higher priority.
Councillor Bill Watts justified this policy by stating that without it, ‘in a few years’ time we would have done nothing but give homes to Asians’.
As council housing was built predominantly in the poorer areas of the south of the borough, such as three new tower blocks in North Woolwich, people of colour generally turned to the north of the borough and private accommodation.
Therefore, while immigration was a major feature of Silvertown and North Woolwich in its formative decades, after the Second World War this ceased to be the case for the most part until further significant changes to the area from the 1980s onwards.
The Islanders Themes
Prior to the nineteenth century, the patch of land we know today as Silvertown and North Woolwich existed as a barren, uninhabited marshland called Plaistow…
Every community has its characters – they could be larger than life or simply have unusual occupations.
With British imperialism at its most expansionist during the first half of the nineteenth century, the need for commercial docks to bring in goods taken…
Prior to the opening of the Victoria Dock in 1855 there were very few factories in the area. Ditchburn & Mare Shipbuilding Company (later to become Thames…
Tate & Lyle
One of the most enduring symbols of Silvertown’s industrial legacy is Tate & Lyle – the sugar refiners whose existence can be traced back to the early…
Second World War
Few places in Britain felt the impact of the Second World War harder than the East End of London. With so much industry concentrated in this part of the…
Living with the River
Our community has lived with the river and all it brings for generations. Nowadays there is protection from flooding thanks to the structure dubbed the…
Parks and Recreation
For generations those in the community in Silvertown and North Woolwich have made their own entertainment.
Photo: Newham Archives and Local Studies Library