Archivists appeal for yesterday’s witness to 1980s Docklands protests on Isle of Dogs

The 1985 Thames Armada protest to Westminster [photo: Mike Seabourne]

The 1985 Thames Armada protest to Westminster [photo: Mike Seabourne] - Credit: Isle of Dogs Living Archive

Memories of the big protest movement of the 1980s in London’s Docklands are being recorded in an archive project with anyone around at the time who remembers those militant times battling to stop encroaching developers.

Archive enthusiasts have been interviewing people who remember or were involved in the mass protests or generally what life was like in the Isle of Dogs’ working-class community.

The Protests of the 80s project being funded by the Heritage Lottery is taping and videoing people’s personal experiences of the Docklands’ rejuvenation 30 years ago.

“We have some really great interviews so far,” project organiser Rib Davis reveals. “There is fascinating material in the archives and we’ve have held sessions with people involved at the time.”

Recording sessions were held at George Green’s Secondary school in Manchester Road, but there is still time to record more.

The protests included the ‘armada’ of barges on the Thames heading to the Houses of Parliament with sails proclaiming “Give us back our land” (pictured) and the ‘Death of the Community’ march with protesters carrying coffins through the streets.

“We would love to hear from protestors or organisers who could give an eye witness account,” Rib added. “We also want to get in touch with anyone with photos or video from those events.”

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The Millwall Docks had just closed along with the London Docks, making way for massive change along the Thames.

Canary Wharf was being created, putting pressure on the once-proud community of dockers on the Isle of Dogs.

Rebel Tower Hamlets councillor Ted Johns led the protest movement, having previously blocked off the island in a mass protest declaring its “independence” for two hours back in 1970.

Now he was up against the Docklands Development Corporation in the 1980s and turned up at its headquarters with a herd of sheep he dumped at the reception desk.

Bees were also released during a speech by the corporation’s chief executive—but it turned out he was a part-time bee-keeper anyway and didn’t flinch. The buzzing protest fell on deaf ears.

You don’t get protests like that today—so archivists want to get living recollections on tape from those involved who could be part of the final exhibition planned on the Isle of Dogs.

Rib Davis can be reached on 07947-523756, or by email: