ADVERTISER 150: Reaching the era of the Swinging Sixties and ‘all change’
PUBLISHED: 20:00 20 December 2016 | UPDATED: 07:44 21 December 2016
The 1960s are the years of “all change” when nothing seems to stay the same. Our nightly series marking the East London Advertiser’s 150th anniversary reaches the decade that begins with the loss of our clean, silent-running and environmentally-friendly trolley buses, to the formation of the new London Borough of Tower Hamlets half way through, the East London Advertiser’s own centenary a year later and ending with a rebellious Isle of Dogs trying to break away...
1965: The new Tower Hamlets is born out of the former Metropolitan boroughs of Stepney, Bethnal Green and Poplar (Shoreditch is swallowed up into neighbouring Hackney).
It “inherited in many ways a bright and shining district full of new residential estates,” the East London Advertiser’s first editorial after the reorganisation says. “Those who are now citizens of the new borough may well take a great pride in it.”
Its first civic mayor is Tom Mitchell, heading the new authority which, like the 11 other new Inner London boroughs, takes over powers from the old London County Council including planning, but not yet education—that comes 30 years later.
The boundaries of the new Greater London also extend further out, swallowing up the whole of Middlesex and large swathes of Essex, Kent and Surrey, forming 32 new London boroughs in total, including the 12 inner London boroughs, plus the Square Mile of the City of London.
The post-war years are an era of optimism and rebirth for the East End which had been largely decimated by the Blitz.
“It was evident that a new East London must arise,” the paper predicts in its editorial of April 2, 1965. “People will find life in Tower Hamlets much as they make it themselves.
“Within Tower Hamlets is the most famous hospital in the land, ‘The London’. A great rebuilding and redecorating programme is going on there now, showing that it does not rely on its magnificent past.”
There is already great change with the old London trolleybuses gone by 1961—the 647 from London Docks running along Commercial Street, the 653 from Aldgate along Whitechapel Road and Cambridge heath Road, the 655 down to Poplar along the Commercial Road, the 677 from the West India Docks along Grove Road to Victoria Park and Dalston.
Just a year after the new borough is formed, the Advertiser celebrates its centenary on November 17 with a special souvenir front page.
1970: The Swinging Sixties have gone, along with its upbeat mood of optimism. There is now discourse that threatens to tear apart the new London borough.
Activists on the Isle of Dogs led by breakaway Labour councillor Ted Johns fight over lack of services on the isolated peninsular formed by the loop in the Thames on three sides.
Only two roads connect this large swathe of Dockland to the rest of east London, with no rail connection, just its one circular and infrequent bus route, the 56, looping ‘The Island’ between Limehouse, Millwall, Cubit Town and Blackwall.
Ted Johns starts a Rhodesia-style “UDI”—unilateral declaration of independence, or the ‘Brexit’ of its day.
Demonstrators block off the only two roads on March 1, closing access to the entire India & Millwall Docks for two hours with a ‘human chain’ of 1,000 protesters.
It is the first major challenge to the new Tower Hamlets which inherits a rebellious Isle of Dogs going back to 1959, when the Port of London Authority had planned to close the Millwall Docks footbridge ‘short cut’ linking Millwall to Cubitt Town.
Labour had already lost all three ‘safe’ Cubitt Town seats in the 1962 Poplar council elections to the Millwall Tenants Association.
Ted Johns, although winning back one of the lost seats for Labour, defies the party by organising a rent strike and demanding planning decisions to preserve the Island community, with preference on new housing for Dockland families. His mass demo in 1970 blocks both bridges onto the peninsula and attracts messages of support and headlines around the world.
The demo ends when his “citizens’ council” meeting at the Barkentine Estate issuing a proclamation for rent cuts, better transport, more schools and ‘borough status’ for the Isle of Dogs.
The Island never gets borough status, but things do start to change.
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