Vanished Dockland

John’s first job after university was as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Factories,  attached to the Ministry of Labour. He joined the Department in October 1960, assigned to the Watford District under DI Miss M E Collington and SI Miss N L Forster.

John as a young trainee inspector at the Watford office in 1960

By the time he had passed all his qualifying exams and became a 1B Inspector in 1965 he had spent around two years in Southwark District, where John Fallaize was DI.

Jane Wagner (née Hodges), who worked with John, remembers this period vividly and has contributed the following memories:

‘The office was on the 1st floor above shops in Walworth Road, Camberwell. The District covered a whole range of different industries and processes, such as printing, asbestos works, skin dressing, cooperage, food processing, jam making, vintners and brewing. It also included the Surrey Commercial Docks, which in the mid-1960s were still very active, and many of the premises inspected were related to the cargoes which were shipped and unloaded there. Tooley Street, parallel to the rail tracks, was known as ‘the larder of London’ with many warehouses between it and the Thames where individually named wharves were located. There were also many yards on the Surrey Canal into which timber imports were unloaded.

Port of London Authority Plan of the Surrey Commercial Docks in 1961. John still had this framed plan in 2016.

John was tasked primarily with docks inspection, which he carried out not only in Southwark but also in four other Districts with premises subject to Docks Regulations in London (South) Division – Woolwich, Rochester, Maidstone and Brighton. This was the era of Liberty ships, almost ready for scrap, but still able to carry timber cargoes. The Thames had moorings mid-river where cargoes could be unloaded over the side into lighters (barges) by the stevedores, using on-board ships’ derricks. Two of these could be used together in a particular way known as ‘union purchase’ to lift and lower loads. Accidents were common, and the office frequently got calls either from dockers or from the Thames River Police – never from the Master of the vessel!’

Aerial view of the Greenland Dock and surrounding area in 1962. The entrance to the Surrey Canal can be seen on the right.
The Henrique Lage, a Brazilian ship, unloading timber in the Surrey Docks in 1958

Jane recalls staying late one evening to help John type out a large number of informations about an unsafe ship he had visited that day, so that the Master could be prosecuted at Tower Bridge Magistrates’ Court next morning. Speed was essential so that proceedings could be taken and the problems dealt with before the ship finished unloading and departed on the next tide. The case of Turtle v. Anthanossios Pipinnos, Master of S.S. ‘Virginia’, was reported in a Circular Minute in August 1964. It involved a large number of contraventions of the Docks Regulations, ranging from damaged ladders and unprotected steam pipes to unsafe steam-powered winches with broken brakes. Altogether, 17 informations were laid ‘as a representative sample of the conditions of the ship’. The fines imposed by the magistrate came to a total of £82. John had kept this Minute for over 50 years!

John thoroughly enjoyed his time in Southwark, and built up a great rapport with the dockers, who referred to him affectionately as ‘Mr Tuttle’. He shared with Jane a curiosity about ‘industrial archaeology’, many examples of which could still be found in use in some of the premises they inspected. They would gleefully report to each other extant gas engines, water mills milling flour, and of course the famous 1835 beam engine still in use until 1976 at Young’s Brewery in Wandsworth! Most of this fascinating world vanished when increasing containerisation of cargoes in much larger ships led to the docks closing in 1970. John later lectured on industrial archaeology to design students at Hornsey College of Art, and built up a large library of books on the subject (anyone interested in inheriting these, please contact this website for further details!).

John’s wife Jenny takes up the story: ‘John left the Department in 1968 for a new career in broadcasting at the BBC, as previous posts on this website have documented.  Initially he worked in Further Education Radio, where the knowledge gained from his time in the Factory Inspectorate helped him make programmes on management and industry, and then moved on to Consumer Affairs, Magazine Programmes and investigative journalism (You and Hours’ and ‘Checkpoint’). He subsequently transferred to the Radio Training Department, ending his career at the BBC as Head of Radio Training. After leaving full-time employment in 1988, he continued to work in broadcasting, training and consultancy for the World Service, British Forces Broadcasting Service, Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, British Council and the ODA. Many of his consultancy assignments were with radio stations in developing countries, most notably Nepal which he visited 16 times!

As mentioned in earlier posts, John was a keen sailor, owning three boats over more than 20 years and sailing with Jenny many times to Normandy, Brittany and beyond. He was also active for many years in the Mill Hill Preservation Society, a registered charity with over 1000 members, as a committee member, Chairman and President, as well as press spokesman for this and other amenity groups, and advocate at local public inquiries on planning, licensing justices’ hearings and at the Crown Court. His experience all those years ago at Tower Bridge Magistrates’ Court was invaluable….’

John always remembered his time in the Inspectorate and kept in touch by joining the Association of Former HM Inspectors of Factories and the Dining Club, often attending the dinners in London.

 Centenary Dinner of the Dining Club, Claridges, October 1988

Angus Murdoch writes: ‘I was the 1B at Clapham district office, opposite the ‘Arding and Hobbs’ store and John would come over from Southwark Office to help out. He worked mainly on the Surrey Commercial Docks where he had earned a good reputation for enforcing safety standards on the Liberty ships that arrived and unloaded timber using their own steam winches. They were in such poor condition that the clutch would not stay engaged resulting in a falling load. John would stop unloading with a court order from Tower Bridge Magistrates which he nailed to the mast’.

John’s family would very much welcome other comments contributing to this memoir of a vanished dockland world from former members of the Inspectorate.

This post is an amended version of the article that appeared in the Autumn 2016 edition of the Newsletter of the Association of Former HM Inspectors of HSE. Many thanks to the Editor, Pam Waldron, for her help in publishing this memoir.


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