Forgotten Stories reveal Royal Docks past

Contributor, Stan Dyson at the launch of the Royal Docks Forgotten Stories project.

Contributor, Stan Dyson at the launch of the Royal Docks Forgotten Stories project. - Credit: Vickie Flores/Archant

The aroma of molten sugar mixed with the stench of animal carcasses as one boy played on the Docks, more than half a century ago.

Contributor, Stan Dyson at the launch of the Royal Docks Forgotten Stories project.

Contributor, Stan Dyson at the launch of the Royal Docks Forgotten Stories project. - Credit: Vickie Flores/Archant

This was the daily assault on the senses for Stan Dyson, who was born in Silvertown in 1945 and would begin work at the Tate & Lyle factory from 1962.

“You had the smell of molasses, and right next to it a soap factory and the reek of animal carcasses – it absolutely stank,” remembers Stan, one of the seven former Docks’ workers whose experiences are catalogued in Forgotten Stories.

Launched on Friday, the video heritage project provides a snapshot into the lives of those who lived, breathed and worked in the Royal Docks.

Smell features strongly in the sextagenarian’s memory, along with the noisy happiness of New Year’s Eve.


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“There was a cacophony of sound. Our parents used to roll the tops of dustbins, and we’d go out with biscuit tins and bang those.”

The years peeled away as Stan addressed a room of fellow Dock’s workers and journalists at the online history archive launch.

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“It’s not a worthy exercise in social history,” project director Iestyn George explains later in the Millenium Mills, where the former Docks’ workers are exploring the future of a building that once formed the fabric of their working lives.

“The immediate ambition is to be faithful to the communities who lived here in the past, but also to make the place exciting and alive for the people who are moving in.

“We want every visitor, whether they’re popping over from North Greenwich, or on the cable car, to see what happened here.”

George Horncastle, born in 1933, also features in the video project.

“I started working as a messenger boy for Port of London (PLA) when I was 15,” explains the granddad of four.

“There were thirty of us, we ran around the city delivering to all the big shipping companies.”

George, now 82, spent two years in Southampton for his National Service, before returning to Newham.

“It was hard work, but there were a few real characters and they helped you get through.”

As well as his work in the Docklands, George was also called back into the army in 1956 for the Suez Canal crisis in Egypt, when the canal was blocked by ships.

It was an exciting chapter in his docking history, George admits, who would return to the Docks until work dried up and he moved in 1967 to Tilbury, to continue his work there..

“It’s lovely to see this, we have still got our memories,” George said of the project, which aims to remember the past as new developments crop up as part of the £3.5billion regeneration of Silvertown.

For years the Docklands have laid empty, a shadow of their former vibrant, industrial self, but now a new future beckons.

“As we build a new future with the developments of the docks it is so important that this is rooted in the history of this place,”commented Mike Luddy.

“For the next generation nothing will bring the Docks story to life more than hearing and seeing it through the eyes of those who lived or worked here.”

Go to londonsroyaldocks.com to find out more.

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