Respected journalist and historian, Colin Grainger, collects the memories and experiences of the people who lived and worked around the Royal Docks in its heyday.
When it comes to the nicer side of life, many locals can still taste and smell the fruit that was brought into local homes by their dock-working parents, relatives and friends.
“We hadn’t had apples, oranges, melons, strawberries and such luxuries for many years, so it was a real joy when ships delivering those goods made it to our shores,” recalls Bill Grainger, aged 90. “Many of them were acquired, how shall we say, a little irregularly. But we made the most of them.
Apple pies cooking in the kitchen. I can still taste them now.
“The smell of molasses from Lyle’s Plaistow Wharf factory in West Silvertown was pleasant. And of course, everyone remembers their first beer. But when we lived in a prefab, there was a baker on the corner of our street and Albert Road. The smell of the bread from Haas Bakers was something else. They had to have police protection during the war because they were German, but the smell of that bread was magical.”
One smell that came from households rather than factories or shops was that of traditional bread pudding! That waft got a thumbs-up from everyone. And, of course, the sweet smell of sugar still permeates the air today at the Tate & Lyle factory in Silvertown.
Bill has a lifetime addiction to Toblerone chocolate. That came from his mother Emily working in the Keiller’s chocolate, sweets and marmalade factory.
“She used to bring them home for me and the smell was heavenly and the taste wonderful as a child. And I still eat them today. Some things never leave you.”
But one locally produced item still stands loud and proud as a winner of the good smell and taste category. The ice-cream produced by Dellamura in Parker Street, Silvertown.
Joan Plant, 91, says: “My sense of smell went early in my life. I nearly killed us all when I went to sleep having left the gas on. I feel asleep. Goodness knows what would have happened if I my mother had not come home and smelt it, or if someone had come in smoking. But that ice cream from Dellamura was the best. Lemon ice like you have never tasted before or since.” Joan says: “The family have kept the recipe secret for generations!”
Joan says there was one member of the family Julie, who was still alive and living in Silvertown.
It is a personal favourite of mine, and has been my first request when it comes to deciding sweet in a night out for the last 50-odd years!
The factory was a massive part of the Royal Docks story for many years until the site was compulsory purchased by the Government as the redevelopment of the area began. Joe Dellamura the owner was known for wearing an ankle length black overcoat and a homburg hat. I have traced the business history back to 1923, but it probably existed before that,
Locals loved how the ice-cream man went house- to-house selling their wares.
Jean Pudney-Timke, who now lives in Essex, says: “I used to love the lemon ice that had bits of lemon actually chopped up in it. My dad used to like to have an ice cream tub. And I can still remember the Sputnik lollies. They were round. And also the spearmint lollies from them. They were lovely…happy days!”
Kathleen Langdale Bearsell says: “Thinking of it now makes my mouth water.”
Janet Batty says it was a Sunday afternoon treat for her and her dog!
“We would get a bowl of Dellamura ice cream and dad added cream soda to it. What lovely memories!”
Steven Lewis told me: “ My early memories in the East End were of Dellamura and Rossi ice cream shops. Dellamura especially, because they had their factory in Silvertown and also had an ice cream ‘cart’ at the Green Gate, Plaistow. The lemon ice had great big chunks of lemon in it that would make you wink when you chewed on it. I used to love a mixed tub which was half ice cream and half lemon ice. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.”
But there’s a rival for the sweetest smell and taste to Dellamura – Murkoff’s ice cream!
Stan Dyson from Silvertown, who now lives in Essex, takes up the story.
“Murkoff’s vanilla ice was my favourite ice cream. We all gorged on it throughout the 50s and 60s especially. You could not have picked a better location for their shop in the Barking Road, Canning Town, at the busy end of Rathbone Market.”
The business was run by Hymie Murkoff and his two brothers in its heyday, and closed in the late 90s.
Teresa Johnson described it as the “best ice cream ever made” and Lesley Quirk from Canning Town remembers: “Nothing measured up to it. Dellamura’s was a close second but Murkoff had a taste of its own.”
Stephen Taylor, 62, says: “It has a kind of salty taste and was the best bit about going to Rathbone Market on a Saturday.”
Maureen Gannon says: “Surely Tesco can get the recipe. They would make us all happy, I can still taste it now.”