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Hidden History of London

London's Hidden History

The name Stratford means the Ford where the Roman Road crosses the river. Cortinas and Escorts can still be found abandoned in the River Lea!

Stratford is a terminus station for the DLR and has a proud railway history going back to 1847 when Eastern Counties Railways opened their rolling stock and locomotive works.

Adding to the railway heritage is "Robert", a steam train built in 1933 and once used at Beckton Gas Works, it is sited right outside the ultra-modern designed station (see the upside-down umbrella structures and wonder!).

Poetry or a poet anyway, awaits us at Stratford Broadway, outside the library to be exact. Here you will find a memorial to Gerard Manley Hopkins born in The Grove in 1844 and the writer of those immortal lines: "The man is father to the child The child is father to the man. How can be be? The words are wild."

Wild to us too Gerard, what on earth is he on about?

The eldest of nine children (they liked kids then) he died in 1889, but you won't find his house now as it was destroyed in the Blitz of 1941. On the site now stands the Newham Council Finance and Housing Department - poetic justice I think not!!

Cast your mind back to Bank - a fast, frequent and reliable service by DLR - change at Poplar, remember Elizabeth Fry? Yes, she of the eleven children and the most respected prison reformer (when did she find the time?); her brother Samuel Gurney lived in Stratford. So?

In 1817 Samuel joined his sister's campaign to end capital punishment. In those days you could be executed for hundreds of different offences including forgery and street robbery - sounds like a good idea for today!.

Clearly at the time they did not have much luck with that campaign, but Elizabeth succeeded in prison reform and Samuel went on to be a leading figure in the fight for the abolition of slavery. Elizabeth, an older sister, recalls that as a child Samuel refused to have sugar in his tea as he felt for the poor slaves. Of course he just might not have had a sweet tooth but why spoil a good story!

He died in 1856 and in 1861 the Parishioners of West Ham erected a stone obelisk (half the size of Cleopatra's Needle on the Thames Embankment!) to his memory. You can't miss it, it's on the traffic island outside the magnificent Stratford Town Hall. Sadly a forgotten local figure.

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