Caritas Anchor House

Working at the heart of homelessness

The history of the Ballroom and the London Docks

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The history of the Ballroom and the London Docks

30th November 2018
We are delighted to have been asked to host the Dancing Round Canning Town Exhibition, which took place at Caritas Anchor House this month.

Monday 20th November saw the first exhibition from the community project Dancing ‘Round Canning Town. This project was led by Catalyst in Communities and Stretch, who together aimed to create a digital archive of local history, thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The Exhibition shared the history and stories from local people about the old Canning Town Dancehall from 1960s-80s, which was situated in Anchor House, through video stories and storyboards.

On 10th December 1966, Anchor House was opened by His Eminence Cardinal John Heenan. The charity’s original purpose was to provide temporary accommodation to out-of-work seafarers coming into and out of the nearby London docks. As well as access to the 50 seat television theatre, bar lounge and barbers, ballroom dances were held every evening.

During the 1960’s, London’s industrial landscape began to change and the docks went into decline, resulting in the loss of 150,000 jobs. As East London evolved, so too did Anchor House. The charity began operating as a hostel for homeless people, and since this growth saw the Ballroom be repurposed and eventually demolished in 2014 to build a new space for the community, vocational courses, learning zones and a training kitchen. The charity ‘Anchor House’ has since closed, and the current charity ‘Caritas Anchor House’ has been formed.

Those looking back into the history of the Ballroom before its transformation included Terry, our Facilities Manager, who has worked at Caritas Anchor House for most of his life. Terry has seen the Ballroom at its height and through its demolishment and rebuilding into our new community space. He said, “My father got me a job working here doing maintenance about 47 years ago, and I’ve worked here ever since.

Bob Townsend spoke of his strong connection to the Ballroom and Anchor House going back to the 60s, when his parents started volunteering to help seafarers. To this day, Bob is as connected to the charity as ever, as a Trustee of Caritas Anchor House. “I worked behind the bar in the summer when I was 16. In those days we would have a band or a disco, and sometimes my brothers band – the Royal Blue Dance Band – would be along. For a while I stood in and played the bass guitar. I also where I met my wife here.”

John Lowery, our Director of Frontline Services, said, “This was a fantastic exhibition and a valuable opportunity for members of the Newham community and our Caritas Anchor House residents to gain an insight into the past of our building. We were glad to host this event, and look forward to welcoming community members to our space again in future.”

To watch all digital stories click here: www.dancingroundcanningtown.com

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