This largest of the Western Islands was originally called Vooreiland (Front Island), created together with the other two Western Islands at the start of the 17th century. It is still called Bickerseiland, although it is not a true island anymore since the enlarged railway line towards Haarlem caused the original Eilandsgracht near it to be filled in. The island is now surrounded by Bickersgracht, Realengracht and Westerdok.
Jan Gerritsz Bicker
As a consequence of the judicial fight over the island, caused by land speculation by mayors Oetgens and Cromhout (see the blog post about the Western Islands), this island laid bare for quite some time. Jan Gerritsz Bicker (1591-1653), after whom the island was named, had been a leading force for the creation of these islands (together with Jacob Reael, after whose brother Realeneiland was named).
Bicker bought this island in 1631 from the city and then constructed 10 shipyards, a marina, many warehouses and a few houses there — including a large three-story house for himself, with a tower on top from which he could see his ships returning to the IJ. This building was demolished around 1700, only the wooden statue remains of Bicker’s former mansion. Bicker was city inspector of ropeworks — in 1647 he became a council member and in 1653 he was mayor, shortly before he died. After Bicker’s death the city was able to acquire most of the land, but not the buildings on it.
What you see in the photo above was an unobstructed view over the open waters of the IJ in Bicker’s time (before the creation of the Westerdoksdijk in 1832) . Bottom left you see the the art work Omgevallen Boom (Fallen Tree) by Pieter Engels and Shlomo Koren from 1983, made of black granite — nicknamed The Whale by the islanders.
Industries & Later Decay
Bicker’s shipyards were instrumental for the industries in this western part of town. They gave rise to warehouses, ropewalks, carpenters, sawmills, iron workers and tar cookers. During the Napoleontic wars and French occupance (1795-1813) commerce and industry went downhill here. After that there was a brief revival until 1890, when wooden ships were replaced by iron ones. By the end of the 19th century one shipyard after the other closed on the island. The real decay set in during the Second World War and many inhabitants left the area.
In 1877-79 the railroad was lengthened from the Haarlemmerpoort (Haarlem Gate) to an auxiliary station near Droogbak, in 1889 all the way to the new Central Station. To construct the railroad track, the Eilandsgracht (Island Canal) between Bickerseiland and the city was partly filled in and an elevated railroad viaduct was created, half on the Haarlemmer Houttuinen and half on the former Eilandsgracht. When in 1918 it was decided to double the tracks, another stretch of the canal was lost. In front of Bickerseiland so little was left in 1928 of the former wide canal that the city decided to fill it in altogether.
Seven Original Bridges on the Western Islands in 1737
On the map below from 1737 we see the old situation with the following bridges:
- Bickersbrug or Eilandsbrug (removed) – Island Bridge, from Haarlemmer Houttuinen to Bickerseiland. This bridge from around 1620 was replaced by a fixed bridge circa 1870, removed around 1920 for the expansion of the railway tracks. It ran between the current Buiten Oranjestraat and the current Hendrik Jonkerplein.
- Dommersbrug (removed) – Dommer’s Bridge, from Haarlemmer Houttuinen to Prinseneiland. Dommer was a ropemaker and council member in 1579. This bridge was removed in 1860. The bridge ran from the current Buiten Dommersstraat to Prinseneiland.
- Sloterdijkerbrug – Sloterdijk Bridge, from Nieuwe Teertuinen to Prinseneiland.
- Drieharingenbrug – then called Vliegendebrug (Fast Opening Bridge), from Prinseneiland to Realeneiland (Vierwindenstraat). A motion was passed to remove the bridge in 1858 (together with the Karseboomsbrug), but this one was spared after another vote.
- Zandhoeksbrug – Sand Corner Bridge, from Bickerseiland to Realeneiland.
- Soutkeetsbrug – Salt Shack Bridge, from Realeneiland to Zoutkeetsgracht (near windmill De Bok at bulwark Blauwhooft), now Barentszplein. This bridge is now called Petemayenbrug. The name Zoutkeetsbrug now belongs to the bridge from Planciusstraat towards Zoutkeetsplein.
- Karseboomsbrug (removed) – Cherry Tree Bridge, from Realeneiland to Zoutkeetsgracht (more to the west). It dated from before 1625 and was named after a building on Zoutkeetsgracht which had a cherry tree on a gable stone. This bridge was removed in 1858. It was located where the Vierwindenstraat on Realeneiland bends towards the Zoutkeetsgracht.
Three new “old” bridges are now on the Western Islands: Drieharingenbrug, Petemayenbrug and Zandhoeksbrug. After 1928 Bickerseiland was not technically an island anymore, but a sort of peninsula. The space below the railroad tracks became Tussen de Bogen (Between the Arches), in use by businesses or as storages and sheds. Now the elevated railroad track isolated the island inhabitants even more than the Westerdoksdijk did — where once there had been a bridge (Bickersbrug or Eilandsbrug) across the Eilandsgracht, there were now only low and uninviting viaduct tunnels between the Haarlemmer Houttuinen and Bickerseiland.
Eilandskerk (Island Church)
In 1659 the city council decided to build wooden preaching barns — on the Eastern and Western Islands and on the Amstelveld — as a temporary measure, to cope with church needs of the suddenly increased population. The plan had been to replace them in due time with brick churches. On Bickerseiland a brick replacement was built in 1739. Vincent van Gogh’s uncle Johannes Paulus Stricker preached here (and in the Amstelkerk as well). Vincent visited this church a few times in 1877.
When in 1879 the railroad tracks right next to the church were opened, the soggy land under the church gave way because of the vibrations and the church started to sag. The dome was demolished in 1910 to diminish the weight, but by 1939 the condition of the church had gotten so bad that it was closed — it was eventually demolished in 1950.
Streets & Bridges on Bickerseiland
The streets on Bickerseiland:
- Bickersgracht – Bicker’s Canal. Double warehouse De Faam and petting zoo De Dierencapel. Gable stones and house names point back to the shipyards which were here once. Many warehouses have been transformed into homes and studios.
- Kleine Bickersstraat – Small Bicker’s Street.
- Grote Bickersstraat – Large Bicker’s Street.
- Blokmakerstraat – Pulley Maker Street. Houses from 1982.
- Hendrik Jonkerplein – Hendrik Jonker Square (before 1956 named Bickersplein). The former Jonker factory building at number 2-4 was made into apartments in 2018 — the name of the factory is still on the façade. On the square is Café ‘t Blaauwhooft. At number 4 a gable stone with a crowned hammer and nails from 1644.
- Ketelmakerstraat – Kettle Maker Street. At Ketelmakerstraat 6 the building of sports center Squash City, former factory hall of Hendrik Jonker.
- Zeilmakerstraat – Sail Maker Street.
- Keerpunt – Turning Point.
- Hollandse Tuin – Holland Garden, named in 1981 after one of the former shipyards on the island. Derelict buildings were replaced with modern houses. There are three art pieces here: Omgevallen Boom (Fallen Tree), the poem Walk On Water and the statue De Reus.
- Touwslagerstraat – Ropemaker Street.
- Minnemoerstraat – Wet Nurse Street, probably named in the 17th century after a gable stone with a wet nurse on it.
Bridges on Bickerseiland:
- Galgenbrug – Gallows Bridge, from Prinseneiland to Bickerseiland.
- Zandhoeksbrug – Sand Corner Bridge, from Bickerseiland north to Zandhoek on Realeneiland.
Limited Homes & Large Offices
Around 1630 there was a small neighborhood here, called Zevenhuizen (Seven Houses), named after the number of houses. At the start of the 18th century the city became a little more permissive towards homes being constructed on the islands (as opposed to having only businesses there). Bicker had houses built here for the workers on his shipyards. In 1953 Bickerseiland was still designated as an area “with minimal housing”. Even in 1968 the city still described the islands as “work islands” (only Zandhoek on Realeneiland was an exception). On Bickerseiland there were only 250 homes in 1939, down to only 120 in 1972.
Destructions, Restorations & Replacements
Bickerseiland had been designated in the 1950s by the city as an area of large scale business locations, to combat the economic slump and decay. Around 1965 much of the northern part of Bickerseiland, derelict and neglected, was demolished by project companies, who planned to create huge offices there. The city had authorized two huge office blocks on Bickerseiland, called Walvis (Whale, 1965) and Narwal (Narwhal, 1973) and more were planned. Huge protests from inhabitants and several conservation societies changed this course of events. Alderman Jan Schaefer (1940-1994) freed huge funds for extensive renovations and experimental new buildings.
The Narwal complex was build anyway in 1973, but was torn down again in 2000 and replaced by Bickerswerf, a complex with apartments on the water of the Westerdok. Two young architects, Paul de Ley and Jouke van den Bout — still students then — created and alternative plan to build more homes instead. Empty lots between the old houses were filled with new social housing, replacing derelict houses on the island between 1975 and 1985, alternated with complete restorations of historical lots.
The Giant of Bickerseiland
The wooden statue — at the crossing of Hollandse Tuin and Touwslagerstraat on Bickerseiland — returned here in 2011 after roaming the world for more than 40 years. A drawing from 1647 shows the statue right above the entrance of the house of island owner, merchant, shipyard owner, ship builder and mayor Jan Bicker. It was most likely a statue of a Roman soldier (with spear, shield and helmet), created by a carpenter working on one of Bicker’s shipyards. Bicker’s mansion was demolished in the 1700s, but the statue survived.
The statue showed up later at shipyard De Reus (The Giant), although it is not known when exactly it was placed there — but that’s how it got to be named De Reus. The shipyard was sold in 1850 to machine factory Jonker & Zoon. By 1951 the statue had become so damaged by woodrot, that Jonker factory carpenter D. Rijnsdorp created a replica in teak. In 1972 the Jonker factory left the island after 150 years, their former managing director moved to Alicante in Spain and took the statue with him as a souvenir. A former Jonker factory building at Bickersgracht 2-4 (corner Hendrik Jonkerplein) from 1892, designed by architect Gerrit van Arkel in NeoRenaissance style, has been transformed into apartments in 2018.
Around the year 2000 a few island residents started an investigation, aiming to bring back the giant to Bickerseiland. They found the statue in 2006, owned by Jonker’s grandson in Canada, who then donated the statue to the island. Using international tramp vessel services, the statue finally arrived via Africa on the Canary Islands, from where it was flown to Amsterdam. It was restored in 2011 and placed on Touwslagerstraat near the water, close to where once Bicker’s mansion stood.
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