A Small Corner of the West India Docks

A couple of years ago, having arranged to meet up with mates for a lunchtime drink in the George in Glengall Grove, I decided to walk to the pub through the docks from Limehouse and take some photos of the old dock buildings on the way. Photos taken “on the way” actually meant photos taken “during the first couple of hundred metres” as virtually no old West India (or Millwall) Docks buildings survive, except for a few in the northwest corner of the West India Docks – in the area shown here (the yellow line is my walking route):

The same area on an 1890s map:

At the end of the 1700s, before the West India Docks were constructed, this area was primarily pasture land, but there were also a couple of ropeworks, and at least one pub (the Gut House, built next to the inland ‘lake’ known as the Poplar Gut).

It was around this time that West India merchants campaigned for an alternative to the crowded, inefficient and insecure Pool of London for unloading their valuable goods shipped from the plantations of the Caribbean. They won Parliament approval for their plans and the newly-formed ‘West India Dock Company’ acquired a large area of land which covered much of the north of the Isle of Dogs. The small corner of the docks shown in the satellite photo is top-left in this plan:

1800. West India Docks plan shown on a map of the original land and field boundaries, ancient paths, ditches, rope works, the Gut House and the Poplar Gut. Click for full-sized version.

The proposed docks and buildings were huge for their time.  The following image gives a good sense of this, especially when contrasted with the small buildings in the surrounding area. It is a section of William Danniel’s (his surname is sometimes spelled Daniel) ‘An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse…’.

1800. William Danniel. Looking northwest. Top left is St Paul’s Cathedral, on the right is St Anne’s Church.

Outside the Main Entrance

The size of the warehouses is lost today if you approach them from the West India Dock Road and stand just outside the former main docks entrance. This is not the best view of the warehouses – overshadowed by the modern towers in the background – but it does gets better on the other side.

Photo: Mick Lemmerman

The distinctive gate piers were erected in 1809 and are described by the Survey of London as rusticated Portland stone piers with dwarf pediments and acroteria cappings, and rockfaced bases. They took the words right out of my mouth….

There were originally three piers with wrought iron gates between them, and they are recognizable in most images of the main entrance.

1886. Waiting for the call-on.

Early 20th century. Waiting for the call-on.

Year unknown.

1944. Looking in the opposite direction. Canadian troops entering the docks.

1951. Strike meeting.

1953. Must have been taken on a Sunday. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=337373)

1984. After the closure of the docks

Observant readers will have noticed the statue of Robert Milligan in the earliest photos of the main entrance. This controversial statue was very recently removed from its most recent position outside the Museum of London Docklands after an emotional public dialogue about statues that commemorate slave-owners or those who profited from the slave trade (as did Milligan). The museum, which has always done a good job of explaining how the dock founders made their fortunes, is considering what should be done with the statue.

The statue was originally erected (in 1813) in the middle of the small courtyard outside what is now named the Ledger Building (see following map), but it was found to be getting in the way of traffic there, so in 1875 the dock company moved it to the top of the central pier at the West India Dock Road entrance.

In 1943, during WWII, the central pier and the statue were removed to make room for wider vehicles. The pier was rebuilt in 1951, but without the statue (the PLA didn’t seem to be too fussed about it). I cannot find any record or image which tell of its location from 1943, and I assume it was kept in storage until it became part of the Museum of London Docklands collection and was placed outside the museum entrance.

Section of Weller’s 1868 map of London. (A) Excise Office, (B) Customs Office, (C) Original location of Milligan Statue, (D) Hibbert Gate.

The previous map shows also the Excise Office (a Tavern by the time of the map) and the Customs Office. Here they are viewed from inside the dock entrance.

1930s. (Former) Excise Office on left and Customs Office on right.

Survey of London:

The Customs and Excise offices were substantial two-storey buildings, much larger than the dock company’s own offices. They were mirror images of each other, with identical facades. The Excise Office had ceased to be used as such by 1825. It was refitted and used for Customs until 1830, when it was given up as surplus to requirements. The former Excise Office was leased to Edmund Calvert in 1846 and converted into the Jamaica Tavern [aka Jamaica Hotel].

The Jamaica Tavern did not have a particularly good reputation, with hints of association with the opium dealing that was rife in Limehouse, and its license was not renewed in 1925. It was seriously damaged by fire not long afterwards, entirely coincidental of course…

The PLA took the building over, repaired it, and used it for dock offices (it was never a ‘Dockmaster’s Office’ as it is currently named).

1971. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=283531)

Former Excise Office. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

Across the street, the Custom’s Office was vacated in 1883 and thereafter had a wide range of uses, including becoming a Chinese restaurant in 1943. In 1959, the by-then dilapidated building was demolished. The area remained vacant until the present-day cinema was built on site.

1959. Demolition of the former Custom’s Office

In the past, if you turned right after walking through the gates, you would have been facing three buildings, from left to right:

  • police station
  • Scandinavian Sailors Temperance Home
  • Salvation Army Hostel, Grieg House

Here are the three buildings viewed from the south. Only the police station, built in 1913, was inside the dock wall. The Scandinavian Sailors Temperance Home was later administered by the Salvation Army and has since been demolished.

Circa 1930. On the left is the police station.



2010s. The building was used by Cannon Workshops for a period, and was later taken over by a hotel chain.

Just south of the old police station is the building complex now known as Cannon Workshops. At the start of the construction of the West India Docks, this area contained a few buildings that previously belonged to John Lyney’s ropeworks (before the dock company bought them out). These and other buildings in the area were used for a variety of purposes by dock engineers during the construction of the docks, and after the docks were opened they were converted and expanded to form a cooperage and workshops.

From the early 1820s, the quadrangle of buildings that we now know as Cannon Workshops (but were known as the Engineers’ Offices in the last operating years of the docks) were constructed on the site. A curious fact mentioned by the Survey of London:

The small yard enclosed by the building was excavated for a water tank, equipped with a pump and hoses in case of a fire. From 1875 the tank was used for compulsory swimming lessons for boy labourers.

1919. West India Docks volunteer army unit at the later-named Cannon Workshops. Photo: Museum of London

1971. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=278371)


The round house in front of the workshops is the northernmost of two constructed here. Despite the dock’s security and high walls, pilfering remained a problem. Survey of London:

The southern round house was the lock-up [for thieves waiting to be handed over to the  magistrates], the other was an armoury or magazine for 120 muskets for the Military Guard and the dock company’s own regiment, formed to protect the docks in case of invasion. Both buildings apparently doubled as guard houses for the dock company constables.

1971. Northern watch house. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=278373)

They later became police stores, occasionally used for the deposit of stolen goods. The southern round house was demolished in 1922–3 to make way for a railway siding. The survivor was later adapted as a sorting and distributing centre for the PLA’s internal messenger service, and in 1981–3 was refurbished as part of the Cannon Workshops project and let as a small office.

Across the road from the workshops, the rear of the dock offices was connected via an internal perimeter wall to a bonded warehouse (Warehouse No. 11). A gate in the wall – the Hibbert Gate – provided access to the inner, secure area of the docks.

Late 1800s (before construction of police station). (A) Cooperage and workshops now occupied by Cannon Workshops, (B) northernmost round house, (C) southernmost round house, (D) Hibbert Gate, (E) Dock Offices

1953.  The rear of the general dock offices. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=283309)

I took this photo a little further to the right; it shows the foundation stone (actually, stones):

Photo: Mick Lemmerman

I guessed that this was not the original location of the foundation stone, and have since learned it was first mounted at almost the other end of the Import Dock North Quay, on the wall of Warehouse No. 8.

West India Docks Foundation Stone. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

Further to the right was the inner perimeter wall with its Hibbert Gate.  Survey of London:

A rusticated Portland stone arch was surmounted by a pediment carrying a masterpiece of Coade stone, a 10ft long model West Indiaman named The Hibbert. The archway, which had a pair of tall wrought-iron gates, was large enough to admit carts and wagons on to the quays. This entrance, which came to be known variously as Hibbert Gate, Ship Gate, or Clock Gate, was where visitors to the docks were admitted.

It therefore came to be an emblem of the West India Docks, and formed part of the arms of the Borough of Poplar. The Hibbert Gate and its flanking walls were dismantled in 1932, following representations from PLA tenants that the narrow archway impeded traffic.

The Hibbert Gate in the 1920s (estimated).  This photo shows just how narrow the gate was. A (scaled-down) replica of the gate was opened on 12th June 2000 by Ken Livingstone not too far from the original location.

The model ship was presented to Poplar Borough Council and re-erected in Poplar Recreation Ground. It was damaged by bombing and vandals during the Second World War, and collapsed during an attempt to move it to Poplar Library.

After the removal of the gate and adjacent walls, access to the warehouses and quays was much easier (I suppose the the concept of an inner, secure area was no longer applicable). Compare this to the previous photograph.

Late 1930s (estimate). The Docks Offices are on the left, Warehouse No. 11 is on the right.

The removal of the gate and wall also increased the visibility of the Dock Offices. Today, the building is occupied by a pub known as ‘The Ledger Building’.

1971. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=278418)

Recent photo of the dock offices building

Opposite the dock offices was Warehouse No. 11, most of which was destroyed during WWII. The remainder was designated for listing, but the PLA demolished it anyway in 1963. This area seems to have been fenced off for a long time now.

Looking west towards Cannon Workshops. Warehouses and the Ledger Building are on the right. The long fenced off area where Warehouse No. 11 was is on the left. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

The view from the same point – but then in the opposite direction, towards the east – hardly changed at all for many decades. Compare the following photos to the 1930s photo above which was taken after the removal of the Hibbert Gate in 1932:



1979. A screenshot from ‘The Long Good Friday’. The film was released in the following year, the year that the West India Docks officially closed, but it is evident that dock operations had already ended earlier.

The sheds between the warehouses and the water were built in 1914, replacing the open sheds that were originally here.

1914 shed construction

The enclosed sheds were later demolished as part of the late 20th century redevelopment of the North Quay, leaving an open area between the warehouses and the dock water (which is an improvement, and does provide for a better view of the warehouses).

I enjoy visiting the North Quay of the Import Dock (which has since been renamed West India Quay) and the Museum of London Docklands whenever I can, but I do tend to keep my back to the South Quay.

Anyway…. where was I? Oh yeah, going to the George. Cheers!

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A Short History of Mellish Street

[Many thanks to former Mellish Street resident, Con Maloney for his contribution of some of the text and photos in this article.]

There are very few streets left on the Island where 19th century houses are still standing. One of these is Mellish Street, the first section of which was laid out on land belonging to William Mellish in  about 1860.


The first houses were built in 1862-3 and are shown on the right in the following photo, taken in the 1910s. The terrace extended from close to Westferry Road (centre of photo) to Cheval Street (right). Contrast these houses with those on the other side of the street, which were more typical for Mellish Street: bay-windowed and the houses built slightly back from the road and separated from the pavement by a wall and/or iron fence.

1910s. Mellish Street, looking towards the iron works in Westferry Road, and the street full of horse manure

Mellish Street was slowly extended eastwards from the 1860s. The initial development ended at the path of an old drainage ditch, as did the development of virtually all east-west streets in Millwall (see here for an article). Land to the east of this boundary was at the time still farmland.

1870s. This map shows Glengall Road in the wrong place. Perhaps at the time it was planned to route the road further south of the rope works.

In the following decades the farmland disappeared and Alpha Road was extended southwards, forming the eastern limit for most west-east streets as the land beyond it was owned by the Millwal Dock Company. Mellish Street was not similarly constrained and would continue to be developed in the following decades.

c1895. Click for full-sized version.

In the previous map, the houses on the north side of the street, immedately east of Alpha Grove looked to have been very large – twice as large as other houses in the street. They were, however, poorly built (by Sydenham builder, Thomas Grundy). Survey of London:

Grundy’s houses, excepting the corner shop at No. 64, were described as ‘inferior’ and in very poor repair only 30 years after they were built. They were let as halfhouses.

William Chapman is probably referring to these houses in this quote (from Eve Hostettler’s Brief History of the Isle of Dogs):

I realise I am privileged to have been born and dragged up, as we termed it, amongst such wonderful people. They had their faults and some wrong ‘uns, the same as anywhere else but to me the only fault that sticks out is one of ‘snobbery’. I believe it was due to the economic and social struggle of the times. Mellish Street, being of a superior type of houses, was occupied by superior people. There was one section of the street of a poorer type, known as ‘the blocks’, being constructed of four flats with a centre stairway from the street up to the first floor flats and from the rear down to a large yard. We moved there in 1918. When the Great War ended we had a peace party in the street for us children. But us children being from the blocks were barred from sitting with the kids from the better houses. We were invited to sit at separate tables in a further section of the street, although in ratio there were more men from the blocks in the forces than in the rest of the street.

As the Survey of London sums it up, Mellish Street might have belonged to any nondescript late-Victorian suburb.

1910s (estimate).

1910s (estimate)


It was 1905 before Mellish Street was finally filled with houses. The last two houses to be built were numbers 157 and 159 at the eastern end on the south side of the street. A ground-floor building at the rear housed a restaurant/cafe whose entrance was around the corner in the short section of Mellish Street that heads south there.

1920s. Click for full-sized version

1930s. The corner of Mellish Street (L) and Cheval Street (R). Photo: Christine Coleman

Street party to celebrate the coronation of George VI. Photo: Island History Trust

In the late 1930s, Union Road, the short street between Westferry Road and the river, was renamed and became part of Mellish Street. The extension was much unlike the rest of Mellish Street; it was narrow and lined with industry, and also included a pub: The Union aka Union Tavern (informally named the Pin & Cotter or just the Pin by Islanders).

1920s. Prior to the renaming of Union Road

Mellish Street was very seriously damaged during WWII, but the most casualties and deaths amongst its residents occurred during the Bullivant’s Wharf shelter tragedy on 19th March 1941. A direct hit on one corner of the building caused the roof and floors to collapse on to the people below. There were approximately 120 people in the shelter, and at least 40 were killed and a further 60 injured. This was to be the worst bombing incident on the Isle of Dogs during WWII. Residents of Mellish Street who died as a result were:

  • Harriett Emily Colbourn, aged 62, of No. 7
  • James Daniel Granvell, aged 19, of No. 35, died next day in Poplar Hospital
  • Alice Grace Shields, aged 50, of No. 30
  • Iris May Shields, aged 22, of No. 30
  • Olive Mabel Shields, aged 17, of No. 30, died 22nd March in Poplar Hospital
  • Albert William Westwood, aged 45, Home Guard, of No. 33

Joyce Williams (later Jacobs), who moved into 137 Mellish Street when she married AFS dispatch rider Alexander George Jacobs in 1944 later recalled the event (quote courtesy of Steve Jacobs):

We had our blankets and our kettle and all the things you took up there and we were going out the front door when it was really banging overhead. The guns and the planes and the bombs. So he said, “Hang on a minute” because you could get hit with shrapnel, running through it. Good job we did. We’d have been up there as well. Soon after, someone came running down the street. “Bullivant’s been hit. All the people in the shelter…” And they were bringing out the dead. And a woman drove the ambulance backwards and forwards through that, taking all the injured up to Poplar Hospital.

Island History Trust

The extent of bomb damage to Mellish Street during WWII is evident in this c1949 map in which the pre-war houses are highlighted.

1949. Mellish Street. Alpha Grove had been extended south to Glengall Grove by ths time. Click for full-sized version.

But, this 1947 aerial photo provides a more dramatic view (pre-war houses in Mellish Street are again highlighted).

1947. Mellish Street. Click for full-sized version.

The previous map and photo also show some of the emergency housing that was built at the end of the war. The free-standing box-shaped houses are all prefabs; the terraces of rectangular houses are Orlit homes. Another Orlit building, this time a block of flats (the first block of precast concrete-framed flats to be built in the country), was Rawalpindi House, officially opened in March 1948. It was named after the Armed Merchant Ship Rawalpindi which was sunk by German warships in 1939.

Orlit Construction advert featuring Rawalpindi House

Charles Key, Minister of Works, visiting Rawalpindi House 10 March 1948 to officially hand over the keys to Poplar Borough Council

1948. Rawalpindi House

1948. New residents of Rawalpindi House (at No. 10), Margaret O’Neill and her baby son, Terry.

Due to their experimental nature, the Orlit buildings were funded and constructed by the Minstry of Works. In 1951, Poplar Borough Council borrowed money from the government in order to purchase the buildings (er….from the government).

1950-51 Poplar Borough Council Minutes

Not long after the opening of Rawalpindi House, two other blocks of flats were built on the north side of Mellish Street, to the east of Alpha Grove (renamed from Alpha Road in the 1930s): Clara Grant House and Gilbertson House, almost identical in design. Survey of London:

The blocks were named after Clara Grant, who had done such memorable work (especially for poor children) at the Fern Street Settlement in Bow, and John F. Gilbertson, a former long-serving member of the Borough Council [he was mayor from 1938-39].

Clara Grant House

1950-51 Poplar Borough Council Minutes

1953. Street party in celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The party was held in the short side ‘street’ between Nos. 118 and 120 which ended at the dock fence. Photo: John Fairweather.

1953. Same street party, looking in the opposite direction. John Fairweather is the rightmost boy in a white shirt.

The area between Nos. 118 and 120 in the 1950s. Photo: Charnley family

1950s. The eastern end of Mellish Street, where it makes a 90 degree turn to the right for the short section towards Glengall Grove (as it was named at the time). Con Maloney’s grandparents lived at No. 155. Photo: Lou Salmon

The short section of Mellish Street looking towards Glengall Grove with Dunbar House in the background. Photo: Sandra Brentnall

Completely out of chronological order, a screenshot from the 1980s TV series, The Chinese Detective, for comparison with the previous photo which was taken from the same place.

1953. Photo: Keith Charnley

Early 60s (estimate). Close to Westferry Road. Photo: Gary O’Keefe?

The earliest-built houses in Mellish Street were in rather a poor state by this time, and some suffered from a rodent infestation.

Daily Mirror

Con Maloney:

We moved [to Mellish Street] in 1960 from Cuba Street, where my parents rented two rooms from an elderly couple. Both sets of grandparents rented houses in Mellish Street, Dad’s parents were at 155 at the eastern end and Mum’s moved into the brand new post-war Orlit houses no’s 51-55, after being bombed out in Poplar and put into temporary lice-infested Nissen Huts in Alpha Grove.

1950s. One of the Orlit houses where Con Maloney’s mum’s family lived. Photo: Con Maloney.

Almost all the terraced houses at our end each had two families renting, usually related to each other. Fred Dupuy, who lived at 118, owned several houses and rented them out, including no.114 to our Hawkins cousins. They let Dad know that the two families next door at 112 – Pidgeon and Royal – were moving out. He went to see Mr Dupuy and was talked into buying it! Several of the families had moved from Claude Street after WWII when it was evacuated after the nearby Winkley’s Wharf was bombed.

There was a mixture of social classes there at that time. Several stevedores like Dad but also a few other owner-occupiers who kept themselves to themselves. There was a wide gap between no’s 118 and 120 [where the 1953 street part was held] and the man who lived at 120 more or less claimed it as his own. He would chuck us kids out if we tried to play ball games there and there were often rows if anyone tried to park their car there. Bit of a cheek, as he didn’t even own it! They’ve turned that into a pedestrian road into the new developments behind the street now.

A young Con on a motorbike. Photo: Con Maloney

As an aside, there were at least six boys in our street who got into the prestigious Coopers’ Company Grammar School within the space of about four years. That may have been a reflection of the social status or affluence of the residents or perhaps possible the school were operating an informal ‘catchment area’ policy – stranger things have happened.

Very little traffic came up to our end in the early sixties so we could play in the street. The ladies all sat outside on their gossiping and making sure we didn’t get into mischief.

c1960 (estimated).  Photo: Gary O’Keefe

We would play football against the three garages next to the Millwall Dock wall, they were never used to my knowledge. Mrs Bullock lived in the end house and she would sometimes tell us off if the ball went over the top of the garages into her garden, followed by us trying to retrieve it. She was plagued by rats, being the closest house to the massive Central Granary just behind her garden. They were everywhere and we would stand on the garages and throw bricks at them or fire slugs from my Uncle Tommy Hawkins’s air rifle. He kept it to scare rats and cats away from his racing pigeon loft.

The view of Millwall Docks – and the West India Docks in the background – from upstairs at Con’s house. The Central Granary is on the right (Con Maloney)

We had the Millwall Dock Railway behind our houses until the cleared it in the early sixties. We’d climb on Dad’s aviary and watch the little steam freight trains over the dock fence. Then they tarmaced it over to build the Dock Social Club there and you could hear the DJ’s on Saturday nights when they had a function on. The music used to echo right across the open space there into our ground floor bedroom, which backed onto the small yard. On New Year’s Eve, it was the same with the ships’ horns, the sound used to travel and resonate, it was quite magical.

1970s. Con Maloney

Mellish Street kids had a sort of ‘turf war’ going on with Tiller Road (Hammond and Dunbar Houses) – we couldn’t walk down there and vice versa. Janet Street and Alpha Grove would be our allies. Every summer thing’s would come to a head and older lads like Harry Munt, Johnny Parsons and Roy Inkpen would have a pow-wow with the Tiller leaders like Keith Tyler and arrange a stone fight on the bit of Mellish Street that links it with Tiller Road. We’d gather piles of ‘ammo’ with dustbin lids for shields and line up near the garages, with Tiller at the other end near the Glass Bridge entrance. At the appointed time, the stones would fly from end to end. Most were blocked and usually no real harm was done. But a lad our age called Gavin Solley came from Somerset to stay with his Nan for the summer, she lived in a prefab opposite Clara Grant House. He came to the stone fight with us and when hostilities commenced, he suddenly yelled ‘charge’ and ran towards Tiller waving a stick. Stones, bricks and bottles rained down on him and by the time a truce was called and we pulled him back to safety, his head was split wide open. But a trip to hospital soon put him back together again.

1960s. Stan and Lou Salmon’s shop. Photo: Sandra Brentnall

1960s. Interior of Stan and Lou Salmon’s shop. Photo: Sandra Brentnall

In 1964, scenes from the film, Saturday Night Out, were filmed in Mellish Street…

1964. Saturday Night Out. The derelict area behind the fence was the site of the first houses built in Mellish Street, which were cleared not that long before the filming commenced. St Hubert’s House is on the left, and Orlit houses and Millwall Dock cranes are visible on the right.

1964. Saturday Night Out. Mellish Street (left) at its corner with Westferry Road, with prefabs in the background.

1964. Saturday Night Out. One of the actors running up the former Union Road towards the river. Much of this area was destroyed during WWII – Sir John McDougall Gardens are now on the site.

1964. Saturday Night Out. Mellish Street, looking from the river end towards Westferry Road.

A couple of years later, and another film – The Sandwich Man, starring Michael Bentine – included a scene in Mellish Street.

1966. The Sandwich Man. Looking east.

1966. The Sandwich Man. Looking west (Alpha Grove is on the right, and Salmon’s is on the corner).

1966. The Sandwich Man. Looking up Alpha Grove from Mellish Street. The kid playing hopscotch on the left close to Michael Bentine is Con Maloney.

The street also featured in a few TV series, including Dixon of Dock Green…..

Courtesy of Keith Charnley

Special Branch (Series 2, Episode 8, ‘Borderline Case’)….

4D Special Agents, a TV film from the Children’s Film Foundation….

The Chinese Detective….

And Prospects….

All of the Victorian houses west of Alpha Grove were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Barkantine Estate, a development which also meant the Westferry Road end of Mellish Street was permenently closed to traffic.

1960s. Part of an architectural model of Barkantine Estate

The model shows free-standing houses in this section of Mellish Street which were not constructed. John Tucker House was built on the site.

John Tucker House in the 1980s, left of the off license in what was previously Salmon’s shop.

1970s. Looking east. John Tucker House is on the left, across the road to Rawalpindi House (which was demolished in the 1990s). Closer to the photographer is Scoulding House, “named after J. T. (‘Tom’) Scoulding, a prominent local Trades Union official with the Transport and General Workers Union, who was also a member of the Board of the PLA” (Survey of London).

1982. Click for full-sized version.

The east end of the street, however, has hardly changed at all over the years.

1980s. Photo: Sandra Brentnall 

c1990. Photo: Con Maloney



What is not visible in the 1980s photos in this article is just how empty the surrounding Millwall Docks area was at the time

Click for full-sized version

Not any more it isn’t….

Looking north over Mellish Street. Photo: Con Maloney

Looking east at the end of the street

The gap between Nos. 118 and 120, which used to end at a wooden dock fence. The area used for the 1953 street party shown in John Fairweather’s photos, where Keith Charnley’s dad parked his car for a photo, and where the neighbour moaned at Con and his mates for playing football…

2014. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

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The Isle of Dogs in the Sixties

The Isle of Dogs was a relatively sedate and stable place during the half century from the start of 1880s to the end of the 1930s. In large part due to its physical isolation – enclosed by the docks and the Thames – it was a close-knit community: there was plentiful work in the docks and in local firms, people mostly went to school and worked on the Island, Islanders married other Islanders, there was little reason for many to leave the Island (except perhaps for a weekly trip to Chrisp Street market), and so it went on.

WWII changed all that, and Islanders saw their home change dramatically and permanently. After experiencing the danger and destruction of the war, they witnessed the demolition of much of the remaining housing followed by the construction of new housing of a very different type and density.

While some new homes were built in the 1950s – around the new Castalia Square in particular – the peak of the redevelopment was during the 1960s when whole areas were cleared and replaced with new housing estates, consisting mostly of blocks of flats, and including a number of large tower blocks. Many of the new homes were often occupied by ‘newcomers’ from other areas of the East End

During this period, the population of the Island grew from about 9,000 to about 12,000, and the percentage of Islanders living in publicly-owned housing grew from 60% to 97% of the population (compare this to 68% for all of Tower Hamlets and 25% for Greater London)!

c1980 map with 1960s-built housing (mostly blocks of flats) highlighted.

My own family was among the ‘immigrants’, moving as we did at the end of the 1960s from a Victorian tenement off the Whitechapel Road to a brand new flat opposite Christ Church.  I loved my new home, but my mum was less than impressed: she thought it was dreadful to move to such a quiet place which felt like it was on the other side of the world. Some small compensation lie in the fact that a number of old neighbours and acquaintances had also moved from Stepney to the Island, so at least there were some familiar faces.

Back to the start of the decade, what was happening on the Isle of Dogs……?


Bomb-damaged during WWII and derelict ever since, St Luke’s Church in Alpha Grove was finally demolished.

St Luke’s Church

Former North Greenwich Railway Station, Ferry Street.

Alpha Grove (Broadway Works in the background). Photo: Janey B Bracey


Start of construction of the Manchester Estate in the area bounded by Seyssel Street, Manchester Road and Pier Street.

Construction of Salford House, Seyssel Street (part of the Manchester Estate).

At the other end of Seyssel Street, the National Dock Labour Board established a training centre at Plymouth Wharf in Saunders Ness Road.

The footbridge that connected Hesperus Crescent with Chapel House Street was demolished (the railway that it used to cross was no longer in use and Poplar Borough Council had purchased the land).


Betty May Gray House at the corner of Manchester Road and Pier Street was officially opened in March. The block was built by the Isle of Dogs Housing Society with the assistance of money left by Betty May Gray who had died in 1933, leaving the residue of her estate to be devoted in the most general terms ‘to the furtherance of practical measures of slum clearance’ (Survey of London).

National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1933.

Construction of Betty May Gray house viewed from the PLA football pitch in the Mudchute. Photo: George Warren

Near the paddling pool. Photo: Fairweather family

Construction started on the Schooner Estate on land bounded by Stebondale Street, Glengarnock Avenue and Manchester Road.

Demolition of houses along Manchester Road in preparation for the construction of the Schooner Estate. Galleon House (opened in 1963) is now on this site. Image is a merge of two photos courtesy of Christine Coleman.

Architectural model of the Schooner Estate.

Writer and broadcaster Dan Farson became the licensee of the Newcastle Arms, which he renamed the Waterman’s Arms. He completely redecorated the pub and organised live music in order to recreate the atmosphere of old time music halls, and in the following years the pub was extremely popular, frequently packed and regularly visited by celebrities.

Dan Farson in the Newcastle Arms just after becoming licensee, before the renaming and redecoration, and perhaps wondering what he’d let himself in for.

The former reading room in the libary in Strattondale Street was extended and became a public hall which could be used for public meetings and social events.

John MacDonald House, named after a borough councillor, was opened in East Ferry Road in March 1962.

John MacDonald House shortly after opening, the rear view.

The Island Tenants association (ITA), fed up with the apparent inaction and indifference of local Labour councillors, decided to contest all three Cubitt Town seats on the forty-two-member Poplar Borough Council, and won. It was the first time since 1913 that any non-Labour candidate had won an Island seat.

Hesperus Crescent. Photo: Island History Trust / Donna Stevens

Postscript to Empire is a documentary which compared the life and attitudes of inhabitants of Dockland with those who had recently moved to a New Town. The Dockland area in question was the Isle of Dogs. The film is quite patronising in places, but has some great scenes of familiar people and places…


Courtesy of Tony Alltoft

Construction started on the elevated pedestrian bridge which crossed the Millwall Inner Dock, a bridge that would be dubbed the ‘Glass Bridge’ by Islanders. The western part of Glengall Grove (which used to provide public vehicle access across Millwall Docks and was named Glengall Road until 1940) was renamed Tiller Road.

Glass Bridge construction

Queenie Watts walking in Ship Street. Behind her is Manchester Road at the time of construction of Galleon House. The image is a screenshot from the film, Portrait of Queenie, which was released in 1964.

A number of scenes from the film, Sparrows Can’t Sing, were filmed in and around the Pride of the Isle pub in Havannah Street. Reputedly, this was the first English-language film to be shown in the US which needed English subtitles.

Havannah Street looking towards Westferry Road. Barbara Windsor between filming scenes for Sparrows Can’t Sing.

Screenshot from Sparrow’s Can’t Sing – a scene filmed in the Pride of the Isle pub in Havannah Street. The final scene was filmed here, and it is said that the Krays are visible in the scene. I’ve watched it a few times but I can’t see them myself.


Brown & Polson Limited sell their Broadway Works premises (off Alpha Grove) to Tate & Lyle.

Tate & Lyle. Photo: Island History Trust

Construction started on the Samuda Estate, which included the tallest residential block in London at the time, the 25-story Kelson House.

Construction of the Samuda Estate in the background of a photo taken in St John’s Park. Photo: Gary O’Keefe

Construction of Kelson House in the background of a photo of a historic paddle steamer.

Survey of London:

Cumberland Oil Mills … latterly occupied by British Oil & Cake Mills Ltd … closed in 1964. Subsequently the premises were occupied for a few years by a steel-fabrications company and then by the Apex Rubber Company Ltd of Cubitt Town Wharf for warehousing.

Cumberland Oil Mills (with tallest chimney) behind Gipsy Moth IV during the ceremony of the knighting of Francis Chichester in 1967. The construction of Kelson House can be seen further in the background on the left.

Normandy, Valiant, Tamar and Watkins Houses in East Ferry Road were opened.

Portrait of Queenie, a documentary about Island-born singer Queenie Watts, featured somes scenes filmed on the Island…..

The Island also featured quite a lot in the film, Saturday Night Out, about a group of seamen who were determined to make the most of their short time off-ship in London…..

The baker’s at the corner of Westferry Road and Mellish Street. Scene from ‘Saturday Night Out’.

Mellish Street (St Hubert’s House is visible on the left). Scene from ‘Saturday Night Out’.

The closing scene of ‘Saturday Night Out’ was filmed from an ascending helicopter, and shows a large area of Millwall. The wasteland in the foreground became Sir John McDougall Gardens. The white building to the left of ‘THE END’ is the original Tooke Arms.


Pier Street

The Glass Bridge was opened.

The PLA offered guided tours of the docks. The two uniformed guides here are standing on the top of McDougall’s flour silo building in Millwall Docks.

The LCC approved proposals for the clearance and redevelopment of what would become the Barkantine Estate.

Survey of London:

Attendances continued to fall, and in 1965 the congregations of St John’s and Christ Church were combined and Christ Church was rededicated as the Church of Christ and St John. St John’s church and hall were demolished following fire damage in 1970.

The rededication (or something like that) of St John’s in Roserton Street after the merger of its parish with that of Christ Church.

In the Ferry House (incorrectly named in this Daily Mirror article)

Nellie Cressall resigned after serving as one of the Island’s six borough councillors since 1919.

Nellie Frances Cressall in the rear garden of her Macquarie Way home.

Mellish Street. Photo: John Lincoln (“Bob Lincoln sitting on Malcolm and Rodney Issit’s dads car at a very clean 40 Mellish street, Rawalpindi house in background”)

Dolphins in the Thames off Millwall

Four in the Morning, a film starring a very young Judie Dench, featured a scene filmed at West India Dock Pier, when the body of a murdered young woman is brought ashore by the river police.

West India Dock Pier. Scene from ‘Four in the Morning’.

West India Dock Pier. Scene from ‘Four in the Morning’.

West India Dock Pier. Scene from ‘Four in the Morning’.


Plans to repair and alter the Millwall Dock entrance lock and its bridge (known informally as ‘Kingsbridge’) were postponed due to the outbreak of WWII, during which the lock was badly damged. Financial issues after the war meant abandoning the plans; the lock was dammed and eventually silted up. The bridge no longer crossed water after a few years.

Click for full-sized version

The swimming pool at Island Baths was destroyed during WII and the building patched up so that the slipper baths and laundry could still be used. In 1963 the building was demolished – after rebuilding, the new baths opened in 1966.

Click for full-sized version

Daily Mirror

Photo: Island History Trust

Construction of Kedge House and Winch House, and Nos. 1-20 Starboard Way open in/off Tiller Road.

Construction in Mellish Street of Scoulding House, named after J. T. (‘Tom’) Scoulding, a prominent local Trades Union official with the Transport and General Workers Union, who was also a member of the Board of the PLA.

Opening of Alastor, Argyle, Finwhale, Killoran, Kimberley, Kingdon, Lingard and Montfort Houses in and around Galbraith Street.

A scene from the film, The Sandwich Man, was filmed in and off Mellish Street….


Newcastle Drawdock


Construction of Barkantine Estate. Photo taken from St Lukes vicarage in Strafford Street. Island History Trust / Revd BK Andrews


Photo: Hugo Wilhare

Survey of London:

Closure of the [Millwall] dry dock was proposed in 1966, as it was losing money. Ship-repairers failed to persuade the PLA to lease it, and it was closed and flooded on 30 October 1968. The site and the 25-ton crane were subsequently used for a barge berth.

The Blackwall entrance became much less important after 1929, following the completion of a new South Dock east entrance and passages linking the Import, Export and South Docks. It was closed from 1940 to 1950, reopening only for barge traffic. The lock was last used in 1968.

The bridge over the Blackwall entrance lock in Preston’s Road

Manchester Road. Photo: Hugo Wilhare

Seven Mills Primary School opened; the southern half of its site was previously occupied by Millwall Central School (destroyed during WWII) and the so-called ‘Janet Street Mentally Defective School’.

A show at the formal opening of Seven Mills Primary School (the show took place in 1969)

1968. Tree planting in the newly-opened Sir John McDougall Gardens. Photo: Violet O’Keefe

The first section of the Barkantine Estate was opened.

The Rec, Millwall Park. Photo: Bill Brace

The One O’Clock Club. Photo: Nicky Smith

Millwall Inner Dock


The opening of the bridge of the South West India Dock East Entrance Lock aka The Blue Bridge.

Assembly of the Blue Bridge, which opened on 1st June 1969

The opening of Alice Shepherd House, named after a local councillor who had served from 1928 to 1962.

Closure of the Central Granary after the opening of the Tilbury Grain Terminal. The Central Granary was demolished a year later.

Central Granary

Construction in Millwall Docks of Fred Olsen office buildings designed by Norman Foster.

Sir John McDougall Gardens and the first buildings on the Barkantine Estate were opened in 1968, but the bridge connecting the park to the estate was not completed until 1969.

Construction of the bridge from Sir John McDougall Gardens to the Barkantine Estate. The original Tooke Arms is also visible in this photo.

Survey of London:

Calder’s Wharf remained in use for wharfage until c1969, when a boathouse for the Poplar, Blackwall & District Rowing Club (which had been using the old covered-way shed) was built on the site.

Construction of new rowing club boathouse

On 17th July disaster struck at Dudgeon’s Wharf, with tragic consequences. Workers were busy demolishing the long disused oil and petrol tanks with oxy-acetylene burners when a fire started in one of the tanks.

The fire brigade were called out, but the fire was out by the time they arrived. A number of firemen climbed on the rim of the tank to pour water inside, as an extra precaution, but at the time a demolition worker was still working below with his oxy-acetylene burner. The tank exploded, killing five firemen and one demolition worker.

The firemen are commemorated in a London Fire Brigade memorial by the river.

Dudgeon’s Wharf, 17th July 1969

Construction of the Kingfield Estate – comprising most of the area bounded by Stebondale Street, Seyssel Street, Manchester Road and Glengarnock Avenue – was started in 1924 but was not completed. The development area increased in size due to the WWII destruction of homes along the named streets, most of which were lined with prefabs. In 1964, Poplar Borough Council made plans to complete the estate, and the first blocks of flats were opened in 1969.

Kingfield Estate shortly after opening

These were the flats that we moved into in 1969.

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Almost the Bottom of Millwall

Westferry Road at its corner with Chapel House Street is an area characterised by low-rise, modern homes.

Until the 1980s, few people lived along this section of Westferry Road. When I walked home from Harbinger Primary School along the dirty and noisy Westferry Road in the 1960s, I passed factories, a couple of pubs, a cafe and a bank – but no houses that I can remember before reaching the Nelson (apart from a couple opposite The Ship).

c1980. Westferry Road, Burrell’s

1970s. Westferry Road, Associated Lead

One of the earliest, and certainly the most famous, industrial ventures along this stretch of road was the 1850s construction of the SS Great Eastern, the largest ship ever made at the time (see here for full article). This contemporary illustration shows the construction as viewed from ‘inland’, probably from where Marsh Street now is (the street name is clearly appropriate).

Illustration of construction of SS Great Eastern – click for larger version.

The Great Eastern was so large that shipbuilder Scott Russell not only acquired adjacent riverside yards to accommodate the ship, he also had to build a works on the other side of Westferry Road.

Late 1860s

Thanks to the business offered by workers on the Great Eastern, and the large numbers of visitors to this great spectacle, at least five pubs or beer houses were opened in this short section of Westferry Road. From west to east they were as follows:

  • The Great Eastern, No. 395, opened in 1860.
  • Robert Burns, Nos. 248-250, opened in 1853.
  • Highland Mary, Nos. 252-254, year of opening unknown.
  • The Ship, No. 290, opened in the 1850s.
  • Glendower, Nos. 296-298, year of opening unknown.

The Scottish influence in some of the pub names is of course no coincidence; many of the most experienced iron shipbuilding workers were to be found in Scotland and they were attracted south to work in Thames yards (whose owners – like Scott Russell – were frequently also Scottish).

The 1860s map shows also a few other firms along the riverside towards Ferry Street….

The ‘Disinfected Fluid Works’ is a reference to the works owned by Sir William Burnett, who in 1836 had invented an anti-rot and mothproofing treatment for timber and other other materials. Burnett’s firm remained on the site – later named Nelson Wharf – until the 1970s.

The ‘Chemical Works’ were the Millwall Lead Works, set up by Pontifex & Wood in about the 1840s. It was a large business – they were lead merchants, iron founders, engineers, millwrights, copper smiths, and refrigerator and boiler makers. Their principal product at Millwall was white lead, used at the time for paint manufacture.

Further east, and not named on this map, was the Millwall Pottery, set up in 1852 (it operated under a variety of trading names until ‘Millwall Pottery’ was used from about 1870). Mostly, the pottery produced functional earthernware, but on occasion it also created more ornate and artistic products, as described in this article from a fellow blogger.

North of Westferry Road, other than Scott Russell’s works, the only things visible on the map are a drainage ditch heading north, with on each side a couple of houses.

1870s. The lead works (tallest chimney) and the factories around it. A photo probably taken from the tower of St. Alfege’s Church in Greenwich. Click on image for full-sized version.

Ten years later and Scott Russell’s works had been taken over by Millwall Iron Works. Survey of London:

The Millwall Iron Works of the 1860s was the most ambitious industrial concern ever established in Millwall, employing between 4,000 and 5,000 men, who enjoyed conditions remarkable for the period, with half-day Saturday working, a canteen, sports clubs and works band. Like the Thames Iron and Shipbuilding Works, the Millwall Iron Works not only built ships but also manufactured the iron from which they were built. The two establishments were, according to a contemporary view, ‘of infinitely greater national importance’ than the royal dockyards, with a production capacity for iron ships and armour greater than that of the whole of France.

1870. Click for full-sized version


1864. The featured flywheel was part of the armour-plate mill – it was 36ft in diameter and weighed more than than 100 tons. When the works closed, the mill was bought at scrap value and reinstalled at the Thames Iron Works (Survey of London).

Workers at Millwall Iron Works

1866. Launch of the iron-clad frigate HMS Northumberland, built at Millwall Iron Works

Despite the company’s sales and production success, the financial crisis of the late 1860s led to many bad debts and it went bankrupt in 1871. The works were occupied by a variety of shipbuilding and engineering firms before the land was split up and sold in sections in the 1880s.

c1890. Click for full-sized version

South of Westferry Road the former works land was taken over by paint and dye manufacturers, A. E. Burrell & Son. To their east was the Northumberland engineering works, named after the ship built there. The engineering works did not last long, and shortly afterwards the wharf was taken over by Maconochie Brothers, producers of preserved provisions including pickles, sauces, jams, marmalade, jellies, meats, fish, meat and vegetables.

1900s. Looking west in Westferry Road, close to the corner with Chapel House Street. In the background is what appears to be a bridge crossing Westferry Road – connecting the two parts of the former Millwall Iron Works.

To the east of Burnett’s, out of the view of the photo, was Matthew T. Shaw’s engineering works, established in 1881 and still operating a century later.

1900. Goad Insurance Map. Click for full version. (British Library)

Further east still, the lead works were owned by Locke, Lancaster & W. W. Johnson & Sons Ltd. in 1900. Next to them, the former Millwall Pottery was by this time occupied by Vidal Fixed Aniline Dyes Ltd, but in 1905 it would be taken over by Deptford ship-propellor manufacturers, Manganese Bronze & Brass Company Ltd,

On the other side of Westferry Road, at the corner with East Ferry Road, a fire station was built in 1877 after earlier concerns that the Isle of Dogs was too far away from the fire stations in Poplar, and difficult to reach if a bridge was up. (See this article for a history of the Isle of Dogs Fire Station.)

c1900. The original fire station building

Survey of London:

A few terraced houses were built from the early 1850s in Westferry Road and on the south side of Chapel House Street.  Pontifex & Wood, the metal and chemical manufacturers, leased the large square site later known as North Yard for building in 1852, but by the late 1860s nothing had been erected on it beyond a handful of houses in Lead Street and Silver Terrace. The bulk of the ground was later used by Matthew T. Shaw & Company for heavy engineering, becoming known as North Yard to distinguish it from the smaller South Yard at Clyde Wharf.

1900. Goad Insurance Map. Click for full version. (British Library)

1904. Silver Terrace, Westferry Road

1909. Thames Naval Review. Burrell’s is visible among the factories and their chimneys in the background. Click for full-sized version.

1920c. In the rear garden of a house in Silver Terrace, with the fire station in the background (Island History Trust)

Circa 1920. The Ship and Maconochie’s are to the rear of the bus. (Island History Trust)

The Island History Trust collection (see https://www.islandhistory.co.uk/) has a few photos of the area near the corner of Chapel House Street, photos which clearly show the few houses that were built there in the 1800s. From east to west…..

1930s. The entrance to Chapel House Street is obscured by the bus.

1920s. Watching a Roman Catholic procession proceed from Chapel House Street into Westferry Road. By this time the Chapel House Estate had been built.

1920s. Again, the entrance to Chapel House Street is obscured by a bus. The shed behind the two kids would later be converted into a ‘refreshments room’ (café)

1930s. The shed has become a café

The taller house at the left end of the terrace (No. 413). To its left is one of the former Millwall Iron Works buildings. This photo was taken during WWII, when No. 413 was in use by the Auxiliary Ambulance Service

In 1935, British Pathé made a short film about the Dockland Settlement on the Isle of Dogs. The film started with views of the docks, followed by a short scene filmed outside The Ship. Here is a a slowed-down extract (see here for the whole film).

1929. Click for full-sized version (britainfromabove.org.uk)

1934. Click for full-sized version (britainfromabove.org.uk)

The area had its fair share of bomb damage during WWII, including the destruction of almost the entire row of houses east of Chapel House Street, and of the houses in and around Lead Street. Damage to factories was repaired, but the houses were not replaced.

WWII. Bomb damage at Matthew T. Shaw’s. (Island History Trust)

WWII. Bomb damage at Matthew T. Shaw’s. (Island History Trust)

WWII. Bomb damage to the lead works. Photo: Pat & John Jarvis

WWII. Bomb (shrapnel) damage to the lead works. Photo: Pat & John Jarvis

c1950. Click for full-sized version

c1950. The sheds with lighter roofs are replacements for bomb-damaged buildings.

For the next thirty years or so, not much changed at all in this stretch of Westferry Road.

1950s Lead Works

c1960 Robert Burns








1977 Firemen’s Strike


Things started to change, though, with the closure of the docks. During and either side of the 1980s, Burrell’s, Associated Lead, Westwood’s, Matthew T. Shaw and other firms between Harbinger Road and East Ferry Road closed down.

1980s. Photo: Tim Brown

1980s. Photo: Peter Wright

1980s. Derelict Matthew T. Shaw yard

When almost everything was cleared, the empty spaces made a sad and strange sight:


One old yard – although long closed – managed to stick it out for decades though, and was not completely demolished and cleared until just a couple of years ago: the former Boropex yard. I understand that the land was too polluted to make it at first financially viable to clean up and redevelop (but I am not sure).

1980s. Former Boropex. Photo: Peter Wright

2010s. Photo: Peter Wright.

There are now flats being built on this site too – joining all the other residential buildings along this stretch of Westferry Road. The transformation is complete.

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D-Day Preparations in the West India Docks

An Allied invasion of mainland Europe during WWII would have failed very quickly if the Allies did not have access to a working, deep-water port for the landing of vehicles, troops and supplies; and the planners knew that existing ports were either very heavily defended, or could easily be destroyed by retreating Germans forces.

In a project with the code name Mulberry, British engineers came up with the idea of artificial docks made from pre-fabricated sections which could be floated across the channel and used at any suitable location, well away from the ports that the Germans expected to be the focus of any invasion.

They were designed and constructed in secrecy in the seven months leading up to the landing on 6th June 1944, D-Day. Their construction was a massive effort, involving up to 200,000 workers at yards and docks across the country

The so-called Mulberry harbours were made up of a variety of different components, including Phoenix breakwaters, reinforced concrete caissons which were to be sunk in Normandy to form harbour breakwaters….

A line of Phoenix caisson units (mounted with anti-aircraft guns) at Arromanches, 12th June 1944. Click for full-sized version.

….and also metal dock piers (code named Whales) supported on concrete barges (Beetles):

1944, Arromanches. A Mulberry dock pier with Whales supported on Beetles.

There were other types of component, but I mention specifically the Phoenix caissons and Beetle barges because of a painting which depicts their construction in the West India Docks in April 1944. This painting was the first indication to me that the Isle of Dogs’ docks were significantly involved in the preparations for D-Day.

April 1944. Mulberry construction in the West India Docks. Phoenix caissons in the background, and Beetles in the foreground. (c) Imperial War Museum (LD 4044)

Surprised and fascinated, I looked for more information and images, and found plenty on the website of the Imperial War Museum (iwm.org.uk).

1944. Beetle construction, West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 38397)

Beetles in the West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 38376)

Beetles in the West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 38383)

The basic structure of each Phoenix caisson was constructed at the East India Docks – in a dock which had been pumped dry for the purpose – and after launching it was towed to West India Docks for completion.

Phoenix caisson being towed into West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 35297)

1944. Phoenix construction, West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 36019)

1944. Phoenix construction, West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 40316)

The interior of a Phoenix caisson under construction at either the West India Docks or the Royal Victoria Dock (original caption not specific). (c) Imperial War Museum (H 40347)

1944. Almost completed Phoenix, West India Docks. (c) Imperial War Museum (H 36482)

Completed Phoenix caissons, Beetles and other Mulberry harbour components were towed or shipped to assembly points on the south coast, and from there to Normandy.

May 1944. Mulberry harbour components assembled off Selsey Bill.

The construction company now named Wates Group was involved in the construction of Mulberry harbour components and recently made a short and very interesting film on the subject which gives a good idea of the enormous scale of the operation and why it was so important.

Wates Group also unearthed in their company archives a number of previously unreleased photos, some of which you can view here:

D-Day anniversary | Mulberry harbour construction photos unearthed

Researching this article I learned that there are still some Phoenix caissons visible off the French and English coasts. Four unused caissons were even used to close the last gap in a breached dyke at Ouwekerk in the Netherlands after the 1953 floods, and these caissons now house the National Flood Museum. The museum’s not that far from where I live these days, so I know where I am going when museums open again. Imagine if the caissons were built in the West India Docks!

1953. Ouwekerk, Netherlands

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Yarrow & Co. – Shipbuilders of Cubitt Town

Yarrow’s was a major shipbuilding company – specialising in military vessels – which in the 1980s was taken over by GEC Marconi Marine and which is now part of BAE Systems.

BAE Systems, Glasgow.

The company was founded by Alfred Fernandez Yarrow who was born in 1842 in London, the son of Esther (Lindo) and Edgar William Yarrow. His mother was of Spanish Sephardic Jewish background and his father – a clerk working for a West India Merchant in the City – was from an English Christian family; Yarrow was raised a Christian.

Alfred Yarrow (1842-1932)

After completing an engineering apprenticeship in Stepney, Yarrow invented – along with a friend – a steam plough which earned him enough money to save £1000 within a couple of years, a considerable amount of money at the time. With this money, in 1866, in partnership with Robert Hedley, he set up as a builder of steam boats at Hope Yard south of the Folly House pub.


The cramped and busy yard in the 1860s

Survey of London:

Hope Yard … had a river frontage of only a little over 90ft and the further drawback that a right of way ran across it to the Folly House. The freehold of both the yard and the adjoining area on which the Folly House stood was purchased in 1875, however, and the residue of the lease of the public house was acquired soon after. The yard then became known as Folly Shipyard.

Yarrow and Hedley ventured into military vessels from the early 1870s, building torpedo boats for the Argentine and Japanese navies, among other customers. In the period 1868-75, they turned out no fewer than thirty-five steam boats, but at the end of the period – after many acrimonious disagreements between them – Hedley and Yarrow dissolved their partnership, and Yarrow continued as sole owner.

The London Gazette, 2nd March 1875

Construction of a steam paddle ship in Yarrow’s yard, 1870s. The building on the right is the former Folly House, which had been converted into offices.  Photo: NH 70393 courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command. Click for full-sized version.

Yarrow’s yard in the 1870s. The houses in the background are in Stewart Street. Photo: NH 70419 courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command. Click for full-sized version.

Yarrow’s yard in the 1870s. The houses outside the yard are in Stewart Street. Further in the background is St John’s Church in Roserton Street. Photo: NH 70419 courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command. Click for full-sized version.

Yarrow’s workers in Stewart Street showing off a contraption for transporting boat components.  Photo: NH 70413 courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command. Click for full-sized version.

Yarrow was successful at a time when Island shipbuilding was in steep decline thanks to his specialisation in relatively small, fast steam boats designed to carry and launch a recent invention: the self-propelled torpedo.

Robert Whitehead (right) invented the modern self-propelled torpedo in 1866. Pictured examining a battered test torpedo in c1875.

1870s. Torpedo boat off Folly Wall.

Illustrated London News, 1886

Torpedo boat Ardjoeno built by Yarrow’s for the Dutch government in 1888. Photo: NH 70423 courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command. Click for full-sized version.

Yarrow’s Yard

Survey of London:

A lease of the ground between the yard and Samuda Street, taken in 1866, was renewed in 1878, with the addition of a strip of ground along the southern edge of the premises. The yard was further enlarged by the purchase in 1875 of the residue of the lease of land to the north from the widow of Nathaniel John Hudson, a barge-builder.


The torpedo boats were designed to be sea-going, but it was usual to transport them on ships over larger distances. One exception was the sail-assisted torpedo boat, Centella, built for the Argentine navy. It sailed from Plymouth to Buenos Aires, a journey of 72 days!

1882. Argentine torpedo boat, Centella. Click for full-sized version.

In 1892 Yarrow built the first two destroyers for the Royal Navy: Havock and Hornet of the Havock class. He struck up a strong friendship and correspondence with Lord Fisher (“Jackie Fisher”), and subsequently Yarrow Shipbuilders became a lead contractor for the Royal Navy for smaller, but almost always fast, boats.

HMS Havock in 1893

Although torpedo boats were fundamental to the success of the company, Yarrow also continued to build other kinds of vessel. Stern wheel paddle steamers were still popular….

c1894. Paddle steamer built for the Nile Expedition.

And the firm would still on occasion build small leisure craft (for the time being at least)…

By 1896 it was already apparent that Yarrow’s were outgrowing their ‘Folly Yard’ and they were keen to move to a larger yard. In 1898 they took over the nearby London Yard which had recently been vacated by Westwood‘s, where they carried out extensive redevelopment. In addition to the room to make larger boats…

1906. Launch of the Greek destroyer Thyella.

….the new premises included a large workshop for the manufacture of water-tube boilers, a variety of which Yarrow had himself invented (its greater water capacity within a relatively compact size made it attractive for use as a marine engine)…

Survey of London:

Alfred Yarrow’s business had suffered badly during the engineers’ strike of 1897–8, and the high rates in London, coupled with the increasing costs of materials and labour, eventually made it impossible for him to compete with the firms on Clydeside and Tyneside.

At the start of the 1900s, there were fears that the firm would not be able to continue at its Isle of Dogs yard, fears that were allayed by the Evening News in February 1906:

Showing just how reliable newspapers have never been, the yard was gradually wound down between 1906 and 1908 and the firm moved to new premises on the Clyde in Glasgow. 300 employees and most of the machinery also made the move north. The departure marked the end of significant shipbuilding on the Isle of Dogs.

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Merged Images of Closed Isle of Dogs Pubs

Like many others, I have too much time on my hands at the moment. By way of nothing in particular I have been merging old pub photos with present-day street views (yep, that’s how sad I am 🙂 ).

I ended up making quite a few and thought it would be a good idea to bundle them in a post to be shared, and here they are (in alphabetical order). A couple were made longer ago, but most were made in the last few weeks. Nearly all photos can be clicked-on to see a larger version.

Not all lost Island pubs are here as there are no (decent) photos of a couple of pubs – but I’d be very happy if someone can put me right on that. For more information on the history of Island pubs, see this article.

Anchor & Hope. 41 West Ferry Road.

Blacksmith’s Arms. 25 West Ferry Road. Old photo: Hugo Wilhare

Builders’ Arms, 99 Stebondale Street. Old photo: Island History Trust

City Arms, 1 Westferry Road. Old photo: Bill Regan

Cubitt Arms, 262 Manchester Road. Old photo: Bill Regan

Dorset Arms, 377-379 Manchester Road. Old photo: Bill Regan

Fishing Smack, 6 Coldharbour

Glengall Arms, 367 Westferry Road.

Great Eastern, 393 Westferry Road

Ironmongers’ Arms, 210 Westferry Road. Old photo: Island History Trust

Kingsbridge Arms, 154 & 156 Westferry Road. Old photo: Kathy Duggan

London Tavern, 393 Manchester Road

Magnet & Dewdrop, 194 Westferry Road

Manchester Arms, 308 Manchester Road. Old photo: Island History Trust

Millwall Docks Tavern & Hotel, 233 Westferry Road

North Pole, 74 Manilla Street. Old photo: Island History Trust

Pier Tavern, 283 Manchester Road. Old photo: Bill Regan

Pride of the Isle, 20 Havannah Street

Prince Alfred, 22 Tobago Street. Old photo: Jan Traylen

Prince of Wales, 2 Folly Wall

Princess of Wales, 84 Manchester Road

Robert Burns, 248 & 250 Westferry Road. Old photo: Tim Brown

The Queen, 571 Manchester Road

Tooke Arms, 165 Westferry Road. Not closed, but the old building was demolished – the new building can be seen further up the road in the photo. Old photo: Island History Trust

The Union, Mellish Street (the river end was originally named Union Road). Old photo: Kathy Cook

The Vulcan, 240 Westferry Road

West India Docks Tavern, Coldharbour. This photo doesn’t get any larger, I am afraid.

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London Yard and Beyond in 1862

Every now and again I come across an old image of the Isle of Dogs which is of such high quality and detail that I can spend ages studying it, and frequently learn something new or something familiar is presented in a new light. One such image is a lithographic print of Westwood & Baillie’s London Yard works – a print created by N. Newberry of Holborn in about 1862 (an estimate based on the presence or absence of certain buildings in the area).

Click for full-sized version. (c) Science Museum, London. Reproduced under the terms of Creative Commons License.

The following map shows some of the area covered by the print. It also shows Plough Wharf to the south, which is not shown on the print, and the whole of Samuda’s Yard to the right which is only partially visible in the print.

Click for full-sized version

Robert Baillie and Joseph Westwood both had close to 20 years’ experience working at Ditchburn & Mare’s shipyard at Orchard Place when they set up their own shipbuilding, boilermaking and iron engineering firm (in partnership with James Campbell, who retired not long afterwards) in Cubitt Town in the late 1850s. They named the works London Yard after London Street which originally gave access to the yard.

In January 1858, the London Evening Standard reported:

Some eighteen months since the eight acres on which the works of Messrs. Westwood, Baillie, Campbell and Co., have been erected, were simply brickfields. During the period mentioned the firm have erected an extensive range of workshops, in which are to be found, all the conveniences of drilling machines, punching presses, lathes, and, in fact, everything necessary for carrying on a large trade in shipbuilding, wrought-iron bridges, and other works.

The firm have turned out, during eighteen months, 2000 tons of iron bridges for the East Indies. They have completed other bridges and pontoons to the extent of 1000 tons, and constructed the landing pier at Milford Haven for the Leviathan [The first working name for the Great Eastern] , a work which has met with the entire approval of Mr. Brunel; they have built three Vessels, a caisoon for the East and West India Dock Company, and 40 mud vessels for the Turkish government. These were turned out within two months, with other works, including a number of steam boilers, and we may further mention that the firm are now in the course of completing 4560 feet of iron bridges for the East Indian railways…..

Launch of HMS Resistance in March 1861

The diversity of products manufactured by the firm are well represented in the print (which I suppose was one of the purposes of the print, to serve as an advert for the company).


Barges and (I am guessing) pontoons

Bridge sections. It appears in the lower part of the image that the sections were stress-tested by loading them with boxes filled with sand.

The incongruous-looking domed building in the print was probably a conservatory under trial construction, designed by Owen Jones for the 32nd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul (then named Constantinople).

The firm’s office buildings were sited along Manchester Road. Probably, the entrance between buildings O and P marks the route of the former London Street.

Building R is not part of the yard and is on the opposite side of Manchester Road; it is the first of a small row of houses, two of which would later be knocked togther to become the Dorset Arms.

Dorset Arms, early 1900s

Further south along Manchester Road is a section of Stebondale Street with three lone houses. The artist has taken liberties with the distance – making Stebondale Street (a section now named Pier Street) appear much closer to London Yard that it actually was. Missing from the image are Olliffe Street, the Cubitt Arms and other buildings – none of which had yet been built at the time.

Heading back north up Manchester Road, there are more buildings to be seen – but not a lot. The London Tavern pub is present on the corner of Manchester Road (A) and a very short Glengall Road. Houses have been built along Manchester Road as far as Marshfield Street. Marshfield Street seems too far away in the print, and the angle is wrong, but it can be no other street – there was no other street here at the time. It would be almost ten years before the next street, Strattondale Street, was built and Glengall Road was extended as far as East Ferry Road.

The London Tavern in the 1930s. Left: Glengall Road. Right: Manchester Road.

One of the very interesting things about the print is that it allows you to look right across the Island to the west side. The construction of the Millwall Docks (opened in 1868) had not yet started, and much of the background of the print shows the Isle of Dogs for what it was at the time: mostly marshland or pasture, with industry along the river.

One long building on the far side of the Island is extending further inland, most likely the rope walk shown on this map.


Beyond the rope works on the print are buildings in Westferry Road (and beyond them, the masts of ships, probably in Surrey Docks). The depictions of the buildings are all very generic, and it is not possible to identify a particular building or location, unfortunately.

One building can be identified: in the centre of the Island, and on what was its highest point, Chapel House Farm.

I was quite excited to see this (I am sad like that); the farm was built on the remains of the medieval St. Mary’s Chapel, which itself was built on the path from Poplar to the Greenwich Ferry. No older building has ever been recorded on the Isle of Dogs, and to my knowledge there is only one other surviving image of the farm: a drawing made around the same time.

1857 illustration of Chapel House Farm and chapel ruins.

Very little is known about the chapel and later farm. A handful of years later, the buildings were demolished to make room for the Millwall Docks (the graving dock, now known as Clippers Quay, was built on the site).


Meanwhile, back at London Yard….

Westwood & Baillie – because they were not solely dependent on shipbuilding – managed to survive the financial crisis of the late 1860s which put most Island shipbuilding firms out of business. From 1872 they abandoned shipbuilding completely and concentrated on iron (civil) engineering work (described in this article). Later they moved to Napier’s former yard in Westferry Road opposite Cahir Street.

In 1898 London Yard was taken over by the shipbuilders Yarrow & Co. who cleared and redeveloped much of the yard, leaving only the buildings along Manchester Road more or less unchanged.

1900, London Yard. Charles E. Goad Fire Insurance Map. Museum of London. (click for full-sized version)

Survey of London:

Yarrow’s did not remain long at London Yard, however. Between 1906 and 1908 the yard was gradually shut down and the firm moved to new premises at Scotstoun in Glasgow, accompanied by most of its machinery and 300 of the work-force.

A partial view of London Yard in the 1920s. The London Tavern (A) and adjacent houses are recognisable from the print, as is the building F. The Dorset Arms was rebuilt in 1913.

In 1917 the freehold wharf was purchased by C. & E. Morton, of Millwall, manufacturers of soups, pickles and jams. Yarrow’s large warehouse unit was converted into a case-making plant, and the other buildings were used mainly for storage.  Mortons decided to sell the wharf in 1936, and after the Second World War it was acquired by D. Badcock (Wharves) Ltd of Greenwich.

London Yard in the late 1940s.

By 1972, London Yard was unoccupied, derelict and badly polluted (Survey of London). It was purchased by the LDDC who cleared and cleaned the site, making room for the London Yard housing development.

London Yard in the 21st century


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The Manchester Estate (aka Salford Estate)

I always called it the Salford Estate (or referred to it as ‘over Salford’), but its official name is the Manchester Estate – built by the LCC around 1961 between Seyssel Street, Pier Street and Manchester Road.

Corner of Seyssel Street (L) and Manchester Road (R), 1965

As shown in the following photo, Stebondale Street used to extend to Manchester Road in the east. At the rear of the houses in Seyssel Street (right hand side) was a fairly substantial building which was a joinery. The wartime military huts are still standing in the Mudchute. The Pier Tavern and the houses in Jubilee Crescent are the only buildings still standing in 2020 – and that’s ‘only just’ in the case of the pub, whose facade is all that is left over after recent redevelopment.


As with other areas of Cubitt Town, there was much damage by bombing during WWII. Many of the buildings which appear to be still in reasonable condition in the photo were actually uninhabitable ruins, as the following map shows. The detached, rectangular buildings are prefabs.


The following two photos were taken at the Stebondale Street end of Seyssel Street in the 1950s.

Photo: Christine Egglesfield

Photo: Maureen Mason (nee Silk). The buildings in the background are in Manchester Road, and include the Pier Tavern

Construction of the estate started in 1961. All buildings in the area apart from the Pier Tavern were demolished and cleared, and Stebondable Street was shortened, terminating at its corner with Seyssel Street.

1962. Seyssel Street. A screenshot from the film ‘Postscript to Empire’. The man leaving the building site is the Revd. Strong of St. Paul’s Church in Westferry Road. He featured in a few scenes in the film, talking to various people around the Island.

Photo: Maureen Mason (nee Silk).

Survey of London:

The Manchester Estate was built to an overall density of 35 dwellings (138 persons) per acre. Urmston and Salford Houses, on the north side of Seyssel Street, are eight four-storey link-blocks of maisonettes. These were originally flat-roofed buildings, with dark-red-brick piers and end walls, while the front elevations had some tile-hanging.

Farnworth House, in Manchester Road, and Castleton House, in Pier Street, are five-storey blocks of flats, with dark-red-brick piers and end walls. Along the front and back elevations exposed concrete floor-beams are infilled with panels and windows. The access-balconies to Farnworth House are supported by a prominent metal grid on the front elevation.

1965. Seyssel Street.

1965. Salford House

1965. Pier Street. Castleton House (L) and the rear of Farnworth House (R)

1965. Seyssel Street (L) and Manchester Road (R)

1960s. Pier Street from Urmston House. Photo: Island History Trust

Among the the first resident families of the estate were, according to the 1964 electoral register (not everybody registered to vote, so the lists are certainly not complete):

Salford House Ashkettle, Atkins, Barretta, Benson, Bowen, Briggs, Brind, Brotherwood, Butler, Cakebread, Chapman, Clark, Conway, Cressall, Crundwell, Davies, Dawson, Dolphin, Dorney, Duggan, Elsdon, Fitzgerald, Fox, Gleason, Gleeson, Gregory, Griffin, Grindley, Haywood, Henderson, Hill, Hook, Howard, Jenkins, Kedge, Kelly, Kemp, Laker, Land, Lane, Leslie, Line, Lowther, Manley, Marlborough, Martin, McIlveney, McSweeney, Mead, Meggs, Merrick, Morris, Munro, Murray, Newton, Ogles, Perkins, Rea, Roast, Roberts, Smith, Sweeney, Tucker, Vorialin, Waring, Warn, Webb, White, Wisewell, Wood.

Urmston House Bedding, Bennett, Camilleri, Campbell, Croft, Daykin, Dean, Garrett, Gray, Harris, Hook, Johnson, Kinsville, Knowles, Munden, Nelson, Pitts, Scott, Silk, Smith, Vandersteen, Wardrop, Willson.

Farnworth House Biggs, Bowen, Brown, Clark, Cox, Cumberland, Cutter, Dixon, Dowding, Gleeson, Hawkridge, Heath, Jackson, Jones, Kinchin, Morgan, Norfold, O’Leary, Oxley, Robbins, Roberts, Sammons, Seymour, Spillman, Walsham.

Castleton House Cahill, Clark, Clarke, Dyer, Gamble, Hall, Humphrey, Lockley, Mantle, McRae, Osborne, Rivers, Roberts, Smith, Strudwick.

One of my mates, Gary Langton, lived in Salford House so I was a frequent visitor.

c1978. Playing the fool: Mick Lemmerman

c1978. Gary and dog. Photo: Mick Lemmerman


1970s. Urmston House


1985. Screenshot from the Prospects TV series.

1980s. Photo: Bill Regan

1985. A montage of screenshots from the Prospects TV series. Click for full-sized version

In the late 1980s, Tower Hamlets Borough Council refurbished the flats on the estate. With their new cladding and pitched roofs the flats now looked very different. As can been seen in this photo, not all flats were refurbished – thanks to the 1970s ‘Right to Buy’ some flats were privately owned and some owners declined to participate.

The estate will celebrate its 60th birthday next year. I suppose that makes it quite old in the Island scheme of things.

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The History of Saunders Ness Road

The earliest known map which names the Isle of Dogs – Robert Adams’ Thamesis Descriptio of 1588 – names a Saunders Nesse in the east of the Island.

1588. Adams’ map was ‘upside down’ with the south at the top, and I have reversed the map here. The letter in ‘Nesse’ that looks like an f is a so-called long s, an archaic form of the lower case letter s.

A ness is a headland or promontory, from the Old English naes, but there is no record of who Saunders (or Saunder) might have been.

Almost three hundred years later this 1870 map also shows a Builder’s Yard at Saunders Ness. The yard belonged to William Cubitt & Co. who had been responsible for the development of the area in the preceding two decades. Included in the development was the construction of Wharf Road, from the Ferry House in the south west to just north of Seyssel Street (it was planned to go further but the construction of large ship building yards to the north prevented that).

1870. South Cubitt Town. Click for full-sized version.

The reason for the naming of the road is obvious – intended as it was to serve the riverside wharves. The area was to follow the same pattern as Millwall, with industry along the river, and residential areas further inland. Only the area opposite Greenwich Seamen’s Hospital was not allowed to be built upon and was to remain a green space – this part of the Island was owned by the hospital which did not want its view blighted by industry (see this article for more information).

In the 1930s, there was quite some renaming of streets in Poplar carried out by Poplar Borough Council in order to remove duplicate street names in their administrative area (such as the two British Streets – one off Westferry Road and the other in Bow). As a consequence, the section of Wharf Road between the Ferry House and Johnson Street – and Johnson Street itself – was renamed Ferry Street, and the rest of the road was renamed Saunders Ness Road.

The two sections of road had been separated from each other for decades anyway as far as road traffic was concerned thanks to the construction of North Greenwich Railway Station in the late 1800s, with a short subway providing pedestrian access between them. The section now known as Ferry Street receives no more attention in this article.

The 1870 map above shows that a few wharves had not yet been occupied by firms, and it would take a couple of decades before they would be, thanks largely to the 1866 collapse of the bank, Overend, Gurney & Company. This led to an international financial crisis and had a particularly heavy impact on the Isle of Dogs, where the expansion boom of the previous years was based on over-extended credit. Also, many Island companies had borrowed directly from the failed bank.

Noticeable on the map above are large areas of ‘white space’ on the west side of the road. According to Cubitt’s vision, this area would be filled with houses, but virtually none were built, except those shown in the following map. In fact, a few small plots remained undeveloped until the 21st century!

c1890. The row of houses in Wharf Road (later Saunders Ness Road) to the west of Barque Street was named College View.

c1930. College View at its corner with Barque Road (right). North Greenwich Railway station, by this time closed and being used as a wharf, is visible in the background. Just behind the letter box is a glimpse of the pedestrian subway. The very tall chimney – the tallest on the Island – belonged to the lead works.

North Greenwich Railway Station

In the 1870s, the London and Blackwall Railway Company built its Millwall Extension Railway, terminating at North Greenwich Railway Station, which had a steamboat pier from which a ferry service to and from Greenwich Pier operated. The ferry departed every 20 minutes and the one-way fare was one penny; it was very popular with the many dockers who lived on the other side of the water.

c1904. North Greenwich Railway Station looking north. The houses in the background are in Manchester Road.

Early 1900s. The end of the line – looking south towards Greenwich

Early 1900s. The ferry from heading from Greenwich Pier towards North Greenwich Railway Station.

After the Millwall Extension Railway was closed in the 1920s, the station buildings and land were taken over by local wharfingers J. Calder & Company.

1926. Calder’s Wharf.

Island Gardens

The two previous maps in this article (dated 1870 and 1890) both clearly show the land owned by Greenwich Seamen’s Hospital, largely empty apart from the grand looking Osborne House, built in the 1860s. There were plans to have landscaped gardens here, with imported trees and shrubs and a total of five large villas (built a little back from the river so they could not be seen from the hospital).

But, there was no interest from buyers; the wealthy businessmen that the development was expected to attract did not want to live on the Isle of Dogs. The gardens had become an open space, but it was far from landscaped and locally it was known as ‘scrap iron park’. In 1895, the LCC acquired the land in order to lay out a formal park, to be known as Island Gardens. They leased part of Osborne House to Poplar Borough Council who opened it as a public library, the remainder being occupied by the park caretaker.


Early 1900s. The Sapon company name can just be seen painted on the roof in the background (see below). Osborne House is to its left in this photo.

Osborne House

1930s (estimate). Lenanton’s lorries being shown off outside Island Gardens.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

A couple of years later and the Island Gardens were confronted with the loss of part of their land. An 1897 act of parliament gave the go-ahead for the construction of a foot tunnel from the Island to Greenwich, and in 1899 a shaft was sunk in the south-west corner of Island Gardens, with the tunnel officially opening in 1902. The arrival of the tunnel, by the way, put the ferry between North Greenwich Railway Station and Greenwich out of business.

Construction of Greenwich Foot Tunnel entrance building

The Wharves

The following two maps from a Museum of London collection of fire insurance maps give a fantastically detailed and accurate view of the wharves  in 1900 – I can spend ages looking at these and other maps in the collection:

1900 Charles E. Goad Fire Insurance Map. Museum of London. (click for full-sized version)

1900 Charles E. Goad Fire Insurance Map. Museum of London. (click for full-sized version)

Some of the names of wharves and firms are familiar to us today, but some are not. Wharf names were rarely official: they were frequently named after the company operating there at the time.  The sizes of wharves also changed as companies expanded and acquired land from adjacent wharves.

This makes it difficult to provide a description of all wharves and firms in some sort of chronological order without going into a huge amount of boring detail, so I am not going to bother. Instead, just a few are highlighted, particular those that were still operating in living memory, or which have had a lasting influence in present day place or street names.

Heading north from Island Gardens……

Luralda Wharf

The wharf was first a stonecutting yard before it was occupied by the Thames Steam Cooperage Company, when it became known as Barrel Wharf. In 1900 it was taken over by Sapon Ltd, manufacturers of soap who operated there until the early 1920s. In 1924, the wharf was taken over (and renamed) by Luralda Ltd, manufacturers of tea chests who later expanded their business to include the import of plywood.

Cumberland Oil Mills

I recently dedicated a whole article to this firm and won’t repeat any of the information here. However, any excuse to show one of the oldest photos of the Isle of Dogs, taken around 1860, and showing Cumberland Oil Mills and much of the area covered by this article, as well other parts of the Island.

click for full-sized version

Newcastle Draw Dock

Draw docks are used for the repair of boats which can either be floated into them at high tide and/or dragged (drawn) above the level of high tide. Newcastle Draw Dock was built by William Cubitt & Co.

Newcastle Draw Dock (at high tide) in c1935

Grosvenor Wharf

The first occupant was engineering firm, William Simpson & Co. who established their works there in 1858. After a couple of changes of ownership, the wharf was taken over by Sternol Ltd (also known as the Stern Sonneborn Oil Company Ltd) who used it as an oil and grease refinery.

Cubitt’s Wharf/Works

William Cubitt & Co. occupied a large wharf which extended from what was later named Grosvenor Works in the south to Seyssel Street in the north. The firm used the wharf to support their considerable building activities in the area. According to the Survey of London, the yard…

..was established c1843–4, and contained sawmills, timber-wharves, a cement factory, a pottery and several large brickfields, producing all manner of materials for the building trade.

After the downturn in building due to the late-1860s financial crisis (see above), Cubitt’s Wharf was split into smaller wharves as follows…

Click for full-sized version.

Poplar Dry Dock / Empire Wharf

Poplar Dry Dock opened in 1880 and remained in use by various companies until 1933, when the owners at the time, Sternol Ltd., filled it in and used it as an extension to their oil and grease refinery.

1930s. Looking up Saunder’s Ness Road from approximately the boundary between Empire Wharf and Storer’s Wharf.

Storer’s Wharf

One section of Cubitt’s Wharf was taken over by Glasgow oil and paint manufacturers, David Storer & Sons. After this firm became bankrupt in 1891, the paint factory was taken over by Wilkinson, Heywood & Clark who were in a similar business to Storer.

Wilkinson, Heywood & Clark’s paint factory in about 1924. Photo: Island History Trust.

Caledonian Wharf / Cubitt Town Dry Dock

The dry dock was built in the 1870s by a certain Thomas Rugg of East India Dock Road. His ship-repairs firm was not a success, lasting only for about 10 years. The wharf changed hands a few times until it was taken over by the neighbours, Wilkinson, Heywood & Clark who used the dry dock for storage.

Cubitt Town Wharf

Survey of London:

Unlet in 1859, this site was leased from October 1864 to the London Rice Mill Company. The lessees made the best of the awkwardly shaped site, erecting a large brick warehouse block facing the river, with a second range of smaller brick buildings running along the northern boundary, and an office to the south. The wharf was used for cleaning, crushing and grinding rice and other seeds and grains. In 1871 the company expanded southwards, leasing an adjacent plot of 71ft frontage from Cubitt & Company for storage purposes.

Cubitt Town Wharf (after closure)

The wharf survived the Second World War, but a number of buildings have since been removed. From the late 1950s Cubitt Town Wharf was occupied by Apex Rubber Company Ltd and Borovitch Ltd (also known as Boropex Holdings), and used for the storage of rubber and other goods.

Plymouth Wharf

Another wharf which went through many changes in occupation, most significantly used by constructional engineers Deane, Ransome & Company who later evolved into Power’s & Deane, Ransome’s Ltd. For a time they named Plymouth Wharf the Cubitt Town Steel Works.

Photo: Island History Trust

Pyrimont Wharf

First occupied in 1861 by the Asphalte de Seyssel Company of Thames Embankment (one of the first natural asphalt deposits discovered in the world was in Seyssel, France). After a few changes of owner, Pyrimont Wharf became part of Plymouth Wharf (in the 1920s).

Employees of Cargo Fleet, who occupied Pyrimont Wharf for a period. Photo: Ada Price.

Dudgeon’s Wharf

John and William Dudgeon (full article here) were engineers who later turned to shipbuilding, opening their yard at the north end of Seyssel Street in 1861. Their early success was thanks in large part to the supply of fast blockade runners to the Confederacy during the American Civil War, but that success was short-lived – the botched launch in 1874 of their 70th ship, the frigate Independencia which had been built for the Brazilian Government, led to their bankruptcy.

The launch of the Independencia in 1874. The Dudgeons attempted to launch her on 16 July but she stuck fast and did not budge. A second attempt was made on 30 July during which the ship got about one-third down the slipway and stuck, extensively damaging her hull plating. The contract for the vessel’s repair and refitting went to the rival firm of Samuda Brothers

After the departure of the brothers, the wharf – which retained its name – was occupied by a series of oil and petrol storage companies. Operations ended in 1951 and during its demolition on 1969 a tank explosion led to the deaths of five firefighters and one construction worker (see below for more information).

The Other Side of the Road

Cubitt Town School opened in 1891 on land which had formerly been part of the brick fields used for the manufacture of bricks for the Cubitt Town development.


1920s. Click for full-sized version.

1920s (estimate). Cubitt Town School playground

Various extensions to the school were constructed until in the early 1930s it was decided to demolish the school and replace it with modern, larger premises. The new school opened in 1938.

Invitation to the opening of the school sent to John Masefield, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1930 until 1967.

1938. Cubitt Town School. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (City of London)

1938. Cubitt Town School

The new school was seriously damaged by WWII bombing – an incident which caused the loss of many lives (see below).

The first Cubitt Town School was originally built to provide more school spaces for the growing population of Cubitt Town. Before its construction, the only school places in the area were offered by the smaller Christ Church School (marked as a Sunday School on the map above). Survey of London:

The Christ Church National Schools buildings were erected at the northern end of the church lands in 1866. They served as a Sunday School and as parish rooms for games, society meetings and concerts until the construction of a new church hall between the parsonage and the old school buildings in 1914.

Former Christ Church School building viewed in the 1960s from the playground of Cubitt Town School. Photo: Malcolm Tremain

Nearly the whole block bordered by Manchester Road, Billson Street, Saunders Ness Road and Glengarnock Avenue (1938 street names) was owned by the church. The south east ‘corner’ of this land was occupied by a large church garden. I remember scrumping apples here 🙂

A little further south was the Newcastle Arms (later Watermans’ Arms, then the Great Eastern, and about to be renamed Watermans’ Arms again!). The subject of its own article (click here) – I don’t want to say any more about it here. Besides, its address is Glenaffric Avenue and not Saunders Ness Road.

Between the Newcastle Arms and the houses at the south end of Saunders Ness Road there was nothing – the land had never been built upon. Some sections were occasionally used by local wharves for temporary storage, but that was it – a situation that would not change until decades after WWII.

World War II

In fact there were about to be even fewer houses in Saunders Ness Road, because at 6pm on 7th September 1940 – the first day of the Blitz – a high explosive bomb fell at the south end of the road. A number of houses were destroyed (or were damaged beyond repair), shown in black on the following map…

Late 1940s

One of the worst bombing incidents on the Island during WWII occurred in Saunders Ness Road when 26 were killed at Cubitt Town School. The recently rebuilt school had been commandeered for use by the emergency services and hosted the Auxiliary Fire Service, Air Raid Wardens, Stretcher Bearers, Ambulance Service and a Mobile First Aid Unit. Heavy Rescue Squad worker, Bill Regan, described the incident in his diary:

What a bloody mess, the whole guts blown away, only two end flanks standing. There were more than 40 people stationed here; I only saw one survivor, the gatekeeper, a man who lived in Pier Street, who had lost a leg in the 14-18 war.

He said he saw this parachute coming down, and thought it was a barrage balloon, it was a parachute mine, and he was lucky to be on the opposite side to where it landed, with building between him and it. He was blasted into the road, but miraculously none of the debris had hit him. Within minutes we had located the spot they were likely to be, and got two people out, but I don’t think they were alive as were working without lights and they were at best unconscious.

I don’t know how many we recovered, our relief came on at 8.00 a.m., but we carried on until nearly ten, when a squad from the other end of Poplar came to help.

The victims were fire-brigade personnel, ambulance men, and a complete mobile operating theatre, [which was] billeted next to our depot, in the swimming baths, and always left for Saunders Ness when the sirens sounded.”

The remains of Cubitt Town School the day after the bombing

The remains of Cubitt Town School the day after the bombing

The emergency service workers who were killed are commemorated in a memorial which is affixed to the wall of the present-day school.

Most buildings in Saunders Ness Road (including the foot tunnel entrance building) suffered at least minor damage during WWII. After the War, the LCC created colour-coded ‘Bomb Damage Maps’ which showed the Saunders Ness Road area as follows:

c1946. Click for full-sized version

The 1950s & 1960s

The previous photo shows how little of Cubitt Town School remained after the War. However, the still-standing section was incorporated in the new school, which opened in 1952.

1950s. Cubitt Town School playground, with Saunders Ness Road in the background. Photo: Colin Siggery.

Other than the rebuilding of the school – little changed in the fabric of Saunders Ness Road in the decades after WWII.

Workers outside Luralda’s in the 1960s. Photo: Christine Egglesfield

One of Snowdon & Son’s lorries opposite the corner of Saunders Ness Road and Schooner Street, where houses stood before WWII

Newcastle Dry Dock (I would love to see the film they made)

1960s. Not evidence of bomb damage, but the area between Schooner Street and Brig Street which had never been built upon. Photo: Peter Bevan

1962. Next to the former Cumberland Oil Mills

1968. College View from Island Gardens (section of a photo by Hugo Wilhare)

1968. A splash of colour outside Island Gardens. Buses didn’t normally lay up here – but their usual spot in Stebondale Street must have been unavailable for some reason.

1968, Calder’s Wharf

On 17th July 1969, disaster struck at Dudgeon’s Wharf, with tragic consequences. Workers were busy demolishing the long disused oil and petrol tanks with oxy-acetylene burners when a fire started in one of the tanks.

The fire brigade were called out, but the fire was out by the time they arrived. A number of firemen climbed on the rim of the tank to pour water inside, as an extra precaution, but at the time a demolition worker was still working below with his oxy-acetylene burner. The tank exploded, killing five firemen and one demolition worker.

The firemen are commemorated in a London Fire Brigade memorial by the river.

17th July 1969, after the explosion

July 1969, Dudgeon’s Wharf


The 1970s were a decade of much change for Saunders Ness Road. The big news for the Island in 1970 was the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), a local protest action which made international news (described in full in this article).

1970. An ITN reporter who was covering the UDI, filmed standing outside what was 19 Saunders Ness Road, the rightmost house in College View, on the corner with Barque Street.

The success of this protest was followed by a few others, and the ‘Island Council’ got down to the less dramatic, administrative side of council business, when a Mr Edward Ingrams applied to start a street market on the Island (permission was granted). I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that this decision led to the opening of the – short-lived – market on Calder’s Wharf.

A collection of images of the market at Calder’s Wharf in 1970

1970. One of the main figures behind the UDI, Ted Johns, walking with his daughter in Saunders Ness Road.

1970 was also the year that the Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club’s new clubhouse opened. For many years the club was based at the derelict North Greenwich Railway Station and had to put up with some very primitive facilities. After years of what we would these days call ‘lobbying’, they managed to get a 99 year lease on Calder’s Wharf and set about building a new, modern clubhouse which opened in September of that year.

1969. Rowing club construction.

Another new development was the construction of what we called ‘the posh houses’, new homes on the land that used to be the garden of Christ Church. Survey of London:

The land to the east of the church and parsonage was not built on until the 1970s, when it was sold for private housing. The development at Nos 71–91 (odd) Saunders Ness Road comprises two blocks of six and five houses, of two storeys, containing two and three bedrooms, with penthouses, flat roofs and roof gardens, of inky buff brick with projecting dark-blue brick piers between the houses, first-floor balconies, integral garages and tiled patio gardens.

Private housing! I didn’t even know what that meant – everybody lived in a council flat, or least paid rent to someone, didn’t they? Who the heck could afford to buy a house, and if they could, why would they choose to live on the Isle of Dogs? It was all too much for my young mind.

Ad for ‘posh houses’

Even more absurd, look at the price, around 20,000 quid! Surely they could only be affordable to bank robbers. (Meanwhile, back in the real world, I just checked the current price estimates for these houses: £850,000 to £950,000).

c1971. Construction of the posh houses on the right, and Grosvenor Wharf on the left. Photo: Pat Jarvis.

A couple of year’s later, industrial buildings on the former Alpha, Grosvenor and Empire Wharves were demolished – the land was earmarked for the construction of public housing by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

The ‘posh houses’. Click for full-sized version.

Newcastle Draw Dock. Wondering if a Ford Escort floats….. (Photo and car: Gary Langton).

Next to the Newcastle Draw Dock, the former Cumberland Oil Mills premises were occupied from the late 1960s by the Apex Rubber Company Ltd. In 1972, the main warehouse – one of the oldest buildings on the Island – was destroyed in a fire. The shell of the main warehouse was demolished a couple of years later.

1970s. Alpha, Grosvenor and Empire Wharves after demolition. The burned out warehouse of the former Cumberland Oil Mills in the background.

1970s. The view in the opposite direction, looking towards Storer’s Wharf.

Further north, and some industry was still hanging on in Saunders Ness Road.

1970s. Marela’s on the right, and beyond it – just past the chimney – the National Dock Labour Board training centre at Plymouth Wharf.

1970s. Another view in the opposite direction.

The Cubitt Town School building is visible in the previous two photos, except it wasn’t occupied by Cubitt Town School by this time. In an educational version of musical chairs, Glengall School closed in 1970 and Cubitt Town School moved into its premises in Glengall Grove. Meanwhile, Lenanton’s bought and demolished St Luke’s School building in Westferry Road, and St Luke’s School moved into the recently vacated school building in Saunders Ness Road. Got that?

Some St Luke’s schoolkids assembled in their new playground at the old Cubitt Town School in Saunders Ness Road.

In other school-related matters, the closure of Glengall School meant that there was no longer a secondary school on the Island, and kids would have to travel off the Island (using the unreliable bus service) in order to go to school. In 1972, after agitation from Islanders who wanted to see a secondary school on the Island (and undoubtedly full of post-UDI zest), the ILEA approved plans for a new mixed secondary school for 900 pupils on the Island, replacing the old George Green’s School in East India Dock Road. Although the school was seen as a positive development by almost everyone, it did mean the loss of many houses, shops and streets.

George Green’s school land on a late 1940s map. Even though the school did not extend to Glengarnock Avenue, the old buildings there were also demolished (apart from the pub of course).

There was not much to be demolished along Saunder’s Ness Road, just a few houses near the foot tunnel, and before long a corrugated iron fence was erected along the road. The road was now narrower along the length of Island Gardens. I thought this was temporary, due to the school’s construction, but when the fence was removed (which did not happen until the early 1980s) it was revealed to be permanent. George Green’s School formally opened in 1977, but the community and leisure centre that it housed had been open for a while already.



1982. The fence is still there. Photo: Mark Daydy

By 1980, when the docks closed, most industry along the river had already given up the ghost. The actions of the LDDC included the widespread clearance of the wharves to make room for residential developments, with only a few Island riverside firms hanging on for a few more years. By circa 1984, housing on the former Luralda, Alpha, Grosvenor and Empire Wharves was complete.

c1984. A) Calder’s Wharf Community Centre. B) Luralda Wharf. C) Former Cumberland Oil Mills. D) Alpha, Grosvenor and Empire Wharves. E) Storer’s and Caledonian Wharves. F) Cubitt Town Wharf. G) National Dock Labour Board Training Centre. H) Dudgeon’s Wharf. Click for full-sized version.

A scrap dealer operating out of the former Cumberland Oil Mills managed to keep going through much of the 1980s, and the site was popular with photographers, as well as the producers of the Prospects TV series.

c1985. Screenshot from Prospects TV series

c1985. Screenshot from Prospects TV series

Photo: Mike Seaborne

Eventually though, inevitably, the works were demolished and replaced with a new housing development, known as Cumberland Mills.

Construction of the Docklands Light Railway started in 1983, and the terminus at the time was Island Gardens Station, built on part of the site of the former North Greenwich Railway Station.

Construction of Island Gardens DLR Station.

On 10th March 1987, an unofficial train test led to a train crashing through the barrier and almost ending up in Saunders Ness Road.

DLR Crash, March 1987

London Daily News, 11th March 1987:

Three people on board escaped unhurt as the engine ploughed through a barrier at the station and overshot the line.

The accident could have been much worse. The station is yards from the playing fields at George Green Comprehensive, where a local football game was in progress, under floodlights, when the train crashed.

Last night a spokesman for the London Docklands Development Corporation promised there would be a full investigation.

Mr Les Curtis, a surveyor who lives opposite the station said: “We heard an enormous crash shortly after 8pm, we looked out and saw the train hanging there. This must raise a lot of questions because those trains are going to run automatically with no drivers.”

GEC Mowlem, which is constructing the railway, refused to comment on the crash last night.

Staff at the track said they were “still assessing the situation”.

The Queen arrives in Saunders Ness Road for the official opening of the DLR on 30th July 1987

1980s. Looking toward Island Gardens and Calder’s Wharf. Photo: Tim Brown.

At some time in the 1980s a small garden was created on the corner of Saunders Ness Road and Glenworth Avenue, complete with a mini-lighthouse.

Photo: Bill Regan

Funding for the garden must have stopped because it became increasingly overgrown and was eventually fenced off.

2011. Photo: Peter Wright

Some visitors to the area who spotted the by then dilapidated lighthouse were under the impression that it was a genuine historical leftover of the Island’s past.

Many years later, a Canary Wharf College building would be built on the site.

Also many years later, I had a wander down the street and took a few photos. As usual, I only wanted to take photos of the older stuff, but there just wasn’t much of it……

Photo: Mick Lemmerman

Photo: Mick Lemmerman

Photo: Mick Lemmerman

A couple of more old things: Mick and Con. Good evening from “the Management”. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

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