The Demolition of the Isle of Dogs – A Photo Album

After WWII whole Island neighbourhoods were cleared to make room for new housing estates, and after the closure of the docks in 1980 virtually all industrial and dock buildings were wiped away. There was a lot of empty space on the Island at the start of the 80s, as this 1982 aerial photo shows…

Click for full-size version

Outside of the docks, though, there are very few images of the demolition of buildings and structures which for decades had played important roles in the lives of many Islanders. The Queen pub, the original St Edmund’s Church, Kingsbridge Arms, the original Tooke Arms, Christ Church Hall, the Police Station in Manchester Road, the Princess of Wales (Macs), Cubitt Town Primitive Church, the Victorian houses that survived the War, Hawkins & Tipson’s Ropeworks, Kingsbridge, Capstan House, Leslie’s Café, Cubitt House, Roffey House – I can name many more – they all seemed to have disappeared quickly and without any photographic record of their demise.

I suppose that those who were redeveloping the sites were only looking forward to the new buildings and had no interest in what was there before, no interest in what was being demolished. And local residents? Perhaps the demolitions were not worth wasting valuable film on (the later introduction of digital cameras changed all that – recent demolitions have been exhaustively photographed – especially by friends Peter Wright and Con Maloney).

Anyway, here in this article are some of the rare demolition photos that I have come across in the last few years, arranged in chronological order.

1950s. St John’s Church, Roserton Street. Built in the 1870s, the church was damaged seriously enough during WWII for it to be abandoned (services were continued in the church hall across the road).

Early 1960s. The row of shops and houses in Manchester Road (opposite the Police Station). This row was not too badly damaged during WWII, but it and other buildings in the area were cleared to make room for the Schooner Estate. The image above is a merge of two photos courtesy of Christine Coleman and shows where Galleon House would later be built. In the background, the prefabs in Glengarnock Avenue and the rear of Parsonage Street houses beyond them.

Circa 1960, St Luke’s Church. A similar story to that of St John’s (above) – built in 1870 and sufficiently damaged during WWII for it to be abandoned, with services continuing in the adjacent hall. Article here. Photo: John Salmon.

1960s. Manchester Road, diagonally opposite The Queen (from where the photo was taken). These houses at the corner of Stewart Street were amongst the few along this stretch of Manchester Road that survived WWII. Photo: Island History Trust.

1960s Seyssel Street. Close to the corner with Stebondale Street, the demolition of houses to make room for new blocks of flats (the flats which surround Parsonage Street, Billson Street and Kingfield Street). Photo: Island History Trust.

1970. Central Granary, Millwall Docks. The Central Granary was the principal granary of the Port of London and a vital part of London’s grain trade until 1969, when the opening of the Tilbury Grain Terminal made it redundant. Article here.

1970s. St Luke’s School, Westferry Road. The school opened in 1865 and in 1971 it transferred to the former Cubitt Town School building in Saunders Ness Road. The original St Luke’s School building was demolished and its site absorbed into Lenanton’s. Article here. Photo: Peter Wright

1974. Rye Arc, Stewart Street. Ship-repairers and engineers, Rye Arc, took over Ovex Wharf immediately after the War (during which the wharf was largely destroyed, suffering also a V1-strike). Photo: Jan Traylen

1976. Dunbar House, Tiller Road. Built in 1932. Article here. Photo: Gary Wood.

1980s. Millwall Wharf, Manchester Road. Most of the wharf’s buildings were demolished, but those warehouses along the riverside were grade II listed and are some of the few old industrial buildings still remaining on the Isle of Dogs. Article here.

1980s. Pfizer, Westferry Road. The location, Atlas Wharf, was used by chemical firms from the start of the 1800s. In the early 1960s the site was acquired by Pfizer Ltd, who mainly manufactured citric acid there. Photo: Dee Bennett.

1983. Glass Bridge. Opened in 1965 and provided pedestrian access across Millwall Docks, from Tiller Road to Glengall Grove. Article here. Photo: Mike Seaborne

1983. Glass Bridge. Article here.

1985. McDougall’s flour silo. McDougall’s operated in Millwall Docks from the year after their opening in 1868. The silo, visible from all over the Island, was constructed in the 1930s. Article here. Photo: Mike Seaborne.

1985. McDougall’s flour silo. Article here.

1986. Morton’s. Opened in 1872, Morton’s was for a time one of the largest employers on the Island, and is also known as the birthplace of Millwall F.C. From the 1950s, when Morton’s was acquired by Beecham, the Millwall factory was gradually run down. Article here. Photo: Gary O’Keefe.

1986. Morton’s viewed from Westferry Road. Article here. Photo: Pat Jarvis.

1987. Canary Wharf, West India Docks. Built for Fred Olsen & Co. at West India Docks in the 1930s, and named to reflect the company’s significant fruit trade with the Canary Islands. Article here. Photo: Museum of London, Docklands.

1989. Rum Quay Warehouse (occupied by Limehouse Studios from 1983), West India Docks.

1990s. Lenanton’s, Westferry Road. Lenanton’s timber firm was one of the longest-existing businesses on the Isle of Dogs. It was founded in 1864 and survived until almost the end of the 20th Century. Article here. Photo: Jim O’Donnell.

2000. Tate & Lyle. Alpha Grove. The western extent of Millwall Docks land, running adjacent with Alpha Road/Grove was known as Broadway Works. A series of sugar manufacturing companies operated at the works, concluding with Tate & Lyle. Photo: Peter Wright.

2000s. Seacon. The freight firm (specialising in transport of steel) built two terminals on the site, the first of which was completed in 1976. Article here. Photo: Paul Albon.

2000s. Westwood, Harbinger Road.  Westwood’s had their origins in the firm started in 1856 by Joseph Westwood (and others) at London Yard, Manchester Road. The firm was wound up in 1971. Article here. Photo: Peter Wright.

Circa 2010. Morton’s, Cuba Street. Article here. Photo: Brian Grover.

2010s. Boropex, Westferry Road. The land east of the corner with Chapel House Street originally was used by a series of engineering companies (most notably, Matthew T Shaw) but was largely empty/derelict for many years before its demolition. Photo: Peter Wright.

2011. Hammond House, Tiller Road. Hammond House was built in 1937-38 on the eastern end of the former Universe Rope Works which used to dominate Glengall Road/Grove before it was itself demolished. Article here. Photo: Peter Wright.

2013. Dockland Settlement, East Ferry Road. Opened in 1923 in the premises of the former Welcome Institute. Largely demolished to make room for Canary Wharf College. Article here. Photo: Peter Wright

2013. Tobago Street warehouse. Article here.

2014. St Luke’s Church, Alpha Grove. The second church on the site, built to replace the bomb-damaged original church (see above). Article here. Photo: Peter Wright.

2016. Nos. 2-6 East Ferry Road. The illegal demolition of three Victorian ‘cottages’ at the north west end of East Ferry Road. Despite attempts by the council to reverse the demolition, or at least punish the perpetrators, the courts rules that no action would be taken (article about court decision here). Photo: Peter Wright.

2018. City Arms (later renamed City Pride), Westferry Road. Opened in 1811 at the western end of the City Canal and rebuilt in the 1930s, the pub remained closed and empty for some years before its demolition. Photo: Peter Wright

2019. Manilla Street. Old warehouses opposite the North Pole pub. Photo: Con Maloney

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Miss Price and The Welcome Institute for Working Girls

In 1892 philanthropist Jean Warrender Price (1859-1942) took over a former oil and paint shop at 333 Westferry Road in order to be able to provide lunchtime meals and shelter to local working girls.

1892. Location of 333 Westferry Road

Survey of London:

Cheap hot meals were the mainstay of the Institute’s work, served to anything between 70 and 170 girls a day. In addition to informal counselling, classes were held in dressmaking, cooking and bible study, while a grand Christmas supper (to which young men could be invited) provided a highlight to the girls’ year.

Price was one of a small number of philanthropists devoting time to helping the Island’s poor. To be able to carry out her work she relied heavily on funds and donations solicited from churches, charitable groups and other philanthropists. Some local business owners could be called upon to donate or help, but these were the exceptions rather than the rule (virtually all large business owners did not live on the Island, and most would have nothing to do with the place).


On 21st May 1897, “Miss Jean Price” was interviewed by social-reformer Charles Booth in the course of his groundbreaking survey into working-class life in London at the end of the 19th century (see this article for some of the results of his research on the Island).

Extract of Booth’s 1897 interview with Jean Price.

He described her as*…

…a bright, cheery, and eminently sensible little woman. She is a keen high churchwoman and lays great stress on the religious side of her work; none of the work must be entirely secular; efforts must be made to fit all to the church or to [illegible]; it is a mistake to carry on such work on purely secular lines. At the same time I could see no signs of any thrusting of religion upon the girls during my two nights.

* I find Booth’s handwriting occasionally difficult to read. Any transcription mistakes are my own.

Miss Price told Booth that when the Institute first opened it was almost impossible to get the girls to eat wholesome food; they would have nothing but cake, cheesecakes, and pastry. And…

…owing chiefly to this food they all looked pasty and anaemic – wiser habits have effected a great change in their appearance. With one or two exceptions they now certainly looked wonderfully healthy.

The girls were summed up by Booth as being of the regular factory type, though much more decent in their behaviour, and none badly dressed. They were apparently devoted to Miss Price, who found them quiet and orderly. She thought it notable that the girls could rarely be induced to play games, but they would have a sing if the mood was right.

One of Miss Price’s co-workers told Booth a ‘curious story’ which he felt illustrated the feeling of ‘this class’ on the question of death:

One of the girls was dying; her friends in the club who when told that there was no hope of her recovery clubbed together to buy a wreath for her coffin; they were exceedingly anxious that she should live long enough to see it and by permission of the doctor went with it to her room. She was immensely pleased and touched.

Between its opening and Booth’s visit, the work of the Institute had expanded to include – in addition to the lunchtime meals and shelter:

  • club for young girls meeting twice a week;
  • club for factory girls, twice a week;
  • mother’s meeting club;
  • provident bank;
  • coffee tavern.

The building was too small for such so much activity. Booth observed that, when it was busy, some girls would have to dine on the stairs and in the kitchen. He also wrote:

This is all held in a building of inadequate dimensions in the West Ferry Road. In the front is the Coffee Tavern, above which Miss Price and two other ladies live; at the back is the club room, a barn-like structure, long and narrow.

The building was also, like many others in the area, quite dilapidated. Revd. Free of nearby St Cuthbert’s Church described it as a little old-fashioned house, poor and badly built. The neighbourhood was renowned for its slum housing, and was prone to frequent flooding (the water often polluted by oil and other chemicals from local firms). One of Booth’s ‘Poverty Maps’ depicted the area as follows:

Booth Poverty Map and Legend. The Welcome Institute is highlighted.

In 1904, Miss Price decided that it was time to move to larger and better premises, and letters were written to newspapers to seek donations for the construction of a building somewhere on the Island.

The Times, 1st December 1904

In 1905 enough money had been raised to build new premises on a piece of undeveloped land nestled between East Ferry Road and the arches of the Millwall Extension Railway, immediately to the right of the entrance to Millwall Athletic’s football ground.

Survey of London:

The site was leased from Lady Margaret Charteris for 99 years at a rent of ten guineas a year. The small [construction] budget did not allow for much architectural display, and the facade is severely plain neo-Georgian in style. The ground floor originally contained a common dining-hall and a small dining-room, served by a kitchen and ancillary wing at the rear of the entrance lobby. The coal-house and lavatories formed a separate block at the back of this wing. On the other side, a second, larger, wing contained an assembly room, with a platform at one end. Staff quarters were placed on the first floor. The bay to the right of the street entrance was originally a single storey.

Foundation Stone. Photo taken in 1974 by Jan Traylen.

The following photo shows the Welcome Institute in 1905, the year of its opening. Most readers will immediately recognize the building as the premises of the later Dockland Settlement.


Miss Price carried on working at the Welcome Institute until her retirement in 1923, at which time the Institute was closed and the building handed over to the Dockland Settlement organisation. Later, a statue was placed on the chapel staircase to commemorate her years of devoted service.

Commemorative statue of Jean Price. Photo: Island History Trust

Jean Price retired to Bath, where she died in June 1942. Her gravestone and memorial can be found at St Mary the Virgin, Bathwick–Smallcombe Cemetery (plot G.J.22). The memorial reads:

In Memory of
ON JUNE 28TH 1942


If you are in the area, why not go pay your respects to someone who selflessly did so much for Island girls and women?

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The Corner of Chapel House Street and Westferry Road

The first mention of Chapel House Street on a map was around 1870, when it was a very short street off Westferry Road which turned 90 degrees to the right after a few yards. Later, when Chapel House Street was extended to East Ferry Road, the short section on the right became Chapel House Place.

The houses and The Ship public house – shown in the 1870 map below – were built from about 1850 onwards. Nos. 423-427 Westferry Road and the first houses on the west side of Chapel House Street (starting at No. 1, odd numbers) were built during the decade after publication of this map.

Although I am using the 20th Century house numbering here, originally most terraces had a name which was more commonly used in postal addresses. The row of houses from No. 429-451, for example, was originally named Silver Terrace. The houses directly behind this terrace were Dahlia’s Cottages, and the houses in the later-named Chapel House Place were known as Griffin’s Cottages.


It was a small residential area almost surrounded by industry, but with market gardens to the north. Some enterprising residents in the 1880s included:

  • Joseph Taylor at 429 Westferry Road, partner in the firm, J. & J. Taylor (machine makers, coppersmiths and brass finishers);
  • George Griffin Cook, local manufacturing chemist, at No. 451. Cook built the first few houses in Chapel House Place, which were known as Griffin’s Cottages;
  • Omnibus propietor, George Hames also lived at No. 451 at some stage;
  • Thomas Weaver, who ran a chandler’s shop (a greengrocer in modern parlance) at No. 294;
  • Landlady, Sarah Walker, of the The Glendower public house at Nos. 296-8.

No houses were built east of No. 451 (except for those few in Lead Street, close to the later fire station) and this land was occupied by various firms over the years, including Matthew T. Shaw and the lead firm, Locke Lancaster.


Since the demise of the Thames shipbuilding industry around 1870, industrial specialisms of the Island included the manufacture of not only iron and steel but also of chemicals. That lead manufacturing can be harmful to health was known at the end of the 19th century, but the dangers of asbestos were not. Residents’ neighbours included United Asbestos at Nelson Wharf, and just a few yards east: an oil wharf, a lead works and a copper depositing works!

18th November 1896. The Morning Post.

1900. Chas E Goad Insurance Plan. British Library.

1908. Mrs F. M. Kettle nee Hames, with her daughter – her first child – Violet Florence, later Oliver. Photograph taken at No.9 Chapel House Street, Millwall (later Curtis’s grocery shop), in 1908. When she grew up, Violet worked at Maconochies and then at McDougalls, as a shorthand typist. Text and Photo: Island History Trust.

The following photo was taken in the early 1900s and shows new setts being laid in Westferry Road, close to the corner with Chapel House Street on the right.

Early 1900s

Apart from the working men it shows, left to right:

  1. The entrance to Nelson Wharf at 302 West Ferry Road, with a sign mentioning Burnett’s Disenfectant
  2. 298-292 Westferry Road (left to right)
  3. The Ship public house at 290 West Ferry Road
  4. Maconochie’s
  5. Footbridge connecting the buildings of Burrell’s Wharf on both sides of Westferry Road
  6. 413-427 Westferry Road
  7. The entrance to Chapel House Street
  8. 429 Westferry Road

The following photo was taken a few years later very close to the same spot (although from an upstairs window). It more clearly shows Burnett’s entrance, The Ship and Maconochies.

c1920. Island History Trust


Survey of London:

Sir William Burnett (1779–1861) was a naval surgeon who distinguished himself at Trafalgar and other battles, rising to become Inspector of Hospitals to the Mediterranean fleet and, in 1822, one of two Medical Commissioners to the Navy Victualling Board.

In about 1836 Burnett devised an anti-rot and mothproofing treatment for timber, cordage, canvas and other cloths, using an aqueous solution of chloride of zinc. ‘Burnettizing’ became a standard wood-preservative technique.

Timber preserving and timber merchanting were the principal activities at Nelson Wharf in the mid-1890s, though disinfectant continued to be made there in the 1920s. Soldering fluid was also produced. By the 1930s the business was exclusively concerned with timber.

The Ship Public House

One of no less than five pubs* opened close to Scott-Russell’s yard at the time of the construction of the Great Eastern in the 1850s, undoubtedly hoping to benefit from the trade offered by workers and visitors. The Ship pub was created by rebuilding two houses, which themselves were relatively new, having been built in the 1830s.

* See this article for more information about Island pubs over the years.

1920s. An outing from The Ship. Top row, in the coach: Arthur Justice (worked at Hawkins & Tipson’s), and Bill Audrett ( a reeler at Hawkins & Tipson’s); Nat Oliver (Parry’s oil mill); Wally Green, Harry McSweeny (stevedore), Rubin and Jack Oliver (both worked at McDougals flour mill). Front row seated: Bill Brinkley (docker), and in the centre, Fred Payne, the landlord of the pub. The baby looking out of the window is probably Lily Payne. Photo and text: Island History Trust


James Maconochie (1850-1895) and Archibald Maconochie (1854-1926) were two of eight siblings born in England to Edinburgh-born Archibald Maconochie Sr. and Elizabeth Richardson from Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire. The brothers’ first business was a fish-curing factory in Lowestoft, started in 1873. The business was a great success and it expanded to include food processing, packaging and canning, and they were one of the largest employers in the town.

By the end of the 1890s, Maconochies was the largest producer of canned food in the world, and they had a number of premises throughout Britain. In 1896 (a year after the death of James Maconochie from pneumonia), Maconochie Brothers – a name the business would retain despite the death of James – took over the former Northumberland Wharf in Westferry Road on the Isle of Dogs.  This was a couple of years before the company secured a lucrative contract to supply tinned meat and vegetable stew to British troops fighting in the Boer War (1899-1902). See this article for more information about Maconochies.

WWI Rations

Chapel House Street was extended to East Ferry Road well before WWI, but it was 1919 before houses were built along the new section when Poplar Borough Council built the Chapel House Estate. The older houses on the left side of Chapel House Street in the following photo are Nos. 1-11; beyond them are houses of the new Chapel House Estate.


The following photo was taken opposite Maconochie’s and shows a hint of the refreshment bar or café that was at No. 423 since at least before WWI. I remember that there was still a café (‘Sid’s Cosy Café’) there in the late 1960s when I walked home from Harbinger School to my home near Christ Church.


1930. 425 Westferry Road. Island History Trust

The corner of Chapel House Street and Westferry Road was clearly a popular place for the departure and arrival of outings and beanos. In the following photo a group of young women are dressed-up and standing outside The Ship, undoubtedly waiting for their charabanc to turn up. The entrance to Chapel House Street is on the left of the photo.

1935. Outside The Ship

1930s. Island History Trust

1935. Island History Trust

1937. Nos. 1-11 Chapel House Street during celebrations of the coronation of George VI. Island History Trust

The bus in the following photo is obscuring the entrance to Chapel House Street, but the photo does show many of the houses from 413-451 Westferry Road.


No. 413, the tallest house on the left, was recquistioned during WWII and used by the Auxiliary Ambulance Service.

1940s. 413 Westferry Road

This and other houses in the terrace as far as Chapel House Street survived the War, but neighbouring houses did not. The worst damage was done on 11th November 1941 when a 250 Kg high explosive bomb fell on the opposite corner, destroying 5 houses, Nos. 429 to 437 (there are no reports of any fatalities due to the bombing).

c1950. I don’t at this moment know if Nos. 443 and higher were destroyed by bombing or were ‘simply’ demolished to make room for a new Matthew T. Shaw shed. I do have a book of LCC bomb damage maps which will answer the question, but I recently moved home and the book is hiding under a pile of other books somewhere.

Later, a bank was built on the site of the destroyed houses at No. 429 and higher. I didn’t have an account with the NatWest, but my mum did and I recall spending quite some time in there. Remember when everything was done with cheques? What a palaver.

1984. Compare this photo with the previous, 1930s, photo which also shows a bus obscuring Chapel House Street. Both photos were taken at the same place. Photo: Mike Seaborne

Despite surviving the War and inhabited until well into the 1960s, the remaining old houses from No. 413 and higher were cleared and demolished. The old houses at Nos. 1-11 Chapel House Street were also demolished.

1960s. 413 Westferry Road empty and awaiting demolition. Out of sight, behind the bus, was a bus stop, more apparent in the following photo.

Circa 1970 (estimate). Looking north up Westferry Road from approx. 413 Westferry Road.

1980s. Photo: Mike Seaborne

1984-ish. Screenshot from the TV series, Prospects

1984-ish. Screenshot from the TV series, Prospects

2010s. Site of 443-451 Westferry Road. Photo: Peter Wright

Some Comparisons With Present-Day Views

And finally, a photo of the same section of road shown in the 1900s photo of men laying the street. There’s a very good chance that at least some of the stones they laid are still present here under a few layers of asphalt.

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Union Dock

In 1660  the river wall was breached in the north-west of the Island, and this breach not only created an inland lake (the Poplar Gut), it also meant the river wall had to be routed around the breach, giving the later Westferry Road its familiar curving path along ‘The Walls’ (article here).


The ‘land’ formed by the breach was initially used for floating timber and masts, but from about 1700 a succession of owners developed a shipbuilding yard there. By 1750 the yard had two dry docks, known as the ‘Single Dock’ and the ‘Long Dock’. In 1786, according to The Survey of London: The yard was then taken by … Almon Hill (c1741–1808), in partnership with Robert Mellish, and they built warships and East Indiamen. By 1800, plans had been made for the West India Docks and these plans left Hill’s Ship Yard surrounded by the West India Docks Limehouse Entrance, Import Dock and Export Dock, and the City Canal.

1800. Extract from plan for the West India Docks showing Hill’s Ship Yard with its Single Dock and Long Dock

In 1818 the yard was taken over by the shipbuilding firm of Fletcher, Son & Fearnall who named it Union Dock and operated there – first as shipbuilders and then as ship repairers – until 1925.

Fletcher’s Yard, Limehouse. Charles Deane
Limehouse; circa 1840
© National Maritime Museum Collections

Survey of London:

Joseph Fletcher extended the dockyard to the south in 1829–31, leasing the former mast pond and timber-yard from the dock company. He solved the problem of creating the foundations for a dry dock on this unembanked frontage by sinking the hull of the Canton, an old East Indiaman, in the former mast pond, fastening it down with piles, fitting it with timber gates, and surrounding it with made ground to form an oak-lined dry dock, 220ft by 56ft.

Completed by 1833, the dock was intended for steamboats, and so there were recesses in the side walls to give room around the paddles. The Union Dock thus came to occupy virtually all of the Breach, with the entire frontage between the two Limehouse entrance locks, becoming one of the largest private yards on the Thames.


In following decades, the Upper and Lower Docks were completely rebuilt to accommodate larger vessels.


Photo from ‘Living London’ by George R Sims, published in 1903

The following two photos show S.V. France being towed into the Union Lower Dock in about 1920. Their source is the Island History Trust Collection and the original caption states “A series of photographs taken c1920 by George Henry Wright, a plater who worked in the ship-repair yard of Fletcher Son & Fearnall. by Mrs S. Piper (nee Wright)”.

S. V. France being towed into Union Lower Dock. Island History Trust

My knowledge of ships is minimal, but I am pretty certain the ship is France II, which,  according to Wikipedia:

….was launched in 1912. In hull length and overall size she was the second largest commercial merchant sailing ship ever built, and had the greatest cargo carrying capacity of any sailing ship ever.

The huge barque was equipped with two Schneider 950 horsepower (710 kW) diesel engines, which were removed in 1919.*

On a homeward passage in 1922 with a cargo of chrome ore from Pouembout, New Caledonia, she went aground on the night of July 12, 1922 on the Teremba reef…  Because of fallen cargo rates her owner refused to pay for a tugboat to tow her free, and she was abandoned. In 1944, American bombers bombed the wreckage for target practice.

* Possibly that’s why she was in Union Dock at the time of the photos.

c1920. S.V. France in the Union Lower Dock, with its bowsprit extending over Westferry Road. On the left is a hint of Fletcher’s Villas, a row of three houses built by the firm for its employees around 1918. Photo: Island History Trust

c1919. SS Onward arriving for refitting at Union Dock. Photo: Island History Trust

Another famous visitor to the Union Dock  was the Cutty Sark, which had in 1895 been sold to the Portuguese firm Joaquim Antunes Ferreira, and had been renamed Ferreira after the firm. According to the Greenwich Maritime Museum’s website, Ferreira / Cutty Sark was in Union Dock for repairs in January 1922.

1922. The Cutty Sark (named Ferreira at the time) in Union Dock. Photo: Island History Trust

1922. The Cutty Sark (named Ferreira at the time) in Union Dock. Photo: Island History Trust

Fletcher, Son & Fearnall had one of the largest private ship yards on the Thames, but – as was the case with all Thames firms in shipping-related industries – business declined from the late 1800s. Shipbuilders disappeared first, but Fletcher, Son & Fearnall remained longer in business because they concentrated on repairs. Despite a brief increase in business during WWI – the firm was wound up in 1925.

Survey of London:

For a decade the Union Docks site remained vacant. The buildings were cleared, except the new offices and Fletcher’s Villas (which stood until they were demolished in 1988), and the upper and middle dry docks were filled during the mid-1930s.

Deserted Union Dock in 1934. The Middle Dock had been filled by this time.

Land belonging to the Union Dock was divided up and occupied by various firms from 1935. The land north of the Lower Dock was taken over by the Cargo Fleet Iron Company, whose large shed is visible in the following photo (personally interesting to me as my mum’s side of the family lived in the shadow of their huge works in Middlesbrough).


The former Lower Dock was occupied from approximately the start of WWII until 1951 by R. & H. Green & Silley Weir, who renamed it Union Dry Dock.



Survey of London:

In the late 1960s Cargo Fleet Wharf and the Union Dry Dock were taken as a site for the processing of sand and gravel by various concrete and dredging companies. The fabricating shop and gantry were cleared, and the slipway was filled. Wharfing was renewed and hoppers, conveyors, cranes and gantries were erected.



1985. Fletcher’s Villas are boarded up but still standing (though not for long).

In 1987, construction started on Westferry Circus, which covered the northern section of the former Union Dock.


The rest of the former Union Dock was cleared in 1991 – the year of opening of 1 Canada Square – but for many years no construction took place on the site. Only recently have there been signs of something happening, which can just be seen in this 2021 image. For the sake of reference, I have added two older photos taken from more or less the same place.

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A Unique Image of Millwall Athletic’s ground in East Ferry Road?

From 1890-1901 Millwall played at the Millwall Athletic Ground – where ASDA is now located.


The 1891 Millwall Athletic team in front of the main stand.

1894 illustration of the ground (covered in snow), with sheds and ships in Millwall Docks in the background, across East Ferry Road. The main stand is on the left. The building on the right, I believe, housed a smaller stand and the changing rooms.

1895. Other local teams also made occasional use of the Athletic Ground, including Island Rovers, shown here. The main stand is on the left, and behind the players is the small-stand/changing-rooms combination. Photo: Island History Trust.

The Athletic Ground was on land leased from the Millwall Dock Company, and the club was forced to move before the scheduled end of lease when the dock company decided in 1901 they needed it for the storage of imported timber. The company built a ‘Timber Transporter’, a large conveyor system, to move timber from the dock, over East Ferry Road, to the yard (see here for article about the transporter).

The previous photo was taken shortly after the transporter was completed, and although I’d previously written an article about it, I’ve only just noticed that the Athletic Ground – or part of it – appears to have been still standing at the time of the photo (in 1902 a timber shed was built on the site). Hopefully these images will help you see it better, In the first I edited the transporter out of the way…

And here I added some lines and annotations for highlighting…

I am not 100% sure if my assumption is correct, but I like to think so. Plenty of photos were taken of the team at the ground, showing glimpses of the main stand and other buildings, but I’ve never seen a wider view, or a view which shows it’s position in East Ferry Road so clearly.

This is today’s view, by the way….

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Malabar Street. A Short History of a Short Street

Malabar Street was originally named Charles Street, and was one of the few short streets built off Westferry Road starting around 1850 on land belonging to Revd. William Tooke. Development was slow in the beginning, and came to a complete stop as a consequence of the 1866 financial crisis.


By 1890, however, Charles Street had been extended further east until it met Alpha Road.  During the same period, it was renamed Malabar Street; a more ‘exotic’ name meant to reflect the sugar and spice trade handled in the West India Docks (for the same reason, Robert Street was renamed Cuba Street, Alfred Street was renamed Manilla Street, and so on).


It was a typical Millwall street consisting mainly of terraced housing. Some exceptions were the stables (on the left with white wall in following photo) adjoining No. 1, and the warehouse at No. 8 (on the right, close to lamp post).

1906, looking east towards Alpha Road.

In 1879 the warehouse was…

…converted to a Salvation Army Barracks. A mission hall by the early twentieth century, it was a club in the 1930s, but by the early 1950s had become a builder’s store.
(Survey of London)

c1900. The Salvation Army ‘Millwall Slum Band’ which was almost certainly based in Malabar Street. (Photo: Island History Trust)

At the other end of Malabar Street, on the corner with Alpha Road, was a more substantial buiding: the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, built in 1887 by Mellish Street resident, builder G. Limn. The hall was added in the late 1920s.

1920s Millwall. The arrow marks Malabar Street

1930s street party in Malabar Street

1934. News article photo taken in the backyard of 15 Malabar Street.

At 18:19 on 7th September 1940 – the first night of the Blitz – a large explosive bomb landed “on or close to Tooke Street” (according to the London Fire Brigade report). This bomb destroyed houses at the west end of Tooke Street as well as a couple of premises on Westferry Road, and caused the first civilian deaths of the War on the Island. Among the victims was Albert Byrnes, aged 60, of 30 Malabar Street.

(The same bomb also destroyed the Islanders public house in Tooke Street; more usually named ‘Sexton’s’ by locals after the former landlord Maurice John Sexton. It was famous as the first club house of Millwall FC.)

Five minutes later, at 18:24, 54 Malabar Street was destroyed and adjoining houses seriously damaged by bombs falling on and around Maria Street. These bombs caused great destruction in the area.

Six Malabar Street residents were among those killed in the Bullivant’s Wharf tragedy of 19th March 1941. One of the victims was Mary Ann Sieloff, family of chicken keeper,  Charles Sieloff, who featured in the previous news article.

In 1943, with victory in sight, the government made preparations for the inevitable housing shortage that would follow the war. People were already staying with neighbours and family, and within a couple of years their numbers would be swelled by returning evacuees and service personnel. The first measures focused on creating temporary accommodation, by converting schools and warehouses for example, and by building Nissen huts and prefabs (officially “temporary”, some prefabs were still in use in the 1970s). Nissen huts were the temporary accommodation of choice in and around Malabar Street.

c1947. Malabar Street marked by arrow


1940s. Malabar Street Irene Walsham (later Cakebread) and Bessie Stockwell (later McSweeney) outside the Nissen huts in Malabar Street. Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

1953 Coronation Party in Malabar Street. Photo: Island History Trust

c1960. The derelict area was occupied by Nissen huts directly after the war.

After the war, Poplar Borough Council and the LCC embarked on a housing programme which included the creation of large new housing estates. One of these was the Barkantine Estate. In the first few years of the 1960s, the LCC cleared a site for the estate by means of the – sometimes compulsory – purchase of close to 200  houses and vacant plots. Of the 800 homes in pre-war North Millwall, only 300 were left after the LCC demolition (see this article for the full story). Not only were all houses in Malabar Street demolished, the street was much shortened.

c1970 Malabar Street, not long after the opening of the Barkantine Estate

50 years later (gulp) and the view hasn’t changed that much.

1997 Malabar Street. Looking in the opposite direction. Photo: Peter Wright

2020. Whoops!

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Little Remnants of Isle of Dogs History

The Isle of Dogs has a rich history, but there is little evidence of that if you walk around the Island (and what remains is – admittedly – mostly less than spectacular). However, if you are that way inclined, it is worth standing still at a few of the less obvious places and looking for signs of the past.

1. The Walls

In medieval times, the only path around the Island followed the top of a man-made river embankment known as a wall. In March 1660, the embankment was seriously breached just south of Limehouse and a large part of the north of the Island was flooded by the Thames. Due to the width of the breach it was not practical to rebuild the embankment along its original path, so it was instead built further back from the original riverside, following the path of some of the breach. This resulted in a bulge or curve in the embankment path which could later be seen in the characteristic bends of the section of Westferry Road known locally as ‘The Walls’.

The reason for its name was the approximately 600 yard long, high dock wall which ran from the City Arms in the south to Emmett Street in the north. In sections, there were also once walls along the river side of the road.



The dock wall lost its purpose when dock operations ceased at the West India Docks in 1980, and in the following years it was demolished. Just a small section still exists at the northern end, separating Cannon Workshops from the road.



For more information about The Walls, see this article.

2. The Impounding Station

In order to maintain the water level of the docks, water had to be pumped in from the river to compensate for the water lost when the entrance lock gates were opened (and also to a lesser extent due to evaporation and leakage). This work was performed by so-called impounding stations, one of which is still operating at the former western entrance to the West India South Dock, immediately north of the site of the recently-demolished City Arms/Pride pub.



The impounding station was opened in 1929, and is capable of pumping 65 million gallons into the docks over a four-hour period around high tide. The building is not listed, or formally protected in any other way, but it should be free from the risk of redevelopment – for the time being at least – there remains an obligation for the water level of the West India Docks to be maintained in order for the docks to be able to accommodate ships of a certain size. Now managed by the Canal & River Trust (who organise occasional open days), the station is now fully automated and was recently restored.

2012, the impounding station from the river. Blink and you’ll miss it. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

3. Blacksmith’s Arms

Located at 25 Westferry Road, the pub opened as a beer house around 1895 and remained in business until 2001, when it was converted into a restaurant.

1960s. At a time when a few pubs on the Island were well known for their entertainment, the Blacksmith’s Arms apparently took a more sedate approach.

1968. A merge of Hugo Wilhare photos.

If you look up towards the roof, you can still see the orignal pub name…

4. Anchor & Hope

One of the earliest pubs on the Island, it opened as a beer house at 41 Westferry Road in 1829. It closed in 2005 and spent quite some time empty, and suffered a fire on the upper floors while derelict, before being renovated (during which one of the construction workers sadly died in an accident) and converted to flats and a sports school on the ground floor.

1960s. Photo: Island History Trust Collection


2008. Photo: Peter Wright

5. St Luke’s School

St Luke’s School started life in a so-called iron church (essentially, constructed with corrugated iron) built in 1865 on a piece of waste-land close to the east end of Strafford Street. The church became redundant upon the opening of St. Luke’s Church and in 1873 a new school was opened on the other side of Westferry Road from Strafford Street.

1958. Photo: Rosemary Freeman, courtesy of her son John.

In 1971 the school transferred to the former Cubitt Town School in Saunders Ness Road. The old building was demolished and its site absorbed into Lenanton’s. The school’s memorial stone was preserved and can now be seen mounted on the wall close to the supermarket at 26 Westferry Road.

St Luke’s School memorial stone location

The memorial stone names some notable Islanders of time. The businesses of Robert Wigram, Samuel Cutler and John Lenanton were still operating a century later. William Bradshaw was the son of Henry Bradshaw – one of the first people to be registered as born on the Island, and who was involved in many local enterprises and organisations.

St Luke’s School memorial stone, originally mounted a handful of years after the school opened.

6. Bullivant’s Wharf

During the night of 19th-20th March 1941 – just over 80 years ago – more than 40 people were killed, and dozens injured, when the public air raid shelter at Bullivant’s Wharf, behind St Luke’s school, received a direct bomb hit. This was the Isle of Dogs’ worst wartime bombing incident.

1920s. This aerial photo also includes the impounding station, Blacksmith’s Arms, Anchor & Hope and St Luke’s School

I previously wrote two articles about the tragedy – one describing an investigation into its precise location and events, and another about the placing of a memorial on the site in 2014. The memorial is placed on a wall on Thames Path, best reachable via Hutching’s Street.

7. Magnet & Dewdrop

Located at 194 Westferry Rd, this pub was re-named the Telegraph in 1985. It closed in 1995 and was converted into housing.

1950s. Photo: Island History Trust

8. The Vulcan

Located at 240 Westferry Rd. The Vulcan was established by 1882 and closed in 1992, becoming a grocer’s store and then a restaurant.


9. Marsh Street

The first purpose-built school on the Island was Millwall British School (aka British Street Millwall School), opened in 1847 in British Street on a site donated by the Countess of Glengall.

Late 1800s

In 1873 the school moved across British Street to much larger premises. When British Street was renamed Harbinger Road in the 1930s, the school was also renamed, but its original name can still be seen on a set of tiles at the rear of the building in Marsh Street.

10. Hesperus Crescent

Hesperus Crescent was relatively unscathed by bombing during WWII, but on 19th March 1941 – during the same raid that caused the destruction of the Bullivant’s Wharf shelter –  the terrace of seven houses at Nos. 1-13 (odd) were destroyed by bombing. No residents of Hesperus Crescent were killed, but three emergency service workers and a resident of Harbinger Road lost their lives.

The seven houses were replaced with six slightly larger houses – Nos. 1-11 (odd) – and as a consequence, there is no longer a No. 13 Hesperus Crescent

Nos. 1-11 Hesperus Crescent

11. The Forge

The building now known as The Forge – seen hemmed in by new-builds in the previous photo – was once part of a huge  (27-acre) complex occupied by the Millwall Iron Works. According to the 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 (this at a time when the population of the Island was less than 9000).

In c1859, the works were taken over by Charles John Mare, an engineer and MP with a ‘colourful past’.

Mare was … an innovative East End shipbuilder. Thought to be a millionaire when he was returned for Plymouth in 1852, his election proved the apex of his career. He was unseated for bribery in 1853, and declared bankrupt, for the first of four times, in 1855.

Mare fitted up his new yard and engineering shops, and added rolling mills for iron plates and armour, investing about £100,000 in the mill. A metal plate on The Forge still bears his initials:

12. Robert Burns

During the construction of the Great Eastern, a handful of beer houses and pubs popped up in the area hoping to take advantage of the trade offered by workers and visitors. One of these was the Robert Burns at 248 & 250 Westferry Road, which was present by 1853 and closed in 1991.

1970s (estimated)

The building now houses a mosque, a community centre and a take-away food outlet.

13. Great Eastern Slipway

It is well known that the Great Eastern was – due to its size – built parallel with the Thames and launched sideways (for details about the launch, see this article).


Sections of the ship’s launch ramps have been preserved on the river embankment, but you have to wait for low tide to see the concrete ramps at the river’s edge.

Google Satellite View

The previous image begins to give a better idea of the size of the Great Eastern, but we need to zoom out some more to fit the whole ship in.

14. Undine Road

A relatively new road situated between the former Millwall Dry Dock and East Ferry Road, it was also once the site of a refuse incinerator (one of its jobs was to destroy old bank notes; if I’d known that as a kid, I’d have been standing downwind every day, just in case….).

The incinerator in operation in the 1960s. Perhaps standing downwind was not such a good idea after all. Photo: Island History Trust

The unremarkable chimney, built in 1952, is all that survives of the Millwall Docks’ buildings. (Other Island chimneys are also described in this article – yes, I did write an article about Island chimneys.)

15. The Arches

Known simply as ‘the arches’ to most Islanders, the railway viaduct which runs through Millwall Park has lost its original purpose – albeit with a brief revival in the 1980s and 1990s when it was used by the Docklands Light Railway. The 2008 Millwall Park Management Plan accurately described it as:

…an important local feature, visually very important as a backdrop to activities in the park (and also a visual barrier) and a reminder of the industrial heritage of the area.
London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Look closely enough at the arches, and you will spot two things. The first being repairs made after WWII bomb damage (I have to admit that these are becoming very difficult to detect):


The second is a reminder of the time when the arches at the Dockland Settlement end were used as a public air raid shelter….

….the walls under the arches still hold tiny reminders of the shelter:

Image from ‘The Isle of Dogs During WWII’, Mick Lemmerman

16. Dockland Settlement

The Welcome Institute, an organization established by philanthropist Miss Jean Price, provided hot meals at affordable prices to factory girls (serving anything between 70 and 170 girls a day), evening classes in dressmaking and needlework, Bible classes for boys and club-rooms for local football teams. In 1905, the institute moved from its damp, cramped premises at 333 Westferry Rd to a new building at 197 East Ferry Rd.

In 1923, following Miss Price’s retirement, the Welcome Insitute closed and the building was handed over to a youth-club organization founded by the former playwright Reginald Kennedy-Cox (1881-1966).  Its official name became Dockland Settlement (No. 2).


Between 2009 and 2011 most of the old buildings was demolished, and a new school built on the site. The chapel (added in 1913-14) and rear building were retained, though, and you can see them if you walk a little further north up East Ferry Road.

See here for a full article about the Dockland Settlement.

17. Greenwich Ferry

For centuries, the Isle of Dogs was best known as a place to take the ferry to Greenwich (article here). One of the companies that plied the route over the years was run by the Greenwich Ferry Company, which made its first crossing in February 1888.

Centuries earlier, small boats were used to ferry passengers and sometimes horses and livestock across the river – but there was relatively little traffic, and it was customary to wait for the tide to be at the right height in order to able to board a boat.


Later, especially after the West India Docks opened, there was a much greater demand for the crossing, and ferry companies employed larger (later steam-powered) boats. Larger ferries required a pier, and the usual type was a floating pier which rose and fell with the tide. Depending on the height of the tide, however, the slope of the pier could be too great to be negotiated by horses and carts. For this reason, from some time during the 1800s, the Greenwich Ferry transported only foot passengers.

With its new “Greenwich Vehicular Steam Ferry”, the Greenwich Ferry Company made it possible to transport horses and carts again, using a novel system which towed horizontal platforms up and down a concrete slope to the level of the ferry.

A detailed description of the mechanics and the history of this ferry can be found on the very interesting website, The Forgotten Highway, which also explains why the ferry was shortlived:

Despite its mechanical ingenuity, the ferry was never a commercial success principally due to insufficient traffic. It closed between 1890 and 1892, then reopened and by the end of October that year traffic was said to be up to 500 vehicles and 1000 passengers weekly.

In 1892 Greenwich ferry owners were anxious for it to be taken over by the London County Council. It is stated as not being a remunerative service at half hour frequency, but it is still a worthy public utility. It would be for sale at a moderate price.

It finally closed for good in about 1899 after less than ten years active life.

The concrete slipway which formed the basis of this innovative ferry is still very much visible when the tide is low. You can’t see it from Ferry Street, but you can from the foreshore:

Another place to see it is from Locke’s Wharf, where you can see that stuff over the water at the same time.

18. Ferry Street

The following map shows the Victoria Iron Works in the 1870s (street names have changed since then – Johnson Street and this section of Wharf Road are now part of Ferry Street).


The large house on Wharf Road, next to Johnson’s Draw Dock, was built by William Cubitt in 1845 for the owners of the Victoria Iron Works. Remarkably, the house has managed to survive to this day (Its address is now 58-60 Ferry Street.). It is a large and attractive house, but its nicest features are largely hidden from the street.

From the air

19. Parsonage Street

No. 13 Parsonage Street, the house on the left in the following photo, looks somewhat different to the rest of the houses in the terrace. The bricks are different, and its front is closer to the road.

The reason for this, as many who live(d) in the area will know, is that No. 13 was completely rebuilt after the original was destroyed by a gas explosion in October 1976. Fortunately, nobody was home at the time.

News clippings courtesy of Marie Swarray

20. Christ Church

There is much that can be written about the history of Christ Church, but here are just a couple of subjects.

St Mildred’s Windows

In 1873, the Millwall Dock Company built the Millwall Dock Club (for its permanent employees) behind St. Paul’s Church. The club wasn’t a long-term success, and it closed in 1892, after which its hall was taken over by St. Paul’s church, and the main building by an institute for poor women, known as St Mildred’s House (Mildred, was an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon abbess of the Abbey at Minster-in-Thanet, Kent.).

During WWII, St Mildred’s was seriously damaged, as the Church Times reported:

When a bomb hit the warehouse opposite, the street became a hot stream of peanut butter and for weeks, boots and carpets were saturated with the strong-smelling substance. Finally, a flying bomb fell within the dock gates and St Mildred’s walls were split from top to bottom.

St Mildred’s stained-glass windows were rescued and stored for safe keeping in McDougall’s flour mill (considered a safe storage place, with its thick concrete silo walls), after which all memory and trace of them was lost. Almost 50 years later, in 1990, they were found in an organ loft at Christ Church during renovations. They were cleaned and installed in the church (an action that was in part funded by Rank Hovis McDougall, a nice link to the past), where they can be seen today.

Photos: John Salmon

Reg Kingdon Memorial

Revd Reginald (better known as Reggie) Arthur Kingdon was the well thought-of vicar of St John’s Church in Roserton St. from 1917 until his retirement in 1948. From the outset, he endeared himself to the Islanders around him, being clearly concerned for the well-being of his parishioners. During WWII:

….he bestrode the parish with a tin hat on his head instead of his customary birette, but still with cassock, patrolling the air-raid shelters each night. The presbytery was destroyed by a direct hit on 19th March 1941. The church was battered but remained in use.
– Outposts of the Faith: Anglo-Catholicism in Some Rural Parishes, by Michael Yealton

Image: Island History Newsletter

Father Kingdon retired in 1948, and returned to Cornwall. He died in 1955, aged 86. A memorial to him was placed in St John’s, and this was moved to Christ Church when St John’s was demolished a couple of years later (ironically, he was very much opposed to the merger of the parishes of St John’s, Christ Church and St Lukes). Revd Kingdon is commemorated also by the naming of Kingdon House in Galbraith Street.

21. Pier Tavern

283 Manchester Road. This pub was built in 1863 and converted to a restaurant in March 2013. The restaurant has since closed and the building is being extensively redeveloped (only the facade remains).


22. Millwall Wharf

Millwall Wharf, on the riverfront off Manchester Road, contains a range of grade II listed warehouses. Built in the 1860s, the buildings are some of the few old industrial buildings still remaining on the Island.



The wharf previously extended to Manchester Road (see here for article), but all except the riverside buildings were demolished. Much of the original wharf wall along Manchester Road was used as a perimeter wall for the new housing built on the site. I am assuming that this was to save money rather than to preserve history. The results are quite patchy.

23. Cubitt Arms

262 Manchester Road. Opened in 1864 and closed in 2011. The pub was built by Henry Smallman, also responsible for building The Queen. The building exterior is far plainer than originally, with the more ornate features removed in the 1960’s.



24. The Priory

Not an old building by any means, but the name of the block at 45 Glengall Grove, Benedict Court, is a reminder of when this address was occupied by Benedictine Monks and was known as ‘The Priory’.

According to the Survey of London, No. 45:

…occupied by two young men who had trained as doctors before establishing the Priory, where they lived according to Benedictine rules as ‘the Monks of Cubitt Town’. The house was then fitted up with a chapel, library and club-room.
– Survey of London

Circa 1900

25. Glen Terrace

No. 599 Manchester Road doesn’t look like its neighbours in Glen Terrace.

Many old (and not so old) Islanders will remember that there used to be a gap in the terrace here, not filled until a new house was built in the 1980s.


No. 599 was destroyed by Luftwaffe incendiary devices during the first night of the Blitz, 7th September 1940. Harry Easter, who lived at the address and was 15 at the time, shared his memories of the event with the Island History Trust:

A fire bomb attack. There were three of four of us putting buckets of sand over some that had started in the street. We had a shelter in the garden, but we thought we had do something about the fires, we just came out on our own, there were buckets of sand all over the place, left on doorsteps, or earth – anything we could get hold of.

At the back of 599 Manchester Road was the Dock Master’s House, if I remember rightly their trees were afire. I was over there with another chap, we were chopping down those trees, and this fell said, “Oh, look, there’s the house on fire, I think it’s the Easter’s”, and I looked up, and it was! Soon I came round to the front of the house, and the top was then well ablaze, and I thought I’d try to see what I could rescue. I whipped up to one of the bedrooms, got a pillow case and put all the cutlery in it.

Later, standing in the street with his mother and two of his sisters:

The firemen by that time had arrived with the Green Goddess and they were playing water on the house. The water was filtering down through the floors on to us, I remember how warm it felt because it had got heated by the fire, and I could hear the lumps of masonry falling onto the area steps and I can still hear those lumps falling down.

By then we had got tin hats from somewhere. Then we realized the house was a write-off, we just stood there for a while in bewilderment that they dare do that to us, then we turned away and made our way to my married stepsister who lived in Becontree.

26. Fishing Smack

9 Coldharbour. A pub was present at this location in the 1750s, then known as the Fisherman’s Arms.

The Fishing Smack from the river in the late 1800s

The Fishing Smack after rebuilding in the 1890s

1930s. The Fishing Smack is smack in the middle of this photo (did you see what I did there?)

The Fishing Smack was demolished in 1948, but a small section of its brickwork survives at the south corner of No. 7.

Not spectacular, not even that pretty, but I do like these quirky little reminders of the past.

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Burrell’s of Millwall

Alfred E. Burrell was born in 1822 in the small market town of St Ive’s, Cambridgeshire. The 1861 census shows Burrell and his wife and children living in Hackney, and describes him as an ‘oil and colour manufacturer, employing 5 men and 5 boys’. His registered office at the time was in Minories, and his works were at ‘Queen Street, Mile End New Town’, the other side of the railway line from Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane. Burrell also had works in Southwark and – in 1874 – he opened a paint factory on Garford Wharf in Limehouse (at the river end of Garford Street).

When the huge Millwall Iron Works collapsed in the late 1860s, its land and buildings were divided into sub-plots which were acquired by different businesses. In 1888, Burrell acquired one such plot, complete with a number of buildings that had been built decades earlier for John Scott-Russell, builder of the Great Eastern.

In the following illustration of the Great Eastern (at the time, its name was still not fixed, and initially the name ‘Leviathan’ was used), the buildings on the left are among those later taken over by Burrell, some of which are still standing.


The most distinctive of these is the building now known as the ‘Plate House’ (but known to at least the early Burrell’s workers as the ‘Big Shop’).

The Plate House as it looked in c1888, viewed from the river end of the building (Illustration: Survey of London)

This 1900 map shows the extent of works at the time (just in view on the right is a footbridge which connected the main works to other buildings on the other side of Westferry Road). In the following years, the firm extended to the north and to the south, absorbing its former neighbours’ land and buildings into an ever-growing Burrell’s Wharf.

1900. Chas E. Goad Fire Insurance Map (British Library). Click for full-sized version.

Burrell’s also – in 1920 – acquired land a couple of hundred yards to the north in Westferry Road, where they built their Barnfield Works, shown as ‘Dye Works’ in the following photo.


Year unknown. Workers in Burrell’s print shop

1913-14 Burrell’s Football Team. Photo: Roy Dennett / Island History Trust Collection

The 1914 edition of “Who’s Who in Business” described the company as follows:

BURRELL & CO., Ltd., Colour and Varnish Makers. Established in 1852 by A. E. Burrell. Succeeded by the late ‘A. L. Burrell and E. R. Burrell (sons). Incorporated as a Limited Company in 1912. Directors: E. R. Burrell (Chairman ), P. E. Burrell, K. Burrell, J. B. Shand. Premises: Works, Burrell’s Wharf, Millwall, E., cover two acres, fully equipped with modern appliances.

Staff: Total, about 150. Branches: Sydney, New South Wales, Santa Cruz de Teneriffe, Mexico City, Madrid, Victoria, B.C., Buenos Aires. Agencies throughout the world.

Specialities: Burrell’s Snow-white Zinc Paint Burrell’s Durable Enamel; ” Limogene ” Enamel; Burrell’s Superfine Motor Body Varnish, Burrell’s Graphite Paint, &c. Patents: ” Helix” Roller Mills for the production of fine colours, pastes, &c.

Survey of London:

With the business concentrated at Burrell’s Wharf, extensive building was carried out. From the late 1880s until the early 1920s a succession of stores, warehouses, workshops and minor ancillary buildings appeared. Earlier buildings on the site were adapted and retained. The result was characteristic of Victorian industrial development at its most ad hoc.

1929. Burrell’s is highlighted on the left

1937. PLA Collection

The long building in the previous photo, one of two parallel workshops, had previously belonged to Venesta, manufacturers of all kinds of boxes, packing cases etc. (Stock Exchange Yearbook, 1908). Venesta moved their production to Silvertown in 1928 and, according to the Survey of London:

In 1935, after ‘many years’ of disuse, the former Venesta factory was acquired by a firm of wharfingers (in which Mr Calder, of Calder’s Wharf, had an interest), renamed Eastern Wharf, and thoroughly refurbished. In 1937 the name Whittock Wharf was adopted. After the Second World War the premises were amalgamated with Burrell’s Wharf.

During the war, the works produced a variety of chemicals for the government, including a constituent of flame-thrower fuel. Paint production ceased in 1943.

1958 or 1959 Burrell’s Works Dinner. Left to right: Eileen Cane, Nancy Wisewell, Carrie Dawson, Wally Terch, Ivy Byron, Cyril Herbert, Lil Chapman, Lil Anderson, (couple at back not known), Bella Garland and Nancy Bennett. Photo and caption: Island History Trust Collection

1979. A screenshot from ‘The Long Good Friday’ (released in 1980)

Burrell & Company Ltd was wound up in 1981, but colours were continued to be made at Burrell’s Wharf by Blythe Burrell Colours Ltd, a subsidiary of Johnson Matthey.


1980s. Photos: Mike Seaborne

c1982. Plan: Survey of London


The works closed in 1986, two years’ short of a century after Alfred E. Burrell acquired the site in 1888.

1986. Photos: Survey of London

1986. Photos: Survey of London

After closure, the works were acquired by property developers, Kentish Property Group plc, who had plans to redevelop the site for housing while retaining its industrial architecture. The group also intended to create, according to the Survey of London…

…a complex of recreational, social and artistic facilities, it was to have become a cultural hub for the new Isle of Dogs.

1986 or later.  Redevelopment of Burrell’s Wharf. Viewed from Westferry Road. Photo: Tim Brown

1986 or later.  Redevelopment of Burrell’s Wharf. Viewed from Westferry Road. Photo: Tim Brown

1986 or later.  Redevelopment of Burrell’s Wharf. On the left, one of the former Venesta buildings. On the right, new-build. Photo: Tim Brown

However, the 1987 stock market crash led to the demise of the Kentish Property Group, and the Halifax Building Society (the main lender for the Burrell’s Wharf development) continued the development in a modified form, with less or little attention paid to the original cultural ideas. Still, at least a small part of the Island’s rich industrial heritage has been preserved.


Note the blue plaque commemorating the construction and 1858 launch of the Great Eastern at the site. The plaque was placed by the London County Council in 1954, and was removed in 1974 (why and by whom, I don’t know). English Heritage replaced it in 1992.


2012. The Plate House viewed from my private yacht on the river (aka the ferry from the Tower to Greenwich).

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The Devastating Flooding on the Isle of Dogs in 1888

The Isle of Dogs had for centuries been prone to flooding, but even after the creation of embankments around its perimeter, its sewer system was inadequate and could not deal with the sudden increase in volume during heavy rainfall. Residents of houses in Cubitt Town (houses which inadvisably had been constructed with basements) were accustomed to damp and regular flooding in their basements, and had for years been demanding that something be done about it.
The writer of one letter to The Morning Post in 1888 stated that the main sewer system had been built 20 years’ previously, at a time….

…when the population of the Island was not 10,000, perhaps not 5,000. With a resident population of nearly 20,000 the main sewers are not equal to carrying off our own sewage. Hitherto the Island at each high tide has been one vast cesspool, so that when any rain falls at such times naturally the sewage wells up form the drains, with results of sickness and damage, and even death.

In 1886 the Metropolitan Board of Works finally agreed to build a storm-water pumping station close to the river in Cubitt Town, and acquired land at the north end of Stewart Street for this purpose. Construction was started shortly afterwards and the pumping station was due to be completed by the end of 1888. In the mean time, pumping was provided temporarily by two small engines.


The summer of 1888 was unusually cold with an average temperature of just 13.7 °C. On July 12th, The Times reported:

The stubborn low pressure area over Scotland and Scandinavia which was responsible for the bad weather also caused storms, gales and – on July 31st and August 1st – the heaviest rainfall that SE England had seen in years (measurements at Greenwich showed that the equivalent of approximately one month’s rain fell over the two days).

The temporary pumping engines in Stewart Street could not deal with the huge amount of water in the sewers after so much rain, and the Island flooded for the second time in a few months. Flooding was not restricted to the Island: wide areas on both sides of the Thames were affected, with the embankment being breached in some places.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper

The next day, MP Sydney Buxton (who represented Poplar from 1886 to 1914) headed a group of local notables who announced the setting up of a local relief fund…

Daily News. 2nd August 1888

And in The Times:

The Times. 7th August 1888

The Lord Mayor opened a national relief fund (the “London Mansion House Fund”):

Daily News. 19th November 1888

At a meeting at Poplar Town Hall of the relief fund’s general committee in November, the so-far distributed goods were reported:

  • Beds, 760
  • Blankets, 2,174
  • Sheets, 1,410
  • Quilts, 666
  • Floor cloths, 3,000 pieces
  • Mats, 1,898
  • Coals, 300 tons
  • Expenses of five funerals (deaths arising from the floods), £11
  • Amounts spent in disenfectants and disinfecting,  £288
  • Number of houses disinfected by the committee, 1,099
  • Boots and clothing, £165
  • Repairs to furniture, tools, etc., £75

The Pall Mall Gazette. 27th November 1888

At the end of 1888 the permanent storm-pumping station was completed.

The completed storm pumping station in circa 1895


According to Survey of London:

The engine house was a tall severe Italianate brick building with a louvred roof, oriented east-west with the gable-end facing the river. Adjoining this to the south was a smaller brick boiler house of the same design, aligned north-south. Both buildings were lit by simple round-headed windows. From the boiler house a flue led south to a fluted chimney, 120ft high. A workshop and store-sheds completed the group. The machinery included a pair of steam-driven pumps capable of lifting 70 tons of water per minute.

Just over a decade later, however, the pumps were found to be inadequate and the LCC decided to enlarge the building and replace the pumps. Survey of London again:

The work was begun in 1914, but the First World War and difficulties with contractors delayed the completion of the new plant and building, executed by Mowlem & Company, until 1928.

By December 1953 the engine house was vacant and the chimney had gone, with all the work being done by electric machinery in the extension building. (The boiler house was used as a coal store.)

The plant was obsolescent by 1969, when the GLC decided to construct a new pumping station for the Isle of Dogs on an adjoining site. The old engine house was demolished in the 1980s. The GLC’s plans did not mature and it was the LDDC, in association with Thames Water, that commissioned the replacement building, which was erected in 1987–8.

The new pumping station was opened 100 years after the devastating floods in 1888.

New pumping station

Viewed from the river

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The Ferry That Never Was (a Close Shave)

[My thanks to David, whose website The Forgotten Highway inspired me to write this article, and who was kind enough to dig out some images and share them with me. I suspect David is too modest or private to share his surname, but you know who are you are.]

The Island Gardens was the first public space to be created on the Island, an oasis of green in a grimy industrial environment, and boasting one of the best views in London.

Undated postcard (probably the 1900s)

In a short history of Island Gardens (see here for article), I described how the park lost some of its space early on to the construction of Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Recently I discovered that the park would never have been created at all if 19th century proposals for a new Greenwich ferry had been realised.

The late 1800s were turbulent times as far as the ferry between the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich was concerned. Or, more accurately, the ferries, as there were different routes and companies at various times. See this article for a history of the ferry; here is the potted version:

Traditionally, and for hundreds of years, a ferry service – known in the 1800s as Potter’s Ferry – operated from close to the Ferry House. The ferry stopped transporting horses (and carts or carriages) in the 1840s.

When Cubitt created his own service from a new pier at the top of Pier Street around 1860, he was sued by the Potter’s Ferry company for infringement of their historic rights (Cubitt won the case).

In 1872, the Millwall Extension Railway was completed to the south of the Island, and North Greenwich Railway Station was constructed next to Johnson’s Draw Dock. The ferry company moved their ferry boarding point to a pier directly next to the station.

1880s. Plan of North Greenwich Station and the ferry pier. (Metropolitan Board of Works).

However, according to the Survey of London… the lack of a vehicular ferry prompted the Metropolitan Board of Works to plan a free steam-ferry.

25th December 1888. The Morning Post

The plans for the free ferry – which can still be found in the archives of the Metropolitan Board of Works – were quite detailed and included a blueprint of the proposed pier on the Island side.

1884 plan for (free) ferry pier

Older Islanders might be able to work out where the proposed location is. Others will find it difficult because Ship Street and Barque Street no longer exist, and this section of Wharf Road was renamed Saunders Ness Road. It becomes more obvious for everyone if the blueprint is superimposed on a satellite image. It is on the site of Island Gardens.

1884 ferry plan on satellite image. (I’ve rotated the blue print, and added a little room on each side based on the space used on each side for other ferries).

In 1884, ten years before the opening of Island Gardens, this was a ‘public’ open space (owned by Greenwich Seamen’s Hospital), but it was far from landscaped and was known locally as ‘scrap iron park’. Greenwich Seamen’s Hospital forbade the construction of factories on this land as they wanted to preserve their view from across the river – the view of rest of the Island was dominated by factories, chimneys and smoke as this 1870s photo shows.

1870s. Ferry Street and areas west. Photo taken from Greenwich.

1860s. Areas east of Ferry Street. The future Island Gardens is more or less the space which can be viewed between the two domes.

15th March 1893

It is questionable if the hospital would have permitted the construction of a ferry pier on the land, but in principle it would not have violated their ‘no industry’ rule. ‘Scrap iron park’ had no official standing, and it was not only outside of direct control by the Metropolitan Board of Works, influential members of the Board and powerful local business interests were in favour of a free ferry. Had the ferry plans been realised – the later Island Gardens would have been either a lot smaller or perhaps not even tenable to begin with.

Fortunately for Islanders, however, the existing ferry company submitted such heavy compensation claims that the whole project collapsed.

27th January 1895

Otherwise, Islanders might have been robbed of their only green space, and generations of Londoners and visitors denied one of the finest views in London. Island Gardens opened just a few months after the LCC decided to refer to arbitration the negotations concerning compensation to the ferry companies.

As for the ferry company, they operated at a loss for a few more years, but were forced out of business for good on the opening of Greenwich Foot Tunnel in 1902.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel opened in 1902.

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