A History of The Arches in Millwall Park

Known simply as ‘The Arches’ to most Islanders, the railway viaduct which runs through Millwall Park is one of the few 19th century structures still standing on the Island. The arches have lost their original purpose – albeit with a brief revival in the 1980s and 1990s – and architecturally there is nothing special about them, but they are a significant and integral part of the Island’s scenery and history.

The viaduct is 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. The mesh fencing to some of the viaduct arches has been very successfully decorated with pieces of art.
Millwall Park Management Plan, Jan 2008
(London Borough of Tower Hamlets)

The arches were built around 1872 as part of the Millwall Extension of the London and Blackwall railway line. This extension ran from Millwall Junction (just north of West India Docks), down the east side of the newly-opened Millwall Docks, to connect with North Greenwich Railway Station in Ferry Street (a section of the road which was then named Wharf Road).


One of the earliest images of the arches was a drawing in a 1905 article written by George Robert Sims for The Strand magazine (this and other articles were later collected in a book, ‘Off the Track in London’). The drawing was made by Thomas Heath Robinson,  brother of William Heath Robinson, best known for drawings of ridiculously complicated machines for achieving simple objectives; so-called ‘Heath Robinson Machines’.

The drawing is more than a bit fanciful – the factories and chimneys imply a view towards the river, yet the many ships’ masts imply a view towards the docks in the opposite direction. The position of the rail bridge close to the centre of the drawing – whether meant to be the bridge over Manchester Road or East Ferry Road – makes no sense at all. Still, the arches are at least recognizable, the same as any other railway arches. (On the basis of this single drawing you might assume Heath Robinson didn’t actually visit the Island, but other drawings he made at the time clearly demonstrate that he did).

The first photo of the arches was taken in 1903, in the background of a photo of a football match between Millwall (whose ground was in what would later be Millwall Park) and Everton.

1903. Entrance to the ground was via one of the arches, from East Ferry Road.

The following photo, taken in about 1920 – a decade after Millwall FC had moved over the water – shows a steam train travelling over the arches. The area on either side of the arches appears to be wasteland, but it was around this time that London County Council acquired the land from the Port of London Authority and created a park, known as the Millwall Recreation Ground. Perhaps what we can see in the photo are signs of the redevelopment, and not wasteland.

c1920 (Island History Trust)

From an early period, some of the arches were enclosed and occupied by businesses…

1920s, Marine Blacksmiths. In the background, the bridge over Manchester Road (Island History Trust)

Railway traffic on the Millwall Extension had been steadily declining since WWI, largely due to the increasing competition from motor-buses. Passenger services between Millwall Docks Station (location of present-day Crossharbour DLR Station) and North Greenwich Station ceased altogether in 1926. The rail bridge over Manchester Road was demolished not long afterwards.

1930s, after bridge demolition

Circa 1930, after bridge demolition

Circa 1950. Note that there were also arches on the other side of Manchester Road, enclosed and used by firms.

Hawkins & Tipsons used the opportunity of the closure of the railway line to acquire and demolish the section of the arches which separated the two halves of their rope works.

Fortunately (and surprisingly), the remaining section of the arches was not demolished, and it features in the background of many old photos.

Circa 1930, Rosy Atkinson (Photo: Mrs Atkinson)

1930s, probably. (Island History Trust)

With WWII looming, the arches were designated as the site of a public air raid shelter:

Dennis Lowther (whose comments in Facebook inspired me to write this article):

[The arches] served a very important service during wartime bricked on both sides, fitted with 3 tier bunk beds a portable loo heavy entry door used as air raid shelter. Amy Smith, Mrs Doran family, Mrs Black family, Mrs Griffiths family and my Mum Mrs Lowther, and family. Also an RAF post manning a barrage balloon. Playing cards, quiz, local gossip and scandal and a mouth organ helped to make it thru the night.

l fell out of one of the top bunks one night finished with a bump big as a tennis ball. A couple of air force girls put cold compresses and l went home and slept on the floor under the stairs. No more underneath the arches for me oh no no no. Could not afford to [be] off sick in the 40s.

If you look closely enough, you can still find signs of the arches’ use as a shelter (Photo from ‘The Isle of Dogs During World War II‘ by yours truly):

The arches were damaged during WWII, with a section of the top walls destroyed (just to the right of the bricked-up sections which served as an air raid shelter):

c1949. Much of the park was still occupied by allotments which were set up during the War. The bowls club had not yet moved to the park from Island Gardens. Click for full-sized version

“The Dockland Settlement Girls and Boys Athletic Team, having won both cups at the Victoria Park, East London Championships in September 1947. Back row: Athur Baker, Arthur Hockley, Doreen Mortlock, Rose O’Neil, Ron Vine and Jimmy O’Neil. Front row: Dick Cane, Joan Cox, Rita Prince, Dorothy Oakley and Henry Smith. Donated by Henry Smith.” Photo and text: Island History Trust

There remained a gap in the walls until the arches were reused by the Docklands Light Railway in the 1980s. If you’re ever in the park, you can see where the repair was made by the different colour of the bricks used.

1948. Photo: Carol Terry

Once upon a time, part of Millwall Park was occupied by the playing fields of George Green’s School, originally located in East India Dock Road. Hut-like structures were built under the arches and these served as changing rooms.

1950s. Photo: Jan Hill

1950s. Photo: David Lloyd

Peter Wright:

In the 50s there was a Refreshments in one of the arches. The sign pointing to it lasted for years long after the cafe had gone, then jobsworths took the sign away.

Dennis Lowther:

That cafe was where the barage balloon staff were stationed l made tea and toast for them on occasions after the all clear sounded they also joined in our sing a longs when it was quieter such a strange time growing up in those times Peter most of the park was being used as allotments Dig for Victory was a much used slogan at that time.

1960s. Pat Williams (nee Hook) with her daughter Coleen, Susan Coy (nee Hook) with her mother Margaret Hook (nee Taylor). Photo: Susan Coy.

1962. Photo: Fairweather Family


Around this time, our family moved to the Island.

Early 1970s. Fathie, Angie, Mum, Karen. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

Among the neighbours on our landing was the Sparks family. ‘Man of the house’ was Ray Sparks, a muscular bloke who ran a gym under the arches. Gary Sparks:

At the end of the viaduct is where my Dads Gym was I remember playing there as a kid.

1970s. Photo: Unknown.

My mates and I once managed to climb up on to the arches at the Dockland Settlement end. It was full of weeds and rubbish, as well as the filthy black clinker that once formed the bed for the railway track, and which was very handy for throwing at unsuspecting people in the park. We walked to the end of the line at Manchester Road, decided we couldn’t climb down there, turned round, and then walked back (throwing clinker at people who by now were very much suspecting). Ah, those were the days, such excitement. 🙂


Circa 1980: Photo: Peter Wright (possibly)

1980. Photo: Pat Jarvis

Circa 1980. The arches in Ferry Street. Photo: Unknown

In 1982, the go ahead was given for the London Docklands Development Corporation to build a light railway through the Isle of Dogs, connecting it and the rest of dockland to the City.

…it was decided to resurrect the railway as the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). This ran on the viaduct across the park to a new station at Island Gardens, south of  where it sits now. The construction process led to the loss of the use of the arches by the Council and George Green’s School. The former park café and the changing rooms were relocated into temporary buildings, which in the end lasted some 15 years.
Millwall Park Management Plan, Jan 2008
London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Conveniently, the route of the old Millwall Extension could be followed, and there was even a ready-made railway viaduct along some of the southern section of the route. A second railway bridge over Manchester Road was constructed.

Construction of Island Gardens DLR Station

For the first time in 60 years, trains ran along the top of the arches in Millwall Park.



As far as Island Gardens DLR Station…..

Former Douglas Place. Photo: Tim Brown

But, the trains did not run for long. In 1999, the DLR was extended through a tunnel under the Thames to Lewisham. The railway line descended underground before reaching the arches, and so the arches again lost their function as a railway viaduct (and the bridge over Manchester Road was demolished again).

DLR tunnel construction. Much of the excavated soil was used to raise the level of Millwall Park, to reduce the chances of flooding (for most of its existence, sections of the park were prone to becoming huge puddles in the winter).

After construction of the tunnel and the new (relocated) Island Gardens DLR Station, which is not near Island Gardens

Dockland Settlement end of the arches. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

In 2007, Millwall Rugby Football Club took on a 15 year lease for two of the railway viaduct arches as its clubhouse, close to a century after the departure of Millwall Football Club (who had different-shaped balls) from the park.

Work began in August 2007 with the removal of old equipment that had been laid unused for nearly 20 years. Over the next 2 years walls, floors, piping and new facilities were all laid down. The work was only made possible by the help from many committed volunteers and the clubhouse eventually had its official opening day on 28 March 2009.

In 2009 Millwall RFC were granted permission from the Tower Hamlets Burough Council to play rugby on Millwall Park in front of the clubhouse.

Improvements have continued over the years with the generous help of our volunteers and sponsors. 2018/19 saw the installation of new seating, a full AV system, and general Clubhouse upgrades that ensures a warm, welcoming space for all.

Millwall Rugby Football Club website

Millwall Rugby Club (Photo: Millwall Rugby Club Facebook page)

(Photo: Millwall Rugby Club Facebook page)

There has been talk recently of creating some kind of garden and walkway along the top of the arches, undoubtedly inspired by the High Line in New York.

High Line, New York. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

High Line, New York

A great idea, and I hope that something can be created. However, the designers will have their work cut out, the arches are neither wide nor long.

Meanwhile, the weeds are back, doing their thing….

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‘As the rum burnt, its evaporated alcohol made the firemen tipsy’ – the Rum Quay fire of 1933

Sugar, coffee and rum imports increased dramatically in the early years of the West India Docks, and rum was handled on the south side of the Import Dock, on the unsurprisingly named Rum Quay.

1895 (click for full-sized version)

An important part of the handling process was the measurement of the amount and quality of rum in the casks before they were moved into the warehouse, a task known as rum-gauging. It was not as easy a task as you would expect, due to the many different shapes and sizes of casks, and the need to sample as little rum as possible. As a consequence, rum-gaugers were specialist, certified personnel.

Rum-gauging c1900.

So seriously was rum-gauging taken that it was even the subject of a government select committee in 1814, presumably because of the excise duty that was earned by the government on rum imports.

To allow rum-gauging to be performed under cover, an open-sided shed was built on Rum Quay in 1813, where caskets unloaded from ships could be gauged before being transferred to the adjacent warehouse.

Rum Quay shed


1910 Insurance Plan (click for full-sized version)

Circa 1930

In 1933, a huge fire engulfed No.2 Rum Warehouse and the nearby shed.

Survey of London:

It was attended by 60 motor pumps, three fireboats, four tugs, other appliances, … and burned for 63 hours. It was reported that ‘blazing rum ran in all directions and poured into the water hissing fiercely’.

The May 1, 1933 edition of Time Magazine said:

Concussions rocked the warehouse and burning rum ran … Blue flame fingered halfway across the Thames. London’s brass-hatted firemen came by fireboat and engine. As the rum burnt, its evaporated alcohol made the firemen tipsy.

Damage due to the fire was estimated at £ 4 million, equivalent to approximately £ 275 million in 2019.

Rum shed ruins

Rum warehouse ruins, including exposed vaults


Rum imports had been steadily declining since 1900, and the PLA decided not to rebuild the warehouse. Instead, they cleared the area in preparation for redevelopment. However, WWII interrupted those plans and – during the War – the remaining rum warehouse and shed were also destroyed. Survey of London:

[The bombing raids] resulted in a huge empty site, requisitioned in 1943 by the Ministry of Supply and the War Department, with an adjoining building (B Shed) and others at the South Dock (G. H and K Sheds and F and G Warehouses), for use by Wates Limited for the construction of concrete barges for the Normandy landings.

Two ‘Phoenix’ reinforced concrete caissons, components of a Mulberry Harbour… Two barrage balloons are visible in the clear blue sky. (Image and text: Imperial War Museum)

Due to post-War austerity, it was more than six years after the War before new building started on Rum Quay.

Rum Quay Construction

New warehouses – for the handling and storage of fruit and vegetables – were opened in 1954.

One of these warehouses would later be occupied by Limehouse Studios.

Warehouse redevelopment in preparation for the arrival of Limehouse Studios.

Survey of London:

The establishment of Limehouse Studios in the early days of the Enterprise Zone was considered an important step in the regeneration of Docklands, and indeed for a short time this was a shining example of the profitable conversion of a dockside building. However, from 1985 Limehouse Studios was overshadowed by the Canary Wharf scheme. The premises were sold to Olympia & York for £25 million in 1988, and the building was demolished in 1989.


In 2019, Rum Quay is under this little pile.

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Late 1970s Photos of George Green’s and Area

In the 1970s, George Green’s school and community centre was built. Before the school was formally opened, it was possible to join the youth club, and that’s what I did – the third kid to join (I wonder who numbers one and two were?). I noted it in my diary (sad), and I still have the diary (even sadder):

Diary entry, 19th January 1976. Hope T. Rose is not embarrassed by the book reference 🙂

Badminton, I liked, and was not too bad at it. Table tennis, I liked too, but was rubbish at it. Football, I both disliked and was rubbish at it.

Photography, on the other hand, that was my thing. I can’t boast at being good at it, and my dark room discipline was awful – my negatives were scratched and poorly exposed, and being colour blind also made it difficult for me to print properly, relying on only a red light.

Still, in the following couple of years I took some photos which I’m still rather pleased with. The quality is all over the place, but I think they do say something about a certain time and a certain place. If you were there at the time, and/or you knew me, and/or you went to George Green’s youth club, you might be in here.






Mudchute and beyond

Kids taking cow for walk

Cow taking kids for a walk

That cow is staring at me.

Sister Angie, cousin Jenny, and smaller cousin Tina at the front

Uber cars

Cousins Jenny and Darren in Billson Street

‘Arty’ photo of drinking fountain in Island Gardens

Up the Waterman’s. John Bender, Gary Langton, Ray Stephens, Micky Battley, Pip, David Juch, Ricky Newark, Peter Hickman

Fairmo and Baggo outside George Green’s

Arty #2, The view from Galleon House

Manchester Road

Manchester Road

Ricky Newark, Mark Fairweather, Ray Stephens, Steven Bezzina

The family Escort, Manchester Road. Vinyl roof! And I still have a scar on my nose caused when I tried to replace that aerial after someone had snapped it off. A long and sad story, but I remember Pat Sparks asking me as I raced upstairs, my face covered in blood, ‘You alright, Mike?’. Was I alright….huh?

Ground floor of our flats after residents were allowed to claim a little bit as their own. Someone has moved the kitchen unit outside.

Arty #3 (sorry Ozza)

George Green’s play/show/something

George Green’s play/show/something

Ozza stopping our fridge from falling over.

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s photography lesson

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s

George Green’s

Angie, Jenny, Darren

Millwall Wharf

Millwall Wharf

1977 Greenwich Foot Tunnel (2)

The Glass Bridge (naaaaah)

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Hesperus Crescent

In 1862, the area east of Harbinger Road (British Street until 1929) was occupied by John Scott-Russell’s Engineering Works, which had been much expanded to handle the construction of the Great Eastern (launched in 1858).


A contemporary drawing of the construction of the ship shows much of the land to be occupied by meadows and marshland (the street behind Harbinger School is not called Marsh Street for nothing).

By the time of the launch, John Scott-Russell’s works were in financial difficulties and not long after they were taken over by Millwall Iron Works, with part of the land occupied by a cooperage (opened in 1895).

The 1920s and 1930s saw much slum clearance in East London, making it necessary to construct new housing, including the Chapel House Street Estate (1919-21) and the Manchester Grove Estate (1925-26). The ‘inland area’ of the Millwall Iron Works was earmarked by Poplar Borough Council as the site of a new estate, to be named the Hesperus Crescent Estate after a clipper on the Australian run.


The site of Hesperus Crescent (right half of photo) shortly before the start of building in 1929.

I’ve not been able to discover if the Council originally planned to build a crescent, but it is known that they could not afford to buy out the cooperage firm in the centre of the proposed estate, making it necessary to wrap the road around the firm. Construction started in 1929 and the first houses were ready in 1930.


The first residents……

1931 Electoral Register (click for full-sized version)

1931 Electoral Register (click for full-sized version)

1931 Electoral Register (click for full-sized version)

1931 Electoral Register (click for full-sized version)


1935 Jubilee Party (Island History Trust)

Originally, a footbridge connected Hesperus Crescent to Chapel House Street, crossing a railway siding belonging to Maconochie’s, connecting their Westferry Road factory to the docks.

Hesperus Crescent and area in 1934, showing also the start of construction of the Westferry Estate in Cahir Street (bottom left)

Poplar Borough Council meeting minutes 1937/38

Hesperus Crescent, like the Chapel House Street and Manchester Grove Estates, was remarkably unscathed during WWII. One of the few bombs to fall on the area, however, destroyed Nos. 1 to 13 and killed four people:

  • George Williamson, aged 28, of 19 Harbinger Road.
  • Ernest Alexander Goodall, aged 30, London Heavy Rescue Service, of 21 Chapel House Street.
  • Edward George Wilkinson, aged 28, ARP Rescue Service, address unknown.
  • Air Raid Warden Francis Benjamin Sidell Kemp, aged 34, of 255 Manchester Road, died two days later in Poplar Hospital.

The seven destroyed houses were replaced with six, slightly larger houses, and as a consequence there is no longer a No. 13 Hesperus Crescent.

Poplar Borough Council meeting minutes. At the time the Council was planning to number the six new houses Nos. 3 to 13.

46 and 48 Hesperus Crescent with Mrs Placey and Mrs Holmes (Island History Trust)

Circa 1950

Circa 1950

In 1953, Poplar Borough Council stated its intention to purchase the former cooperage land – owned by Mancell’s by this time – and construct houses upon it. In the end, though, they built maisonettes (Nos. 36-62 Harbinger Road).

1950s, after clearing of former cooperage

1950s, after clearing of former cooperage. Looking towards Harbinger Road

1953 Coronation Party. Nellie Cressall on the left (Island History Trust)

1953 Coronation Party (Island History Trust)

Island History Trust Newsletter

Survey of London:

In 1959 Poplar Borough Council purchased the strip of land between the Hesperus Crescent and Chapel House Street Estates, where the railway siding had been, and in 1961 the footbridge over it was demolished.

1962 (Photo: Donna Stevens / Island History Trust)



1981 Street party in celebration of the wedding of Charles and Di. Photo: Sophia Pettman

c1986. Prospects TV Series

Hesperus Crescent really hasn’t changed very much since it was built, 90 years ago. There are not too many places on the Island that you can say that about.

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Millwall Lead Works (aka ‘The Lead’)

These pleasant-looking flats in Westferry Road, close to the fire station, are built on the site of large lead works whose origins can be traced back to the 1840s.


The word, ‘lead’ was not used in the naming of the flats or the area around it – funny, that – I suppose references to a highly polluting and poisonous metal don’t encourage sales. However, the use of the names, ‘Locke’s Wharf’ and ‘Locke’s Field Place’ (the street opposite) are small nods to the area’s lead manufacturing past.

Due to its ready availability, cheapness, malleability and relative inertness to oxidation, lead was ideally suited for use in plumbing materials and paints. There was a high demand for lead in 19th century Britain, with lead works to be found in many industrial areas of the country, including on the Thames, just west of the Ferry House on the Isle of Dogs.

This 1849 map shows a largely empty southern half of the Island, a few years before the construction of the Millwall Docks. Chapel House (Farm) is half way up East Ferry Road – named Blackwall Road in this map – and a never-constructed straight road runs from north-west to south-east.


The ‘Chemical Works’ were set up in the early 1840s by the firm, Pontifex & Wood, who specialized in (according to the Survey of London):

…equipment for brewing, distilling, dyeing, sugar-refining and other industrial processes. The Millwall works embraced a wide range of metallurgical and chemical activities, including dye, colour, paint and varnish making, the manufacture of white lead, copper sulphate, citric, tartaric and sulphuric acids, and the smelting and refining of silver, copper and antimony. White lead, used principally in paint manufacture, became the principal product.

By 1870, the works were much expanded, and more industry and housing was being built in the area, including Lead Street, across Westferry Road on land that had been leased by the lead company (they planned to build a yard upon it, but nothing came of the plans).


The following photo was taken from Greenwich not long after the above map was created. The lead works are easily recognizable by their tall chimney – at 240 feet the tallest ever built on the Island.

1870s. The Isle of Dogs from Greenwich, with the lead works in the centre (click on image for full-sized version).

In 1888, Pontifex and Wood went into voluntary liquidation. Their Island works were sold to the Millwall Lead Company.

That lead was harmful to health was well known at the time. It had been used for thousands of years, and ‘lead poisoning’ was observed by the Greek botanist Nicander as early as in the 2nd century BC. The first scientific research into the effects of lead intake was carried out in the mid-1800s when it was discovered that – although dangerous in its solid form – it was far more dangerous in its fume form.

The first laws aimed at decreasing lead poisoning in factories were enacted during the 1870s. But, despite this, workers at the Millwall Lead Works continued to die. In 1894, ‘an inquest found that a female worker had died of lead poisoning; there were several other cases amongst workers living on both sides of the river.’ (Survey of London). And in 1901, by which time the lead works had been taken over by Locke, Lancaster & W. W. Johnson & Sons Ltd:


The following – and a large number of the photos in this article – were shared by Pat Jarvis (néé Reading), for which I am very thankful. Her husband John, in her own words….

….worked in the Lead and did his Tool Makers apprenticeship there when he left school and when the Lead closed down he was kept on to decommission the site and while he was doing it found the photos in one of the offices and saved them from going into the skip. He knew my mum [Lucy Reading] was interested in any Island history back then, so he gave them to her. She shared them with the Island History Trust and when she passed away they came back to John.

Millwall Lead Works. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis Reading.

Millwall Lead Works. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis Reading.

In 1920, the lead firm built 36 houses for its workers along the south side of Chapel House Street and just around the corner in East Ferry Road. The firm wanted to house some of its employees in the to-be-built Chapel House Estate but failed to reach agreement with Poplar Borough Council. As a consequence they built their own houses, designed to look like those in the rest of the estate.

Millwall Park in 1924 (not long after the park was opened, when many people called it the ‘New Park’). In the background, houses built for the lead firm’s workers, and the lead works’ chimney. Photo: Island History Trust

In 1924, Locke, Lancaster and Johnson merged with two other companies and the resulting conglomeration was named Associated Lead Manufacturers Ltd, although each individual firm continued to trade under its own name.

Millwall Lead Works. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis Reading.

Millwall Lead Works. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis Reading.

Millwall Lead Works. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis Reading.

By the 1920s, the land at the end of Lead Street had been developed into a works football ground.


The lead works’ team was named Locke’s United FC…..

Island History Trust Newsletter

….but other Island teams also made use of the ground:

1920s. (Island History Trust)

1930s (estimated)

1936. Courtesy of Maureen Wilcinskis

During WWII, the lead works were extensively damaged by bombing:

Bomb damage, Millwall Lead Works. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis Reading.

Bomb damage, Millwall Lead Works. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis Reading.

Shrapnel damage, Millwall Lead Works. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis Reading.

Shrapnel damage, Millwall Lead Works. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis Reading.

Unexploded bomb dragged up from the Thames foreshore at Millwall Lead Works. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis Reading.

The view from the top of the 240ft chimney, mid-1940s (estimate). Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis

Looking towards Greenwich. Photo: Pat Jarvis

In 1948, Associated Lead Manufacturers Ltd comprised:

From 1948 the various firms no longer traded under their own name, but instead as Associated Lead Manufacturers. This meant not only new headed letters, advertising and signage, but also a repaint of their fleet of lorries.

Survey of London:

By the 1950s Associated Lead Manufacturers occupied the whole area from the south side of Clyde Wharf to the Ferry House, with the exception of Rigby’s Wharf but including the sites of mid-Victorian terrace houses on the west side of Ferry Street. The ground was densely built over with lead rolling and wire-drawing mills, furnace houses and refining shops, a large shop for the production of lead monoxide (litharge), and various ancillary buildings. The only substantial remnant of the nineteenth-century works was the original furnace chimney-shaft.

Circa 1950

A large three-storey block containing office, laboratory, catering and staff-welfare accommodation was built around 1946. A conventional flat-roofed structure of brick and reinforced-concrete, with a central courtyard, it was one of relatively few such buildings on a large scale to be erected on the Isle of Dogs.

Demolition to make room for new office bloxk

The completed office block. This, by the way, is not far off the modern photo at the start of this article.


Lead works crane after collision with a 277 bus. Note the wartime Emergency Water Supply (EWS) sign on the gate pillar. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis.

The damage to the 277 bus. Photo courtesy of Pat Jarvis

25th June 1957. The official opening of the Cutty Sark by the Queen. But, never mind the royals, the historic tea clipper and the foot tunnel entrance – look at those lead works in the background!

Lead workers’ fag break, 1960s (estimate). Photo: George Warren

In 1971 there were concerns about the effects of pollution from the lead works on the health of Island children. I, and all the other kids at Harbinger Primary School (I am not sure about other schools), had our blood tested.

The tests revealed lead levels which were twice as high as normal, but no further action or precautions were deemed necessary, apart from in the case of three children who lived very close to the works. Their blood had such high lead levels that they were hospitalised for tests (which eventually showed no sign of lead poisoning).

Throughout the 1970s, lead production at the works was wound down, and they were eventually solely occupied by Associated Lead’s Paint Division.


Associated Lead Workers, around 1980 (estimate). Photo: Bill Stone

1980s. Photo: Bill Regan

By 1986, Associated Lead had vacated the site. The works were derelict and demolition had commenced.

1986. Click for full-sized image

The same view in the 2010s:


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The Writing on the Wall

The earliest piece of graffiti that I can remember on the Island (well, almost the Island) was opposite Emmett Street, at the start of ‘the Walls’ in the 1960s. It read: “FREE THE TROTSKYISTS IN PRISON IN MEXICO“.

Westferry Road

It was signed by RWP(T) – the Revolutionary Workers’ Party (Trotskyist) – which, according to Wikipedia, was “an organisation which adhered to the theories of Argentine Trotskyist, J. Posadas, who tried to create a synthesis of Trotskyism and Ufology. His most prominent thesis from this perspective was Flying saucers, the process of matter and energy, science, the revolutionary and working-class struggle and the socialist future of mankind (1968). Posadists believed that extra-terrestrials visiting earth in flying saucers must come from a socially and scientifically advanced civilisation to master inter-planetary travel and that the working-class should welcome the alien invaders as their liberators.”

Just a little further south along the Walls was this mural, created in approximately 1980 I reckon, apparently by some kind of missionary organisation who roped in local kids to help them create it.

Westferry Road

Wasn’t too long before it had been amended by somebody else:

Westferry Road

The following piece of grafitti was on the same wall – a play on one of the first health warnings to appear on fag packets: ‘Think first, most doctors don’t smoke’.

Westferry Road. Photo: Mike Seaborne

A few metres to the left was this one:

Westferry Road. Photo: A London Inheritance (alondoninheritance.com)

All the way round the Island, close to where Preston’s Road met Poplar High Street, was the following mural, perhaps the work of the same missionary group who created the mural along the Walls?

Preston’s Road. Photo: Gary O’Keefe

Somebody messed around with this one, too, though:

Just round the corner from the chip shop opposite Christ Church the ISLAND was WELL ARD, a piece of graffiti framing a fading reference to the TV Orphans (the Island’s first punk band who could play the opening bars to at least two Clash songs).

Manchester Road

And opposite this wall, evidence of the state of the education system – kids can’t even spell ‘cannabis’ properly any more.

Manchester Road. Photo: Mike Seaborne

During the 1980s, after the closure of the docks, virtually all industry along the river was demolished, to be replaced largely by houses and flats which were unaffordable to most Islanders. There was some resentment felt towards the newcomers who lived facing the river with their backs to housing estates such as the Barkantine Estate, where this was painted:

Barkantine Estate

Sometimes, the target of the grafitti was very personal, like this one in Cahir Street (for years, the bin doors in our block were adorned with ‘Micky Lemons is going to get his head kicked in’, Micky Lemons being my nickname at the time):

Cahir Street

Swastikas were also often painted, the work of fascists, racists or people just wanting to shock:

Ferry Street, 1973

But, mostly, the grafitti was more mundane, with declarations of love for each other, or for a particular music group or football team – or just to point out that “I woz here”….

1976 Glenworth Avenue

Hammond House, Tiller Road

Glass Bridge. Screenshot from ‘The Chinese Detective’

Whatever the reason, never forget….

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Hawkins & Tipson’s Rope Works

Most Islanders will remember the rope shed which separated one side of Millwall Park from the Mudchute.

The shed housed a rope walk, where long strands of material were laid before being twisted into rope. Wikipedia:

Natural fibres are short in length, and so have to be twisted together so different fibres, starting at different points along the construction, hold each other together. From a single strand, much like wool, which can easily be torn apart, putting several together forms a line, which is far stronger.

Hawkins & Tipson. Photo: Island History Trust

The essence of a ropewalk, where this spinning is achieved, is a drive mechanism at one end of the walk, a “donkey” guide in the middle, which helps the ropemaker bring the strands together, and a fixing point at the far end. One end or the other is mobile, because the twisting shortens the constituent parts of the rope, and the runner in the middle is always mobile, because the rope, when sufficiently twisted, starts to form at one end and the guide then has to run back towards the drive end, guiding the twist into place: this can be a very fast action, once sufficient twist is in place.

Rope Walk

The Isle of Dogs, like other areas of East London close to the Thames and the docks, had a number of ropemakers (a large sailing ship in the 1800s could easily require 3 or 4 miles of rope) . The ropemakers whose ‘Globe Works’ were in East Ferry Road with a rope shed extending almost to Stebondale Street were Hawkins & Tipson.

George Hawkins was a ropemaker from Clapham Common, and Charles Tipson was formerly with a ropemaking firm in Cable Street (a street itself named after the rope walk that was once on its site). In 1881, they acquired an 80-year lease on a piece of land just south of the recently-opened Millwall Docks.

The area of land selected by Hawkins & Tipson for their future rope works (1870 map, two years before the construction of the Millwall Extension Railway and ‘the Arches’).

The main buildings of the works were built in a bend in East Ferry Road. The rope walk was built on a strip of land 1,270ft long and 61ft wide. Survey of London:

The group of buildings erected in the early 1880s comprised a two-storey warehouse and offices, an engine and boiler house, with a 41ft-high chimney, and a long building which contained a spinning mill, tanning house, stables, yarn house and card shed.

Circa 1895

In the early 1900s, the firm extended their premises a little southwards along the side of the newly opened Millwall Football Ground. (The ground’s western embankment formed the boundary with the firm – an embankment which remained in place, covered in blackberry bushes, until Millwall Park was extended westwards to East Ferry Road a few years ago).

Early 1900s

Survey of London:

Some rebuilding was necessary in 1906 because, during a period of heavy rain, the Mudchute became somewhat unstable and began to move on to Hawkins & Tipson’s land, pushing down buildings close to the boundary. It was quickly stabilized and the dock company accepted the responsibility for the cost of replacing the buildings destroyed.

Although most old photos of activities in the Globe Works show only men, the ratio of women to men in the ropemaking industry at the time was 4 to 1. Women were engaged mainly in the preparation, including spinning, of flax and hemp; an unhealthy job due to the risk of lung problems caused by flax and hemp dust.

Hawkins & Tipson c1905. Photo: Island History Trust

Hawkins & Tipson. Photo: Island History Trust

Photo: Island History Trust

In 1920, Hawkins & Tipson bought the land between the arches and East Ferry Road. This did leave them with the problem that their works were separated from the new extension by the arches, but when the railway line closed in 1926, they acquired a section and demolished it. This also gave them the opportunity to rebuild and extend their main works along East Ferry Road.

They chose for a design very typical of the industrial architecture of the time. The new building in East Ferry Road was constructed in the late 1930s.

1920s. (www.britainfromabove.org.uk)


Hawkins & Tipson’s was damaged at the start of The Blitz, and also more seriously on 29th December 1940 when a very large number of incendiary bombs were dropped along the Thames causing extensive fires—numbering nearly 1,500 in all —in the City and the docks area. The bombing in East Ferry Road which damaged the rope works also led to the deaths of three people:

  • Gladys Crawley, aged 38, of 93 East Ferry Road
  • Robert Thomas Palmer, aged 40, of 396 Manchester Road
  • John William Hill, aged 46, station Office LFB Fire station, died next day in Poplar Hospital

Extensive repairs and rebuilding was required after the war, and by the 1950s, the rope works had a little more order to them, a vast improvement on the higgledy-piggledy collection of buildings resulting from the firm’s piecemeal expansion in its early years.

1950s (www.britainfromabove.org.uk).

Celebrations after WWII. Photo: Pauline Green

A well-known photo from an Island History Trust newsletter

Photo: Island History Trust

The finished product – packed and ready for shipping. Photo: Island History Tryst

It’s not how big it is that counts…. Photo: Hawkins & Tipson

1966 Millwall Park. Star of the East football team, 1966 15040703318

1966. Star of the East football team in Millwall Park, with the rope shed in the background. Photo: George Warren

Mergers and acquisitions were all the rage after WWII and Hawkins & Tipson expanded by acquisition of other companies, companies with works better suited to modern ropemaking than the Globe Works. After close to a century of uninterrupted operation, the works closed in 1971.

1972, Click for full-sized version

The main buildings of the works were – after they had been vacated – badly damaged by a large fire, probably arson. This newspaper report of the incident is factually all over the shop…

1974, Daily Mirror

After the works closed, local kids discovered how much fun was to be had running on the roof of the rope shed. We – I admit it, I also joined in – also discovered how dangerous it was, with kids falling through the roof on more than one occasion.

The roof was made of corrugated iron, interspersed with corrugated plastic sheets intended to provide light inside the shed. Under the roof were hard and sharp objects waiting to be fallen upon, including large rollers embedded with tens of thousands of sharpened metal pins, whose purpose was unknown to me at the time, but which I have since discovered were ‘hackling rollers’ – used to comb hemp or flax to extract and line up their fibres.

Inside the rope shed in the 1970s. Photo: Pat Jarvis

Towards the end of the 1970s, the roof was demolished, and it and the interior were cleared away, leaving just a wall on the park side and a fence on the Mudchute side, with the Newty beyond it.

Photo: Gary O’Keefe

Former rope walk …… and cow. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

1970s Photo montage. Original photos: Peter Wright. Click for full sized version.

The 1980s, when the rope walk was becoming more and more overgrown. Photo courtesy of Jan Hill.

In East Ferry Road, only the lower half of the front walls of the 1930s-built building survived. They were decorated with a large painting representing the Isle of Dogs.


Not long later, these walls were also demolished. On the construction of the DLR, the railway line went across the site of the former Globe Works, restoring a railway viaduct where Hawkins & Tipson had themselves demolished a railway viaduct many decades before. The original Mudchute DLR station was also built on the site of the works.

In the 1970s, the site of Globe Works had been sold to the GLC, and was later absorbed into an extended Millwall Park (imagine that happening these days!), including the creation of a new footpath, the Globe Rope Walk.

1980s. An early incarnation of the Globe Rope Walk. Photo: Pat Jarvis

1987. Photo taken during a test run of the DLR overlooking the site of Hawkins & Tipson with the rope walk in the background. Photo: Jan Hill

Plan of Hawkins & Tipson superimposed on satellite photo. This shows also the extent of the rerouting of East Ferry Road to accommodate the DLR tunnel entrance.

Hawkins & Tipson, who had moved their main operations to Hailsham in Surrey, the location of Marlow Ropes, the dominant member of the Hawkins & Tipson group. In 1983, the group was acquired by Evered Holdings who renamed it H&T Marlow and subsequently simply Marlow Ropes Ltd.  The end of the business name, Hawkins & Tipson.

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