Pictorial History of the Millwall Docks. Part 5: Closure

The introduction of containers for cargo handling in the mid-1960s was the beginning of the end for the India and Millwall Docks. Despite the Millwall Docks being amongst the most modern and well-equipped in the world, they could not handle container ships (not only were the ships too large to handle, by nature containers did not rely on warehousing).

With the PLA developing Tilbury as its main container port, the upriver docks saw a dramatic reduction in traffic. First to close were the East India Docks in 1967. A couple of years later and it was the turn of the St Katharine, London, and Surrey Docks. Around this time, parts of the India and Millwall Docks were also closing, including the West India Import Dock north quay and the Wood Wharves.

There was a small upturn in the fortunes of the Millwall Docks in 1969, when Fred Olsen redeveloped the east side of the Inner Dock for cargo handling and its cruise liner service, but this could not prevent the inevitable.

Survey of London:

In January 1976, with 14 berths still open, the PLA announced a plan to close the India and Millwall Docks, excepting bulk wine and tenanted berths. The Transport and General Workers’ Union opposed the changes. A compromise was reached that provided for continued operations at the South Dock and Millwall Docks, with £400,000 committed to improving certain sheds and berths, while the Import Dock south quay berths and warehouses were shut down. However, the India and Millwall Docks continued to lose huge amounts of money, with ever-declining traffic, illustrated by the fact that conventional bulk tonnage in 1976 was a quarter of its 1970 volume.

Facing liquidation in 1978, the PLA again proposed closing the up-river docks. The unions would not discuss closure, and the government urged compromise, refusing either to sanction closure or to subsidize useless facilities. A plan for the concentration of operations at both sets of up-river docks agreed in June 1979 involved keeping open the South Dock south quay, Bulk Wine Terminal, and Millwall Docks, but permanently closing the Import and Export Docks, the west ends of which were to be filled in. The Conservative Government that took office in 1979 responded to the PLA’s plan with the imposition of limits to central financial assistance, making continued operations at both sets of docks unviable.  In January 1980 the PLA announced that, unless working-practice improvement targets could be met, operations would be transferred out of the India and Millwall Docks to the Royal Docks from July. In fact, a strike shut down the docks in February and closure was brought forward and carried through between March and July 1980.

Most of the PLA’s India and Millwall Dock estate was vested in the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) in July 1981. Dock operations survived into the early 1980s at the bulk wine and tenanted berths. The PLA retained control of the water areas still in use and managed the redevelopment of parts of the estate not vested in the LDDC. The sale to the LDDC of most of the remaining PLA land and water area in the Isle of Dogs was agreed in 1983.

And so ended almost 200 years of enclosed-dock operations on the Isle of Dogs; a business which was responsible for its historical development, which employed men (and some women) from nearly every Island family, and which significantly influenced the colours, sounds and smell of the place. Suddenly the cranes were still and silent, and the ships’ horns were a distant memory.

Millwall Cutting, Inner Dock beyond that.

McDougall’s

A Fred Olson Shed

A Fred Olson Shed

Glass Bridge Closed

Glass Bridge Closed

Kingsbridge from the top of McDougalls

Looking across Barnfields towards the Outer Dock

Outer Dock

“Prospects”

“Prospects”

 

Inner Dock with partially demolished Glass Bridge in foreground, M-Shed and Millwall Cutting in background.

Glass Bridge Demolition

Temporary Glengall Bridge

M-Shed

M-Shed and Millwall Cutting

Inner Dock looking north

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Limehouse Hole

The origins of the name Limehouse Hole are not certain. This 1745 map mentions Limekiln Holes, in the plural, and possibly referring the stretch of river, rather than a place on dry land. My own theory is that a hole was a small harbour, a place to lay up ships, as in Mousehole in Cornwall (mind you historians debate the origin of this name too). This area was, after all, from the 17th century a plying place for watermen and it later became densely filled with shipyards and other dock-related industries.

1745

With a name like Limehouse Hole, it would appear to have no place in a blog about the Isle of Dogs. However, it streteched from Limekiln Dock in the north to the Poplar Breach in the south (which I described in a recent article) – just north of the present-day Westferry Circus.

Survey of London:

As London’s riverside was developed, and Limehouse spread eastwards in the seventeenth century, Limehouse Hole was built up with shipping-related enterprises. These characterized the area into the twentieth century. There were shipbuilders, barge-builders, boat-builders, ropemakers, sailmakers, mastmakers, blockmakers and ship-chandlers, as well as general wharfingers.

The eight acres of riverside land immediately south of the boundary between Limehouse and Poplar, empty save perhaps for a few small houses behind the river wall, were leased by Sir Edward and Sir John Yate to John Graves in 1633. Graves was a shipbuilder at the yard on the north side of the boundary, later known as Limekiln Dockyard and then as Dundee Wharf. In 1664 Samuel Pepys visited Margetts’s ropeyard and apparently decided to use it to supply the Navy.

In 1662 Margetts acquired the freehold of Graves’s eight acres, with an additional 2½ acres to the east. The estate subsequently passed by marriage to Cornelius Purnell, a Portsmouth shipwright. His son sold part of it in 1717 to Philip Willshire, who acquired the remainder in 1723.  The estate passed through Willshire’s family to Edward Emmett, whose heirs retained the property until 1809, when it was sold off in parcels.

Limehouse Hole, 1768, looking south east toward Batson’s Yard. Painting by John Hood

The foreshore of Robert Batson’s Yard is full of timber, imported for the construction of ships (mostly warships and East Indiamen). Batson was a substantial Island landowner – the first residential streets in Millwall were built on his land: Robert and Alfred Street named after his sons, and later renamed Cuba and Tobago Street respectively. At the end of Cuba Street was formerly Batson’s Wharf (absorbed into Lenanton’s Yard), while there was once a a Batson’s Street off Three Colt Street.

Hood’s painting shows Limehouse Hole Stairs on the left. These were at the river end of Thames Place, which connected with Emmet Street, and which disappeared not that long ago. Also notable is the public house at the top of the stairs; possibly known as the White Lion at the time, it would later be named the Chequers, and then the Horns and Chequers.

Curling & Young’s Shipyard in 1825

Survey of London:

In 1843 watermen attempted to recover business lost to steamboats by erecting a floating pier at Limehouse Hole Stairs. This had evidently gone by 1860, when the Thames Conservancy erected new stairs projecting on to the foreshore. Representations calling for a passenger steamboat service to the locality persuaded the Conservancy Board to erect a floating pier at Limehouse Hole Stairs in 1870. The pier, a walkway on three pontoons, was designed by Stephen William Leach, the Board’s engineer. It was removed in 1901 for the building of Dundee Wharf. In 1905–6 the LCC constructed a pier, consisting of two lengths of lattice-girder walkway to a pontoon, as one of several river piers erected for the ‘Penny Steamer’ service. It was removed by the PLA in 1948, but the stairs and Thames Place, though closed off in 1967, survived until 1990.

Limehouse Pier c1900

Limehouse Pier c1900, with Thames Place at the start of the pier, and the pub to the right.

In 1800 Batson’s yard was transferred to Cox, Curling & Company, shipbuilders, previously based at Duke Shore, Limehouse, and across the river. They enlarged the dry docks and demolished the house. The company was controlled in the early nineteenth century by Robert Curling and William Young. William Curling (c1770–1853). Jesse Curling and George Frederick Young succeeded them and from c1820 the firm was known as Curling, Young & Company. They built East and West Indiamen and, from the late 1830s, large merchant steamships, all of them of timber, not iron. The yard became known as Limehouse Dockyard, and the management as Young, Son & Magnay from about 1855, by which time at least one of the slips was covered with open-sided shedding. The firm continued to build large timber ships, but this was a declining section of the shipbuilding industry.

1862

John Garford (c1772–1850) was a prominent figure in Poplar, active in the formation of the parish and the building of All Saints’ Church. The road that ran from his wharf to the Commercial (West India Dock) Road still carries his name (see below). Until 1877 his family produced oilcake at what became Garford Wharf, with A. E. Burrell & Son using the eastern part of the premises as a paint factory from 1874. The main buildings were sold to William Taylor & Company for use as a paint factory called Taylor’s Wharf, and the long warehouse (215ft by 21ft) was used by R. J. Hanbury for storing rice, wheat, tapioca and hops, and was known as Limehouse Wharf. These wharves were combined as Venesta Wharf from 1900 to 1921 under the occupation of the Venesta Company, packing-case makers. The Royal Oak public house was rebuilt in 1878 and No. 12 Emmett Street, just north of the long warehouse, was the United Brothers’ beerhouse from the late nineteenth century until 1935.

In 1874,  Aberdeen Wharf was established by the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Company, and was used mainly for the storage of goods brought from Scotland.

1895

1937, and as with the other photos it’s worth clicking on this to see the full-sized version

P. R. Buchanan & Company, tea merchants, acquired Venesta Wharf in 1921, to replace a wharf at Wapping. The eighteenth-century warehouses were extended towards Thames Place in 1924 and 1928–9 with fourand six-storey blocks, and the Horns and Chequers was demolished. The old warehouses and the Royal Oak were replaced in 1935–7 with six-storey brick warehouses designed by Charles Dunch & Son, architects and wharf specialists. Buchanan’s Wharf was severely damaged in the Blitz. The south-east corner block survived, but the other buildings on the rectangular site were reinstated in 1950–2 as a six-storey warehouse, with A. J. Thomas and G. Hartley Goldsmith as architects. The building was brick with reinforced-concrete internal construction, rather than the timber and iron used in the 1935–7 buildings. It was similar in appearance to those lost; plain and bulky, with a touch of Classicism. Towards the river there were full-height pilaster strips beneath a continuous cornice. The eight divisions provided more than 1,250,000 cu.ft of storage for tea and rubber.

Thames Place from Limehouse Pier during WWII

This 1950 map reveals a lot of empty space where warehouses once stood.

1950

Year unknown, but possibly 1948

1970s

The remains of the damaged riverside warehouses were cleared in 1948–9 and the remaining 1870s warehouses were demolished in 1971–2. Aberdeen Wharf was cleared in the late 1980s for use by contractors working on Westferry Circus and other parts of the Canary Wharf site.

2017

 

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Me new book – A Dictionary of Lost East London

Excuse the blatant self-promotion for a moment, but I’ve just published another book. As the cover blurb says, “An absolute must for anyone interested in the history of East London or who is exploring their East London ancestry – a comprehensive dictionary of the lost streets, roads, alleys, lanes, public houses, blocks of flats, places of worship, schools, hospitals, docks, wharves and other places of note. Find out where it was and/or how it was renamed, with more than seven thousand entries covering centuries of East London’s past.” It’s available from Amazon at:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1547105003/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ep_dp_T-.pzbHKER3X9

This is the introduction….

In terms of the long history of London, the East End is a relatively new place. Take a look at a map of London in, say, 1600, and the area to east of the City walls is mostly farmland, punctuated with the odd village, such as Stepney, Poplar or Bow, connected by country lanes. In 1700, the area immediately outside of the walls had seen some development (Spitalfields, Goodmans Yard, for example) as had a strip of land along the river, but still there was nothing that could be described as East London.

By the end of the 1700s, however, the Industrial Revolution had caused an explosive growth in industry and house building, London spilled out of its old borders (from a population of 1 million in 1800 to more than 6 million in 1900), and East London was a fact.

Until the 19th century there were few rules regarding how places and streets should be named or spelled; the names developed organically and according to popular, local convention. The Metropolitan Board of Works, established in the mid-19th century sought to bring order to this situation. Not only did they take official responsibility for new names, they also carried out an extensive renaming, in order to facilitate their administration of London and to support accurate delivery of post by the General Post Office.

Fifty years later, much of the administration was delegated to newly-formed borough councils who mostly endeavoured to make sure that ‘their’ street names were unique and easily located. When, for example, a council was confronted with four of five separate Cross Streets within its area, it would likely rename four of them. When widening roads, or creating major new routes, it made sense to amalgamate multiple, differently-named road sections into one (take The Highway as an example, whose original names are mentioned later in this chapter).

A further, major influence on London street names was World War II, which caused the obliteration of many streets, with large numbers being buried under new council estates during the post-war rebuilding.

The frequent name-changing is a challenge to an avid family tree researcher and amateur historian like myself, and I am always interested in (old) documents which allow me to better identify the location of old addresses or buildings. Among the useful publications I have come across is “Lockie’s Topography of London” by John Lockie, published in 1810. Lockie spent seven years preparing the book, which he created for the insurers Phoenix Fire-Office off Lombard Street, for whom he was the Inspector of Buildings.

The topography accurately describes itself as providing “a concise local description of, and accurate direction to, every square, street, lane, court, dock, wharf, inn, public-office, &c. in the metropolis and its environs, including the new buildings to the present time, upon a plan never hitherto attempted.” The descriptions are short, clear, and indeed accurate; it takes little effort to identify the present-day location.

In the decades that followed its publication, books in a similar vein were published, including “A Topographical Dictionary of London and its Environs” by James Elmes, published in 1831. Elmes was born in Greenwich and was an architect of some note, as is apparent from his ample architectural descriptions of many of the buildings. Although not as comprehensive as Lockie’s Topography (nor did it claim to be), it was a welcome addition to my reference “library”. Both works are abundantly quoted in this book.

After finding other books of the same ilk, I started to think about combining them all, along with the readily-available street name change information on the internet, to provide myself with a handy list of everything in one place. I wasn’t planning to publish a book, it was meant to be for just my own use. The idea of making a book from it grew gradually, along with my realisation that it could be of use to other people too. I also thought I’d be finished in a few weeks.

That was 18 months ago! Once I had started, there seemed no end to it, apart from the obvious geographical boundaries. Mind you, the earliest drafts also included what is now Newham and Stratford and the north half of Hackney, before I decided that it was just too much (and also because these areas have seen nothing like the extent of the changes by areas clser to the City).

I would not dare to state that the end result is complete and comprehensive, there is always new research and information cropping up from somewhere, but in the same way that I drew geographical lines as a practical necessity, the law of diminishing returns meant calling an end to the research after much longer than the ‘few weeks’ I had in mind. Oh to have had Lockie’s seven years’ research time.

And here are some extracts….

There’s even an entry for ‘X’ 🙂

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The Poplar Gut

I must admit to a childish, inner smirk whenever I see mention of the Poplar Gut, inspiring – as it does – images of beer bellies in the Watermans on the Island.  Or is it just me who thinks that?

In medieval times, the marshland that was the Isle of Dogs (Stebunheath, aka Stepney Marshes) was reclaimed by means of a wall, or bank, along the riverfront and drainage of the interior land (see The Mill Wall). There are records of the wall being breached by the Thames on occasion, most seriously at Limehouse Hole in the north west of the Island on 20th March 1660, which led to an area of the Island remaining flooded for many years after. This lake was known as the Poplar Gut (‘gut’ is an Anglo-Saxon word, meaning a narrow waterway or small creek, applied also to intestinal channels).

In this early 1700s map, Poplar Gut is visible, as well as an area of marsh to its west. It was here that the wall was breached.

The extent of the breach made it impractical to restore the wall at its original location – after all, the area was now underwater most of the time. Instead, a wall was built around the breach, slightly inland and – crucially – above the high tide level. This meant that the wall had a distinct bulge to the east, as is clear in the following map.

Survey of London:

The Poplar Commissioners of Sewers repaired the damage and rebuilt other sections of defective wall, at a cost of more than £16,000, raised by the imposition on landowners of very high rates of about £24 per acre. The work was done by William Ham, Orton Brooker and George Salmon, and presumably consisted of timber piling and planking, with chalk and clay fill and buttressing. The new section of wall was set well back from the river behind unprotected foreland that came to be known simply as the Breach. Most of the floodwater was drained, but approximately five acres of water remained, stretching eastwards from the Breach. This came to be called the Great Gut, or Poplar Gut.

This deviation of the wall and the marshland to its west became very significant to the further development of this area of the Island, with evidence visible even to this day, as we will see later.

This 1700s drawing shows the expanse of the breach on the right. The three ships in the centre are moored at what was known as the Breach Dockyard.

Survey of London:

In the early 1730s William Atterbury, a butcher, built a house at the south-west corner of the Gut; this became a public house which by 1750 was known as the Gut House, although it may originally have been the Shipwright’s Arms. In the 1790s a row of eight houses and William and John Godsell’s ropeyard were built south of the Gut House.

The houses didn’t stand for long, because in 1800 they were demolished to make way for the City Canal, built across the Island by the Corporation of London. The canal also took advantage of, and absorbed all of, Poplar Gut.

Survey of London:

Preliminary excavation of the canal started in 1800, by John Clark and Thomas Thatcher, from Wiltshire, and some direct labour. The main excavation and embankment work was contracted to John Dyson, of Bawtry, Yorkshire. He was not able to begin until 1801, because of delays with the installation, supervised by John Rennie, of a Boulton & Watt steam pumping-engine on the site that later became the Canal Dockyard.

The main excavation was completed in 1804, and the locks were approaching completion in July 1805 when the coffer-dam and preventer dam at the east end failed, causing a great wave to rush through the canal. Extensive repairs were needed and the opening had to be postponed until 9 December 1805. The canal was 3,711ft long between the lock gates, 176ft wide at the surface of the water and 23ft deep at its centre, dug only 17ft down, with the spoil used to build up the banks.

The City Canal was not a success, for it was not adopted as a worthwhile short cut. Its potential had probably been overestimated, and London’s growing number of wet docks and the arrival of steamers in the river further reduced its usefulness. From 1811 it became primarily a ‘receptacle for dismantled ships’.

Work started on the West India Docks well before the City Canal opened. One consequence of their construction was that the Gut House also had to be demolished. The owner at the time, James Oughton, then moved slightly further south to build the City Arms public house.

The West India Docks expanded further south, and eventually the City Canal became the South Dock.

By 1875 the transformation was almost complete.

I have to go back to the eastwards bulge in the mill wall. The curving road eventually became known as The Walls.

Drove round that road a million times in my Ford Escort, or on the top floor of a 277. I never imagined the curve of the road was defined by a 17th century flood.

And today, it’s still a bit of an odd place, south of Westferry Circus and still not built up. Only a matter of time, though.

 

 

 

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The Barn Fields

A late 18th century map which depicted plans for the new West India Docks also showed the boundaries of the fields on the Island at the time, including the three Barn Fields.

The fields are also clearly shown in this map, an early 19th century copy of a 1745 land ownership map showing (or ‘shewing’) the land owned by the Ironmongers Company on the ‘Ilsle’ of Dogs.

The map is more more than 250 years old, before even the the Westferry Road was constructed, and it contains some familiar names: Byng, Mellish, Cotton, Ferguson, Barn Field. Here’s the same map with modern roads superimposed:

The Ironmongers Company, formally known as The Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, was one of the livery companies of the City of London. Originally known as the Ferroners, they were incorporated under a Royal Charter in 1463.

Survey of London:

The Barnfield Estate was one of several marshland properties, most of them in Essex, bought by the Ironmongers’ Company in 1730 from Sir Gregory Page, bart, of Wricklemarsh near Blackheath. Barnfield, Great Barnfield and Little Barnfield together formed an irregularly shaped strip of about 33 acres, running south-west from near the Chapel House to the inlet called Drunken Dock or the Great Barnfield Basin.

The company built houses on its estate, the first in the mid-19th century.

1862

They also built three pubs, each with a name related to ironmongery or fire: Vulcan, Ironmonger’s Arms and Magnet & Dewdrop (I must admit, I have never managed to figure out the meaning of magnet and dewdrop).

1895

1900

The Vulcan

Ironmongers’ Arms

Magnet & Dewdrop (where I had my first pint)

The Ironmongers planned to fully build on their estate, with new streets, housing and factories extending to East Ferry Road in the north east. The long north-south street was going to be named Ironmongers’ Street, but in the end only a short terrace was constructed, named Ingelheim Place.

1840s plans

Unfortunately for them, the northern part of their land was subject to compulsory purchase, and absorbed into the to-be-built Millwall Docks. Additionally, a section in the west was similarly acquired by the London and Blackwall Railway Company for a future southern section of the Millwall Extension Railway; a section that never materialised – part of the land became St. Edmund’s school playground, while the rest remained pasture until almost 1900.

Survey of London:

The completion of Ingelheim Terrace by Weitzel and Knight in 1862 marked the end of the main development of the estate. These last (Nos 337–365, odd, Westferry Road) were inferior houses to the rest of the terrace, having only two floors and smaller back additions than the other houses in Westferry Road, but were otherwise similar — plain, old-fashioned houses of stock brick with slate roofs.

So far the development had turned out well. As French boasted, the leases were shorter, the rents higher and the houses bigger than on neighbouring estates, and a site had been let for industrial purposes.

When the Rev. Richard Free came to take charge of St Cuthbert’s, Westferry Road, in 1897, he and his wife had to live south of the river because of the housing shortage, and he commuted by ferry, but after a few months they obtained rooms at No. 1 Ingelheim Cottages (St Cuthbert’s Lodge). It was ‘a terrible old shanty, lacking every convenience’, and crawling with lice. Built as a corner-house on the intended Ironmongers’ Street, it had eight rooms on two floors, with an attic and box-room, and was distinguished by a clumsy bellshaped gable on the street front which gave it a quaint look, reminiscent of ‘a lifeboat station or ark of refuge’. Free had the use of five rooms, two of which he opened as reading-rooms.

He was told that the house had been a school and a beershop, and that 40 years before it had housed eight families, one in each room, while in recent years it had accommodated seven adults and 27 children. At the time of the 1861 census it held three families, a total of ten people, which was no higher than the average level of occupancy on the estate at that time, considering the larger than usual size of the house. The families, typical of others in Millwall, were headed by a gas fitter, labourer and ship-joiner, and included one working wife (a glover) and one single adult lodger (a cordwainer). By 1871 the house was uninhabited, and in 1876 the Ironmongers found it ‘ruinous’, worse than any other property on the estate. It was demolished after c1926.

Someone else concerned with the welfare of locals was a philanthropist called Miss Price, who moved into 333 Westferry Road (diagonally opposite the Magnet & Dewdrop) and opened it as The Welcome Institute – Coffee, Tavern & Club Rooms for Factory Girls. Staffed by well-to-do women volunteers, the institute provided hot meals at affordable prices to factory girls, evening classes in dressmaking and needlework, Bible classes for boys and club-rooms for local football teams.

Totnes Cottages c1930 (Island History Trust)

Like the Isle of Dogs generally, Barnfield suffered badly from the slump of the late 1860s, and it was probably this phase which was most responsible for reducing the houses to slums. By 1868 many of the inhabitants were destitute, their last possessions pawned. In Laura Cottages, for instance, an investigator found a pregnant woman and her five children, all of them suffering from malnutrition. Her husband was away stone-breaking at the workhouse, and to supplement the money he got for this the family spent all week picking a quarter of a hundredweight of oakum from a local ropeworks, for which they received only a shilling, yet the rent of their cottage was five shillings a week. Upstairs was their lodger, his wife and their five children. The man had had only six weeks continuous work in two years and was now too ill to do casual dock labour Unable even to pay their 1s 9d a week rent, they were kept alive by hand-outs from the family downstairs.

In addition to the problem of poverty, the aborted development of the estate left it with inadequate drainage and unmade roads and paths. The ground floors of many of the houses were well below street level, making the buildings permanently damp and prone to flooding. The road to the fibre factory was only a cinder track, often waterlogged. Standing water saturated the front walls of Elizabeth Cottages where, in 1900, there was an outbreak of typhoid fever. The road was finally paved by Poplar Borough Council in 1905.

By the riverside, the proximity of industry caused inconvenience and danger. At Totnes Cottages the bowsprits of ships berthed at Britannia Dry Dock overhung the gardens, while the roadway leading past the cottages to St Andrew’s Wharf was ‘constantly full of vans loading oil’. There was severe vibration from the pounding of machinery at Napier Yard.

Totnes Cottages, Britannia Dry Dock on the right

Deptford Ferry Road

Ingelheim Place (left) from West Ferry Road (Island History Trust)

Ingelheim Place, with Ingelheim Cottages in the background (Island History Trust)

In 1905, the institute moved to much larger, purpose built premises in East Ferry Road – premises that it would later sell to the Dockland Settlement Movement. 333 Westferry Road was demolished in 1919.

353 Westferry Road (Island History Trust)

In 1855 Messrs Tindall of Tindall’s Dock took a 63-year lease of a site at the back of Elizabeth Cottages for a cooperage, at an annual rent of £50. They built a range of sheds and workshops, together with a house for the foreman joiner and his family (No. 5 Elizabeth Cottages).

The cooperage was occupied for a few years from the mid-1860s by the Millwall Iron Works, Ship Building & Graving Docks Company Ltd. In the 1870s and 1880s it was a coconut fibre factory, later becoming a waterproofer’s works and then a soap factory. Its last industrial occupier was the Murex Magnetic Company Ltd, set up to exploit patents relating to ore and oil refining, taken out by two of the soap manufacturers. In 1915–16 the premises were also used for storing copra and coconut oil by George Davis & Son, whose desiccating works were nearby.

Chubb, Round & Co. “Cocoa Nut Manufactory”, Elizabeth Place, 365 Westferry Road, 1885

William Roberts of Millwall self-propelling fire engine, with two firefighters. Roberts’ Jupiter Iron Works later became Samuel Cutler’s yard on the north side of Westferry Road.

Disrepair on the estate was widespread from the mid 1870s, if not earlier, and dilapidations notices were frequently ignored. The good ground rents and comparatively short building leases, which had seemed so attractive, combined with chronic local poverty to offer little incentive to the lessees to make repairs or improvements.

In 1889 John Hollway, the new proprietor of St Andrew’s Wharf, who wanted to build on the remaining open ground, offered to buy the whole estate. But although the £15,000 deal was approved by the Charity Commissioners, it fell through. In 1895 the vacant ground, which now hardly justified the description ‘pasture’, was let on a 21-year lease to Messrs Cutler of Providence Iron Works.

Catholic procession in Westferry Road, showing St. Edmunds and the entrance to Samuel Cutlers. (Island History Trust)

The houses were now squeezed between industrial sites and were at the end of their useful life. They were shabby, insanitary and structurally unsound. Totnes Cottages had already been subject to a Closure Order from the Borough Council. It was becoming obvious that the estate would have to be redeveloped on reversion. Only the public house and the beerhouses seemed of much value. A new lease of the Magnet and Dewdrop was granted in 1899 and new leases of the Vulcan and the Ironmongers’ Arms were sold to brewers in 1916.

Plans for redevelopment drawn up in 1916 by George Hubbard, the Ironmongers’ surveyor, were set aside because of the war, and as the leases fell in the company took over direct management of the houses, which were now falling to bits. Several were subject to closing and demolition orders. Despite the wartime shortage of labour and materials, a gang of builders worked continually on urgent repairs, but the estate remained in ‘deplorable’ condition.

The former Welcome Institute and the house next door had already been pulled down when, in May 1919, the freeholds of the estate were put up for auction. Of eight lots, only two, the Ironmongers’ Arms and the Magnet and Dewdrop, made more than the reserve. Most of the houses failed to sell, and the old pasture failed even to draw a bid.

355–363 (odd) Westferry Road

(Island History Trust)

(Island History Trust)

Nos 311–331 Westferry Road and Ingelheim Cottages were leased to Messrs Cutler soon afterwards for an extension to their works, but because of the housing shortage the Borough Council refused to allow Ingelheim Cottages to be pulled down, even though they had long been unfit to live in. They remained inhabited until c1934, when they were finally demolished. Cutlers’ works remained until the mid-1970s.

The rest of the ground north of Westferry Road was sold in 1920 to Burrell & Company Ltd, who built the Barnfield Works there for the production of organic reds. The factory closed in 1979.

1934

1950

1950

Elizabeth Cottages, Laura Cottages and Ingelheim Place were occupied until c1933. The remaining houses north of Westferry Road (Nos 337–365) were demolished c1936. The sites of Elizabeth Cottages and Nos 357–365 Westferry Road are now covered by part of the West Ferry Estate.

Barnfield Works site (after demolition)

South of Westferry Road, the Vulcan and the former Magnet and Dewdrop were the only reminders of the original development. Both have been rebuilt, the Vulcan in 1937 and the Magnet and Dewdrop in 1939. Totnes Cottages were demolished c1936. Totnes Terrace (by then renamed Mast House Terrace) was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. Several of the remaining houses in Westferry Road were badly damaged by bombing and subsequently demolished or left derelict. Nos 212–224 (even) remained in use until the early 1950s, when they were pulled down.

The sites of Cutlers’ works and the Barnfield Works were developed in 1988–9 by Wimpey Homes as Quay West, an estate of houses and mews built around courts, squares and a ‘pedestrian boulevard’.

c 2012

Looking towards Westferry Rd, c 2012

 

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Pictorial History of the Millwall Docks. Part 4: Post-World War II

Survey of London:

After the war the PLA could not afford more than urgent repairs and the reinstatement of some warehousing with prefabricated sheds. It was 1958 before redevelopment of the Millwall Dock quays could recommence, by which time mechanization had made the old sheds even more inconvenient, and greatly altered priorities for shed building. The PLA Engineering Department was given an opportunity to redesign virtually the entire quayside accommodation at the Millwall Docks. To limit disruption to shipping, redevelopment was phased, moving from the north and west quays in 1959–65, to the east quay in 1965–9, culminating with the Fred Olsen Terminal for ‘high throughput palletized unit cargo’. Various huge single-storey sheds were erected, many with structurally innovative tubularsteel frames, all with large clear unobstructed floors, high clearances and large doorways for fork-lift trucks and mobile cranes. Associated with the sheds was a new network of roads around the quays, which were themselves rebuilt to allow deepening of the docks. A further proposal, which was nearly carried through in 1966, was the development of part of the Mudchute with a new branch dock.

The redeveloped berths at the Millwall Docks were among the most efficient in the world, but although they were in demand until closure in 1980, this could not prevent the Port’s decline during the 1970s.

Railway sidings east of the buildings that were the Western Granaries (just off Alpha Rd, largely destroyed during WWII). West India Docks are in the background.

The view from the Central Granary. Millwall Cutting and West India Docks on the left.

Repair of the unreliable Glengall Road Bridge was interrupted by WWII. After the war, a ‘barge bridge’ was employed to allow passenger access across Millwall Inner Dock (site of the later Glass Bridge and current bridge in Pepper Street). The barge bridge was pulled to one side if a ship needed to pass. In this photo, courtesy of the Island History Trust, Skeggs House is visible in the background.

Central Granary on the left

Cutty Sark sailing to the dry dock for refitting, c1952

The last ship to unload wood in Millwall Docks

Fred Olsen’s staff parking area

Gate 14 was at Kingsbridge, the entrance to Montague Myers.

Survey of London:

The barge-bridge and the knuckles in the dock impeded the PLA’s post-war modernization plans. Their replacement with an elevated walkway came under consideration from 1950, but before accepting this as necessary, the PLA sought Poplar Borough Council’s agreement to the displacement of the right of way. There was strong local opposition, however, and so in 1958 the PLA asked Parliament for power to close the route. The Council, the LCC and Charles Key, the local MP, forced the PLA to reconsider and prepare schemes for adapting the pedestrian crossing. In 1960 the PLA suggested either high-level footways with a double bascule bridge which would cost over £100,000, a tunnel under the dock for about £400,000, or a 180ft-high aerial cable-car for about £50,000. The bridge option emerged as favourite, the tunnel being too expensive for the PLA and the cablecar unpopular with the Council. A high-level bridge would keep the public out of the docks and allow barges to pass, opening only for ships.

The plans for the high-level bridge and walkway were developed in 1961–2 and amended to include a single opening span pivoting on a trunnion. John Mowlem & Company built the bridge in 1963–4, but the opening span and machinery, separately contracted to Head Wrightson, of Thornaby-on-Tees, were not operational until 1965. The bridge, which cost £256,198, comprised a walkway that was 1,140ft long, 30ft above the ground, 7ft 6in. wide at foot level, and 8ft high, with a hollowrectangular-section steel frame, aluminium roof and translucent glass sides. It was carried on nine precast- and prestressed-concrete supports, T-columns with upper sections enclosing the walkway, with support from the canopy linking F and G Sheds Lift towers at the estate boundaries and the operating tower for the 113ft-long opening section were built of reinforced-concrete with facings of Fletton brick. The bridge operated with oil hydraulic machinery.

The Glengall Grove high-level bridge gave the public the dubious privilege of a walk high over the Millwall Docks in an enclosed glazed tube. The ‘glass bridge’ immediately became a prime target for vandals, and pedestrians were so intimidated that few used it. The PLA had to spend about £20,000 on repairs. Severe damage to the glass and the lifts in 1975–6 caused the bridge to be closed, and it was demolished by the LDDC in 1983. It was temporarily replaced by a girder bridge across the knuckles, and then, from 1987, by a steel footbridge across the Inner Dock. A double drawbridge of a Dutch type opened in 1990 as part of the Glengall Bridge development.

Glassbridge not long after opening.

Fred Olsen’s

Whoops

Wood ship

Fred Olsen (still) deliver the Christmas Tree gift from the people of Norway in recognition of the role of the British in freeing them from the Nazis. Until their closure, the tree was unloaded at Millwall Docks. Lorry driver Jim Howe (whose son shared this photo), then transported it to Trafalgar Square.

The view from the Mudchute over East Ferry Road and a very much operational incinerator.

A glimpse of the ship repair works at Millwall Dry (aka Graving) Dock, with East Ferry Road in the background.

Fred Olsen’s

 

Demolition of the Central Granary in 1970

Labour Party Leader (and one-time PM) James Callaghan – in furry hat – and to his left, local MP Peter Shore, visit Millwall Docks shortly after the PLA stated their intention to close the docks.

Montague Myer’s wood sheds next to McDougalls. Only one ship to be seen in the docks. Probably around the time of the closure, 1980.

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Pictorial History of the Millwall Docks. Part 3: World War II

The Luftwaffe flew reconnaissance flights over London and the rest of Britain for years before the war, and had marked targets – such as power stations, docks and gas works – in a set of aerial photos. London was divided into different target areas, and the easiest for bomber pilots to recognize from the air was the one enclosed by a distinctive U-shaped loop in the Thames: i.e. the Isle of Dogs. Covering a large part of the Island, and key targets, were the West India and Millwall Docks.

Luftwaffe pre-war reconnaissance photo of the docks along the Thames

The London Blitz started on 7th September 1940, a day that later became known as ‘Black Saturday’. On that day, and many following days, the docks were repeated targets. This Luftwaffe reconnaissance photo was taken during daylight in the evening. The arrows indicate identified bomb explosions.

In Millwall, explosions can be seen at the corner of Havannah Street and Commons Street (A), and especially in the area around Millwall Central School (B). South of Millwall Outer Dock is an explosion just west of St. Edmund’s Church (C).

A burning East End in the late afternoon of 7th September 1940

Poor weather prevented the Luftwaffe from mounting a major raid today on 10th September. However, there was some bombing of the docks which led to 19 civilian dead and 290 injured. This included high explosive bombs which landed next to the Millwall Dock entrance lock at Kingsbridge, destroying the lock machinery and the central gates. The lock would never be used again.

Bomb-damaged Millwall Dock entrance lock at Kingsbridge

Extracts from The Isle of Dogs During World War II (by yours truly):

1st November 1940

A high explosive bomb landed on the north side of Millwall Outer Dock, near the Railway Gate.

27th December 1940

At 22:10, a 50 Kg bomb fell on the Mudchute anti-aircraft battery. It fell outside one of the concrete gun emplacements, but managed to penetrate underneath the emplacement, wrecking its foundations and demolishing some of the 12-inch thick concrete wall. The gun, which was undergoing repairs and was not in use, was damaged.

A 50 Kg bomb landed on the Millwall Inner Dock.

29th December 1940
A very large number of incendiary bombs were dropped along the Thames causing serious and extensive fires—numbering nearly 1,500 in all —in the City and the docks area.

Millwall Docks were extensively bombed, and bombs fell on East Ferry Road, including on Hawkins & Tipson. Three people died:

  • 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

17th February 1941

During what were described as moderate attacks on London (due in part to the cloudy weather), fire bombs caused 7 major fires in Millwall Docks and in the rest of the Island.

Fire in the West India and Millwall Docks (precise location unknown)

19th March 1941 – ‘The Wednesday’

A very bad night for those living and working in the East End, including on the Island. In clear weather, more than 500 aircraft dropped thousands of incendiary and high explosive bombs along the banks of the Thames from London Bridge to Becton.

A later German radio communique described the attack on London as “a heavy one carried out with shattering effect by very strong bomber formations of a period of hours.” Harbour and dock facilities and other military objectives were attacked with bombs of every calibre it stated. It was claimed that “widespread destructions was caused in the main docks as well as to harbour installations.” Other targets included factories north of the Isle of Dogs and merchant shipping in the Thames.

  • Arthur Burgess, aged 50, of 38 Manchester Road, and recipient of the PLA Certificate of Gallantry was killed in Millwall Docks.
  • William Parkin, aged 62, of 113 Elspeth Road, Clapham was killed in West India Docks.

Millwall Docks M-Warehouse before the 19th March bombing.

M-Warehouse after the bombing

M-Warehouse after the bombing

M-Warehouse after the bombing

19th April 1941

On the night of 19th to 20th April 1941, between midnight and 4:00, 58 bombs, mainly 50 Kg, fell on the East, West India and Millwall Docks; damaging much, including items repaired after previous raids. As usual, bombs also fell on residential areas.

11th June 1942

Gertrude Dunn was awarded a British Empire Medal at Buckingham Palace. She was a cook working for the PLA in Millwall Docks and received the award for her actions when the kitchens were destroyed during a bombing raid. She built fires in the open and continued to cook and provide food for workers and emergency services.

Gertrude Dunn (L) and family outside Buckingham Palace

23rd June 1944

Five workers at Thorne’s Woodyard (just inside Millwall Docks, near Roffey House) were killed by bombing:

  • Alfred Henry Hall, aged 74, of 20 Odessa Road, Forest Gate
  • John Patrick Jones, aged 55, of 59 Ellerman Street, Poplar
  • Lewis George Mayo, aged 67, of 72 Morley Road, Plaistow
  • Richard John Johnson, aged 72, of 19 Sutherland Road, Poplar
  • Arthur Davies, aged 70, of 38 Pennyfields

Bill Regan:

“As I came in Depot, one came out of the clouds above the flats, dive inside dock across Mellish Street, several of us watching. Saw explosion, thought of blast, dived with bicycle for safety of lorry, too late. Caught and pushed, ears popped, heard large lump falling, nothing else for some time. Parmenter got the piece that landed near us.

To the ‘Pin’. Had to leave 1 beer. Martin well oiled, wanted me to have a drink with him. Saw one come over us, began to climb, dived straight for Hammond House, twisted to the right, about turn, straightened out, glided across river, landed in Blackwall Lane (allotments).

Five of F & T Thorne’s men killed in the dock by this morning’s bomb.”

30th June 1944

Two V-1 strikes close to the Millwall Dock entrance lock. The one closest to the nearby Montague Myers killed the following workers:

  • Patrick Orwell, aged 15, of 34 Colwick Street, Deptford
  • Home GuardReginald Stanley Andrews, aged 43, of 1 Kingsmead Road, Bishop’s Stortford
  • Francis Collins Gahagan, aged 59, of 50 Ashgrove Road, Goodmayes
  • Albert Henry Robertson, aged 62, of 29 Baildon Street
  • Frederick George Rover, aged 28, of 3 Guinness Trust Bldgs, Stamford Hill
  • Stanley Matthew Strohman, aged 32, of 2 Meads Place, Hackney
  • David John Walter Stranders, aged 44, of 40 Moody Street, Stepney

1st July 1944

Bill Regan:

“Depot 8.10 a.m. Found bomb had fallen behind depot, in Montague Myer’s in the dock, yesterday afternoon about 4.30 p.m. A. Shift working on site until 11.00 p.m. Canteen and Sports room, and sleeping quarters all windows out.”

By this time, the Heavy Rescue Squad had moved from the damaged Millwall Central School to a new depot between Westferry Rd and Montcalm House, just across the road to Montague Meyers.

In the evening a V-1 struck the western (river) end of Deptford Ferry Road

After the War

This post-war OS map extract (click for big, full-sized version) shows ruined dock buildings in red, and non-dock buildings in blue.

The map gives the impression that the Millwall Docks got off lightly, especially compared to the surrounding residential areas. It is misleading: before the war, Millwall Docks had far fewer brick-built buildings than West India Docks and outside of the dock walls. High Explosive bombs had far less impact when falling on timber sheds which could be – and were – quickly rebuilt.

The West India and Millwall docks are high-risk areas with regards to undiscovered, unexploded ordnance. Contemporary bomb censuses gives a good impression of just how many bombs were dropped on the docks (and on the Island in general).

To this day, unexploded ordnance is fished out of the docks, or found deeply buried in the Thames alluvial soil.

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