The West India and Millwall Docks were run by different companies until 1908, the year of creation of the Port of London Authority (PLA), a self-funding public trust with responsibility to govern the Port of London, including all enclosed dock systems downstream of Teddington Lock.
Before the arrival of the PLA, there was no question of creating a water passage between the West India and Millwall Docks. The following map shows the situation as late as 1920.
Plans had been made earlier, in 1914, to connect the two dock systems, but WWI and financial constraints prevented those plans being carried out. Work eventually started in 1925 and a passage was completed in 1928. At the same time, two other passages were built connecting the three West India Docks.
The Millwall Passage became better known as the Millwall Cutting. It was 480 ft long and 80 ft wide, and was crossed by an iron swing bridge at its southern end.
The cutting and bridge are clearly visible in the centre of this later photo (c1980).
In 1933, the Port of London Authority Swimming Club held its annual gala at Millwall Cutting. For the diving events, a high diving platform was built with scaffolding on the bridge.
In this photo, looking east (same direction as the aerial photo above), the flags of many nations are hanging from the scaffolding (international swimmers and divers were represented at the gala). On the left is an accumulator tower, used to build up pressure for the dock’s hydraulic machinery. The gasometers in the distance are on the other side of the river, close to where the Millennium Dome would later be built.
This view is looking north, over the cutting towards the West India Docks. The end of the cutting is blocked by one of the PLA’s floating cranes. If you look closely, you can see the other passages, all lined up to facilitate through-sailing.
In this photo, the German participants give a Nazi salute during the playing of the German national anthem. It wouldn’t be many years before their compatriots arrived in their efforts to destroy the docks.
Much of the infrastructure of the Millwall and West India Docks was destroyed during WWII (at any one time from 1940-1945, at least 1/3 of the quay space was unusable), only to be quickly rebuilt. Millwall Cutting and its bridge survived the war relatively unscathed.
In 1984 the original bridge was dismantled and removed. This photo (by Mike Seaborne) is looking south over the Millwall Inner Dock. McDougall’s is just visible in the background on the right.
A new bridge was constructed (completed in 1987), on the route of the new road, Marsh Wall.
The area west of Millwall Cutting became known as South Quay, and it suffered massive damage (and two people were killed) by an IRA bomb in 1996.
Today the bridge (foreground) and cutting look like this. Hard to imagine all that diving and Sieg Heiling so many years ago.