Tooke Times

Tooke is (or was) a well-known name on the Island. The Tooke Arms public house has a prominent place on Westferry Rd – one of the few original Island pubs still doing business (although, admittedly, it is a late 1960s version of a pub that was originally a few yards to the south).


The original Tooke Arms, shorly before its demolition. Photo taken from Sir John McDougall Gardens, courtesy of Nick Trevillion.

Before the construction of Barkantine Estate, there used also to be a Tooke St, running from Alpha Grove (formerly Alpha Road) to Westferry Road.



This was a typical Millwall street, with simple terraced houses for local workers and their families.



Photo: Island History Trust Collection

The view eastward was dominated by the large warehouses of Millwall Docks.


Photo: Island History Trust Collection

3-5 Tooke Street was notable for being the address of The Islanders public house (known commonly as Sexton’s, after an early landlord). This was the first home and unofficial club house of the local Millwal football team which would later become the modern-day Millwall FC. See Millwall FC – The Millwall Year(s) for the full story.


The Islanders pub is on the left in this photo. Photo: Arthur Ayres


Outside The Islanders. Photo: Island History Trust Collection


Photo: Island History Trust Collection


Original Tooke Arms on the corner of Westferry Rd and Janet St.


Photo: David Lloyd

Tooke Street is so named as it was built on land owned by the Rev. William Tooke (1744–1820), British clergyman and historian of Russia (he was for a time the chaplain of English merchants operating in St. Petersburg). The Island land had come into the hand of his family when his father Thomas married the daughter of Richard Chevall, whose own family had acquired it in 1660.

William Tooke  married Elizabeth Eyton in 1771, and the couple had two sons, Thomas and William, and a daughter Elizabeth.  Son Thomas became a renowned economist and served several terms between 1840 and 1852 as governor of the Royal Exchange Corporation. Likewise, he served for several terms as chairman of the St Katharine’s Docks company. He was also an early director of the London and Birmingham Railway. William’s second son, his namesake, went on to become a lawyer, politician, and President of the Society of Arts.

There is no evidence of any member of the Tooke family visiting the Isle of Dogs. Doesn’t surprise me, no pubs had been built yet.

by Joseph Collyer the Younger, after Sir Martin Archer Shee, line engraving, published 1820

Rev. William Tooke by Joseph Collyer the Younger, after Sir Martin Archer Shee, line engraving, published 1820

The following map shows the principal land holders in the early 1800s; many names that are still in use in Island street names.


Key to landowners: A Port of London Committee: B Sir Charles Price: C Robert Batson: D George Byng:E Rev. William Tooke: F William Mellish: G Ironmongers’ Company: H Ferguson and Todd: I Earl of Strathmore:I William Stratton

It was only after the creation of the Westferry Rd (then West Ferry Rd) around 1815 that industry began to develop down the west side of Millwall, providing opportunities for landowners to develop housing on the east side of Westferry Rd. Survey of London:

Like so much of the Isle of Dogs, Tooke Town developed patchily. By the riverside there grew up a dense urban muddle typical of Millwall: cramped wharves; awkward, inaccessible factories and workshops; mean houses and shops cheek-by-jowl with the noise, pollution and danger of industry and wharfage. East of Westferry Road the side streets, stopping short in the marsh at the boundary of the estate, were not fully built up for many years. They were eventually extended across the Mellish Estate, but the resulting grid pattern of streets has since been broken up, largely by public-housing developments.

By 1817 William Tooke had put a road called Moiety Street through his riverside land, with three turnings off Westferry Road. The probable intention was to split the estate into residential and industrial portions, Moiety Street acting as a service road to factories and wharves and the backs of terrace-houses in Westferry Road. However, only about half the main-road frontage south of the first turning was built up with houses, and most of these did not appear until the 1850s.

There was no house building on any scale until the 1840s, when Charles Chevall Tooke [grandson of Rev. William Tooke, and son of Thomas Tooke] began to sell building leases on plots fronting Westferry Road and new side streets. The name Tooke Town appears in leases from the mid-1840s.

The development of the western part of Tooke Street began in 1842 when William White, a local baker, took a building lease of four plots on its south side. As well as a terrace of four houses, he wedged in two cottages at the rear, White’s Cottages. (ref. 204)

There was some further building in 1842–7 — the lessees including a butcher and an engineer, both from Limehouse, and a Millwall stonemason — then a second wave of building in the mid-1850s. In 1854 George White, an iron-founder, completed a row of plots he had agreed to take in 1846. A few years later William White built another row of houses and about the same time a couple of pairs of houses appeared, on leases granted to a Spitalfields watch-case manufacturer, and a Millwall sawyer.

Almost all the western (Tooke) part of the street had been built up by the late 1860s; the eastern part, on the Mellish Estate, was laid out later and built up in 1879 with terrace houses by Abraham Cullen of Havannah Street, a house agent.




Tooke Town and part of the Mellish Estate. Based on the Ordnance Survey of 1893–4. Key: A Tooke Estate: B Mellish Estate (part): C Byng Estate (part)

The area around Tooke St did not change much for the next 40 years, until the outbreak of World War II when it was heavily damaged by bombing, as was the rest of the Island and the East End in general.


Luftwaffe photo of bombs dropping in Millwall during the Blitz


Assessment of one week’s worth of fire bombing in December 1940

After the war, the damage to the street was evident; it had taken quite a battering due to its proximity to the docks.


Black shading corresponds to buildings destroyed or damaged beyond use.


Photo: Peter Bevan


Photo: Peter Wright

During the 1960s, the area was largely cleared of housing (including undamaged buildings) to make room for the new Barkantine Estate.




But still a bit more to be built – the flats in Byng St / Strafford St for example. Photo: Jonathan Barker


New Tooke Arms

If you were wondering where Tooke St was, stand with your back to the Fried Chicken Shop (the one opposite Barkantine) in Westferry Rd and look down the right side of the football cage.


You’re looking down the old route of Tooke St. Can’t see it? No, me neither.

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5 Responses to Tooke Times

  1. Paula Clavin says:

    I have been looking up details about Tooke St before WWII, I spotted a photo of my Nan and Great Aunt with my Dad outside their House in Tooke Street. Just to let you know Elizabeth was actually Mrs Elizabeth Bailey, She was married to Harry Bailey who kept Shire horses.

  2. Dave says:

    I’m from Bermondsey, only moved out in 98, but now just clinging to any old bit of proper London history I can get. Used to be we wouldnt mix, now we realise you;re the nearest thing we got in common. Rest of London is long gone. Sad, but love seeing photos like on here. Proper London and proper Londoners and dont let anyone ever forget it.

  3. Jason says:

    This is an excellent summary of the history of this area. Thank you for sharing!

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