Gizza Job, I Can Do That.

If you look at a trade directory dated around 1900, you will not be surprised to see many firms on the Island engaged in activities to do with the docks, shipping, engineering and metal works. But, there is also mention of other trades and industries which are not familiar to me, and/or which have interesting- or amusing-sounding names (to my 21st century ears in any event).

Talking Machines

A profession in the latter category belonged to Henry Lunn of 85 Westferry Rd, who described himself in a 1914 trade directory as a Talking Machine Repairer. What was a talking machine? I had to Google that to find out, and according to Wikipedia:

 In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “Phonograph”, “Gramophone”, “Graphophone”, “Zonophone” and the like were still brand names specific to various makers of sometimes very different (i.e. cylinder and disc) machines; so considerable use was made of the generic term “talking machine”.


Lunn’s (right)

Lunn’s shop would later be a bicycle shop, occupied in the 1950s by bicycle dealer Patrick Coleman. What is it that links audio systems with bicycles? It wasn’t the only example; at 161 Manchester Rd in the 1920s was Horace Clary’s Bicycle & Radio Repairs shop.


Photo: Tony Clary


Anybody living in Millennium Drive (behind the former Cubitt Arms) might be interested to hear that they are living on the site of a large 19th century manure works. I am not certain of its name, but it was either the Guaranteed Manure Company or the London Manure Company, both of whom were listed as Manure Merchants & Manufacturers operating on the Island in 1884.


I thought I knew what manure was, but the internet corrected me. In Victorian times, manure was a generic term for fertilizer (including that made from animal bones), and what they were producing by the Thames were nitro-phosphates, whose manufacturing process was based on sulphuric acid and which released hydrochloric acid particles into the atmosphere. Not only did the works stink, their emissions were highly toxic. This led in 1863 to the Alkali Act – the first incarnation of a ‘clean air act’ – but only after landowners and farmers downwind of such factories complained of dying plantlife in parks and pastures. Meanwhile, other Victorians claimed it was healthy to live in such an environment because the chemicals killed airborne diseases.


In Victorian times, it was permitted to sell beer – but not strong drinks – without requiring a license. If you had licensed premises, then you were known as a publican, but if you had no license then you were a beer retailer. One such beer retailer was Thomas Brunton who ran a beer house known as The Windmill on the river wall at the end of Claude Street in the 1880s.

1882-windmill-map 15042479146

The beer house was in a jumble of wooden structures built around the windmill (which was built in 1701). The windmill and all the buildings were burnt down in January 1884.

1843-millwall 15062456661

The Windmill beer house (left) on the river wall, looking north. 1843

Unfortunately for the authorities, because they had no license requirements, beer houses were never inspected, and thus became renowned as dens of vice and crime. The law was quickly changed to make sure that all premises were licensed, but most Island pubs were beer houses at one time. The exceptions were the grander establishments such as the Queen, Cubitt Arms or Lord Nelson. From the start, these were large, licensed premises aimed at the well-to-do (who were not actually to be found in any appreciable numbers on the Island); they were all to be found around Cubitt Town.


In 1890 there was a Cocoa Nut Fibre Manufactory off Westferry Rd near Cahir Street (Brownfield Place is now on the site).



Coconut fibre, or coir, is a natural fibre extracted from the husk of coconut and used in products such as floor mats, doormats, brushes, and mattresses. Other uses are in upholstery padding, sacking, and the manufacture of string and rope.


Coconut fibre works, Millwall, 1885.

DDKPTF Coconut fibre works, Millwall, London, 1885.

Coconut fibre works, Millwall, 1885.


Burning limestone produces a powder which is of use in building mortar and agriculture (it increases the pH of acidic soil). It is well known that Limehouse is so named because of the many lime kilns that were in the area in medieval times, but lime burners could be found all along the Thames – reliant as the business was on bulk transportation – as late as the 1880s, including Michael Pass who operated out of Plymouth Wharf (north of Cubitt Town Wharf at the top end of Seyssel Street).

The burner’s job also included removing the newly burnt ‘quick lime’ and general attention to kiln operation. Work on the lime kilns was arduous, hot and dusty. The gases leaving the top of a continuously operating kiln must have made manual charging an exhausting and unpleasant operation, although the top layer was cool. Gas leaving a coal fired kiln was not toxic but could induce nausea …

Removing the newly burnt lime from the base of the kiln had an element of danger, because it was both hot and caustic and in those days protective clothing was very primitive.

Oil Cakes


Nope, didn’t know that either, but that’s what the McDougall Brothers were also making in Millwall. In 1845, Alexander McDougall, previously a struggling Scottish shoe merchant from Dumfries and then a Manchester schoolmaster, finally achieved his ambition of setting up as a manufacturing chemist.

He recruited his sons into the business and, in 1864, the McDougall Brothers developed and produced a patent substitute for yeast. This was the starting point which was not only to revolutionise home baking, but firmly position McDougall’s as a household name, as pioneers of self-raising flour.

The first large mill to be built alongside any of the London docks was the Wheatsheaf Mill, at Millwall Docks, which stood on the southern quay of the Millwall Outer Dock. Its construction was started in 1869 by the Manchester-based brothers.


Millwall Inner Dock. McDougall’s Wheatsheaf Mill (right) and their newly-built silo (left). 1934.

Fancy Repository

A Fancy Repository, such as that owned by James Bulbick at 81 Westferry Rd in 1882 has an unclear meaning. Repository usually means a warehouse or storage place, but 81 Westferry Rd was a run-of-the-mill shop.


81 Westferry Rd (right) in the 1950s.

A fancy was more or less any article that you didn’t need, but which you wanted (or fancied). So, no foodstuffs, no clothing, but other items such as bird cages, croquet sets, toilet bottles, vases, etc. I’m not making this up, I’m quoting from a newspaper advert for a Fancy Repository. Basically… was……tat.


There were LOADS of chandlers on the Island. In 1882:

Alexander Noall, 120 Stebondale St
Alfred Gibbs, 63 Glengall Rd (E)
Alfred Baldwin, 2 Manilla St
Augustus Mitchell, 363 Westferry Rd
Edgar Ellis, 82 Westferry Rd
Edward Brindley, 5 East Ferry Rd
Elizabeth Middleton, 33 Charles St
George Dixey, 73 Manchester Rd
George Meason, 97 Westferry Rd
Henry Suffolk, 29 Stebondale St
Henry Adcock, 62 Glengall Rd (E)
Herbert Davey, 237 Westferry Rd
James Marner, 153 Manchester Rd
James Hembrough, 32 Manilla St
James Collins, 9 Strattondale St
James Godden, 288 Westferry Rd
Jesse Burgoine, 212 Westferry Rd
John McCartney, 43 Glengall Rd (E)
John Blakebrough, 469 Manchester Rd
John Johnstone, 313 Manchester Rd
Mary Koch, 47 Stebondale St
Richard Freeman, 248 Manchester Rd
Sarah Dines, 519 Manchester Rd
Sarah Moull, 7 Manilla St
Sarah Terry, 7 Strafford St
Thomas Weaver, 294 Westferry Rd
Thomas Mulliner, 124 Manchester Rd
Thomas Miskin, 25 Glengall Rd (E)
William McCully, 12 Manilla St
William Bishop, 21 Samuda St

So, what’s a chandler? Wikipedia says:

Not to be confused with Chandelier.

They’re only right.

A chandler was the head of the chandlery in medieval households, responsible for wax, candles, and soap. More recently, a couple of hundred years ago, ship chandlers were dealers in special supplies or equipment for ships. Eventually, chandler became the name for the person who sold general provisions, later known as a grocer (does anybody use that word any more?). The term chandelier, at one time a ceiling fitting that held several candles together, is still used. Ah – the association is not that daft after all.

Globe Maker

John Calver, 80 Westferry Rd, Globe Maker


Encaustic Tile

Encaustic tiles are ceramic tiles in which the pattern or figure on the surface is not a product of the glaze but of different colours of clay. They are usually of two colors but a tile may be composed of as many as six. The pattern appears inlaid into the body of the tile, so that the design remains as the tile is worn down. Encaustic tiles may be glazed or unglazed and the inlay may be as shallow as an eighth of an inch, as is often the case with “printed” encaustic tile from the later medieval period, or as deep as a quarter inch. They are very pretty:


John Lewis James of Wharf Rd used to make them in the 1890s. Wharf Road used to run from the Ferry House to Seyssel St. In the 1930s, the west end of the street (from Johnson Dry Dock aka the slipway next to the rowing club) was renamed Ferry Street and the east end Saunders Ness Road.


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11 Responses to Gizza Job, I Can Do That.

  1. Absolutely fascinating, Mick – I knew hardly anything about those curious trades and toxic industries. Astonishing photos of mountains of coconut shells! Old editions of large-scale Ordnance Survey maps denote a boggling mix of industries along East End waterways. For example, flanking a short stretch of the Limehouse Cut in 1914: lead works, oil mills, a disinfectant factory, a biscuit factory, chemical works, saltpetre works, a gold and silver refinery, a tar and resin distillery, radium works, varnish works, metallic cask works, saw mills, a match manufactory, a refuse destructor…

    I also much enjoyed your recent features on the Tooke and Samuda Estates.

  2. Ash Rennie says:

    You mention a Globe Maker, and ask “Why?”. I have always assumed that globes were an important part of the navigational equipment of ships that are going across an ocean. Manufacture of wooden, spherical and geographically accurate globes is a highly skilled job, and locating near the docks seems very sensible. They would also have been useful for import and export businesses trying to get their heads around where exactly they were trying to trade with.

    Separately, in my casual researches I have been startled by the appearance of “cowkeeper” as a description in the Trade Directories – e.g. at 1 Manchester Road (opposite the Lord Nelson pub?) from at least 1880 to 1910, which seems very late – perhaps the name was retained by a retailer even after refrigeration enabled milk to be brought into London from the more genuine countryside?

    Excellent series of emails by the way. Thanks for all the work involved.

  3. Linda Owers (nee Ross) says:

    Mick as a lifelong (Islander) i find your articles very interesting & informative. More so now that i no longer live on the island. Please keep up the good work

  4. jan says:

    I remember my dad telling me that when he left school, around 1916, he worked at Owen Parry who dealt in Cow Cake. I see you mention Oil Cake which I think may have been the same as Cow Cake. I have googled Owen Parry and see they were in Factory Street (or Factory Place).

  5. Peter Stone says:

    An excellent article Mick. Reading the section on beer, I wonder if you have you read the new book by Roger Williams, ‘Whitebait and the Thames Fisheries’? He mentions several old riverside taverns from the 18th century on the Island and at Blackwall that were patronized by fishermen, or prospered during the times when people visited from London for whitebait dinners.

  6. Hi Mick,
    Thank you for the article, my great, great grandfather is the WH Lunn that owned the shop you mentioned at the beginning, The address was 85 Westferry Road.

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