McDougall’s, Millwall Docks

Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History:

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.

1864 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.

1869 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 McDougall Brothers.

The firm of McDougall Brothers evolved into the first of Britain’s giant flour milling concerns, more often known by the name of their product McDougall’s. They owned several large mills elsewhere in the country. The Wheatsheaf Mill, rebuilt several times over the following century, became one of the major landmarks of the Isle of Dogs.

This 1890 map shows the location of the flour mill:

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The same location today:

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British Survey Online:

A fire in 1898 destroyed the mill, despite the efforts of 25 engines from all over London. A new McDougall & Company flour mill was built in 1899–1900. H. Jameson Davis was the milling engineer and Robert E. Crosland the architect. The lowest tender for the building work was from Holliday & Greenwood. The mill, again on the north-west quarter of the site, was of brick, built around three sides of a yard. The north range housed timber and cast-iron storage bins over wheat mixers. Its north elevation to the dock was a symmetrical façade with decorative gables. The south range had offices under the mill proper, which had 12 grain elevators, top-floor sifters for grading the flour, and second-floor purifiers with mahogany hoppers feeding 13 first-floor double-roller mills. An 82ft-tall tower linked the main ranges and housed wheat-cleaning machinery and a water tank. South of the mill there were offices, stores, a 142hp steam engine, and a chimney, 120ft tall.

As Wheatsheaf Mills, this building became the centre of McDougall & Company business. The east or fertilizer premises were sublet to J. Taylor & Sons in 1914 for the production of cattle food. Two long ranges of 51ft-tall timber bin silos were erected on the northeast quarter of the site. Around 1926 two-storey office, canteen and laboratory buildings were built to the southwest.

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After the fire (Photo: Island History Trust)

The rebuilt Wheatsheaf Mill:

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McDougall’s works dinner, 1920s

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In 1934, a new silo building was built. It had ten 20ft-diameter cylindrical bins, was 100ft tall and had a capacity of 8,000 tons.

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The almost-complete new silo building in 1935.

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King George VI hoping to get some free flour.

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Photo: Island History Trust

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In 1960, two steel-bin silo cylinders, each 30ft in diameter and 50ft high, were erected west of the main silo.

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The company, by then named Rank Hovis McDougall Branded Foods closed the mill in 1982.

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1982 demolition of the Glass Bridge.

The buildings were demolished in 1984–5.

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1986, The pile of rubble on the opposite quay is all that remains of McDougalls silo building. Photo: Chris Hirst

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6 Responses to McDougall’s, Millwall Docks

  1. Dave Penn says:

    My mum used to work at Macdougalls,and got a bag of flour at the end of every week, and also the scout picture had Fred Castleton in,my nan married him for their second marriage

  2. Silvia Colloseus says:

    This is an immensely insightful and excellently presented history of McDougalls at Millwall Dock. Thank you for putting it all together with these superb photographs. Nothing could have made me happier to finally get the whole story of the spot I am so happy to call my home. Thank you so very very much.

  3. Silvia Colloseus says:

    This history with its amazing photographs ought to be published in a little book !!!!

  4. Silvia Colloseus says:

    Surely, pulling down the Wheatsheaf Mill was one of the biggest architectural crimes committed ever!

  5. Thank you for another fascinating piece, Mick. It seems astonishing that wheat from Australia to London was still shipped under sail as late as the mid-1930s. The photo of scouts on the s.v. Penang prompted me to look again at your article about the vessel, including astonishing photos of its masts towering over low cottages when in Britannia Dry Dock, just off West Ferry Road. The Penang was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland in 1940 with the loss of 18 lives.

  6. Alexander Mcdougall was my great great grandfather. My great grandfather,Frederic Eliot Duckham, married his daughter Maud. Fred and his three sons all appear in Graces Guide. Jane Duckham was secretary of the Votes for Women movement in Blackheath in 1911.

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