Pictorial History of the Millwall Docks. Part 1: The Age of Sail

In 1859, plans were announced for the construction of new enclosed docks south of the West India Docks, conisting of a wide canal stretching from the west to the east of the Island, connected to another heading north.

Survey of London:

More than 8,000ft of dock wall, between 28ft and 30ft high, was built to enclose 35½ acres of water, 24ft deep. This walling survives, but it is behind later quays except at the north end of the Inner Dock and along the south quay of the Outer Dock. It has straight sides with a slight batter, and a brick skin about 2ft thick backed by mass concrete up to 11ft 6in. thick. Horizontal bands of brickwork tie the facing into the backing. The walls originally had Bramley Fall stone copings with continuous mooring rails.

The east extension was deferred, and so the bank at the eastern end of the Outer Dock was wharfed with timber in 1870–1, by John Langham Reed to plans by Wilson. This frontage and the land behind up to the Millwall Extension Railway was a barge-railway wharf for the Great Eastern Railway Company from 1872 to 1926.

Constructed docks. Although the eastern extension was not built, the the dock company still purchased all the land required.


Construction of the entrance lock gates (at the later Kingsbridge)

The constructed docks – opened on 14 March 1868 –

Official opening

Survey of London:

The dock company built granaries and extended its warehousing in 1883–4, acquiring new powers for raising capital. The gross tonnage entering the Millwall Docks in 1885 was approximately double that of 1871. In 1889 working agreements were reached between all London’s dock companies, assigning and protecting their particular trades. The Millwall Docks were fixed as the centre of the European grain trade. They were also permitted to accept grain from Australia and New Zealand, as well as certain other goods from outside Europe, including a percentage of the timber trade, phosphate, guano, nitrate, bones and bone ash, horns, bulk cotton seed, oilcake, rosin and turpentine. The company handled ever-greater quantities of grain with the introduction from 1892 of Duckham’s novel pneumatic elevating machinery.

In 1900 about a third of London’s grain imports and 10 per cent of its river-borne timber trade came through the Millwall Docks. Of the grain, 57 per cent was immediately lightered out, 30 per cent stored and 13 per cent delivered direct to the railway. In terms of mechanization, the Millwall Docks were already the pride of the Port, handling twice as much as competitors per acre of water space. However, the docks suffered from crowding and delays; the advantage that machinery brought demanded continuing investment if it was not to be lost.

Duckham prepared reports and plans, but outside experts were brought in to help with the design of the two principal improvements, the Central Granary and the Timber Transporter.

Timber transporter at its Millwall Inner Dock terminus (next to Glengall Bridge)

Central Granary

Kingsbridge, the swing bridge is open to allow barges through the entrance lock

SS Pamir sailing through the entrance lock in 1932


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