The earliest recorded camera photographs were taken in the 1830s, with the first generally-accepted photograph to include people taken in 1838 (“Boulevard du Temple”, a daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre in Paris). In the next couple of decades the technology improved rapidly, and by 1850, cameras – although bulky – were mobile enough to transport to different locations to take photos of street and city scenes.
The very first photo of the Isle of Dogs that I’m aware of was taken from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich around 1855. Actually, it wasn’t intended as a photo of the Island – the main subject was the Royal Naval College and Hospital at the foot of the hill – but I was fascinated by what I could see in the background: a largely empty Isle of Dogs with just a few buildings along the riverfront.
1855 photo background – click for large version.
1855 photo – zoomed in and enhanced
A few buildings were immediately recognisable: the recently constructed Christ Church and Newcastle Arms (later Watermans Arms) on the left, and Cumberland Oil Mills and Newcastle Draw Dock to their right. However, the angle of the shot and the lack of other recognisable landmarks made it difficult at first to work out what was what. This was, after all, just a short few years after the construction of Manchester Road, which had virtually no buildings along it at the time. With much head scratching and Googling, however, things fell into place.
1855 photo, annotated
Two or three years later, the spectacle that was the construction of the Great Eastern at J. Scott-Russell’s yard, north of the later Burrell’s Wharf (see From Millwall to the Kop) attracted numerous photographers to the area, many working on behalf of journals or newspapers of the time.
1858. Isambard Kingdom Brunel posing in front of Great Eastern’s chains, built by Island firm Brown, Lenox & Co.
1858. The Great Eastern under construction.
1860. Samuda’s Wharf.
1863. John Stewart’s, Blackwall Ironworks
1863. Millwall Ironworks. This is likely the still-existing building now known as The Forge!
1865. James Ash & Co. North of Pier Street, which once extended to the river
1867. Construction of Millwall Dock’s entrance lock gates.
1870. Yarrow’s yard, off Folly Wall, including the building that was the former Folly House Tavern.
1870s. West India South Dock
1878. North Greenwich Railway Station (the rowing club is now on the site)
1880. West India South Dock
1885. The ‘Cocoa Nut Fibre Manufactory’, Elizabeth Place (west of Cahir Street)
1885. Ceremonial closure of Westferry Rd toll gate (north of Cuba Street)
1885. Ceremonial closure of East Ferry Rd toll gate (at corner with Manchester Road)
1888. Manchester Road, looking north just this side of Billson Street.
1888. Manchester Road, looking east (Stebondale Street on the left)
1890s (estimate), a steam train travels over the arches.
1890s. Brockley’s Brass Works, Chipka Street.
1890s. Ferry House
1890s. Greenwich Ferry. Island on the left.
1890s. Island Gardens
1893. Reconstruction of Blackwall Entrance Lock.
1894. Millwall Athletic FC.
1895. Fishing Smack public house, Cold Harbour.
1895. Island Rovers (I’ve not heard of a team of that name at that time, but that’s what the original caption said).
1895. Prince of Wales public house, Folly Wall, and the original pumping house.
1899. Millwall St. John’s football team (photo: Island History Trust)
c1899. The Lord Nelson
c1899. The original fire station, with the Lord Nelson in the background.