St. Mildred’s House, Westferry Road

In 1873, the Millwall Dock Company built the  Millwall Dock Club for its permanent employees (around 800 men at the time – most dock workers having to put up with the insecurity of the call-on system). The company built the club partially behind St. Paul’s Church – on dock land, but with its main entrance facing Westferry Road.

1880s

The club wasn’t a long-term success, and it closed in 1892. The building had two main sections, a three-storey building and a single-storey hall. Some time after the closure of the club, the hall was taken over by St. Paul’s church, and the three-storey building by an institute for poor women, known as St. Mildred’s House (Mildred, was an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon abbess of the Abbey at Minster-in-Thanet, Kent.).

Photo: Island History Trust

The institute – set up by Miss Hilda Barry and formally opened in October 1897 – was opened as:

…a centre in the Isle of Dogs at which ladies could reside for religious, social, and eductional work among women and girls in that isolated district. The Settlement would accommodate seven residents … The district was populated by over twenty thousand persons who were practically cut off from the rest of the world. (The Morning Post, Thursday March 15th, 1900)

The quote from ‘The Morning Post’ is part of an article about a so-called ‘drawing room meeting’, a meeting held by well-to-do Londoners in an attempt to raise interest in, and funds for, their philanthropic endeavours. For, as ‘The Guardian’ reported at the time:

…difficulty was experienced finding lades who would go there [to St. Mildred’s] not only casually and at intervals, but would reside there for a certain specified period and assist in much needed work on behalf of the very large number of women and girls employed in the various factories of the district.

And further:

Mrs. Creighton spoke of the progress which had been made in the matter of women’s settlements of late years and of the need which existed for more workers. They did not want to make their settlements hospitals for moral invalids, but wished to secure the best and the brightest workers.

1926

“Off the track in London” by George R. Sims, published by Jarrold & Sons, 1911. Originally published in “The Strand” magazine, July 1905. Chapter XI – In Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs:

There is a Ladies’ Settlement, St. Mildred’s House, in Millwall, which suggests the refining influence of gentle womanhood. The conditions of life among the women workers of the place are affected by the nature of their employment. The dirt of their drudgery, the odour of their occupation, are brought into the home by the men and women alike. There is no escape from either.

Three boys in front of St. Mildred’s. Photo donated to Island History Trust by St. Mildred’s.

Children at play at St. Mildred’s. Photo donated to Island History Trust by St. Mildred’s

Residents at St.Mildred’s House, Millwall, in 1932. They are, at the back, Marjorie Hartley, Joan Duff, Barbara Blackwell. In front, Anne Tetley, Margaret Balfour, Ursula Robbins and Kay Knights-Smith (later Kay Leonard). Photo donated to Island History Trust by St. Mildred’s.

In the evening of 7th September 1940 – the first night of the Blitz – the nearby St. Cuthbert’s church (on the corner of Cahir Street and Westferry Road) was destroyed by bombing.

St. Cuthbert’s after the night of 7th September 1940, with Harbinger School in the background. Photo: George Hardy.

Subsequently, St. Cuthbert’s congregation began to meet in the chapel at St. Mildred’s. However, St. Mildred’s was itself also seriously damaged, as the Church Times would report:

When a bomb hit the warehouse opposite, the street became a hot stream of peanut butter and for weeks, boots and carpets were saturated with the strong-smelling substance. Finally, a flying bomb fell within the dock gates and St. Mildred’s walls were split from top to bottom.

St. Mildred’s stained-glass windows were rescued and stored for safe keeping in McDougall’s flour mill (considered a safe storage place, with its thick concrete silo walls), after which all memory and trace of them was lost.

McDougall’s

The London County Council bomb damage maps do not indicate any damage to St. Mildred’s – while all the buildings around have some level of damage, as indicated by their colours. However, the lack of colour may have been because the building was on dock property; the considerable damage to dock buildings was not always marked on the LCC bomb damage maps, possibly due to the PLA not giving full access to their land.

LCC Bomb Damage Map

A 1950 map shows that the three-storey building was no longer present at that time.

1950

This is borne out by a 1963 aerial photo which shows that the building had been demolished, and the land used for storage of timber (almost certainly belonging to Montague Meyer, whose sheds can also be seen in the photo).

1963

In the 1960s, the remaining building was replaced by new premises in Castalia Square. Island House website (https://www.island-house.org/about-us/history/):

The vicarage in Castalia Street had been destroyed by a direct hit in the war, and in 1955 was replaced by a new clergy house on the north side of Roserton Street overlooking the new Square, adjoining the St John’s mission hall and club house. This was called St Mildred’s House to continue the name of the former Anglican settlement in Millwall; St Mildred’s House was used temporarily by Island House as an overflow to provide offices for the Health Trainers project in 2010-11.

St. Mildred’s and Island House, Castalia Square.

As for those stained-glass windows which had been stored in McDougall’s, and then ‘lost’, they were found in 1990 in an organ loft at Christ Church during renovations. They were cleaned and installed in the church (an action that was in part funded by Rank Hovis McDougall), where they can be seen today.

St. Mildred’s stained glass windows, Anunciation 1 & 2. (Photo: John Salmon)

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4 Responses to St. Mildred’s House, Westferry Road

  1. W. Willson says:

    The St. Mildred’s I remember was after WW2 and in the grounds of St. Luke’s Church, probably the vicarage, with Miss Bradford and Bill Simmons the priest. Used to go there for choir practice.

    • Interesting – thanks for the comment – perhaps St. Mildred’s carried on for a while at St. Luke’s after the war? Found no reference to it, but it would make sense if their own building was damaged.

  2. Nicholas Sack says:

    Interesting that John Betjeman, no less, was impressed by Castalia Square; I wonder if the qualities endure – will have a shufty when next over that way. And good that the missing stained glass windows were rediscovered!

  3. Pingback: A Walk Round the Isle of Dogs in 1968 (Then & Now) – Part I, Westferry Road | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

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