The junction formed by Westferry Road, East Ferry Road, Manchester Road and Ferry Street has appeared in many photographs over the years. In great part this is because two of the Island’s best-known original buildings – the Lord Nelson public house and the fire station – stand here.
Originally, many centuries ago, this was not a junction. The road from Poplar to the Greenwich Ferry (the present-day East Ferry Road) was one of just a couple of roads on the Island, although they were not much more than dirt paths. (The history of East Ferry Road is described here, by the way).
This 1741 map shows two lanes, Angel Lane, which was more usually called Dolphin Lane, and Arrow Lane, which was more usually spelled Harrow Lane (I like the way the aitch has been dropped, a cockney cartographer!). Both Dolphin Lane and Harrow Lane still exist, in much shorter forms, as side roads of Poplar High Street.
The opening of the West India Docks in 1802 led to the creation of a (toll) road from Limehouse to the Greenwich Ferry, in order to facilitate the transport of goods and workers. The road was originally known as the Deptford & Greenwich Road. And, not shown on this map, the newly-widened and paved East Ferry Road was known as the Blackwall Road. It would be circa 1860 before the roads received the names we now know.
A couple of decades after this map was created, Cubitt started to build his houses in the east, which led to the need for a main road around that part of the Island. Why he named it Manchester Road, I don’t know, but would like to find out. This 1850 map shows Manchester Road, but actually most of it wasn’t yet built at that time; it was 1854 before it was completed.
One of the first parts of Manchester Road to be built upon was close to the corner with East Ferry Road, where wine merchant Henry Johnson built the Lord Nelson. Johnson’s brother Augustus ran an ironworks in Ferry Street, after which Johnson’s Draw Dock was named – the section of Ferry Street between the draw dock and Manchester Road was originally named Johnson Street.
Originally, William Cubitt offered to build a fire station on the Island in the 1850s, but it was not until 1872 that action was undertaken, significantly influenced by local concerns that – if a bridge was up – there was no way that an engine from the fire station at West India Dock Road would be able to attend to an Island fire on time.
The Isle of Dogs Fire Engine Station, was opened in 1877 on undeveloped land owned by Lady Margaret Charteris, a major Island landowner and wife of Lord Strafford. It housed six firemen, a coachman, three horses, a steam fire-engine, a manual engine, a curricle and a fire-escape. (See here for more information about the fire station).
Survey of London:
In the mid-1890s it was realized that the building was too small. Because of an increase in the number of staff, some of the men had to be lodged in houses in the neighbourhood, and a pair of horses was kept in rented stables. Additional ground to the rear of the station was acquired, together with the freehold of the original premises, and plans were prepared for the alteration and enlargement of the building. These plans were not executed and revised ones were produced in 1903, but the estimated cost of carrying them out was such that it was decided that it was preferable to erect a new building.
This photo, taken shortly after 1918, shows the view from Ferry Street towards Westferry Road, Manchester Road and East Ferry Road. It is one of the very few photos which show the houses on both sides of the street.
Virtually all houses on the south side of the street (left) were damaged beyond repair in WWII. Those on the north side fared better, but the whole row was also demolished later. This 1950 aerial photo was taken in the same direction as the previous photo – damage to the houses on the left is more obvious.
This c1950 map describes the houses as ‘ruins’.
The larger building on the corner of Ferry Street and Manchester Road, visible in the post-WW1 photo and c1950 map (No. 1 Ferry Street) – housed a greengrocer’s in the 1950s. There is a just a hint of it in this photo, the view looking up Ferry Street.
The rear of the shop can be seen in this 1960s photo taken from an upstairs room in the garage opposite the Lord Nelson.
Ten years’ later and the shop was gone. The street sign – possibly the only one which named Millwall – is the wrong way round in this photo. Some oik or other has decided to turn it 180 degrees.
In this photo of the fire station, the street sign is the right way round. Also visible is the newsagent’s and tobacconist’s on the corner of Westferry Road and Ferry Street.
The junction was also in the background of a scene from the Prospects TV series. (I think, by this time, the corner shop had become a suntan salon or similar).
As with many scenes of the Island, the horizon began to get crowded in the 1990s.
The roads have got a lot busier too, which doesn’t always turn out well.
In 2008 the former Millwall Fire Station was converted into apartment blocks named for Violet Pengelly and Joan Bartlett, members of the London Auxiliary Fire Service killed during bombing of their depot at Cubitt Town School in Saunders Ness Rd during World War II, along with more than 20 colleagues. I’ve written about this incident in my book, The Isle of Dogs During World War II, and it features in Bill Regan’s Wartime Diaries.
As for the main building, the ground floor was converted into a restaurant– The Old Millwall Fire Station Restaurant.
How’s the junction looking these days? Not too bad, actually.