Bet you never expected to see a blog article about the Isle of Dogs that started with a photo of a castle. It’s Cahir Castle, in Co. Tipperary in Ireland.
Earl of Glengall was a title in the Peerage of Ireland that was created in 1816 for Richard Butler, 10th Baron Cahir. Richard Butler’s son, another Richard, married Margaret Lauretta Mellish in 1834. In the same year, Margaret, along with her sister, inherited the considerable estate of their father, victualler William Mellish. The estate included a substantial amount of land on the Isle of Dogs.
Many places and buildings on the Island made use of the Glengall name, including:
- The Glengall Arms. A pub formerly located at 367 Westferry Road.
- Glengall Causeway. Lying off Westferry Road, formerly an extension of Glengall Road toward the Thames.
- Glengall Iron Works located at the corner of Glengall Road and the present-day Millwall Dock Road from the 1870s.
- Glengall Place between Mellish Street and Glengall Road.
- Glengall School. Its buildings are now occupied by Cubitt Town School.
- Glengall Wharf located north of Glengall Causeway from 1911 to the 1950s. Sir John McDougall Gardens are on the site.
The best known, of course, is Glengall Road. The planned route of this road, from Manchester Road to East Ferry Road, is first shown on an 1850 map. In that year, most of Manchester Road was also only at the planning stage; in fact, much of the east of the Island was still marshland, or was in the process of being prepared for the construction of what would become Cubitt Town.
Twenty years later, and houses had been built along most of the street – and the area to the north was also more developed. In the west, the road terminated at a bridge over Millwall Inner Dock.
Amongst the new buildings was The George Hotel, at No. 114, built in 1864-5 by George Read, who also built most of the other houses present in the street at that time. The original George was a much larger place than the present-day pub, with a coach-house and stables, meeting rooms and a large billiards room – hoping to attract the custom of businessmen visiting the area.
Another grand building was No. 45:
…occupied by two young men who had trained as doctors before establishing the Priory, where they lived according to Benedictine rules as ‘the Monks of Cubitt Town’. The house was then fitted up with a chapel, library and club-room. Experiencing something of a change of fortune, and the building of an extension, the house was converted in 1912 as the Millwall and Cubitt Town Unionist Club, which was generously described at its opening as ‘almost like a West End club’ which was ‘really charming’.
– Survey of London
The fittingly named apartment block, Benedict Court is now located on the site.
By 1882, Glengall Road extended across the docks as far as West Ferry Road:
The east side could boast a thriving community, with shops, a school and another pub (London Tavern, at the Manchester Road end). The Island History Trust Collection includes many photos of the street, some of which are reproduced here. The Friends of Island History Trust website is at http://www.islandhistory.co.uk/
Violent crime on the Island was relatively low compared to the rest of the East End (thieving appeared to be the local specialism), but was not entirely absent.
In January 1892, a murder trial took place at the Old Bailey after the murder of Frederick Charles Swain in Glengall Road. One of the witnesses, Christopher Taylor, stated:
I am a fireman on board the steamship John Bright—I am now staying at 412, Penny Fields—on 8th December last our vessel was lying in the Inner Mill wall Dock—on that night I was in company with three firemen, named Frederick Charles Swain, John Cooper, and John Bahrs, who is also called Johnson—we were all employed on the John Bright—that same night there was lying in the dock a German vessel, called the Liebenstein—that night I and Swain, Cooper, and Bahrs went to the George public-house, and off and on we remained there till closing-time—we were in the public-bar—I heard some German singing going on in another part of the house.
At closing time we left, and walked in the direction of the docks, down the Glengal Road; we walked on the right-hand side, two and two, I and Cooper first, Bahrs and Swain following two or three yards behind—as we were walking down, the prisoner struck Cooper; two other men were with the prisoner; I now know they were Krause and Striblow—they came together off the road to us—they were saying something in German which I could not understand—Cooper was knocked down
The Germans went away towards the dock, hardly at a walk—Cooper got up and we walked on together—when we got near the policeman’s box and the dock gates we saw the Germans standing up there, waiting about; the three came up together, and they struck Cooper again; I don’t know who struck him the second time; he got knocked down again, and when on the ground Krause kicked him—I went into the prisoner like to stop him, to push him away—I made a rush at him to charge him for knocking Cooper about—I got a few blows at a doorway, and he got the same from me—I saw something bright in his hand, and I felt a cut in my left hand; it was bleeding—I saw that after it was finished—Swain and Bahrs were coming up to us when they saw the men getting on to us, and the prisoner then left me and went off for them—he was the only person there then—he was the only man I was striking—I don’t remember where Krause and Striblow were; they had not gone away, they were all close by, but in what position I can’t tell.
The prisoner went up to Swain, and I heard Swain call out, “I am stabbed”—the prisoner then made a rush to pick up his cap; he stooped down to pick something up, and then ran away—at the time the prisoner went towards Swain, Bahrs was near him—I did not hear him call out; I did not see anything happen to him; he was still standing up, and Swain also—I did not see either of them fall—the prisoner ran over the bridge right past the policeman’s box; they all ran together—the policeman at the dock gates pursued them, and within a short time he brought the prisoner back, and he was taken to the station—Swain was then lying on the ground; I could not say when he fell—he was not speaking or making any sign of being alive—Bahrs was in the police-box lying down; I did not see him fall—I remained on the same spot all the time—Bahrs was calling out as if he had been hurt—then I and Cooper, the prisoners, and some policemen all went to the station together—I think there were three policemen there then—the prisoners were charged at the station—I don’t remember whether they made any answer—I afterwards saw the dead body of Swain in the mortuary.
After other statements, the accused, William Gempestein, was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to eighteen years’ imprisonment.
The western end of Glengall Road at the time was largely industrial, with few residential premises. For decades, its north side was dominated by the long rope shed of the Universe Rope Works, while most of the south side of the street remained vacant until the late nineteenth century, reflecting the low demand for industrial premises without river frontage.
Incidentally, according to reports at the time of the inauguration of Millwall Rovers, the team played their first matches (during the 1885/86 season) on waste land off Glengall Road. This was almost certainly the vacant area between Glengall Iron Works and Capewell Horse Nail Works. (Click here for more about the history of the team.)
The rope works were set up in 1859 by John & Edwin Wright, a Birmingham firm – well before there was any sign of Glengall Road on that side of the Island. Their main business was the manufacture of ropes and cables for shipping, but they also made tarpaulins, clothes, brushes and other products.
The company wound up the Millwall arm of its business in 1914, and the rope works were taken over by a sailmaker’s until they also left – leaving the rope works empty – in 1921.
In 1925, the rope works were acquired by Poplar Borough Council, whose intention was to build housing on the site (however, initially, the eastern third was leased to the Millwall Engineering Company).
The first houses were built in 1926 at the western end of the street, in a similar style to those built around the same time in the Chapel House Estate.
East of the houses, the council built a number of blocks of flats:
- Hibbert House (after George Hibbert, first Chairman of the West India Dock Company)
- Alexander House (named after recently-deceased Medical Officer of Health for Poplar, Frederick William Alexander)
- Yarrow House (named after shipbuilder Sir Alfred Yarrow), destroyed during World War II
- Maudslay House (named after engineers Maudslay, Sons & Field), destroyed during World War II
In 1937, the eastern end of the former rope works was vacated by the Millwall Engineering Company, and the council cleared it in preparation for the construction of Hammond House. Well-known Poplar photographer William Whiffin took a number of photos of the empty works, probably on behalf of Poplar Borough Council.
A few months later, Glengall Road was renamed Glengall Grove.
Meanwhile back at the turn of the century, the south side of Glengall Road was occupied by (from west to east):
- Carlton Works
- An entrance road to Millwall Docks, now known as Millwall Dock Road.
- (Former) Glengall Iron Works.
- Millwall School
- Public Baths
- Stuart’s Granolithic Works
- Capewell Horse Nail Works (later cooperage)
Survey of London:
The Carlton Works (so named by the short-lived Carlton Engineering Company Ltd, incorporated in 1888) became the chemical works of Walter Voss & Company (incorporated in 1904), manufacturers of acids, disinfectants, weed-killer, soldering fluid and lacquer. Part of the works was also used by another firm for tentmaking during the First World War. After Voss’s departure, in the 1950s and 1960s the partially cleared site was used as a haulage depot.
The school east of Glengall Iron Works was variously named depending on the year: Millwall Glengall Road School, Isle of Dogs School, Millwall School and also Millwall Central School. The first school, built in 1895, was a temporary affair, consisting of a couple of corrugated-iron sheds. The permanent building was constructed between 1896 and 1897. Survey of London:
The Higher Elementary school became a ‘central’ school in 1911, closing in 1928 on the opening of a new central school in Janet Street. Millwall Glengall Road Council School was renamed Millwall Isle of Dogs Council School in 1929. By then the premises were obsolete and in need of replacement, while the roar of traffic made the site unsuitable. Extensively damaged by bombing in the Second World War, the school was not rebuilt.
The introduction of bath houses into British culture was a response to the public’s desire for increased sanitary conditions, and the first London public baths were opened in Whitechapel in 1847. 50 years later there were still no baths on the Island, and so a site was sought which would be as conveniently accessible as possible to all Islanders – not an easy task, with the need for most people to travel around the docks and/or cross over at least one bridge. The eventually-chosen spot, close to the Glengall Bridge over Millwall Docks, was the most affordable compromise solution. The original baths opened in 1900, with a swimming pool, slipper baths and a laundry.
From 1930–1, the swimming pool was closed during the winter (the cost of keeping it heated was prohibitively high), when it was covered with a temporary dance floor.
Stuart’s Granolithic Company was a firm with a long history in Glengall Road; in 1900 they acquired a 60-year lease on the waste land between the public baths and the horse nail factory, and remained there until 1958, the last-surviving manufacturing firm in Glengall Road. Originating in Peterhead in Scotland, they specialised in making artificial stone from a mixture of cement and crushed granite. Their first London works were close to Regent’s Canal Dock in Limehouse, but business success forced them to move to larger premises on the Island.
Survey of London:
The company’s Scottish origins were not forgotten. Bagpipes accompanied the house-warming at the works in 1902, and in 1903 the managing director, Peter Stuart— who had planned the layout— was preceded by a tartanclad piper as he led members of the Sanitary Inspectors’ Association on a tour. The buildings … included a 45ft-high chimney shaft, built by the company’s own workmen. Constructed entirely of granolithic blocks and rising without any taper, it required a special licence from the LCC, waiving the normal requirement for chimneys to be of brickwork throughout with a taper of 2½in. in every 10ft. A four-square Classical tower with heavy rusticated detail, the shaft was an attempt to show that granolithic ‘could be rapidly and economically used for stonework of a decorative character’.
East of Stuart’s, bordering on the Millwall Docks was an area of land occupied from 1890 (also on a 60-year lease) by the Capewell Horse Nail Works, a firm with its head office in Connecticut in the US.
Twenty years later and the manufacture of horse nails was a shrinking business; the company changed its business to metal-spinning and moved away from the Island (to become Metalline Products Ltd in Trench, Shropshire). The works were taken over by Dunbar’s Cooperage Ltd – a timber cask and barrel manufacturing firm started by Alexander Dunbar, a barrister, from Guelph, Ontario.
In 1929, this firm was wound up, and Dunbar House was built on the site.
The photos of Dunbar House clearly show the proximity of Millwall Docks behind the fences and walls in the background. This is also visible in the following post-WWII photo.
Well before Millwall Docks opened in 1862, the Mellish Estate had plans for a longer Glengall Road, extending from Manchester Road in the east to Westferry Road in the west. The Millwall Dock company was not happy about having a public thoroughfare across the docks, but – because they were critically dependent on buying land from the Mellish Estate in order to build the docks in the first place – they reluctantly provided for a bridge across the Inner Dock. That didn’t stop them trying to stop the public access later, though.
The first bridge, constructed in 1868, was an iron swing bridge, similar to those found at Kingsbridge and Preston’s Road. The following 1930s photo shows this bridge, I believe looking west.
An even earlier photo, taken in 1901 and looking east, shows people waiting for the bridge. Apart from the apparent lack of a barrier to prevent people falling in the dock, it is notable also for the impressive construction which was the timber transporter. This transported timber from ships in Millwall Docks across East Ferry Road to the Transporter Yard in the Mudchute (Millwall FC had recently had to vacate the site because of the dock company’s intention to build the yard). Click here for an article about the timber transporter.
Like other swing bridges on the Island, the Glengall Bridge was slow and unreliable. In 1937, the PLA (who by this time were running the West India and Millwall Docks), stated their intention to replace the bridge.
The temporary foot bridge was provided by constructing a wooden walkway over a barge, which would be moved aside whenever a ship needed to pass. The PLA planned to open a new bridge in 1940, but World War II got in the way, and the barge bridge ended up being used until the 1960s.
In 1935, Glengall School closed, to be replaced by the present building.
In anticipation of War, Island Baths were converted into a First Aid Post, and the building received some blast protection through the use of sandbags.
Glengall School, near the corner with Manchester Road, became a depot for emergency workers – as was the case with other schools on the Island after most children had been evacuated.
Glengall Grove – for that was its name by now – suffered much bomb damage during WWII, thanks to its proximity to the docks (well, after all, part of it was in the docks), most seriously during the evening of 7th September 1940, the first night of The Blitz. Much of the following is taken from my book The Isle of Dogs During World War II (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Isle-Dogs-During-World-War/dp/1507746113).
This Luftwaffe Reconnaisance map shows a direct hit on Glengall Grove (at the bottom of the photo), as well as hits on other parts of Millwall.
The London Fire Brigade reported the incidents in Glengall Grove that evening thus:
18:00 Explosive Bomb, Glengall Grove
- Nos. 81-8 Yarrow House, Glengall Grove, Three 4-floor buildings and contents damaged
- Maudslay House, Glengall Grove, Rest of street of 48 houses damaged by breakage
- Hibbert House, Glengall Grove, Rest of street of 48 houses damaged by breakage.
[The high explosive bomb which fell at 18:00 damaged all three blocks of flats, with serious enough damage to Yarrow House and Maudslay House to require their demolition.]
18:04 – Incendiary & Explosive Bombs, Glengall Grove
- Lancashire Freight Services Ltd, 1, 2 and 3 floor buildings covering 500×500 used as warehouses. Severely damaged.
18:11 Incendiary Bombs, South of Glengall Grove
- A-Yard, Millwall Dock, A warehouse of 1 floor about 150 x 150 feet and contents severely damaged. Basement used as mess rooms, dormitories, offices and store, and contents damaged
- Carlton Works, Glengall Grove, Walter Voss and Co Manufacturing
- Chemists. 200×200 used as laboratories, store and contents severely damaged
- Carlton Works, Glengall Grove, Speedy Metal Castings Ltd. 200×60 Machine Room, workshop and contents damaged.
And on the other side of Glengall Bridge….
18:52 – Explosive Bomb, Glengall Grove
- 60×60 of roadway damaged
- Off license. Building of 3 floors 60×20, used as dwelling and store, contents severely damaged
- Tobacconist, Shop and house of 6 rooms, damaged.
18:52 – Explosive Bomb, Glengall Grove
- 6 houses, 6 rooms each damage
[Although the precise location was not specified in this fire brigade report, it is probably a reference to the houses that were directly opposite The George, and this bomb is marked as such on the following map.]
The off-license that was damaged at 18:52 was the Happy-Go-Lucky, on the corner of Glengall Grove and Strattondale Street.
Later in the War, other premises in Glengall Grove were damaged and/or destroyed, including during the major bombing which took place on 19th March 1941 (known later as ‘The Wednesday’), the night of the tragedy at the shelter at Bullivant’s Wharf. This was a very bad night for those living and working in the East End. In clear weather, more than 500 aircraft dropped thousands of incendiary and high explosive bombs along the banks of the Thames from London Bridge to Becton. It was later recollected by Bill Mather:
Millwall and Poplar had a few hundred high explosives and also incendiaries. Bullivant’s Shelter was hit. St. Andrew’s Wharf had a direct hit by high explosive bomb which went into an oil tank, which exploded and burning oil was blown hundreds of yards up into the sky…the wharves along Westferry Road were alight, Morton’s riverside received a high explosive and a great amount of damage was done to that part of the factory that was not burnt out a few months ago. Glengall Grove received a great number of high explosives, one dropped outside the Isle of Dogs School, which blew all the cottages opposite and damaged them, the school burst into flame and was soon a blazing mass.
In 1941, bombing seriously damaged Island Baths. The pool was beyond repair, but with some patching up, the slipper baths and laundry could continue to be used.
M Warehouse in the Millwall Docks, bordering on Glengall Grove just east of the bridge, was also destroyed.
The shaded areas on the following maps show buildings which were destroyed during WWII, or which were so seriously damaged that they needed to be demolished when the war ended.
Post-War aerial photos such as the following (by which time some reconstruction had already begun) also give a good idea of the scale of the destruction.
The construction of prefabs in the area was a consequence of the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act of 1944, which authorised the Government to spend up to £150 million on temporary houses. Poplar Borough Council applied for 2000 of these prefabs and, in September 1944, constructed three different types in Glengall Grove for demonstration purposes. The selected prefab was of the Uni-Seco type, produced by the London-based Selection Engineering Company Ltd, and based on a military wartime office design.
The Green family moved into one of the demonstration Uni-Seco prefabs in Glengall Grove a month later, and the council started laying concrete bases for others before the end of the year.
After the War and the celebrations of its ending, the necessary reconstruction:
- Cressall House, built in 1951 at the corner with Mellish Street (and named after a former mayor and member of the Borough Council, George J. Cressall)
- Orlit homes built in Cord Way on the other corner of Mellish Street,
- Kedge House and Winch House, contructed in the 1960s on the site of Stuart’s Granolithic works.
- Skeggs House, built in the 1960s next to The George, and named after a former Poplar Town Clerk.
- Finwhale House, built in the 1960s and named after the submarine, HMS Finwhale.
A new Island Baths was built during the 1960s, and opened in 1966. According to Survey of London:
Although use of the slipper baths and, to a lesser extent, the laundry, had been declining steadily for years, both facilities were included so that payment from the War Damage Commission was maximized.
After the War, the PLA had again expressed its desire to close the public right of way across Millwall Inner Dock, but this led to strong local opposition. The Council, the LCC and Charles Key, the local MP, forced the PLA to reconsider and prepare schemes for creating a pedestrian crossing. After considering options including a tunnel and an aerial cable car, it was decided to construct a high-level footbridge, one which was high enough to allow barges to pass, only needing to open for ships.
Construction started in 1964 and the bridge was fully-operational in 1966. The opening of the bridge marked the renaming of the western end of Glengall Grove to Tiller Road.
The Glengall high-level bridge gave the public the dubious privilege of a walk high over the Millwall Docks in an enclosed glazed tube. It was immediately renamed by Islanders, ‘The Glass Bridge’. It also quickly became a prime target for vandals, and pedestrians were so intimidated that few used it. The PLA had to spend about £20,000 on repairs. Severe damage to the glass and the lifts in 1975–6 caused the bridge to be closed.
In 1983, the Glass Bridge was demolished. It existed only for a very short period – just over 15 years – but it certainly left an impression on everyone who knew it.
Glengall Grove was also the focal point of Island action of a more positive nature in 1970: UDI, the Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Ted Johns of Skeggs House and John Westfallen of Hedley House devised, and – with hundreds of others – carried out a protest action to attract attention to the poor amenities on the Isle of Dogs. They declared independence and for two hours on 1st March 1970, they blocked West Ferry Rd on the west side of the Island, and the Blue Bridge on the east side.
John Westfallen was a fan of the Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico (he also had in-laws who had acted in the film), as became apparent when he created and distributed ‘entry permits’ and joked about having proper passports one day. A second “Prime Minister”, stevedore Ray Paget of West Ferry Rd, manned the barriers on the west side of the Island.
The whole incident made the national and international news, and even resulted in the main protagonists attending a meeting at 10 Downing Street. Many press photos and interviews were recorded in Glengall Grove. It’s a fabulous story, and too much to report here – instead, you can have a read of this article.
One of the reasons for the protest was the impending closure of Glengall School, the only secondary school on the Island. The success of the action meant that the council decided to locate George Green’s School in Manchester Road.
In 1976, Dunbar House was demolished – images of a derelict Dunbar House and its subsequent demolition were captured by Gary Wood.
In 2011, it was Hammond House’s turn for demolition…..
As for Glengall Bridge, after the demolition of the Glass Bridge, a temporary bridge was constructed across Millwall Inner Dock and for the first time since 1938 it was possible to drive over the dock.
Later, a new Glengall Bridge was built – and the street between Tiller Road and Glengall Grove was renamed Pepper Street. Apparently that’s a reference to the ship-borne spice trade, which makes no sense as all the spice ships went through West India Docks. No matter, it’s approaching 200 years since the inception of Glengall Road, and much has changed in the mean time.