The Chimneys of the Isle of Dogs

The 1995 romantic film, ‘The Bridges of Madison County’, starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep (oooh – she annoys me), is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Robert James Waller.

On the Island, we didn’t go in for that soft-focus, romantic stuff in green and lush surroundings (well, except perhaps while consuming a can of Carlsberg Special Brew over the Muddy, watching the sun set over Millwall Docks). Instead, I give you …. The Chimneys of the Isle of Dogs.

Etymology of the word, Chimney:

Middle English (denoting a fireplace or furnace): from Old French cheminee ‘chimney, fireplace’, from late Latin caminata, perhaps from camera caminata ‘room with a fireplace’, from Latin caminus ‘forge, furnace’, from Greek kaminos ‘oven’.

Chimneys are typically tall; sometimes this is to ensure that toxic or obnoxious fumes are emitted as high as possible into the air. For chimneys which emit furnace fumes, however, the height of the chimney plays an important role in increasing the ‘stack effect’. Wikipedia:

The stack effect or chimney effect is the movement of air into and out of buildings, chimneys, flue-gas stacks, or other containers, resulting from air buoyancy. Buoyancy occurs due to a difference in indoor-to-outdoor air density resulting from temperature and moisture differences. The result is either a positive or negative buoyancy force. The greater the thermal difference and the height of the structure, the greater the buoyancy force, and thus the stack effect. The stack effect helps drive natural ventilation, air infiltration, and fires (e.g. the Kaprun tunnel fire and King’s Cross underground station fire).

For many decades, the Isle of Dogs riverfront was filled with iron and other manufacturing firms, whose chimneys dominated the skyline.

Millwall, 1850s

Blackwall Iron Works

1866 launch of ironclad frigate, Northumberland at Millwall Iron Works (the site would later be occupied by Burrell’s).

The lead works and the area around them, viewed from Greenwich in the 1870s.

Cubitt Town from Greenwich in about 1900.

The lead works, and the area around them, from Greenwich in 1909.

Even after the decline of these industries on the Island, most firms were powered by steam, thus requiring an engine house with chimney. Early chimneys often remained standing long after they were made redundant. This 1950 map shows just how many chimneys could be found in a small area:

The two topmost chimneys in the map – both belonging to Morton’s – are shown in this 1930s photograph….

1930s, Morton’s. Photo: PLA Archive

The chimney at Lenanton’s in the 1930s. Photo: PLA Archive.

Chimneys at Empire Works, opposite Malabar Street, in the 1930s. Photo: PLA Archive.

1920s (estimated). George Clark & Son’s, Broadway Works, Millwall Docks (off Alpha Road, site of later Tate & Lyle)

Stuart’s Granolithics of Tiller Road were manufacturers of artificial stone. Their works…

…included a 45ft-high chimney shaft, designed by Stock, Page & Stock, and 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’.
– Survey of London

Snowdon’s Wharf, 1930s. Photo: PLA


Harbinger Road. Foremost chimney is probably the 1877-built chimney belonging to hydraulic power station in Millwall Docks

Saunder’s Ness Road, at the top of Seyssel Street. 1980s. The chimney was built by the chemical manufacturers Fox, Stockell & Company. From the 1950s, these premises were occupied by Apex Rubber Company Ltd and Borovitch Ltd (also known as Boropex Holdings), a rubber storage company.

Hawkins & Tipson, just after WWII.

Cumberland Oil Mills, next to the Newcastle Draw Dock on Saunders Ness Rd, were established in 1857. The works closed in 1964. The main warehouse was demolished following a fire in 1972 and a scrapyard occupied part of the site. The remaining buildings – chiefly a range of brick sheds and a chimney shaft were cleared away in the late 1980s for the Cumberland Mills residential development.

Cumberland Oil Mills (L) and Grosvernor Wharf (R)

Cumberland Oil Mills

By far the highest chimney – at 240 feet – was that belonging to the lead works, a chimney that was still functioning in the 1970s.

1920s. Lead works chimney from Westferry Road (close to Chapel House Street) looking over the office block of Matthew T. Shaw.

1930s. Photo: Margaret Monck

Just for a change – a photo taken *from* a chimney – in this case, in the lead works. Photo: Pat Jarvis

1970s. The chimneys of the lead works (by now named Associated Lead). Photo: Hugo Wilhare

1980s. Lead works chimney – almost the rest of the firm had been demolished by the time of this photograph.

1890s. Prince of Wales pub on the left. Stewart Street pumping station in the middle.

Just two Island chimneys still survive – one of them in truncated form. William Fairbairn’s Millwall Iron Works, constructed in the 1830s, included a 150 foot high chimney. Its stump has been preserved, and is now a feature of Burrell’s Wharf.

Burrell’s Wharf

The other remaining chimney was built in 1952 at the east end of Millwall Outer Dock for refuse incineration (including the destruction of old bank notes).

Incinerator Chimney

1977. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

The 100 feet high chimney is still very visible from the area around East Ferry Road near ASDA. You have to wander up Udine Road to find its base.

Undine Road

Undine Road

Photo: Gary O’Keefe

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8 Responses to The Chimneys of the Isle of Dogs

  1. Interesting Post Mick
    And I note that many of the chimneys were purely brick built
    as opposed to the latter concrete designs.

  2. Joyce Rose says:

    I enjoyed reading this. One of the Island’s landmarks that you accept without actually noticing. No wonder the people suffered such ill-health on top of all the other unfit living conditions. Must have been a tough lot. We, the descendents, cannot truly appreciate what they all went through.

  3. Nicholas Sack says:

    Yes, a fascinating aspect of the Island scene. I wonder what were the circumstances of the photo from atop lead works chimney – was Pat Jarvis a steeplejack, like Fred Dibnah?

  4. Pingback: East End news late May - Our Bow

  5. Kathy Cook says:

    The Dockland Skyline was full of activity wasn’t it – industry visibly at work – what a powerhouse of ingenuity and how amazing were our older families for working and living amongst it all too.
    Thanks for the blog Mick.

  6. Pingback: Little Remnants of Isle of Dogs History | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

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