Is this a Photo of Saunder’s Ness?

I came across this photo on the internet. Its caption? ‘The Isle of Dogs from Greenwich’. (I am sorry to say I cannot remember where the photo came from – it was a long time ago before I made it a habit of registering and crediting the source of all photos).

That it is an old photograph is obvious: the sail ships and paddle steamers mean the photo was almost certainly taken in the 19th century.

The riverside doesn’t look like the Island though; the gentle embankment sloping down to the river is unfamiliar – not at all like the high walls that we know today. However, the east side of the Island did not have high walls until the middle of the 1800s, their construction thanks to William Cubitt who needed to reduce the risk of flooding to his Cubitt Town development.

But, if it was the Isle of Dogs, where was it? I’ve come back to the photo time after time over the years, scoured over old maps comparing them to image – but I never figured it out …… until now, and quite by accident. While browsing through some old photos, I noticed a vaguely familar looking building and chimney in this c1855 photo:

click for full-sized version


What I thought was a chimney, on closer examination, turned out to have the distinctive shape of a lime kiln. Lime kilns were used to produce the form of lime called quicklime (calcium oxide), a key ingredient for the process of making cement. The ‘Lime Wharf’ is shown on this 1862 map:

Judging from the lines of the riverfront, the wall had not yet been built. The only straight lines, which hint at a wall, are in front of Seyssel Asphalte Co. and Lime Wharf. The short section of wall, the kiln and adjoining buildings look a lot like this section of the unidentified photo, but then viewed from futher north:

The similarities between the unidentified photo and the 1863 map are so great that it’s not difficult to label the photo…..

Missing from the photo is Cubitt Town Pier, which was built between the Boiler Works (owned by the Dudgeons) and Plough Wharf in 1857, which would make this photo earlier than that.

A ‘ness’ is a headland or promontory, and there are ample indications that the unidentified photo shows Saunders Ness, a name that features on the earliest maps of the Isle of Dogs. Thing is ….. I’ve no idea who Saunders was. Something else to spend years thinking about.

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9 Responses to Is this a Photo of Saunder’s Ness?

  1. Jan Hill says:

    Looks like the lime kiln. That low block of buildings with multiple windows looks the same. But where would the photographer be standing?

  2. Steph Tickner says:

    Mick – you’re brilliant……

  3. Nicholas Sack says:

    It was an intriguing mystery, Mick – but are you quite sure that the kiln and the chimney are one and the same? The structure looks taller and narrower in the view from Greenwich.

    What struck me about the photo with sailing ships and paddle steamers was the appearance of trees on the Isle of Dogs! Quite sizeable, too – surprising that they hadn’t been felled in the course of industrial development.

    • I’m not at all sure, Nicholas, but am the photo angles and camera lenses can make a huge difference to appearance, so I’m keeping an open mind.

      • Nicholas Sack says:

        Now you’ve made me wonder about the ‘trees’. Are you able to enlarge them? They look a bit odd at normal size, with sides hanging down…

  4. Nicholas Sack says:

    Am I missing something? The building next to the chimney or kiln looks quite different. In the photo from Greenwich, it has nine windows on each floor; in the other photo it has six…

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