One of the oldest photos of the Isle of Dogs (actually, the background of a photo of Greenwich) was taken in about 1860, before much of the housing in Cubitt Town had been constructed. Christ Church and Watermans Arms had been built, and there were a few firms along the river, including Cumberland Oil Mills.
The firm was established in 1857 for the production of linseed oil and oil cake. Linseed oil was produced by cold pressing the seeds, and had (and still has) a number of applications, including as a paint binder, wood finisher and food supplement. The remaining solid substance was known as press cake or oil cake, which was commonly used in animal feed.
The works consisted of a number of buildings, the largest of which (built by Cubitt & Company) was three storeys high and had a jetty on the top floor.
In 1861, not long after the construction of the main building, a floor collapsed, killing four workers. An inquest later placed the blame on the use of cast-iron corbels to support the floors instead of stronger wrought-iron corbels.
Cumberland Oil Mills seemed to be a dangerous place to be working all round …
In 1878 the main building was seriously damaged by fire….
The works were later taken over by British Oil & Cake Mills Ltd and remained in operation until 1964, more than one hundred years after oil milling started at the location. A steel firm occupied the works for a while, before they were taken over by Apex Rubber.
In 1972, the main warehouse was so seriously damaged by a fire that it later had to be demolished.
The remains of the works, pretty much derelict by now, were used by a scrap dealer, and featured in a few scenes of the Prospects television series.
Surrounded by new housing by now, it was only a matter of time before the former works would be demolished.
In the late 1980s, everything was demolished to make room for the Cumberland Mills housing development.