Millwall Wharf

Millwall Wharf, on the riverfront off Manchester Road, contains a range of grade II listed warehouses. Built in the 1860s, the buildings are some of the few old industrial buildings still remaining on the Isle of Dogs.

Millwall Wharf from the river in 2013

In 1860, Cubitt Town was still being built and much of the area along what we now know as Saunder’s Ness Road was occupied by a brickfield – where the topsoil was removed to expose the clay which was mixed with chalk and ash to create bricks for construction.

1860, with site of future Millwall Wharf highlighted.

The previous map shows that Stebondale Street once met Manchester Road in the north. At the time, Pier Street extended across Manchester Road and to the river at Cubitt Town Pier.

The precise location and age of the following photo have not been verified, but I believe it was taken in the 1860s and shows Saunder’s Ness from Greenwich. On the left, the Lime Wharf with a distinctive lime kiln chimney. On the right, ships moored at Cubitt Town Pier. Between them, the river bank (there was no river wall here at the time).

Early 1860s. Believed to show Saunder’s Ness from Greenwich

Just a handful of years later and virtually the whole riverfront was occupied by industry. This photo was also taken from Greenwich, but this time a little further west along the Thames.

Mid 1860s. Click for full-sized version

Survey of London:

… a river frontage of 200ft immediately north of Cubitt Town Pier, was taken by James Ash, shipbuilder, in 1862. Ash, who had been naval architect to both C. J. Mare and the Thames Iron Works Company, established an impressive yard here, with an extensive two-storey brick office and works building.

The financial crisis of the late 1860s caused by the collapse of the bank, Overend Gurney & Co. led to the demise of many firms on the Island, including that of James Ash (who had borrowed heavily from the bank). The land was acquired by the Millwall Dock Company, who had plans to construct an eastern arm to their dock system, extending to the Thames on this side of the Island.

The yard was leased from the dock company by the Millwall Wharf & Warehouse Company in 1875, and the premises were taken over by James W. Cook & Co. in 1883 who used it mainly for the storage of jute and other fibres. Founded in Wivenhoe, Colchester in the mid-1800s, James W. Cook & Co. was by this time a London-based organisation that operated as wharfingers and lightermen on the Thames. The company also built barges and repaired tugs at Orchard Wharf in Poplar, and had diversified into general haulage, garage ownership and building work.

Survey of London:

Immediately to the north of the original Millwall Wharf was Plough Wharf, a combination of three plots with a river frontage of 150½ft, leased by Cubitt to the London Manure Company between 1853 and 1861.

The wharf contained an engine house, a boiler house, and the burners, chemical chambers and sheds required for the manufacture of artificial manures from crushed bones and sulphuric acid. A jetty was later added for manure barges.

The London Manure Company went bankrupt in 1892,  and James Cook annexed Plough Wharf in 1896. Cook & Company rebuilt two existing riverside sheds as sheds L and M of Millwall Wharf. Further redevelopment took place between 1897 and 1900 (Sheds N-S).

1900. Chas E. Goad Ltd Insurance Plan. Click for full-sized version

In the year that the previous plan was created, James W. Cook also took over the wharf from the Guaranteed Manure Company – who had occupied the site since 1858. Ever expanding, the company acquired more land to the north in the early 1900s, and by the 1920s it occupied virtually all the land between Dudgeon’s Wharf and London Yard (with the exception of a few houses and businesses along Manchester Road).

1920s aerial photo of Millwall Wharf ( Click for full sized version.

1920s. Photo taken across Manchester Road from Pier Street. Island History Newsletter.

Island History Trust caption for the following photo:

The entrance to the wharf of James W.Cook & Co., in Manchester Road, 1920s. Cook’s operated lighters in the river which ferried goods from cargo steamers to the compnay wharf, for storage int he 4,700,000 cubic feet of space offered in the warehouses.  Goods handled included metals, rubber, fibres, fresh and dried fruit, coffee and cocoa. Millwall Wharf was a sufferance wharf and a Customs Officer was stationed on the premises……..

1920s. Cook’s main entrance in Manchester Road (Island History Trust)

1920s. The view from the other side of the entrance, looking towards Manchester Road. (Island History Trust)

c1930. Interior of Cook’s warehouse showing a seasonal import of Australian dried fruit. (Island History Trust)

c1930. Electric vehicles at Millwall Wharf (Island History Trust)

Prior to World War II, the Germans flew military reconnaisance missions over England, and amongst the photos they took were of the docks and industrial sites along the Thames, including this photo of Millwall Wharf.

Pre-War German reconnaisance photo of Millwall Wharf

Despite heavy bombing and severe destruction in the area, Millwall Wharf was relatively unscathed during WWII, after which Cook & Co. carried on operating there until the 1960s.


In 1964, the lease on the wharf  was taken over by Cory Associated Wharves Ltd, a company belonging to Ocean Transport & Trading Ltd (now named Ocean plc, and still the owners of the wharf).

1969. Millwall Wharf – top of photo – shortly after the tragic explosion at Dudgeon’s Wharf.

1970s. Millwall Wharf

One afternoon in the late 1970s, I visited Millwall Wharf to see my mate, Micky – who was working there – to take some photos (I was following photography lessons at George Green’s Youth Club).

Late 1970s. Micky and Gary outside Millwall Wharf M warehouse, with a glimpse of Kelson in the background.

Late 1970s. Millwall Wharf

1970s, Millwall Wharf. Yours truly, Gary and Micky. These were ‘band’ photos – we had a band – we couldn’t play – but we called it a band. Photos taken by Ricky.

From 1980 nearly all industrial areas along the Thames on the Isle of Dogs were cleared to make room for the development of residential properties. Millwall Wharf was spared, initially, and attempts were made to retain its industrial use.

c1980. The shape of things to come. South of Millwall Wharf, Dudgeon’s Wharf is all but cleared. To the north there is nothing left of London Yard.

And then there was colour….. Early 1980s. Photo taken from Betty May Gray House by Gary O’Keefe.

c1982. Photo: Bill Regan (Heavy duty rescue worker during WWII, when he lived almost opposite the wharf)

A number of relatively-small firms operated out of Millwall Wharf during the 70s and 80s. The following photo shows one of the lorries belonging to Peter Stone’s father (that’s not him in the photo).

1987.  Millwall Wharf. Photo: Peter Stone

Millwall Wharf was also used as a backdrop for an episode of the TV series, Prospects (filmed around 1985 and released in 1986), much of which was set on the Isle of Dogs.

1980s. TV Series, Prospects

1980s. TV Series, Prospects

1980s. TV Series, Prospects

Circa 1987. New housing developments are almost complete north and south of Millwall Wharf.

A few years later and attempts to re-invigorate Millwall Wharf as an industrial site were abandoned. Most of the buildings at Millwall Wharf were demolished, leaving just a row of warehouses by river and the wall at Manchester Road.

Main entrance to Millwall Wharf

As was to be expected, the area was redeveloped for residential purposes.

The original warehouses along the river – by now listed – were converted into houses. Looks like an interesting and quirky place to live….. if you can afford it.

The houses are on what is now named Millennium Drive or Wharf; I guess Millwall Wharf was not a very marketable name. Ironically, the wharf is not even in Millwall, but the name ‘Millwall’ had more cachet, and was more marketable in the 1800s.

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27 Responses to Millwall Wharf

  1. Nicholas Sack says:

    Thanks for another fascinating slice of Island history, Mick, and beautifully illustrated, as always. I do like those old signs and notices, and names on gates. They had great presence, and much style – look at the graceful lettering of James W Cook & Co Ltd: ‘W’ with crossed stems, and ampersand of unusual design.

  2. Bill says:

    Very interesting piece Mick, we used to call the debri between The Ship and Burrell’s “Cooks” I wonder if there was a connection to the Cooks at Millwall Wharf?

    • Thanks Bill. More likely something to to with the wharfingers, Weber, Cook & Palmer Ltd (aka Weber, Cook & Garnham Ltd) – who operated from the old Maconochie’s wharf in the 50s.

  3. rich says:

    Great article Mick
    Was particularly interested in the Demise of the bank Overend Gurney in 1866
    which in turn caused the downfall of the island shipbuilding and railway companies.

  4. Brian Lockyer says:

    Very informative and interesting. A good read

  5. John Daykin says:

    I have just found this site and was very interested, and placed a notice in the “Lorries” section before finding this piece on Millwall Wharfe. I drove for Chris Metcalfe in Keighley, Yorkshire in the early 70’s, up to 1975, when they had a depot in Millwall Wharfe. I spent many happy hours there, and remember Tony the foreman, Jack his understudy, and young Kevin the warehouse lad, whose Dad drove on the West End run (I think). There was an old character only known as “Harry the Hammer”, who did odd repairs about the depot, carrying his toolkit in the boot of his old Morris 1000. The security Guard, known only as “Sarge”, who was a former military man, lived in a flat above the entrance to the Wharfe if memory serves me correctly, and used to open the gates on a Sunday evening when we arrived after a six hour journey from home, before making our way to the Silvertown Motel at Canning Town, where we stayed on our overnights. The only London driver I really remember was Ronnie, who’d worked at Metcalfe’s since their depot was under the arches at Malcom Place in Bethnal Green. When Ronnie was on holiday I occasionally stopped in London for the entire week to drive the night trunk lorry on its daily deliveries around the City and East End. In the late 1970’s and early 80’s I worked for a Bradford company with sleeper cabs, and parked up for my overnights on an derelict Wharfe (Macconachies???) where I spent many an happy hour in the Magnet and Dewdrop. The last time I stopped in Millwall, or indeed London, was on Monday 18th January in Gaverick Street, Millwall, when I received a £10 parking fine, to be precise, for parking between 03.55 and 04.00am on Tuesday 19th January, as overnight parking of HGV’s was now prohibited. That would be the last time I saw Millwall Wharfe, until now, and your welcoming photos and history. Many thanks.

    • Thank you too for your interesting comments. Great to be able to capture some memories which add to our historical record.

    • Nicholas Sack says:

      Oh yes, such vivid and characterful memories, John. Thank you for sharing them.

    • Marc says:

      I’d been looking for photos of Millwall Wharf for ages before coming across these yesterday!
      John Daykin – I too worked for Chris Metcalfe, based there at the wharf, it was probably just after your time, around 1977. Jack was depot manager, I started on the South London runs until they put me through my class 2, then took over the London trunk deliveries. There were 2 trunk motors, a Marshal and a Luton Foden S70 that looked ex fairground. The latter was driven by Ghillie? who used to spend all day at the pub before heading back to Keighley. If I remember rightly the drivers had to use the A1 as old man Metcalfe didn’t want to risk any breakdown charges using the M1. Happy days, and really glad to have found these photos and someone else who worked for Metcalfe! Thanks to this site for the memories.

  6. Pingback: The Demolition of the Isle of Dogs – A Photo Album | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

  7. john daykin says:

    I’ve just found your post Marc as I’ve not been on this site for a while. Yes it was Jack Gill (Gilly) who drove the old, and new Fodens, while it was Arnold Nicholson, (old Nick) who drove the AEC. The night trunks always had to use the A1 as they were deemed to be incapable of being driven at speed on the motorway – strict instructions from Kit Metcalfe, although Gilly could make his Foden wagon and drag move as fast as any other vehicle on the road – I know as I’ve ridden passenger a few times with him when we used to leave our vehicles at London over the weekend if no return load had been found on Friday. Gilly was renowned for his drinking and eventually rolled his trailer over one night returning from London. I cannot remember the outcome, but it’s a wonder he was never caught drunk driving. I called in at the London depot in the late 1970’s when I drove for another local firm in Bradford to see some of my old friends, but there was only Ronnie and Jack there at the time. I have an old photo somewhere of myself and a young lad called Monty who was a drivers mate at the London depot taken in the Magnet and Dewdrop. I’ll see if I can find it.

    • Marc says:

      Many thanks for the update John. Luckily your memory is much better than mine, being able to put names to the people around at the time. Gilly was indeed a character, I think most of his day was spent at Charlie Brown’s amongst other watering holes, before he headed back up the A1 in the evenings. I can vouch for the speed of the Foden, it had a good Cummins engine in it! I was 21 in 1978, so that was when they put me through the class 2 – they wouldn’t put me through a class 1 as they only needed me to drive the London trunk runs :). I often wonder what happened to Jack, he was a top guy and taught me a lot about life in haulage! If you do unearth any photos it would be great to see them.

      • john daykin says:

        Marc, This is my first visit to the site for a while and I tried to upload the photos of Metcalfe’s that I have, mostly from the Keighley depot, but the site won’t allow me for some reason. Regards, John Daykin

      • Marc says:

        John, many thanks for trying to upload the photos – it’s a shame you weren’t able to as they would have been interesting! If you have the time, would it be worth contacting site admin (maybe through the ‘About’ link at the top of the page), to find out why you can’t upload them? I’d quite understand if that’s too much trouble for you though :). Regards, Marc

      • WordPress has no upload option, unfortunately.

      • Marc says:

        Mick, thank you for your response and for the explanation. Is there any way I can send a pm to John Daykin to provide him with my email address, just in case he would be willing and/or able to send the photos to me by email? Thank you again. Regards, Marc

      • You could, or he could, just post your mail address here. Delete it once you’ve noted each others? Or….. join our Facebook group, Isle of Dogs – Then & Now, and pist the photos there. Im sure others would appreciate seeing them.

      • Marc says:

        Thank you again Mick. I’ve just applied to join that group. John – over to you!
        PS Mick – thank you for all the information and photos posted on this site.

      • Thank you too, Marc.

  8. john daykin says:

    Mick and Marc, I’ve just read the replies and have applied to join the F/B page

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