Dunbar House

Just outside the Millwall Inner Dock in Glengall Road (a section that was renamed Tiller Road) was the Capewell Horse Nail works, an American company with its headquarters in Connecticut.

Circa 1890, around the time of opening of the nail works. The waste ground to the west of the works was almost certainly Millwall FC’s first ground, but that’s a different story.

The firm moved to Shropshire in the mid-1900s and the works were taken over by Alexander Dunbar, who operated there from 1911 to 1929. (Dunbar, by the way, came from Guelph, Ontario, and his patented cask manufacturing process was sometimes known as the Guelph System. Hence the Guelph Cask Company that once operated in Deptford Ferry Road, behind the Vulcan).


A year after the cooperage closed, Poplar Borough Council purchased the one-acre site for the construction of a block of flats. The name ‘Dunbar’ had been associated with the site for close two twenty years, and this was commemorated in the name of the block, but in large part the name was also chosen as a nod to Limehouse businessman and shipowner, Duncan Dunbar.

Dunbar House plan. Image: Survey of London

Early 1930s. Before 1935, when McDougall’s started construction of its new silo building on the Millwall Outer Dock south quay.

The Survey of London was not positive about the building’s architecture:

The Borough’s change to a Modernistic style seems to have been gradual and ad hoc, brought about as much as anything by the adoption of solid parapeted concrete balconies. This change first appeared at Dunbar House … which represented a rather ungainly transition. At the front of the building, plain concrete balconies were interrupted by equally plain brick verticals, with a central brick staircase tower. The windows were wider than in previous blocks but were still wooden sashes with Georgian-type glazing bars.


1930s (estimate). The trees are very young, so it must be shortly after the flats opened.

1930s. Photo: Arthur Ayres

1930s. Photo: Arthur Ayres

I maintain an historic Isle of Dogs Name and Address Database (you can search through it at: http://www.isleofdogs.org.uk/addresses/search.php) and these are the recorded surnames of residents of Dunbar House in 1939. It is based on the electoral register and –  because not everybody registered to vote and not everybody reported a change of address on time – it is not necessarily complete or accurate

1939 Residents of Dunbar House

Remarkably, especially considering its proximity to Millwall Docks, Dunbar House suffered no significant damage during WWII (nor did Hammond House, across the road). It was a close thing though, as rescue worker Bill Regan recorded in his diary on 17th July 1944, probably referring to a V1 (‘Doodlebug’): Last night bomb heading for Dunbar House exploded in the air.

1946 Peace Party. Photo: Island History Trust

1950 Residents of Dunbar House

In 1952, the British Antarctic Expedition’s ship, Theron, was loaded with supplies in Millwall Docks before departing on a three-year voyage. Forget all the historic significance of that, just look at Dunbar House in the background of the closing few seconds 🙂

1953 Coronation party. Photo: Marija Kendall (nee Rnic). Photo is also part of the Island History Trust Collection (https://www.ideastore.co.uk/digital-gallery/view/2250)

1953 Coronation party. Island History Trust

1958 Residents of Dunbar House


1964 Residents of Dunbar House

In the 1970s, Dunbar House was in need of renovation and modernization, but the Council could not justify or cover the cost. Survey of London:

Government restrictions on public spending stopped widespread refurbishment and modernization of the existing housing stock for a time, despite the increasing age of many of the dwellings and the defects of a significant number of the more modern buildings. In general the condition of local authority housing in Tower Hamlets worsened dramatically between 1980 and 1986, the proportion categorized as unsatisfactory rising from 15 per cent to 49 per cent.

As a consequence, in 1976, Dunbar House was demolished. Scenes of a derelict Dunbar House and its demolition were captured by Gary Wood…

1976. An empty Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

1976. An empty Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

1976. An empty Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

1976. Demolition of Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

1976. Demolition of Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

1976. Demolition of Dunbar House. Photo: Gary Wood.

A green, open space (I hesitate to call it a park) was created on the cleared site.


1980s. Photo: Sandra Brentnall

More recently, housing has been built around the edges of the site of Dunbar House. The short estate street is named Omega Close, for reasons which escape me.


Quite a nice little play area for young children. Shame these dogs can’t read the ‘No Dogs Allowed’ sign on the gate.

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7 Responses to Dunbar House

  1. Stevie Lloyd says:

    Very, very interesting. I would love to see history of Alexandre house and Hammond house From the same time. I suppose they have met the same fate as poor Dunbar house.

    Best regards.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Pauline Orchard nee Learmouth says:

    Found this very interesting as my Dad Richard Learmouth lived here at No48.

  3. Lilian Johnson says:

    Lovely memories my husband George Johnson lived at 57 Dunbar and then moved to 24 Hammond House because his mum wanted a bigger flat. . His mum Rose is holding his sister Christine to the left hand side in the coronation photo. These photos brought a lot of memories to him. Thank you.

  4. Jan says:

    Fascinating to me as my Grandmother and Grandfather Jane and Charley Clear lived at 51 with 7 of their 12 children,

  5. Michael says:

    Remarkable human history in one building erected and gone again in one life span

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