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