Where is (or was) the Isle of Dogs?

The earliest known written reference to the name Isle of Dogs is contained in the ‘Letters & Papers of Henry VIII’. Volume 3: 1519-1523. 2 October 1520. No. 1009 – ‘Shipping’. Originally written in Latin, and translated into English and published in 1867 under the editorship of J.S. Brewer:

Opposite the Royal Dockyards in Deptford, the Isle of Dogs was evidently used for refitting or resupplying ships. But, this was not a reference to the large peninsula we recognize on modern maps, but was instead a reference to a very small island. Between this island and the ‘mainland’ was a natural inlet which flooded at high tide, and which was dry at low tide. An ideal tidal dock* for beaching and repairing boats (but not for constructing ships which was carried out in the dockyards in Deptford).

* The name dock is from the early modern English word meaning “area of mud in which a ship can rest at low tide”, borrowed from Dutch dok or Middle Low German docke (“dock, ship’s dock”).

An idea of the size of this island is provided by the later map, Robert Adam’s, Thamesis Descriptio, created in 1588. This map shows Saunders Ness in the south east of the loop in the river (a ness is a headland or promontary) and in the south west, the Ile of Dogges.

Robert Adam’s 1588 Thamesis Descriptio, in which the north is at the bottom of the page, the map is turned upside down here.

A later drawn version of the map shows the Ile of Dogges opposite Deptford more clearly…

c1600

Decades after Adams’ map, in 1662, Jonas Moore’s Survey of the Thames showed the Isle of Dogs as a larger area occupying the south west ‘corner’ of the peninsula.

1662

Later still, Joel Gascoyne’s 1703 Survey of the Parish of St Dunstan’s showed the Isle of Dogs covering all the south of the peninsula.

1703

The land covered by what was known as the Isle of Dogs grew northwards (on maps at least), but before the construction of the West India Docks – opened in 1802 – the northern limits were unclear. Many late 18th century reports and documents state that the docks were built on (or in or at) the Isle of Dogs.

The Observer, 14th January 1798.

However, most maps made in the decades after the opening of the docks placed the name to the south. I suspect this was more a question of design convenience rather than an attempt to be geographically accurate.

1804

Even in the mid 19th century there was some debate about the extent of the Island. Benjamin Harris Cowper, in his 1853 book, A Descriptive Historical and Statistical Account of Millwall, commonly called the Isle of Dogs (the title goes on and on, but I’ll stop there) wrote:

These appear to be the true limits of the Isle of Dogs, in which the West India Docks are properly included. It is, however, more common to regard the City Canal…as the northern boundary of the Island.

By the way, the name Isle of Dogs had no official status until the creation by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets of the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood in 1987. The 2000 London A-Z and many other modern maps usually define a broader area which also includes the West India Docks.

2000

Back to the Ile of Dogges, though. Where was it? The accuracy of Adams’ and many other historical maps cannot be relied upon to locate the island precisely, and subsequent (re)construction of river embankments (or walls) erased visible traces of it. The Survey of London states that Henry VIII’s ship, the Mary George, was docked ‘perhaps at Drunken Dock‘.

Drunken Dock on an 1812 map (Langley & Belche)

Drunken Dock later became a mast pond, eventually filled in to be replaced by wharves and factories; an area now occupied by Mast House Terrace and surrounding streets.

Location of former inlet, Drunken Dock and mast pond on a modern map

If the Mary George was docked here, the Ile of Dogges would have been an elevated area of land bordering on the location shown above. I might be letting my imagination get away with me, but just east of here is a small area of the modern Isle of Dogs that is higher than its surroundings, and higher than other riverside locations. Unless I got my measurements wrong, the roads from Wynan Road go slightly downhill towards the river, quite unique for Island roads leading to the Thames.

Going back to Adams’ map, which I know cannot be treated as accurate, the Ile of Dogges is opposite the old Deptford church of St Nicholas and Ravensbourne Creeke (now known as Deptford Creek).

The corresponding spot on a modern map is between Westferry Road and the river, close to Chapel House Street, precisely where Wynan Road is!

Possible location of former island

Could this be the site of the original Ile of Dogges?

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12 Responses to Where is (or was) the Isle of Dogs?

  1. Godfrey Hunt says:

    On the map for 1812 shown in this article is mentioned an Oil Manufactury. This is close to what I believe is Fenners Wharf. My maternal Grandfather was manager of a paint factory sited here in the 1920s. The factory was closed after involvement in some financial scandal perpetrated by a financier Charles Hatry, who was later imprisoned. My grandfather lost his position in consequence, this was around 1925-6. The family lived in Mellish Street and mother attended Mellish Street School. I am interested to know more about Fenners Wharf. I have one etching which appears to show the waterside of the Wharf. Sincerely yours , Godfrey Hunt.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • Survey of London: Klein’s Wharf (Fenner’s Wharf), No. 122 Westferry Road

      Now a textile depot with a collection of battered sheds and warehouses of various dates, this wharf was for about a century used for oil refining and paint manufacture. Nathaniel John Fenner and Henry James Fenner, tar merchants and refiners, took a 70-year lease of the site, previously a garden and paddock, in 1856. The principal building erected was a plain two-storey warehouse (fig. 169). In 1879, when it was used for storing dry colours, it was damaged by fire and was subsequently rebuilt in whole or part. By 1932, when it was let to a public wharfinger, it was known as the Town Warehouse. (ref. 2)

      The present office block of E. Klein & Company stands on the site of a pair of seven-roomed houses (Nos 124 and 126 Westferry Road) built by the Fenners in 1856. (ref. 3)

      Plans for the redevelopment of the site in connection with the existing business were the subject of some controversy in the late 1980s, as they clashed with the London Docklands Development Corporation’s intention that the area should be used for housing. (ref. 4) In 1994 the wharf had not been redeveloped.

  2. Neil S says:

    Again a fascinating read, thank you Mick!

  3. R Debenham says:

    Hi Mick
    Brilliantly researched article and I had to read it to the very end
    Regards
    Rich

  4. Pete Norris says:

    Really interesting article, early maps can definitely be unreliable in relative positioning of things. I think the only way to determine the “original” topography would be some extensive core sampling across the area, I wonder what chance of that though.

  5. Bill Y says:

    Another excellent article Mick thank you. Re the elevated Wynan Rd, maybe it was just site spoil from all the footings they dug out for the houses as I remember the debri from the Ship to Burrels was very flat.

  6. Kathy Cook says:

    Great Article Mick – found looking at the maps very interesting. It seems that the ‘island’ that was originally known as Isle of Dogges on the earlier maps of 1588 later was edged by ‘The Bank of the River’ and notated as manure ground – do you think this is the silting up of the area around what later became the land under Mast House Terrace?

    I was also intrigued by the identification of a Manor House on the later maps close to where the Chapel had been shown on earlier maps – with what looks to be a cul de sac dead heading at a letter ‘F’ – presumably a farmhouse. The road down to the river which led to the Ferry was also labelled Manor Way – do you think that this is the former Farmhouse, close to the chapel, having grown into a larger property? Do you have any more information or detail on that at all?

    I know that you have discussed in other Articles that the name of the Isle of Dogs does not relate to any Royal Hunting Dogs but was wondering with the identification of the origination of the name specifically referenced to a very small area of land surrounded by the tidal Thames, do you think that it might be possible that some animals, including dogs, may have been kept here by the Chapel/Farm and that this may have given rise to the area becoming known as the Isle of Dogs?

    It all makes for a fascinating read Mick – thank you.

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