Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1994.
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The Byng and Mellish Estates
In the late eighteenth century the Byng family owned four pieces of ground in the Isle of Dogs. Two, both on the riverside, were inherited by Elizabeth Byng, wife of the Hon. Robert Byng — the third son of Admiral George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington — from her father, Jonathan Forward, a contractor of transports, who had bought them in 1754. The others were bought in 1795 by George Byng (1764–1847), of Wrotham Park, Hertfordshire, grandson of the Hon. Robert and Elizabeth. One of these was taken for the City Canal; the other, near the Chapel House, remained undeveloped throughout the nineteenth century and is now covered by public housing. In 1810 George Byng obtained an Act of Parliament enabling him to grant long building leases on the property (hitherto restricted to a maximum of 21 years by the terms of a deed of trust made in 1791). (fn. 2) The estates later passed from George Byng to his youngest brother John, who was created Viscount Enfield and Earl of Strafford in 1847.
The Mellish Estate, built up by a series of purchases over a half a century, was the largest private estate in Poplar throughout the nineteenth century. Despite its size it was, apart from a small portion, of little importance in the early decades of the industrialization of the Isle of Dogs. It was bought almost entirely for grazing, not for speculation, and was ill-placed to take advantage of the opportunities for development which followed the opening of the West India Docks. The land — which comprised 209 of the 355 acres of pasture in the parish in 1828–35 (fn. 3) — was nearly all on the east, less well favoured, side of Potter's Ferry, with little riverfront in Millwall.
Peter Mellish of Shadwell was one of several eighteenth-century butchers who owned or rented pasture on the Isle of Dogs, buying more than 30 acres on the east side of Marsh Lane in 1772. After his death in 1777 his sons Peter and William became victualling contractors to the Royal Navy, and developed a substantial business as agents and shippers, based at Shadwell Dock. (fn. 1) In 1784 Peter bought 16 acres on the other side of the lane, with a good river frontage, from the Commissioners for Victualling the Navy, who had acquired it a few years earlier. Further land was bought by Peter, some of it conjointly with William, and after Peter's death in 1803, his brother continued to buy. (fn. 5)
William died in 1833, leaving a fortune said to amount to £3 million to be divided between his two daughters and his widow, Margaret (nee Bradshaw). The younger daughter, Margaret Lauretta, who inherited the Isle of Dogs properties, married the Earl of Glengall, who died in 1858. On her death in 1864 the estate passed to their daughter, the former Lady Margaret Butler, who had married the Hon. Richard Charteris, second son of the ninth Earl of Wemyss. She died in 1915. (fn. 6)
The estate, now broken up and in multiple ownership, was variously known by the names Mellish, Glengall and Charteris as it passed in succession. For convenience, it is referred to here as the Mellish Estate. Its development had little coherence, reflecting its varying character and economic potential. The land bought from the Navy Victualling Commissioners, which includes some riverside and inland sites with noteworthy industrial histories, is covered in this chapter. Alpha Grove, the Harbinger Road and Chapel House Street areas, and the riverside land from Nelson Wharf to Potter's Ferry, are dealt with in Chapter XVI. Cubitt Town, which contains the bulk of the Mellish land, is described in Chapter XVII.
In the mid-eighteenth century the northern Byng Estate, which covered a little over six acres, contained a windmill on the marsh wall and was otherwise pasture. By the end of the century the riverside had been let in two portions, both on 21-year leases. A strip about 270ft long, with the mill and a shed, was occupied by a Wapping baker. The remaining frontage of about 125ft, with a house and sheds, was occupied by a potash manufacturer. (fn. 7) Fuller development of the land began after the 1810 Act (fig. 155).
Westferry Road (Riverside)
Regent's Dock or Regent Dry Dock
This was constructed between 1813 and 1817 on a site with a river frontage of some 200ft, taken on a 61—year lease by William Rattenbury, shipwright, at a rent of £200, and sub-let by him to another shipwright, William Mitchell. Around the dock, which had the shape of a wine bottle (the 'neck' being formed by a flight of entrance steps), were built two dwelling houses, warehouses, stores, and extensive workshops. A narrow strip along the south side of the site was sub-let as a mast-works. (fn. 8)
In the mid-1860s the dock was much enlarged, as far as the site would allow, so that two ships could be berthed together. As reconstructed, the sides were partly brick, partly concrete with timber casing, with a wooden coping all round, and a timber caisson. (fn. 9)
The yard itself seems never to have been thoroughly modernized. One building was ruinous in the 1880s, and the premises were generally in bad repair by the early twentieth century. (fn. 10)
From 1916 to 1930 the dock was occupied, with the former mast-works and Oak Wharf to the south, by Glengall Iron Works Ltd (see page 442). In 1932 it was filled in (with obsolete lorries and bags of set cement from a flooded warehouse in Cubitt Town) by Lenantons, who erected timber-sheds on the site (see above). (fn. 11)
The Mast-Works (No. 24 Westferry Road) and Torrington Causeway
The mast-works remained in use until the First World War, by which time the buildings, timber-built workshops of two floors covering most of the site, were in poor condition. In 1933 the site was laid out as Torrington Causeway, to provide access for lightermen to the riverside, replacing Regent Dock Road, the old public way on the north side of Regent Dock. It was closed when Torrington Wharf was redeveloped by Lenantons c1960. (fn. 12)
Oak Wharf (Torrington Wharf), Spratley's Row and Torrington Yard
In 1810 Thomas Spratley, boatbuilder and shipwright, took a 61-year lease of the land between the site of Regent Dock and the potash factory, with a river frontage of 123ft. The rent was progressive, rising from £40 to £170 after 30 years, and Spratley was to spend at least £500 on building in the first two years. (fn. 13)
Spratley laid out a boat-yard (later Oak Wharf) and built a public house by the marsh wall path, the Torrington Arms, which he ran himself before moving to the Folly House (see page 536). By 1813 he and his father, a Stepney coal-meter, had built a row of small cottages (Spratley's Row) between Oak Wharf and Westferry Road. They were pulled down in the 1890s or 1900s. The Torrington Arms, a building of three floors with cellars, survived a little longer, albeit delicensed, but after 1909 was described as fit only for demolition. (fn. 14)
The Westferry Road frontage was built up, at around the same time or a little later, with houses and shops (Nos. 26–34) and a workshop (No. 36). Torrington Yard, leading to the public house, was lined with sheds and workshops, variously used for metal-working and paintmaking during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (fn. 15)
Oak Wharf lay immediately north of the Torrington Arms, as far as the mast-works on the south side of Regent Dock. Belonging to it, but at first separated from it by the marsh wall footpath, were a shed and yard on the north side of Spratley's Row, and a cottage, offices and shed on the south side. Oak Wharf was occupied by barge— and boat-builders from about 1810 until the late 1870s, and then for some years by coke merchants. At the end of the century part of the wharf and the shed and yard on the north side of Spratley's Row were occupied by millstone makers and the rest of the wharf was again used for barge-building. From 1916 the whole of Oak Wharf was let conjointly with Regent Dry Dock to the Glengall Iron Works Ltd, but from the 1920s the northern part, together with the former mast-works at No. 24 Westferry Road and the sites of Nos 26 and 28, was used by general wharfingers. The name Millwall Central Wharf was briefly adopted. In 1927 the premises were described as 'rather congested' and the buildings as 'old and dilapidated'. (fn. 16)
From about 1935, Oak Wharf, now an open yard, was occupied by the Torrington Wharfage Company, a subsidiary of the Millwall cartage contractors H. Burgoine & Sons, mostly for the storage of iron and steel. In 1936 it was renamed Torrington Wharf. No. 36 Westferry Road, occupied from the mid-1930s until some time after the Second World War by L. Rose & Company, lime-juice cordial manufacturers, was considerably extended in 1937 by the erection of a range of largely corrugated-iron buildings for vats and strainers. The wharf (united with London Wharf in 1938) remained in the occupation of the wharfingers until its acquisition by Lenantons in 1958, following which the remaining buildings along Westferry Road in front of the wharf were pulled down. (fn. 17)
Immediately south of the Torrington Arms, Thomas Farr and William Moore's potash factory was still in operation in 1810, when a 61-year lease of the site, at progressive rents, was granted to Moore, a soap-maker of Goswell Road. In the next few years the works, containing a sprawl of sheds on the marsh wall, were taken over by Frederick Jorgens, a biscuit baker, who installed steampowered machinery and put up various temporary buildings. Jorgens had recently taken a similar lease of the site to the south, where there was a small house beside the marsh wall path, and had built a riverside warehouse there. The two sites remained in single occupation by a succession of flour millers until the 1870s. Jorgens's house, which comprised six rooms and a scullery, survived into the 1920s. (fn. 18)
The name London Wharf dates from 1885, when the amalgamated site (minus a portion occupied by St Luke's School) was acquired by Skinner & Richardson, iron merchants, who rebuilt the riverside warehouses and erected ground-floor stores on the yard behind. The new three- and four-storey brick-built warehouses were in three divisions, each with a double-span slated roof, presenting a parapeted front to the river and gables to the yard. The ground floor of the central warehouse was left open as a cartway and loading bay. Inside, there were single iron doors between the divisions; floors, staircases and roof trusses were all of timber. (fn. 19)
From 1886 London Wharf was used by wharfingers for storing goods including fish manure, rice, grain and ship's fittings, then by sack and bag merchants for cleaning and storing sacks. From about 1892 it was occupied by the Foreign Bottle Manufacturing Company, whose works, in Oldenberg, Germany, produced 30 million bottles a year, mostly for liquor, mineral water, soft drinks and medicines. (fn. 20) London Wharf, in use for washing and storing bottles until the late 1920s, was later occupied by Bullivants, whose premises abutted on the south, and scrap-iron merchants. (fn. 21)
At the end of 1938 London Wharf was amalgamated with Torrington Wharf. It was occupied until some time after the Second World War by wharfingers, partly for storing lime juice for L. Rose & Company of Oak Wharf. In 1958 60 the site, acquired by Lenantons, was cleared and a plywood store was erected. (fn. 22)
St Luke's National School (later St Luke's Church of England School)
A temporary iron church-cum-school of cruciform plan was erected c1864–5 on spare ground south of the entrance to the flour mills, to serve the newly formed Anglican district chapelry of St Luke. After the building of a permanent church in Strafford Street in 1868, the iron church remained in use for Sunday services and weekday classes. (fn. 23)
In 1873 it was replaced by a permanent school, designed by Hooper & Lewis of Millwall and built for about £2,250, with a further £140 for fitting out. The modest cost was met by a £900 contribution from the Bishop of London's Fund, a grant from the Parliamentary Fund of nearly £700, smaller donations from the National Society, the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and the Cholmondeley Society, and about £350 raised locally. The Earl of Strafford donated £50, and he also gave the site, valued at £700. (fn. 24)
Built of stock brick, with dressings and horizontal banding of white brick, faced internally with unplastered perforated white brick, the school had little pretension to style beyond a few Gothic touches. An L-shaped range of three floors, it could take nearly 200 each of boys, girls and infants. It was inferior to a Board School in accommodation and fittings. Despite alterations and improvements, there were fundamental shortcomings, as an LCC inspector found in 1932:
The three floors are connected only by an uncovered iron staircase, and entrance to each department is through a classroom. The building has neither a hall nor a staff room. There is no stock room, no corridor in which a cupboard could be placed, and the one playground would hardly allow comfortable standing room for the children. (fn. 25)
In 1971 the school transferred to the former Cubitt Town School in Saunders Ness Road (see page 509); the old building was demolished and the site, renamed 'St Luke's Wharf' (although not strictly a wharf), was incorporated into Lenanton's timber-yard.
Westferry Road (east side), Tobago, Byng and Strafford Streets
East of Westferry Road, the northern Byng Estate remained largely undeveloped until the mid-nineteenth century. By 1817 some building had taken place at the north-west corner of the land, most of which was occupied by Edward Gant, a cowkeeper, who had a temporary dwelling and a shed there. A solitary two-storey house, with a 14ft-frontage to what was to become George Street (later No. 5 Tobago Street), was erected in 1814 by a Millwall carpenter, Thomas Mawman. It was built on a 61-year lease at £4 annual rent. Only one house plot fronting the main road (later No. 51 Westferry Road) had been built up; building leases for at least three more (including one to Gant) were abandoned or forfeited. (fn. 26)
Nos 43–81 (odd) Westferry Road (demolished). No. 51 Westferry Road had a frontage of 15ft and was of three floors, with a bakehouse at the back. It was built in 1814 by Benjamin Smith, bricklayer, of Limehouse Causeway, on a 61-year lease at a rent of £5 12s. Malm stocks and gauged window arches were specified for the street front. The ground floor was to be 9ft high, the upper floors at least 8½ft and 7½ft. (fn. 27)
The remaining house plots on Westferry Road were built up with houses and shops between 1848 and 1851, the principal developer being George Hammond of Gravesend, gentleman, who went bankrupt in 1850. A few houses were built by local businessmen, including the Binks brothers, whose wire-rope factory was nearby in Strafford Street, and George Hill, builder. (fn. 28)
In the mid-1860s the Westferry Road houses included a bakery, a Post Office and grocery, a doctor's surgery, a chemist's, a draper's, a china and glass shop, and the offices of Harry Hooper, estate agent and valuer. (fn. 29)
The Byng and Mellish Estates: House-building in Southern Tobago Street, Byng Street and Strafford Street
Off the main road, house plots sold as badly here as anywhere in Millwall. Byng Street, laid out or projected as Harriet Street (after George Byng's wife) in about 1814, was a complete failure as regards house-building until the middle of the century. A few houses were built in Tobago Street in the late 1840s: Nos 1 and 3 by George Hill and Nos 2, 4 and 6 by George Hammond. Nos 1–13 (odd) Byng Street and Nos 2–6 (even) Tobago Street were built by George Hill in 1856–7 on a 70-year lease, but the remainder of Byng's land on the north side of Byng Street was never built up with houses, becoming an iron-tank works. (fn. 30)
On the south side of Byng Street, on the Mellish Estate east of Binks Brothers' works, a row of two-up, two-down, houses (Nos 8–22, even) was built in 1873–5 on 78- and 80-year leases. They were built by George Limn for a local surgeon, Dr Josiah Sarjant, who was then living at No. 8 Ebenezer Terrace (later No. 65 Westferry Road). No. 10 Ebenezer Terrace (later No. 24 Westferry Road), with a cart stand and cartway on the ground floor leading to stables at the rear, was built in 1881 by J. Whiffen, another local builder, for Stephens, Smith & Company of Cuba Street. (fn. 31)
In Strafford Street the pattern, as regards the Byng Estate, was similar. On the north side building began in 1849 with No. 1 (lessee George Hammond) and was continued slowly by tradesmen and craftsmen from the immediate locality, No. 2 (later No. 3, lessee George Bulmer, ship carpenter) in 1850–1, Nos 3 and 4 (later Nos 5 and 7) built in 1852–3 for George Young, chemist, with the lease granted to Richard Walter, baker. The next five plots were taken in 1856 by two Limehouse men, a bricklayer and a carpenter, but they completed only three houses (Nos 6, 7 and 8, later Nos 9, 11 and 13) before one of them went bankrupt and left the country. In the same year Young built another house (later No. 17) on a large plot at the other end of the street, subsequently building Lorne Villa (later No. 19) next door. (fn. 32)
The remaining houses in the street (on the Mellish Estate) had front bay windows — as did Lorne Villa — and large back additions, reflecting their later date, but also indicating slightly greater social pretension. The earliest of these houses, a row of four on the south side of the street (Nos 32–38, even, lessee William Bradshaw, grazier) were completed in 1867. On the north side, Nos 21–45 (odd) were built in 1871–8. The lessees, mostly local figures of standing, were Young the chemist, Dr Sarjant, Samuel Salt the builder, and Henry BradshawBrown, auctioneer and valuer of East India Dock Road. Henry Kitson, a Roman Road draper, was the lessee for four plots. The houses were at first known, rather grandly, as Nos 1–17 St Luke's Square, or Strafford Villas. (fn. 33)
In one of the houses on the south side Miss Emily Bradshaw set up a school in 1868, when she was 16. Although dismissed by the authorities as inefficient, it was on a slightly more ambitious scale than some such 'adventure' schools in Poplar. Held in a reasonably sized room (14ft 10in. by 15ft 5in.), furnished and used exclusively for the purpose, it was open 48 weeks in the year for four four-hour days and two morning-only days a week, and was attended by 10 boys and 24 girls, most of whom paid between 6d and 9d a week to attend (a few paid more). (fn. 34)
By the early twentieth century most of the houses were in poor condition. The bay-windowed 'St Luke's Square' houses on the north side of the street were all in bad repair; the whole street was poor, but socially this was 'the better end'. The houses between St Luke's vicarage and Commons Street were generally in better condition. (fn. 35)
St Luke's Church, Strafford Street (demolished)
Like other churches in the Isle of Dogs, this began as a mission curacy within the large parish of Christ Church, and was at first housed in a temporary building on the west side of Westferry Road (see above). By 1868 it was served by two curates, and in that year a quite showy church seating 700, fit for a residential suburb, was built on ground given by Lady Margaret Charteris and Lord Strafford (Plate 79b, c ). It was consecrated as St Luke's in 1870. (fn. 36)
The architect was E. L. Blackburne, FSA, who had just published designs for villas and terrace-houses in a variety of styles (fn. 37) and had earlier restored and written an account of Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate. (fn. 38) The builder was named Howard — perhaps William Howard of Covent Garden. (fn. 39)
The church was of brick, faced with uncoursed ragstone with Bath-stone dressings and a stone broach spire. It comprised a nave with lean-to aisles, a chancel with small vestries to either side, and a shallow narthex between the nave and west porch. The main entrance, from Strafford Street, was at the base of the square belltower (fig. 158). (fn. 40)
The rather coarse design used a 'late' form of Early English, akin to that favoured by Benjamin Ferrey, with plate tracery and much use of steep offsets on the buttresses. The surface was heavily rubble faced, even on the spire. Inside, the walls were of exposed brick, laid in English bond. The arches of the nave arcade were unmoulded, effectively emphasizing the stiff-leaf capitals of the smooth arcade-columns. Plain arched braces supported the collar-beams of the nave roof, which, like the barrel-vaulted chancel roof, was boarded. (fn. 41)
The original fittings included an organ by W. M. Hedgeland of Gower Street. A stone reredos was installed to Blackburne's design c1882, and a stone pulpit was substituted for a wooden one c1900. In 1923 the east window received stained glass by Charles Powell and in 1932 an oak rood was installed to designs by the Bromsgrove Guild. (fn. 42)
A mission hall was built on to the south side of the church in 1883. It was converted into a chapel when new parish rooms, designed by W. G. St. J. Cogswell of Bedford Square, and built by F. & T. Thorne of Cubitt Town at a cost of £1,800, were provided in 1912. (fn. 43)
The brick Gothic-style vicarage, erected in 1873, was designed by Hooper & Lewis, the architects of St Luke's School, Westferry Road (see page 509). (fn. 44)
St Luke's was damaged during the Second World War and was demolished about 1960, when a chapel with stained-glass windows was made at the east end of the parish rooms and consecrated for worship. (fn. 45) This, together with the parish rooms and the vicarage, continues in use.
The Mellish Estate: Alpha Grove
Alpha Grove before the Second World War was that rare thing in dockland: a tree-lined street of mainly well-built, respectable houses. The longest stretch of road in Millwall in the hands of a single landowner, it possessed a high degree of uniformity. Even so, its development was rather sporadic, in the familiar Isle of Dogs pattern. Most of the houses in the Grove (Alpha Road until 1939) were built in two phases: the mid- to late-1870s, and the early to mid-1880s. At the north end, however, were some much older and less desirable dwellings, while at the south end the last block on the west side was not built up until the 1890s; south of that the street gave way to industrial premises.
The road originally included the last fragment of the old marshland path, Dolphin Lane, at the end of Cuba Street and Manilla Street. Post-war reconstruction of the area has obliterated the road north of Strafford Street, except for a short detached stretch now part of Manilla Street.
The oldest houses, on what had been Robert Batson's estate, were four small early nineteenth-century cottages at the Dolphin Lane end, adjoining the Dock House beerhouse. In the main, straight, stretch of the road, the earliest houses, with a large cowshed at the back, were built in 1855–7 on 70-year leases at only 30s per plot; the lessee was Frederick Walters of Moorgate Street, a maker of medical instruments and appliances. In the early twentieth century they were described as being poorly built. (fn. 46)
South of this terrace, a number of houses were built in 1876–8, nearly all them (except for a trio on the corner of Byng Street) having front bay windows. The lessees were local, most of them involved in industry. The leases were longer, at 80 years, which became the rule for the rest of the street, and the rents were higher. (fn. 47)
South of Tooke Street, the remainder of the east side of the street was built up in 1882–4. The developers were Thomas Grundy, a builder from Didsbury, Lancashire, who also built a number of houses in Mellish Street, and Thomas Holman, a Millwall baker. Grundy's houses were distinguished by walls partly constructed of concrete and by bay windows on the sides of the back additions. (fn. 48)
On the west side, a terrace was built north of the Methodist Chapel: the builder and lessee was Samuel Salt of Burdett Road in Bow. Finally, in 1892–3 another terrace was begun between Malabar Street and Maria Street, under agreement with Christopher Robinson, a Bromley-by-Bow builder. The remaining part of the street was mostly taken up by a large yard on the corner of Janet Street, which was occupied as a boiler works from the late 1870s by Samuel Hodge & Sons, whose main premises were the Union Iron Works on the riverside (see page 434). (fn. 49)
The southern part of Alpha Grove was extensively damaged by bombing in the Second World War, (fn. 50) and the whole street has since been redeveloped for public housing.
Former Wesleyan Chapel and Alpha Hall. A community centre since the late 1970s (see page 446), the chapel was built in 1887 by G. Limn of Mellish Street at a tendered price of £1,350 to designs in a utilitarian Gothic style by James F. Wesley. (fn. 51) The hall was added in about 1926 by Edwin Beasley of Victoria Dock Road. (fn. 52)
Industry in Byng and Strafford Streets
From the 1860s to the 1960s, two industrial concerns dominated Byng Street and Strafford Street.
Bellamy's iron-tank works were set up in 1860 by John Bellamy, son of Edward Bellamy of the firm of Burney & Bellamy which had riverside premises nearby (see page 438). At first water tanks were made, but over the years a wide range of products was developed, including buoys, industrial plant such as water-softening systems, bulk haulage tanks and underground petrol tanks. Samuel Cutler, the Millwall gas-holder maker, was a director of the company (incorporated in 1900 as John Bellamy Ltd) for a time before the First World War. The works, mostly covered with sheds of various dates, nearly became defunct in the inter-war slump, but improvements and modernization, including the erection of new buildings, took place in the late 1930s. (fn. 53)
The origins of Binks's wire-rope and galvanizing works went back to the mid-1830s, when George Wright Binks was a foreman ropemaker at Woolwich Dockyard, experimenting in the use of soft iron wire instead of hemp. Binks's work was connected with some of the pioneering wire-rope manufacture carried out by Andrew Smith & Company in Millwall from the late 1830s, and in about 1853 Binks went into partnership with James Stephenson in Millwall to make wire-rope. The partnership broke up around 1860, Stephenson going on to make wire-rope and submarine cable at Joad & Curling's old premises on the north side of Cuba Street. The firm of Binks Brothers moved to Strafford Street in about 1863. In 1964 the Greater London Council (GLC) issued an order for compulsory purchase of the works, which finally closed in 1970, Binks Brothers Ltd being taken over by British Ropes Ltd, which moved the business to Charlton. (fn. 54)