Southern Millwall: The Barnfield Estate

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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, 'Southern Millwall: The Barnfield Estate', in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, (London, 1994) pp. 462-466. British History Online [accessed 24 May 2024].

. "Southern Millwall: The Barnfield Estate", in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, (London, 1994) 462-466. British History Online, accessed May 24, 2024,

. "Southern Millwall: The Barnfield Estate", Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, (London, 1994). 462-466. British History Online. Web. 24 May 2024,

In this section

The Barnfield Estate

Thomas Betton's Charity

The Barnfield Estate was one of several marshland properties, most of them in Essex, bought by the Ironmongers' Company in 1730 from Sir Gregory Page, bart, of Wricklemarsh near Blackheath. Barnfield, Great Barnfield and Little Barnfield together formed an irregularly shaped strip of about 33 acres, running south-west from near the Chapel House to the inlet called Drunken Dock or the Great Barnfield Basin (fig. 175). (fn. 1)

The purchase was made by the company as trustees of the estate of Thomas Betton, a Turkey merchant who died aged 60, a bachelor, in 1724. His merchant father, who lost the bulk of a £10,000 estate 'by the Fire of London and other misfortunes', died in 1679, leaving Thomas, the eldest of five children, just £420. Much of this was misappropriated by his uncle, whom he joined in business at Smyrna, but he managed to return home with 'a convenient competency which I kept out of his clutches . . .'. In 1689 Betton went back to Smyrna in a disastrous partnership with his brother Timothy, who ran up debts in Thomas's name. Betton eventually amassed a fortune, but, disillusioned, decided to leave it to charity, cutting off Timothy and his children with a shilling each. (fn. 2)

The bulk of the estate was in South Sea, East India, Africa and bank stocks, and 'other uncertain Securities', worth about £25,000. Half the income was to be used to ransom British subjects enslaved in Turkey and North Africa, and a quarter was to go to Church of England charity schools in and around London. Apart from an annuity to a relative who lived with Betton in Hoxton Square, and £10 a year for the upkeep of his tomb at the company's almshouses (now the Geffrye Museum), the rest was set aside for needy freemen of the company and their dependents. In 1845 the slaves' fund, having become an anachronism, was redirected to schools throughout England and Wales, an apportionment being made for each diocese. (fn. 3)

By 1819 the charity was receiving over £2,000 a year, rising to more than £7,000 before the financial crash of 1866. In 1902 rents from houses, warehouses and factories on the former marshland properties amounted to nearly £3,700, but stocks produced little more than £500. Rents from the Barnfield Estate amounted to £232 a year, excluding income deriving from compensation received for the loss of most of the undeveloped part of the estate to the Millwall Freehold Land and Docks Company in 1865. (fn. 4)

Figure 175:

The Barnfield Estate
a Plan of 1845 showing a proposed layout of streets with plots for houses and factories. Field boundaries are indicated by broken lines
b Plan in 1871

Proposals for Development, 1814–51

Until 1797 the estate was let to graziers on 14-year leases, then to yearly tenants until 1831, when James Warmington of Edmonton, son of the former tenant, bid successfully against Henry Bradshaw, a local man, to obtain a seven-year lease. It was during the Warmingtons' occupancy that pressure to develop the estate grew. (fn. 5)

William Jupp (d.1839), surveyor to the Ironmongers' Company, had drawn up plans for development at the time Westferry Road was made. (fn. 6) With frontages to the road, the projected eastern road, and the river, the land seemed well placed, and building leases were offered, as they were on other local estates. But the only application, which was turned down, came from the then tenant, who wished to build a single house. (fn. 7)

It was not until the growth of industry on the Millwall riverside in the second quarter of the century that any further interest was shown. David Napier and William Tindall, successive owners of ground on the south side of Drunken Dock, sought long leases of the small patch of waste land between road and river, Tindall eventually declining as too expensive a 61-year lease at £30 per annum. Jupp's successor, Robert Sibley (1789–1849), warned against letting this site, on which the value of the estate seemed to depend so much, too soon. He also felt that if Tindall used the space for lumber storage, as proposed, this might deter potential house-builders from taking ground. (fn. 8) In Sibley's view, Barnfield was 'peculiarly eligible for many large works and manufactories', as well as small houses. (fn. 9) His development plan, drawn up in 1844, envisaged a grid of streets with up to 600 houses along the frontages, backing on to factory sites ranging in size from half an acre to three acres, and, at the riverside, two depots for ships' stores. There was to be a wharf for the common use of the occupiers (fig. 175a). (fn. 10)

It was an unworkable scheme, for the wharfage available could hardly have served so many factories, and the plan was fundamentally at fault in attempting to subordinate industry to housing, boxing it in, behind residential streets, with poor access and no room for expansion. Moreover, the layout would only have been feasible given co-ordinated development on the neighbouring estates.

There were few offers from prospective developers, and the company's cautious reluctance — not shared by Sibley — to pay for roads and sewers further depressed the low level of interest, although agreement was provisionally reached with a Mr Broder of Granville Square, Clerkenwell, for the erection of 400 houses. Nothing had been built by the time Sibley died, in 1849. (fn. 11)

The new surveyor, George Russell French (1803–81), made improvements to Sibley's scheme later that year. Building was already under way nearby, in Cahir Street and British Street, and it must have seemed that the time was now right for development. (fn. 12)

French proposed selling 63-year building leases on the basis of so much per foot frontage, or per 15ft frontage, enabling builders to put up whatever size of houses they might wish. Roads and sewers were to be paid for by the company as pump-priming, the money to be borrowed and paid off in four years from rents. In the event, no proper roads were made up, but sewer construction was paid for by the company through a loan secured on City property belonging to Betton's Charity. Some £150,000 worth of property were to be built, producing annual income after reversion of at least £10,000. The three most unsuitable factory sites were redesignated for institutions for the estimated 3,000 future inhabitants of the estate, including a school (to receive funding from the charity), a library, baths and wash-houses. (fn. 13)

There was an isolated, rejected, offer in 1851 for a 99year lease of two house plots, (fn. 14) and it was at least two years before any land was taken.

Development, 1853–c1871

James Williams and William Wakeham, of Notting Hill, were the first prospective builders to come forward, in June 1853. With French's encouragement they agreed to take the whole site on the south side of Westferry Road and build 26 houses – fewer than French had hoped to fit in – on 63-year leases at ground rents of 30s per 15ft frontage. (fn. 15)

Nearly a year later two more Notting Hill builders, Nicholas Knight and John Henry Weitzel, began negotiating for plots, hoping to get leases longer than 63 years. Knight, born in Totnes c1801, died in 1869 leaving houses and cottages in Kilburn, Brondesbury and Kensal New Town, as well as on the Barnfield Estate. His sonin-law Weitzel, born in Germany c1822, had been a baker in Notting Hill. Together they ran the Ironmongers' Arms on the Barnfield Estate for a few years and then moved to Kilburn, where Weitzel was still active as a builder in the early 1870s, going bankrupt in 1872. (fn. 16)

Williams built only four houses, Wakeham none, before they sold out to Weitzel. By June 1855, 22 houses were inhabited. Weitzel and Knight agreed to build houses on the north side of Westferry Road, and they carried on building up the estate for several years, sub-leasing a number of plots to William Cave and James Hutchins. (fn. 17)

Cave, a builder, was born in Warwickshire c1814 and lived in Betton's Terrace for some time. He built ten three-storey houses there, Nos 220–238 (even) Westferry Road, next to the Vulcan beerhouse. Like Weitzel and Knight's houses, Cave's were of conventional plan, with two rooms on the ground floor entered from a side passage, and a back addition comprising kitchen, scullery and lavatory. Hutchins, a bricklayer of Manchester Road, built a couple of three-storey houses with shops in Ingelheim Terrace (Nos 333 and 335 Westferry Road). (fn. 18)

The completion of Ingelheim Terrace by Weitzel and Knight in 1862 marked the end of the main development of the estate. These last (Nos 337–365, odd, Westferry Road) were inferior houses to the rest of the terrace, having only two floors and smaller back additions than the other houses in Westferry Road, but were otherwise similar — plain, old-fashioned houses of stock brick with slate roofs (Plate 84a). (fn. 19)

The estate had a public house and two beerhouses: the Ironmongers' Arms, the Vulcan and the Magnet and Dewdrop. Despite this, Weitzel and Knight were members of the Temperance Permanent Benefit Building Society and mortgaged several of their properties to it. (fn. 20) (The Waterman's Lodge in Totnes Terrace, a beershop or coffee-rooms, was added by Weitzel in 1870, along with another dwelling and outbuildings in Totnes Cottages.) (fn. 21)

So far the development had turned out well. As French boasted, the leases were shorter, the rents higher and the houses bigger than on neighbouring estates, and a site had been let for industrial purposes. Further development, however, was held up, partly by negotiations with neighbouring landowners for exchanges of ground to improve the line of the intended main road through the estate, partly because the Charity Commissioners wanted roads and sewers to be made only by degrees, as building proceeded. But soon it was too late to do much more. The newly incorporated Millwall Freehold Land and Docks Company compulsorily purchased most of the ground not built upon (fig. 175b). In addition, the London and Blackwall Railway Company obtained statutory powers to acquire most of the few remaining acres for the Millwall Extension Railway. In the end the land was not required, but a blight was effectively cast over it. A small portion became a playground for St Edmund's Roman Catholic School in 1876, but otherwise it remained pasture until the 1890s. (fn. 22)

The truncated remnant of 'Ironmongers' Street' became Ingelheim Place: a 'rough bit of roadway that ends in a wall of corrugated iron and a suggestion of black sheds beyond'. (fn. 23) On the opposite side of Westferry Road the intended entrance to the proposed Ironmongers' Wharf remained nameless. Perpetual right of way over it and Devonshire Terrace was sold to Fenners, of Fenner's Wharf, in 1875. (fn. 24)

Tindalls' Cooperage.

In 1855 Messrs Tindall of Tindall's Dock took a 63-year lease of a site at the back of Elizabeth Cottages for a cooperage, at an annual rent of £50. They built a range of sheds and workshops, together with a house for the foreman joiner and his family (No. 5 Elizabeth Cottages). (fn. 25)

The cooperage was occupied for a few years from the mid-1860s by the Millwall Iron Works, Ship Building & Graving Docks Company Ltd. In the 1870s and 1880s it was a coconut fibre factory, later becoming a waterproofer's works and then a soap factory. Its last industrial occupier was the Murex Magnetic Company Ltd, set up to exploit patents relating to ore and oil refining, taken out by two of the soap manufacturers. In 1915–16 the premises were also used for storing copra and coconut oil by George Davis & Son, whose desiccating works were nearby. Several buildings had been added by this time, including a two-storey brick building used as offices, stores and laboratory. Negotiations by Murex in 1917 for a new 65-year building lease having fallen through, the already dilapidated premises fell into complete dereliction. (fn. 26)

Social Conditions

When the Rev. Richard Free came to take charge of St Cuthbert's, Westferry Road (see page 482), in 1897, he and his wife had to live south of the river because of the housing shortage, and he commuted by ferry, but after a few months they obtained rooms at No. 1 Ingelheim Cottages (St Cuthbert's Lodge). It was 'a terrible old shanty, lacking every convenience', and crawling with lice. Built as a corner-house on the intended Ironmongers' Street, it had eight rooms on two floors, with an attic and box-room, and was distinguished by a clumsy bellshaped gable on the street front which gave it a quaint look, reminiscent of 'a lifeboat station or ark of refuge'. (fn. 27) Free had the use of five rooms, two of which he opened as reading-rooms. (fn. 28)

He was told that the house had been a school and a beershop, and that 40 years before it had housed eight families, one in each room, while in recent years it had accommodated seven adults and 27 children. (fn. 29) At the time of the 1861 census it held three families, a total of ten people, which was no higher than the average level of occupancy on the estate at that time, considering the larger than usual size of the house. The families, typical of others in Millwall, were headed by a gas fitter, labourer and ship-joiner, and included one working wife (a glover) and one single adult lodger (a cordwainer). By 1871 the house was uninhabited, and in 1876 the Ironmongers found it 'ruinous', worse than any other property on the estate. (fn. 30) It was demolished after c1926.

At about the same time as Free was establishing himself at Ingelheim Cottages, a philanthropist called Miss Price moved into No. 333 Westferry Road and opened it as The Welcome Institute. It was 'a little old-fashioned house, poor and badly built', always damp from repeated flooding. (fn. 31)

Staffed by well-to-do women volunteers, the institute provided hot meals at affordable prices to factory girls, evening classes in dressmaking and needlework, Bible classes for boys and club-rooms for local football teams. In 1905 spacious new premises were built in East Ferry Road (now the Dockland Settlement, see page 514). No. 333 was demolished in 1919. (fn. 32)

Even if Free's house was unlikely to have been as crowded as he was told for any length of time, there was certainly some overcrowding on the estate. In 1861, for instance, three households in a cottage in Devonshire Terrace contained 20 people, and there were 22 in a house in Betton's Terrace, also divided between three households. (fn. 33) But although the housing shortage was acute at times, when local jobs became scarce houses stood empty. Many houses on the estate were unoccupied in 1886–7, for example, because of economic depression. (fn. 34) Since houses were often let by leaseholders to a single tenant, rather than let in tenements, subletting and taking-in of lodgers were usual. The system encouraged multiple occupancy in some houses while others remained unoccupied.

Like the Isle of Dogs generally, Barnfield suffered badly from the slump of the late 1860s, and it was probably this phase which was most responsible for reducing the houses to slums. By 1868 many of the inhabitants were destitute, their last possessions pawned. In Laura Cottages, for instance, an investigator found a pregnant woman and her five children, all of them suffering from malnutrition. Her husband was away stone-breaking at the workhouse, and to supplement the money he got for this the family spent all week picking a quarter of a hundredweight of oakum from a local ropeworks, for which they received only a shilling, yet the rent of their cottage was five shillings a week. Upstairs was their lodger, his wife and their five children. The man had had only six weeks continuous work in two years and was now too ill to do casual dock labour Unable even to pay their 1s 9d a week rent, they were kept alive by hand-outs from the family downstairs. (fn. 35)

In addition to the problem of poverty, the aborted development of the estate left it with inadequate drainage and unmade roads and paths. The ground floors of many of the houses were well below street level, making the buildings permanently damp and prone to flooding. The road to the fibre factory was only a cinder track, often waterlogged. Standing water saturated the front walls of Elizabeth Cottages where, in 1900, there was an outbreak of typhoid fever. The road was finally paved by Poplar Borough Council in 1905. (fn. 36)

By the riverside, the proximity of industry caused inconvenience and danger. At Totnes Cottages the bowsprits of ships berthed at Britannia Dry Dock overhung the gardens (Plate 1), while the roadway leading past the cottages to St Andrew's Wharf was 'constantly full of vans loading oil'. There was severe vibration from the pounding of machinery at Napier Yard. (fn. 37)

Poor though it was, the estate had a number of shops. Most of these were not opened until after the slump of the late 1860s. In the mid-1870s there were on the west side of Westferry Road, in addition to the beerhouses, a tobacconist, a hairdresser, an oilman and a marine-store dealer. Over the road were a dairyman, a butcher, two greengrocers, a pawnbroker, a bootmaker and a chandler. By the end of the century, the number of shops had fallen, though the pawnbroker remained and had expanded his premises. After the demolition of most of the estate, purpose-built shops were provided in Westferry Road as part of Arethusa House (see page 490). (fn. 38)

Deterioration and Disposal of the Estate

Disrepair on the estate was widespread from the mid1870s, if not earlier, and dilapidations notices were frequently ignored. The good ground rents and comparatively short building leases, which had seemed so attractive, combined with chronic local poverty to offer little incentive to the lessees to make repairs or improvements.

In 1889 John Hollway, the new proprietor of St Andrew's Wharf, who wanted to build on the remaining open ground, offered to buy the whole estate. But although the £15,000 deal was approved by the Charity Commissioners, it fell through. In 1895 the vacant ground, which now hardly justified the description 'pasture', was let on a 21-year lease to Messrs Cutler of Providence Iron Works. (fn. 39)

The houses were now squeezed between industrial sites and were at the end of their useful life. They were shabby, insanitary and structurally unsound. Totnes Cottages had already been subject to a Closure Order from the Borough Council. It was becoming obvious that the estate would have to be redeveloped on reversion. Only the public house and the beerhouses seemed of much value. A new lease of the Magnet and Dewdrop was granted in 1899 and new leases of the Vulcan and the Ironmongers' Arms were sold to brewers in 1916. (fn. 40)

Plans for redevelopment drawn up in 1916 by George Hubbard, the Ironmongers' surveyor, were set aside because of the war, and as the leases fell in the company took over direct management of the houses, which were now falling to bits. Several were subject to closing and demolition orders. Despite the wartime shortage of labour and materials, a gang of builders worked continually on urgent repairs, but the estate remained in 'deplorable' condition. (fn. 41)

The former Welcome Institute and the house next door had already been pulled down when, in May 1919, the freeholds of the estate were put up for auction. Of eight lots, only two, the Ironmongers' Arms and the Magnet and Dewdrop, made more than the reserve. Most of the houses failed to sell, and the old pasture failed even to draw a bid. (fn. 42)

Nos 311–331 Westferry Road and Ingelheim Cottages were leased to Messrs Cutler soon afterwards for an extension to their works, but because of the housing shortage the Borough Council refused to allow Ingelheim Cottages to be pulled down, even though they had long been unfit to live in. They remained inhabited until c1934, when they were finally demolished. Cutlers' works remained until the mid-1970s. (fn. 43)

The rest of the ground north of Westferry Road was sold in 1920 to Burrell & Company Ltd, who built the Barnfield Works there for the production of organic reds. The factory closed in 1979. Elizabeth Cottages, Laura Cottages and Ingelheim Place were occupied until c1933. The remaining houses north of Westferry Road (Nos 337–365) were demolished c1936. The sites of Elizabeth Cottages and Nos 357–365 Westferry Road are now covered by part of the LCC West Ferry Estate. (fn. 44)

South of Westferry Road, the Vulcan and the former Magnet and Dewdrop (now called the Telegraph) are the only reminders of the original development. Both have been rebuilt, the Vulcan in 1937 and the Magnet and Dewdrop in 1939. Totnes Cottages were demolished c1936. Totnes Terrace (by then renamed Mast House Terrace) was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. Several of the remaining houses in Westferry Road were badly damaged by bombing and subsequently demolished or left derelict. Nos 212–224 (even) remained in use until the early 1950s, when they were pulled down. (fn. 45)

The sites of Cutlers' works and the Barnfield Works were developed in 1988–9 by Wimpey Homes as Quay West, an estate of houses and mews built around courts, squares and a 'pedestrian boulevard' (see page 702).


  • 1. GL, MSS 2,061; 17,197.
  • 2. Betton's Charity (Ironmongers' Company, 1903), in GL, MSS 17,133; 17,018.
  • 3. Thomas Betton's Charity (Charity Commission, 1902), in GL, Microfilm 766.
  • 4. Ibid: G.R.French, A Brief Account of the Estates of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers; and of Sir Robert Geffrye's Trust; and of Mr. Thomas Betton's Trust, 1872.
  • 5. GL, MS 17,207/1.
  • 6. GL, MS 16,967/16, p.72.
  • 7. GL, MSS 16,967/15, p.338; 16,967/16, pp.72, 79–80.
  • 8. GL, MSS 16,967/21, pp.179, 217, 243; 17, 156/4, p.109.
  • 9. GL, MS 17,156/2, p.244.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. GL, MS 16,967/22, p.323.
  • 12. GL, MS 17,156/4, 29 Aug, 13 Nov 1849.
  • 13. GL, MS 17,156/4, 13 Nov 1849.
  • 14. GL, MS 16,967, p.352.
  • 15. GL, MS 17,156/5, p.209.
  • 16. Somerset House, will of Nicholas Knight: Census 1861: POD: GL, MSS 17,156/5, pp.211, 216–17, 225; 16,967/24, pp.100, 137, 145.
  • 17. GL, MSS 17,205; 17,206/5.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. IHG, photograph IHG/P164: GLRO photographs, A9441: PRO, IR58/84643, 84644.
  • 20. GL, MS 17,206/1.
  • 21. GL, MS 17,206/8.
  • 22. French, op.cit.: GL, MSS 16,967/31, p.116; 17,206/5.
  • 23. G.R.Sims, 'In Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs', Strand Magazine, July 1905, p.35.
  • 24. GL, MS 17,209.
  • 25. GL, MS 17,206/10: 1861 Census.
  • 26. GL, MS 17,206/10: PRO, BT31/18804/102527.
  • 27. Sims, op.cit.
  • 28. R.Free, Seven Years' Hard, 1904, pp.27, 47, 189.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. 1871 Census: GL, MS 16,967/27, p.475.
  • 31. Lady McDougall, 'Factory Girls in Millwall', The Girls' Own Paper, 7 Jan 1905.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. 1861 Census.
  • 34. GL, MS 16,967/30, pp.217, 372.
  • 35. Eastern Post, 5 Dec 1868, p.5.
  • 36. GL, MS 17,209.
  • 37. GL, MS 17,205: Ironmongers' Company Archives, Minutes of Barnfield Estate Special Committee, 4 April 1917.
  • 38. POD.
  • 39. GL, MS 16,967/31, pp.216, 223, 236, 263, 267–8, 298, 370.
  • 40. GL, MS 17,206/8: Ironmongers' Company Archives, Minutes of Barnfield Estate Special Committee, p.21.
  • 41. Ibid, pp.11, 19, 22, 29–30, 41, 51–5.
  • 42. Ibid, pp.73, 75.
  • 43. Ibid, p.77: Electoral Registers: POD.
  • 44. Ironmongers' Company Archives, Minutes of Barnfield Estate Special Committee, p.87: Burrell & Company Ltd, A Century in Colour, 1952, pp. 11–12; Chairman's Review, 1979: Electoral Registers.
  • 45. DSR 1937/304; 1939/213: GLRO, AR/TP/P80/91–2: Electoral Registers: POD.