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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From Newcastle Drawdock To Cubitt Town Pier
Built as part of Cubitt's initial development of the riverside in the 1840s, this drawdock is constructed of brick, with wooden buttressing to the south-west wall and rendered buttressing to the north-east one. The dock has a Grade II listing, as have the four original bollards at the dock entrance on Saunders Ness Road.
In 1858 William Simpson & Company established an engineering works and factory, known as Grosvenor Works, on this site. Early buildings included a smiths' shop, a machine shop, a boiler shed, stores and offices. In 1862 the original plot was extended westwards to meet Wharf Road, and further factory buildings were erected. (fn. 1)
William Simpson surrendered his interest in the works to his relative James Simpson in 1862, establishing his own ship-repairing yard at Empire Wharf further north (see below). (fn. 2) Grosvenor Works remained in the possession of the Simpson family until 1865, and it was later taken over by James Mason as an extension of his copperore depot at Alpha Wharf adjoining to the north (see below). (fn. 3)
Unoccupied for much of the 1870s and early 1880s, Grosvenor Wharf became a coal works in the late 1880s, and the site was leased c1889–91 to the Block Fuel Syndicate Ltd. The company modified the works for the production of block fuel, for which it had the sole right of manufacture within a 20-mile radius of London Bridge. A jetty was built 30ft into the river to accommodate barges, from which coal was taken by cranes and via shoots into a brick-and-iron store on the river front. A series of conveyors and elevators transferred the coal into a mixing chamber where pitch was added, and the resulting mixture was transformed into block fuel by five briquette machines, each capable of producing five tons of fuel per hour. The product was then taken back to the riverside for delivery into barges. (fn. 4) The venture was not a success, however, and the next 15 years witnessed a succession of coal and mineral manufacturers and dealers at Grosvenor Wharf. (fn. 5)
By 1916 the premises were occupied by Sternol Ltd (also known as the Stern Sonneborn Oil Company Ltd) as an oil and grease refinery. At that time the wharf contained a pair of brick-and-iron storage sheds facing the river, and a group of the original 1860s buildings facing Wharf Road which comprised a boiler house, purifying and blending houses, and a two-storey brick office and dwelling house. (fn. 6) Further brick sheds were added during the 1930s. (fn. 7) In the 1970s the site, with Alpha and Empire Wharves to the north, was acquired by the Borough of Tower Hamlets (see page 546). (fn. 8)
This wharf was already occupied by William Henry Nash as an engineering works when it was leased to Cubitt in 1857. The works were simply a large brick-built engineers' shop facing the river, with a small boiler house adjoining. (fn. 9) In 1865 the premises passed to James Mason, engineer, who also took the lease of a neighbouring plot, extending the wharf westwards to Wharf Road. Mason established a copper-ore depot, known as Alpha Works, which he later shared in partnership with Francis Tress Barry. (fn. 10) By 1884 Alpha Works - still basically a single warehouse building - was vacant, as was Grosvenor Wharf to the south, which Mason had annexed in the 1860s. (fn. 11)
By 1888 Alpha Wharf was occupied by Colthurst & Harding, paint manufacturers. They developed the site over the next 25 years, adding various stores and warehouses, and a three-storey paint factory. (fn. 12) The brick and corrugated-iron buildings, many of which were of fireresistant construction, survived the Second World War, and in 1949 the wharf was acquired by James Moore & Company (later Jones, Moore & Company) for general storage. (fn. 13) The site now forms part of a public housing estate (see page 546).
Empire Wharf (formerly Poplar Dry Dock)
This land, immediately to the south of Cubitt & Company's building works, and with a river frontage of 130ft, was still unlet in 1859. (fn. 14) In 1863 William Simpson, having retired from his partnership with James Simpson in the shipbuilding yard further south (see Grosvenor Wharf, above), took a 60-year lease of the wharf and established his own ship-repairing yard, known as Christ Church Works from its proximity to the recently built church. (fn. 15) The yard was dominated by a large patent slip 500ft long, extending over 100ft into the Thames. (fn. 16) Simpson took an adjoining plot from Cubitt & Company in 1864, increasing his river frontage to 237ft. (fn. 17)
By 1870 Simpson's business had gone, and in 1879 the wharf, reduced to a frontage of 170ft by the new paint factory of Storer & Sons to the north (see below), was taken by John & Robert Barclay Brown, shipbuilders. (fn. 18) They transformed the site into a substantial dry dock, known as Poplar Dry Dock, for the repair of iron ships and steamers. It had a wood and concrete bottom, wood and brick sides, and wooden entrance gates, and was the largest dry dock in London at that time. The engineer of the works was a Mr McConnochiepresumably James A. McConnochie, who was the engineer in the 1870s of the redevelopment of the lower half of Limehouse Dockyard (see page 392) - and the pumping apparatus was provided by John & Henry Gwynne of Hammersmith Ironworks. The dock opened in October 1880 following 20 months of construction work, (fn. 19) and a range of brick workshops, fitting shops and sheds was erected to its south. (fn. 20)
The Brown brothers' business did not survive long. The premises were taken over in 1886 by the Dry Docks Corporation of London, a short-lived company which attempted to monopolize ship repair in London. (fn. 21)
Poplar Dry Dock was used by various companies until 1933, when the then occupants, Sternol Ltd, built a timber staging between the dock pierheads to form a landing quay, and used the wharf as an oil and grease refinery. The existing row of buildings at the south of the wharf was retained, and a new brick-built oil store and a corrugated-iron tin store were added at the north. Six circular oil tanks and a wooden jetty were built beside the river. (fn. 22) In the 1970s Empire Wharf was purchased, with Alpha and Grosvenor Wharves, by Tower Hamlets Borough Council for public-housing (see page 546).
Storer's Wharf (formerly Cubitt & Company's Works)
This was formerly William Cubitt & Company's wharf. It was the largest of the original riverside plots, with a frontage to the Thames of over 530ft and an area of 25 acres. The yard was established c1843–4, and contained sawmills, timber-wharves, a cement factory, a pottery and several large brickfields, producing all manner of materials for the building trade. (fn. 23)
The principal building was a large three-storey brick warehouse, 100ft by 50ft, containing the sawmills and carpenters' and joiners' shops. A basement housed the machinery required to drive the saws in the mill above, where a traditional circular saw was supplemented by three vertical sawing-machines, the invention of Mr Nicholson, chief engineer at Cubitt & Company's works at Gray's Inn Road. The floor of the upper storey, which contained the joiners' shop, was suspended from the roof by a system of iron tension-rods, suspension rods and girders. This was employed as a result of the inconvenience suffered at the Gray's Inn Road works, where the floor space in the saw-room was interrupted by pillars. (fn. 24)
William Cubitt retired from Cubitt & Company in 1854, and in 1859 he leased the wharf and works to the firm for £1,120 per annum. (fn. 25) In 1864 the southern section of the premises (which was undeveloped) was leased to William Simpson to form part of his shiprepairing yard (see Empire Wharf, above), reducing Cubitt & Company's river frontage to just over 400ft.
In the 1870s the yard was further reduced in size when the original plot was divided into four separate wharves by three new leases - perhaps a reflection of the general recession in the building industry at that time. In 1871 a small strip of land to the north was leased to the London Rice Mills Company to form an extension of their premises at Cubitt Town Wharf (see Falcon Wharf, below). (fn. 26) An adjacent section, of 150ft of river frontage, was leased to Thomas Rugg in 1877, and was regarded as an independent wharf until c1915 (see Caledonian Wharf, below). The southern section of 127ft of river frontage, which included Cubitt's large mill building and the land previously forming part of Simpson's shiprepairing yard, was leased in 1875 to David Storer & Sons of Glasgow. (fn. 27) Cubitt & Company continued in business on its severely reduced site at Cubitt Town until 1882, when Storer & Sons took the remainder of the land and buildings. (fn. 28)
David Storer & Sons were established as oil and paint manufacturers in Scotland, and throughout the 1880s they redeveloped the wharf, now known as Storer's Wharf, as a paint factory. The numerous buildings erected included forges, workshops, stores, stables and special buildings for the production of Venetian Red and White Lead pigments. Among them was an impressive range of three-storey brick buildings facing the Thames (Plate 86a). The building contractors for the work were W. Lightbody & Son of Sydney Street, Glasgow. (fn. 29)
Storer & Sons were in difficulties by the late 1880s and David Storer's bankruptcy in 1891 brought the business to an end. (fn. 30) By 1895 the paint factory had been taken over by Wilkinson, Heywood & Clark, paint, colour and grease manufacturers. They later acquired Caledonian Wharf to the north, and in 1915 the two sites were made freely intercommunicating, with the old dry dock used for the storage of petrol, oils and other liquid products. (fn. 31) Wilkinson, Heywood & Clark remained in business at the wharf (also known as Caledonian Works) until the Second World War. By the late 1960s Storer's Wharf and Caledonian Wharf had been reunited with Falcon Wharf under the name Caledonian Wharf, and for a time the combined premises housed a food-processing plant. (fn. 32) The site is now occupied by the Caledonian Wharf residential development (see page 697).
Caledonian Wharf (Cubitt Town Dry Dock)
Originally a part of Cubitt & Company's cement factory, this plot was leased by them to Thomas Rugg of East India Dock Road in 1877. (fn. 33) Rugg then built on the site a new graving dock, similar in size and construction to Poplar Dry Dock further south (Plate 86a). Designated Cubitt Town Dry Dock, it was 362ft long, with a woodand-concrete bottom, wooden sides and gates, and two large dolphins. The contractor was Samuel Chafen of Rotherhithe. As with many other ship-repairing and shipbuilding ventures at Cubitt Town, success eluded Thomas Rugg, and he sold the dock to the Dry Docks Corporation of London in 1886 as part of its planned amalgamation of London graving docks. (fn. 34)
After the failure of the Dry Docks Corporation, the dock and yard were occupied by Rait & Gardiner, shiprepairers, until c1912, when the premises were taken over by Wilkinson. Heywood & Clark, the proprietors of the adjacent wharves. They closed the dock by constructing a new river wall across the entrance on the line of the original wharf frontage. (fn. 35) and used it for storage (see Storer's Wharf, above).
This narrow site, 71ft wide, originally formed part of Cubitt & Company's cement works. In 1871 it was leased to the London Rice Mill Company and became an extension of its rice-mill complex at Cubitt Town Wharf (see below). The wharf was chiefly taken up by a large single-storey brick warehouse unit, over 260ft long, facing the river (Plate 86a). A second, smaller, shed faced Wharf Road. The buildings were used for storage. (fn. 36)
With the departure of the London Rice Mill Company the wharf was offered at auction in 1900 as a separate lot, and it appears to have been occupied subsequently by the firms in business on the adjacent Caledonian and Storer's Wharves. (fn. 37) By 1930 Pinchin, Johnson & Company, varnish manufacturers, had established a new works here, confusingly known as Caledonian Works. The wharf buildings - basically unchanged since the 1870s - survived the Second World War, and Pinchin & Johnson remained in business at Falcon Wharf until the firm relocated to premises at Silvertown in 1962. (fn. 38) Falcon Wharf was reunited with Caledonian Wharf and Storer's Wharf, and the combined site was cleared in the 1970s.
Cubitt Town Wharf
Unlet in 1859, this site was leased from October 1864 to the London Rice Mill Company for 76 years at £300 per annum. The wharf, which adjoined Cubitt & Company's premises to the south, had a river frontage of 122ft, but only 75ft to Wharf Road. (fn. 39) The lessees made the best of the awkwardly shaped site, erecting a large brick warehouse block facing the river, with a second range of smaller brick buildings running along the northern boundary, and an office to the south (Plate 86a; fig. 199). The wharf was used for cleaning, crushing and grinding rice and other seeds and grains. (fn. 40)
In 1871 the company expanded southwards, leasing an adjacent plot of 71ft frontage from Cubitt & Company for storage purposes (see Falcon Wharf, above). (fn. 41) By 1896 the London Rice Mill Company had gone, and Cubitt Town Wharf remained vacant until 1902, when it was assigned to the Cotton Seed Company Ltd. (fn. 42) It used the existing buildings (with some additions and alterations) for the refining and manufacture of oils, including cotton-seed oil. (fn. 43) The Cotton Seed Company was liquidated in 1912, and in 1916–17 the leasehold of the premises was purchased by Fox, Stockell & Company, chemical manufacturers. (fn. 44) Some rebuilding was required at the wharf during its occupation, following fires in 1906 and 1927 (see below). The wharf survived the Second World War, but a number of buildings have since been removed. From the late 1950s Cubitt Town Wharf was occupied by Apex Rubber Company Ltd and Borovitch Ltd (also known as Boropex Holdings), and used for the storage of rubber and other goods.
The riverside warehouse was a six-storey block, 150ft by 106ft. and seems originally to have been divided internally east-west by a brick wall to provide separate areas for storage and milling (Plate 86a). (fn. 45) By 1890 it had been subdivided by brick walls and double iron doors into six units (A-F), with the two central sections (B and E) forming grain silos. The building had timbered and boarded floors supported by cast-iron columns, and was covered by a slated roof with skylights. Access was via an external fireproof staircase. (fn. 46) Sections A and B were reduced to one and three storeys respectively following a fire in 1906; A has a louvred roof supported on unusual steel trusses. (fn. 47) In 1927 a serious fire destroyed the two riverside units (C and D), and these were rebuilt by Griggs & Son of Cubitt Town (Plate 86b). The old plan was retained, with the exception of the central doorway, and the new elevation followed the original pattern in general, but with a wall-mounted electric crane in place of the central door. (fn. 48) The twentieth-century reconstructions of sections A, C and D are all that remain of the warehouse.
The second range of buildings in the yard comprised a two-storey brick shed, used originally as an engine house and later converted to a hulling-mill (demolished); a lofty two-storey brick boiler house, 30ft high to the eaves (extant); and a single-storey brick storage shed and 90ft-high chimney facing Wharf Road (demolished). A two-storey brick office-block still stands on the other side of the yard, bordering Falcon Wharf; board-room and laboratory facilities were once provided on the second floor. (fn. 49)
Plymouth Wharf was an amalgamation of three riverside plots taken between 1849 and 1858 by Michael Pass & Company, manufacturers of 'marble Temper, Greystone and Chalk-lime, Bricks, Tiles, Fire goods, River sand, Ballast, &c'. (fn. 50) By 1858 an engine room, boiler shed, grinding shop, stores and other buildings had been erected on the site (Plate 86a). (fn. 51) The cement- and lime-making process was unpleasant, and Pass had to modify his methods following complaints of offensive smells and an investigation by the officers of the District Board of Works. (fn. 52)
By 1897 Pass had been replaced by the firm of Deane, Ransome & Company, constructional engineers. (fn. 53) It redeveloped the site, transforming Plymouth Wharf into a steel works (known as Cubitt Town Steel Works), specializing in the construction of girders and roof stanchions. (fn. 54) The lease later passed to F.J. Power, a merchant of Marsh Lane, Greenwich, and the firm continued in business as Power's & Deane, Ransome's Ltd. Power, who had also taken possession of Pyrimont Wharf to the north (see below), acquired the freehold of Plymouth Wharf in 1920. (fn. 55) His premises at Plymouth Wharf in the 1920s and 1930s were poorly developed, even by the standards of Cubitt Town. There was a two-storey brick office adjoining Pyrimont Wharf, but the majority of the structures were wooden and iron sheds and lean-tos. (fn. 56) Although a new range of buildings was erected in 1936, (fn. 57) the wharf was cleared and combined with Pyrimont Wharf between 1936 and 1945.
After the Second World War the open site was occupied by various companies for storage. (fn. 58) In 1961 the National Dock Labour Board established a Training Centre at Plymouth Wharf for training new entrants to the dockworkers' register. A large E-shaped school building was erected facing the river, containing lecture rooms, staff accommodation, offices, lavatories and cloakrooms. In addition, a covered shed and large open quayside area provided training space. (fn. 59)
This wharf was developed in 1861 by the Asphalte de Seyssel Company of Thames Embankment (later known as the Seyssel Asphalte Company or Seyssel Pyrimont Asphalte Company). (fn. 60) Early factory buildings included a cauldron shed, chimney shaft, engine house, boiler house, workshop, stores, lavatories, and a two-storey dwelling house designed by Tillot & Chamberlain of Gresham Street. (fn. 61) In the 1870s the asphalt-production business on this site was taken over by Claridge's Patent Asphalte Company, which had been producing asphalt preparations for the building trade since the 1840s. (fn. 62)
The manufacturing process employed at Cubitt Town involved the heating of bituminous limestone in six large uncovered cauldrons, producing vapours considered offensive by many local residents. (fn. 63) The material was used predominantly for covering and protecting the foundations of buildings. It was employed, for example, at the Tobacco Stores at the Victoria Docks. (fn. 64)
Claridge's was wound up in 1917, (fn. 65) and in the following year the Cubitt Town Estate Company sold its interest in Pyrimont Wharf to F. J. Power, the occupier of the steel works which adjoined to the south (see Plymouth Wharf, above). (fn. 66) After a brief occupation in the 1920s by the Cargo Fleet Iron Company. (fn. 67) Pyrimont Wharf became part of Plymouth Wharf.
This wharf, with a river frontage of 150ft, had already been worked unsuccessfully as a shipbuilding yard when John Hepworth of Blackwall took a 60–year lease of it from Christmas 1858. (fn. 68) A smaller operation than the other shipbuilding yards to the north. Hepworth's had disappeared by 1867, no doubt a victim of the financial crash of 1866. (fn. 69) The yard was later annexed by Dudgeon's to the north (see Dudgeon's Wharf, below).
Dudgeon's Wharf (Cubitt Town Yard)
In 1863 John and William Dudgeon, engineers and boiler makers, took a lease of the riverside site immediately south of Cubitt Town Pier. This wharf, with a river frontage of 344ft. extended nearly 600ft inland to Manchester Road, covering what had originally been intended as a northwards extension of Wharf Road. (fn. 70) Already engaged in the manufacture of marine machinery at their Sun Iron Works in Millwall. Dudgeons quickly established themselves as shipbuilders at Cubitt Town, exploiting the Union blockade of Confederate ports during the American Civil War by specializing in the production of fast twin-screw blockade runners for the Confederacy. (fn. 71) The firm survived the 1866 crash, continuing with enough orders to warrant the annexation, in 1869, of the disused shipyard to the south, to give a combined river frontage of 500ft. (fn. 72) However, it lacked the financial strength to survive the mislaunching of an enormous warship for the Brazilian government in 1874. The contract for the vessel's repair and refitting went to the local rival firm of Samuda Brothers, and, following the death in 1875 of William Dudgeon, both of the Dudgeons' yards were shut down. Such misfortune sorely affected the sanity of John Dudgeon, who was judged to be 'of unsound mind' and was admitted to Morningside Asylum in Edinburgh. (fn. 73)
The enlarged yard and its contents, valued in 1876 at £23,000, were auctioned in 1880, and by 1882 had been occupied by the firm of Ingall, Phillips & Company for the storage of oil and petroleum. The company extended the wharf to the south-west, added a new quay and dock, and built sheds and a series of large circular iron tanks, some capable of holding 3,000 barrels of petrol. Many of the tanks were situated 15ft below ground level in a special 'oil pit', and the majority of the wharf was itself below the level of the river. (fn. 74)
By 1885 the business had been taken over by the London Oil Storage Company, which in 1888 purchased the freehold wharf from the Charteris Estate for £4,500. (fn. 75) A survey in 1913 revealed that the buildings included: a two-storey brick office building and dwelling house, a brick coopers' shop and a corrugated-iron store in a group at the entrance; two brick warehouses for storage and filling, a pump and filling house, engine house and boiler house, all adjoining Pyrimont Wharf; a carpenters' shop, blacksmiths' shop, store, and cloakroom next to Millwall Wharf; and a total of 27 oil-storage tanks with a combined capacity of over 14,000 tons, including two giant tanks named 'Reliance' and 'Excellent' with individual capacities of 3,000 and 4,000 tons respectively. (fn. 76)
Control of the company passed to the London & Thames Haven Oil Wharves Ltd in 1918, with the London Oil Storage Company remaining as occupants until as late as 1953. By then the tidal dock had been filled and the projecting jetties removed to increase the open storage space, and more storage tanks had been erected. (fn. 77) The wharf was cleared in the 1960s, and in the 1970s it was earmarked by Tower Hamlets Borough Council for public housing. (fn. 78) This scheme was not executed, however, and the site is now occupied by the Compass Point development (see page 698).