Isle of Dogs


Prior to the Industrial Revolution the Isle of Dogs was underpopulated, marshy farmland with a 5-6 mile foreshore. The West India Docks were built at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1811 there were oil crushing mills, especially on the west side, which had previously been used for land drainage. There were also ironworks and a ropewalk related to shipbuilding, a major London industry which had expanded during the century.

Cubitt Town was developed in the 1840s - 1850s where there had previously been fields of sheep and cows together with dairies and market gardens. By 1850 the population had risen to 5000 and industries included breweries, builders, chemical works (for ammonia), bargebuilders, cement works, silver plating, corregated iron manufacture, potteries, oil works, rolling mills, lead works, saw mills and timber yards. There was a bridge building works at Amsterdam Yard. Factories started at 6:30 with a breakfast break at 8:30. Fairburns had a ship building yard on the west side in the 1830s. This was later owned by John Scott Russell who built the Victoria and Adelaide for the Australia trade, although they required re-fuelling unlike Brunel's Great Eastern, a subsequent project. The site became an ironworks (C J Mare & Co) after the collapse of Scott Russells in 1860 and subsequently Burrell's Wharf (manufacturing dyes and pigments) in 1888. Westwoods made railway bridges etc between 1880 and 1970. The isle had food production factories (including Pan Yan pickle) and Morton was a pioneer of canned foods. Ropeworks produced wire rope and later nylon. Duckhams oils (lubricants) were developed and McDougall came from Scotland to make his new self-raising flour. The Millwall Docks opened in the 1860s.

In the mid 19th century people moved to the isle from all over the country although there was little immigration. The social classes were mixed with two thirds upper/middle and skilled. Large villas were built (ie Osbourne House at East Island Gardens) and there was a range of housing. The upper classes living locally contributed to improvements and provisions for workers. Schools were established & managed and churches, which had mixed congregations, were built on donated land with contributed funds. In the second half of the century the upper classes tended to move away as transport improved and the area became unattractive through environmental pollution. Also businesses expanded onto multiple sites. This led to an impoverishment of the area that was self-perpetuating (ie the quality of the shops went down). By the 1880s the proportion of unskilled workers had risen to a half and by 1927 there was a reversal of the mid 19th century with two thirds unskilled. Between the wars much work was casual and seasonal with low paid work for women. This meant that workers needed to live locally and formed a stable working class community. People knew their neighbours and families lived close or shared houses and most marriages were between island residents. Victorian houses which had been for a single family, often with servants, became multiple occupancies. Most property was owned by private landlords who charged low rents but poorly maintained the houses. People lived, worked and socialised together. There were 40 pubs, lots of football clubs and other sports facilities and church activities. There was a cinema in Poplar and some people shopped in Crisp Street Market. The population had risen to 21000 by WWII. Much of the area was bomb damaged and the population declined.

The Mudchute with steep grassy banks, wooded glades, grazing fields, hills & hollows is an oasis of wild and natural beauty situated in an urban environment. The area was originally created when spoil from the construction of Millwall Dock was dumped along with accumulated silt. The wild habitat that developed became a magnet for local youngsters even though public access was not officially allowed. It housed gun emplacements during WWII. In 1974 the site was earmarked by the GLC for construction of a high-rise estate but the local campaign mounted secured it as the people's park. The Mudchute Association was formed in 1977 to preserve and develop the area. It is now the largest urban farm in London (13 hectares) and constitutes 55% of the public open space on the Isle of Dogs. The farm houses a wide variety of animals, a riding school, nature trail, allotments, shop, education centre and cafe with indoor & outdoor seating. Tel: 020 7515 5901. 2010


Reference sources
The Buildings of England London 5: East by Cherry, O’Brien & Pevsner
London Docklands by Williamson & Pevsner
Discover London Docklands A-Z Illustrated Guide by S K Al Naib
Docklands Heritage published by the LDDC

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