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Millwall Docks (1868-1980)

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The Grain Dock
Main trade

General view of the new docks at Millwall.
View full size imageThe opening of the Millwall Docks as depicted by the Illustrated London News, 1868. © NMM
Located on the Isle of Dogs, Millwall Docks were best known for the grain trade. Other supplementary trades included timber, wine, liquor, fruit and vegetables.

The success of the grain trade at Millwall prompted civil engineer, Magnus Mowat, to invent new handling and storage methods for the dock.

View full size imagePonape (1903) at Millwall Docks. © NMM
Three pneumatic grain elevators were erected on platforms 15 metres away from the jetty. These could discharge directly into barges or to the granary.

The unique brick-built granary was 76 metres long, 30.5 metres wide and was designed to hold 24,000 tons of bulk grain. It had 11 floors for storage and inspection and a delivery floor and basement. The granary was divided into five compartments with vertical firewalls and had a 20,000 gallon (91,000 litre) water tank on the roof for fire fighting and windows for ventilation.

Types of vessel used
L'Avenir at Millwall Dock.
View full size imageL'Avenir at Millwall Docks. © NMM

The dock was built as steam vessels slowly began to establish themselves on trade routes. However, this trend seems to have been ignored, and the width of the entrance (24.5 metres) severely limited the type of vessels that could use the dock.

The situation eased slightly, when Millwall Dock was connected to West India Dock, which had a larger entrance.

  • The site for Millwall Dock covered 200 acres.
  • The engineer for the project was John Fowler and the contractor was Sir John Aird.
  • The dock system consisted of an L-shaped dock, covering 36 acres of water. The dock was split into the Outer Millwall Dock and the Inner Millwall Dock. There were quays on each side through the Isle of Dogs and bordering West India Dock.
  • The dock was accessed by an entrance on the west side of the Isle of Dogs.
  • The dock housed the first purpose built granary for the Baltic grain market.
  • The dock housed the first dry dock built in an impounded dock.
  • The quayside transit sheds were two storeys high with headroom of 2.75 metres. They were built to house hogsheads holding 52.5 gallons (239 litres) stacked two high.
  • Larger warehouses were built on the West Side of the dock. New warehouses built in 1957 were 45.72 metres wide and 6 metres high, ideal for modern cargo handling methods.
  • The dock had good rail connections, a branch of the Blackwall Railway passed through West India Dock to serve the Millwall Dock quays.
Life Story
1864A Government Bill is passed enabling construction of the docks on the isle of Dogs
June 1865Construction of Millwall Dock begins
1867The 25 metre wide Glengall Grove drawbridge is constructed to connect the east and west side of the Isle of Dogs
March 1868Millwall Dock opens to shipping
1893Mechanical grain handling is developed
1927Millwall Dock is joined to West India Dock by a new cutting
1928Work is complete and shipping can now access the dock from the east side of the Isle of Dogs
7 September 1940Millwall Lock suffers bomb damage and is permanently closed
1957The whole of Millwall Dock begins to be redeveloped
1980Millwall Dock closes
1982Millwall Dock is part of a designated Enterprise Zone
1989The Docklands Sailing and Watersports centre opens in the Outer Dock
1997British Waterways take over responsibility for Millwall and West India Docks

Find out more
StoriesMillwall Docks and the Royal Albert Dock
The dock building programme continues as new docks are opened at Millwall and North Woolwich.
StoriesMilling at Millwall Docks
Flour milling returned to the Isle of Dogs soon after the opening of the Millwall Docks in 1868.
Hot spotLondon's Docks
Click on the labels to find out more about London's Docks
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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