PortCities London

Flour milling and the port

Milling at Millwall Docks

The Millwall Docks

General view of the new docks at Millwall.
View full size imageThe opening of Millwall Docks. © NMM

With its seven windmills, the Isle of Dogs had once been an important site for the milling of grain. Flour milling returned to the area soon after the opening of the Millwall Docks in 1868.

These docks had been built specially to handle grain imports, and offered better facilities for unloading grain than the other docks in London.

Millwall Docks failed to capture the large imports of grain from North America. Instead, they came to specialize in imports of grain from the Baltic. This was brought to the docks mostly in small Scandinavian sailing ships.

The Wheatsheaf Mill

L'Avenir moored alongside McDougall's Wheatsheaf Mill at Millwall Dock.
View full size imageL'Avenir moored at Millwall Dock. © NMM

The first large mill to be built alongside any of the London docks was the Wheatsheaf Mill, which stood on the southern quay of the Millwall Outer Dock.

Its construction was started in 1869 by the Manchester-based McDougall Brothers, who had pioneered self-raising flour five years earlier.

The firm of McDougall Brothers evolved into the first of Britain's giant flour milling concerns. They owned several large mills elsewhere in the country.

The Wheatsheaf Mill, rebuilt several times over the following century, became one of the major landmarks of the Isle of Dogs. 

The Central Granary 

The Central Granary at the Millwall Docks.
View full size imageThe Central Granary at the Millwall Docks. © NMM
In 1903 the Central Granary was opened at the Millwall Dock. This used Britain's first pneumatic suction elevator, patented by Frederick Duckham, the Millwall Dock Company's resident engineer.

This revolutionized the handling of grain, which was sucked out instead of being scooped up by buckets as before. This greatly speeded up the unloading of grain ships.

The final years

In 1957, McDougall merged with Hovis to form Hovis-McDougall. In 1961 the new company merged with Rank to form Rank-Hovis-McDougall (now RHM Ltd).

With the decline of the inner London docks and the construction of the Bulk Grain Terminal at Tilbury, both the Wheatsheaf Mill and the Central Granary closed. Both buildings were demolished. RHM Ltd now maintains large flour mills at Tilbury.


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