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One of the pleasures of living on the Isle of Dogs is it is a great place to walk. Unlike much of London, cars are not found in great numbers and much of the Island has areas to walk well away from the road. Although the promenades next to the Thames are lovely with wonderful views, the walk around Millwall Dock brings you to the heart of the Island and uncovers a number of surprising links to the past.
Millwall Docks 1934
The Millwall Dock was opened in 1868 and is L-shaped, with a ‘Outer Dock’ running east-west, and a ‘Inner Dock’ running north from the eastern end. Millwall Docks originally contained around 36 acres of water and the site covered 200-acres. Originally as shown from the above photograph, the western end of the Outer Dock was originally connected to the Thames at Millwall.
It is now possible to walk around the whole of Millwall Dock, which of course was not the case when the docks were working docks.
A good starting place is South Quay Station, a plaque on the wall pays tribute to the two people killed by an IRA bomb in the 1996.
Around the Inner Dock is new developments that have grown considerably in the last few years. Across the dock is the new Baltimore Tower and the Lotus Chinese Restaurant that has been on a large pontoon since 1994. Up from the restaurant is Harbour Exchange which has two 1960s cranes standing in front of the glass covered buildings.
Glengall Bridge is where the inner and outer dock connect but also marks where many of the large developments cease and the older developments from the 1980s are in view. These older developments were part of more low level housing that used the space around the dock when it closed down.
The Outer Dock is much more relaxing with plenty of swans and ducks swimming amongst the sailing boats from the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre which is located at the far West end of the dock near where the dock previously connected to the Thames. The centre was set up in 1989 by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the Sports Council and provides plenty of water experiences to a wide range of people especially young people.
Near to the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre was the large West Ferry Printing Works, which was the largest newspaper print works in Western Europe when it was built-in 1984–6. It has now been flattened for yet more residential development. Walking on the other side of the dock gives wonderful views of Canary Wharf and allows you to look at many of the new developments at the top of the Island.
If you carry on, you end up the picturesque Clippers Quay housing estate built in 1984–8. Although now filled with water, this was the site of Millwall Dock Graving Dock which was a dry dock for ship-repair which opened in 1868. Many famous ships have been repaired in this dry dock including the Cutty Sark. It was said this dry docks was the best on the Thames, it was one of the largest, at 413ft long by 65ft wide with a depth of 25ft. It was closed and flooded in 1968 and is a haven for birdlife with swans and ducks enjoying its quite secluded location.
Walking on round the corner, you come across of a number of houseboats, mostly Dutch in origin , they offer some final interest before we come back to Glengall Bridge.
Unlike West India Docks, the buildings around Millwall Docks were more modest with sheds rather than grand warehouses. Therefore little remains from the estate from the working docks period other than 1960s cranes and a large number of bollards dotted about. But the docks themselves are still full of water and are an important resource for the Island. In the frantic redevelopment of the Island , the docks provides an attractive space and peaceful oasis to sit and watch the world go by.