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Dunbar Wharf in the the 1980s

Dunbar  Wharf 2020

Around this time last year, I wrote about Dunbar Wharf in the 1920s with the assistance of Barry Ashworth and Michael Murnoir. Limekiln Dock and especially Dunbar Wharf convey some of the atmosphere of 19th century docklands industry. The original loading doors and cast iron windows of the small, early 19th century warehouses of Dunbar Wharf in Limehouse are a reminder of how much of the riverside would have looked in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Dunbar  Wharf 2020

A few weeks ago, Michael got in touch and told me he had come across an old home movie of when he visited Dunbar Wharf in the 1980s. Michael was kind enough to send a copy of the home movie which shows Dunbar Wharf still used as offices and warehouses before the widespread development of the area.

No other part of London underwent a more rapid and radical redevelopment in the 1980s and early 1990s than the Isle of Dogs and Docklands. This development was a response to the decline and eventual closure of the docks. The creation of the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) in 1981 and designation of the area as an Enterprise Zone led to number of initiatives including the DLR which opened in 1987.

Dunbar  Wharf 2020

Dunbar Wharf was home to one of the richest men in Britain who ran a large shipping fleet with connections all over the world. The story really begins with Duncan Dunbar senior who leaves Scotland and founded a brewery in Fore Street in Limehouse in the 1790s. His career as a brewer and wine merchant was obviously very successful because when he died in 1825 he left around £ 40,000 in his will. This wealth allowed his son Duncan Dunbar Jnr who was born in Dunbar Wharf to branch out into shipping. Young Duncan’s bought his first ship in 1827 and by 1842 his fleet stood at 11 ships, over next 20 years he ordered 42 new ships.

Even into the mid 20th century, Dunbar Wharf was used for transporting products all over the world. By the 1980s, many of the docks were closed or ready to be closed and old warehouses were being eyed up developers. In the film we can see the old warehouses across from Dunbar Wharf being pulled down to be developed.

Dunbar Wharf in this period was still being used by a number of companies under the E.W. Taylor Group who were transporting goods around the UK and the world, but it was past its glory days of the 18th and 19th centuries.

One fascinating aspect of the film is to see the area before the large development of Dundee Wharf and to see Dunbar Wharf, just before it was redeveloped as flats and apartments.

The exterior and interior gives the impression that Dunbar Wharf had changed little since the 19th century with many of the original warehouse doors and fittings still there.

Dunbar Wharf overlooks Limekiln Dock which now has a bridge across,

in the 1980s this was not the case with many of the riverside industries not allowing public access to their sites.

Dunbar Wharf occupied a much larger site than the old warehouse with considerable storage areas down to the river.

Looking over towards what is now Canary Wharf, we can see the old timber yards and pier down to the river.

The only tall buildings on the Isle of Dogs at this time are the four Barkantine  tower blocks completed in the 1970s.

The old Dunbar Wharf warehouses were often used for storage and Michael shows sacks of Juniper berries being stored high in one of the warehouses. The sacks were stored for local gin distillers for up to two years, the warehouses were chosen because they tend to be airy and were the perfect temperature for the berries.

The film offers a remarkable insight into a world that was on the cusp of changing forever. Although Dunbar Wharf is now residential, it does retain much of its character and is a reminder of the large number of riverside wharves and warehouses that have largely disappeared.

Many thanks to Michael for sharing his memories.

Dunbar Wharf and the Remarkable Story of Duncan Dunbar

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Although the late 17th and 18th terraced housing on Narrow Street is considered of great historical interest, Limekiln Dock and especially Dunbar Wharf convey some of the atmosphere of 19th century docklands industry. The original loading doors and cast iron windows of the small, early 19th century warehouses of Dunbar Wharf are a reminder of how much of the riverside would have looked in the 18th and 19th centuries.

DSCN0253

Although often overlooked today, Dunbar Wharf was home to one of the richest men in Britain who ran a large shipping fleet with connections all over the world. The story really begins with Duncan Dunbar senior who leaves Scotland and founded a brewery in Fore Street in Limehouse in the 1790s. His career as a brewer and wine merchant was obviously very successful because when he died in 1825 he left around £ 40,000 in his will. This wealth allowed his son Duncan Dunbar Jnr who was born in Dunbar Wharf to branch out into shipping. Young Duncan’s bought his first ship in 1827 and by 1842 his fleet stood at 11 ships, over next 20 years he ordered 42 new ships. remarkably there is little evidence that he had the ships built locally in Limehouse or nearby Blackwall.

Duncan-Dunbar

Many of his new ships were built-in the North east at the works of Philip and James Laing, a small number were built at Duncan Dunbar’s own building yard that had built at Moulmein in Burma. the Dunbar clipper ships were famous around the world and were often named after family members or Scottish place names from the family’s home county of Morayshire.

Although there has been suggestions that he exported beer and spirits abroad, the ships carried a variety of cargo. Chartered by the government, Dunbar’s ships made 37 voyages carrying convicts mainly to Australia, a number of his ships were also used as a troopships in the Crimean War. Making full use of the cargo space, ships on the way back from Australia would go to India or China to pick up a cargo which often included spices, jute, teak, rice and ivory.

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These perilous voyages around the world occasionally ended in disaster,  his ship the Dunbar was lost when the captain mistook the entrance to Sydney Harbour in a gale leading to a shipwreck and a large loss of life. These disasters did not deter Duncan Dunbar in his business activities which included founding the London Chartered Bank of Australia, being deputy-chairman of Lloyd’s Registry, chairman of the General Shipowner’s Society and deputy-chairman of the East and West India Dock Company.

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Duncan Dunbar jnr lived in initially at Dunbar Wharf until he moved in with his parents at  Howrah House in Poplar, his mother’s died there in 1853 when Dunbar bought a house in Porchester Terrace, London. It was at Porchester Terrace that he built on a picture gallery and became a patron of the fine arts. In 1862, Dunbar suddenly died and left an estate worth between one and two millions (which would be worth around £65 million today). He never married and had no children, therefore the majority of his wealth went to other family members who showed no interest in carrying on the business. Within the next two years all of Duncan Dunbar’s ships were sold and that was the end of the Dunbar shipping line.

Remarkably one of Duncan Dunbar’s ships still survives, he bought the Edwin Fox for long distance voyages. Regular contributor Coral Rutterford in New Zealand remembers in the 1970 seeing the remains of the Edwin Fox at Picton where it had been for a number of years, since then it has been made into an attraction called the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum in appropriately enough Dunbar Wharf in Picton.