Millwall is located on the west side of the Isle of Dogs in London’s East End. The area has a famous, or even infamous, football club and like many areas of the East End, strong connections with water-based trades.
The Origins of Millwall
Millwall was originally called Pomfret Manor and then Marshwall. Pomfret Manor is considered to be the earliest riverside base for a ferry across the Thames in the East End. A ferry ran from Millwall to Greenwich in the 15th century. The area also once had river wall embankments that may have dated back to Roman times, but that were first referred to in medieval times. These embankments were originally built to drain surrounding marshland and to avoid flooding so that local farmers could graze their livestock in the area.
Over time, the embankments also had a lot of windmills built on top of them to harness the strong winds that blew across the Isle of Dogs. These windmills and the milling process itself gave Millwall most of its early trade as well as its current name. The windmills were used to grind flour from corn, which was transported up the Thames into the area. In later years, they also took on oil seed crushing.
By the early 19th century, the windmills were not being used any longer, as advances from the Industrial Revolution allowed millers to use steam power instead. As they were demolished, the area became home to a range of new factories along the river’s edge. Millwall became particularly well-known for shipbuilding.
History of Millwall’s Docks and Isambard Kingdom Brunel
One of Millwall’s greatest claims to fame is its connection with the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In the 1850s, he built the SS Great Eastern in a local shipyard. This was the largest ship ever built at that time and was the first to lay a cable across the Atlantic. The Great Eastern was so wide, in fact, that it had to be launched sideways from the dock!
Like many areas of East End London, Millwall’s proximity to the Thames made it an ideal location for docks and shipyards. Its docks were not originally built for trade purposes, as the Thames had plenty of those, but were constructed with a view to building wharves to service manufacturing industries. Millwall became well known for shipbuilding, repairs and wharf storage.
The main dock in the area, the Millwall Dock, was built in 1868. In keeping with the historic trades in the area, this dock tended to deal in grain and timber and was home to a large McDougall’s flour mill for many years. The area was also a major provider of wool warehousing. The docks went into decline in the 1970s and closed in the 1980s. The older docks in the East End generally could not berth the large container ships that were being used by so many companies and dock provision moved out of London completely.
Millwall FC History and the Millwall Brick
The area’s football club, Millwall FC, is fairly well-known, both in and out of footballing circles. Originally nicknamed the Dockers, the club is now nicknamed The Lions. Although the club retains close associations with the area, it has not actually played football in Millwall for over a century and is currently based in Bermondsey in South London. The club was founded by workers at a local confectionary and canning company, Mortons.
Millwall FC has a bit of a chequered past and a historical reputation for hooliganism. Over the years, its fans have caused problems when playing other teams. They also created a not-so-pleasant football legend of their own -– the Millwall Brick.
The Millwall Brick is an improvised weapon that was most used in the 1960s and 1970s -– it is made up of sheets of newspaper. This may sound innocent enough, but the brick can be used like a cosh with fairly serious results. In the 1970s, football grounds started to confiscate dangerous items from fans when they entered ground to try and minimise trouble. They did not tend to take newspapers away from fans, as they seemed innocent enough. But, if you twist sheets of newspaper together tightly enough and fold them over and over again, they actually turn into something more formidable than just sheets of paper.
Millwall was regenerated as part of the Docklands Development in the 1980s and its proximity to the Docklands makes it a desirable place to live. If you visit the area, you can walk along part of the Thames Path. This walk passes the existing remains of the launch ramp of the SS Great Eastern and will take you to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. You can then walk through the tunnel to Greenwich if you like; walking under the Thames is a surprisingly interesting experience!