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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Tower Hamlets (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 37636 78513


788/0/10126 WESTFERRY ROAD 01-MAY-03 Millwall (North side) 397-411 Former Millwall Ironworks Building


Forge. 1860, by William Henry Dorman, engineer, and John Hughes (resident ironmaster), for C J Mare and Company, engineers and shipbuilders. Incorporates workshop of 1854, built for J Scott Russell and Company. Flemish bond brick with corrugated iron roofs. PLAN: two long parallel halls, aligned SW-NE, each of five bays with double end bays for the turning of heavy pieces. Workshop extending to NE. EXTERIOR: Double-gabled south elevation, with stone-coped gables, has round window in each gable above six keyed semi-circular arched recesses, that to centre of left gable altered by insertion of concrete-arched opening c1980. To centre is cast-iron plaque marked '1860/C J M & Co'. Four large (and blocked) circular apertures in W wall, originally for ventilation. INTERIOR: principal feature is the central arcade. This has six cast-iron columns joined by cast-iron arched beams with pierced spandrels, rainwater being carried through the columns from integral valley gutters above. Eight former furnace chimney breasts and associated furnace crane piers on west wall, truncated at the top where they originally projected as small stacks and with adjoining piers that took the furnace cranes. Inserted gantry frames: late C19 one to east, comprising timber gantry frame with under-braced timber gantry beam and a western composite frame of steel, reused cast iron columns from an earlier erecting shop and timber beam, supporting an early C20 electric traveller; western gantry is an unusual and probably rare early C20 suspended gantry with electric traveller. Steel roofs inserted 1900-27. NE wall of workshop projection has segmental-arched blocked windows, these being the S wall of the 1854 workshop erected for Scott Russell: the W gable end of this building has a wide ground-floor opening, with reused central cast-iron column, into the forge building.

HISTORY: The forge as described by Barry in 1863 contained six steam hammers, powered by high-pressure air from a steam blowing engine - fed by rainwater carried through the columns from the valleys - in the 1854-60 conjoined workshop (demolished). The forgings, plates and angles made in this building from scrap iron and puddled iron bars made were obtained from London's vast scrap market, a technique which as promoted by Mare had underpinned the continuation of London shipbuilding into the age of steam and iron. It and the adjoining rolling mills for the manufacture of armour plate (demolished) were both supplied by a works railway. The forge building was part of an establishment that in the early 1860s employed up to 5,000 men, who had, remarkably for the time, a canteen, a sports club and a works band. It ceased operation in 1872-3, and in 1889-94 was converted - through the insertion of a gantry frame in each of the two longitudinal bays - into a workshop for Joseph Westwood and Company Limited, structural engineers and bridge builders whose 1910 trade catalogue shows that their work ranged from the construction of airship hangars for the army to internal steelwork for buildings and railway bridges in India and Brazil. It was used for the manufacture of iron and steel girders until c1951.

Mare, who had come to prominence as the principal contractor for Stephenson's Brittania Bridge (Menai Straits, Wales), took over and expanded the Millwall site in 1859). Mare had also produced the wrought ironwork for Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge, the previous occupiers of the yard having been two other major figures in the development of iron ships: William Fairbairn, who developed this yard from 1835 as the world's first yard for the specific manufacture of iron ships, and from 1848 John Scott Russell, most noted for his work on the construction of Brunel's Great Eastern on a vast and partly surviving slip immediately to the west. This forge also benefits from its group value association with a unique group of grade II buildings on this highly significant site, including Fairbairn's chimney shaft of 1836-7, designed to draw smoke through underground tunnels from the furnaces, and the Plate House of 1853-4, built as the erecting shop for the Great Eastern's 40-ft high paddle engines, the only marine engine factory in London. Scott Russell's Counting House of 1854 (264-6 Westferry Road) and his house of 1854, 268 Westferry Road stand close to this group, with the remains of The Great Eastern Slipway off Napier Avenue to the west. Opposite, on the south bank of the Thames, is the c1860 offices of John Penn and Sons (also grade II), the boilermakers who fitted many of the engines to Mare's ships.

This is the only surviving mid 19th century iron shipbuilders' forge in London, and possibly England, outside the Royal dockyards. The 1850s and early 1860s witnessed the zenith of Britain's leadership of this industry on the world stage. One of this forge's earliest and most important tasks was the manufacture of the stem frame for HMS Northumberland, one of the earliest ironclad battleships whose keel was laid in these works in 1861 and whose protracted launch in 1866 accellerated the collapse of one of its major shareholders, the Overend Gurney bank, and the catastrophic decline of the London shipbuilding industry. After the 1860s, private yards on the Clyde and in northern England, notably William Beardmore and Company and Vickers at Barrow, continued to be responsible for building a good deal of the iron navy and merchant fleet. Of the larger engineering shops of the mid-late nineteenth century, the very large Fairfield works at Govan (B), designed in 1869, the Linthouse marine engine works at Glasgow of 1872 and the boiler shop of 1888 are of comparable interest, though from a slightly later phase than the Navy's examples of the 1850s and 1860s. The large Heavy Engineering Shop of Vickers in the centre of Barrow (1900; II) may include an erecting shop of c1875. The other major survivor is the workshop range with its interior machinery at Underfall Yard, Bristol, of 1885.

(P Barry, 'Dockyard Economy and Naval Power', London, 1863, pp. 223-31; notes and information from Tom Ridge of GLIAS; RCHME, 'Poplar, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs', The Survey of London, 1994; Edward Sargent, 'The Millwall Ironworks Site', in Stuart Rankin (ed) 'Shipbuildings on the Thames and Thames-Built Ships', London, 2001, pp. 95-102; Tony Arnold, 'The Failures of Millwall Ironworks and Overend Gurney', in Rankin, op. cit., pp. 87-93)


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Barry, P, Dockyard Economy and Naval Power, (1863), 223-231
Rankin, S, Shipbuildings on the Thames and Thames-Built Ships, (2001), 87-93 95-1
'Survey of London' in Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs The Parish of All Saints: Volumes 43 and 44 Poplar,, (1994)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

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