History of 

London Yard 







Angela Brown and Ron Coverson


Forward to: History of London Yard 1897 - 1983

Forward to: History of London Yard from 1984


Until 1800 few people lived on the Isle of Dogs. Despite being close to the City and the busy Pool of London, it was a windswept, open pasture and sheltered from the high tides by the encircling embankment. On the west side stood the windmills which gave Millwall its name, and the only other buildings of note were the farmhouse in the centre, the Mast House on the southwest corner (see the modern Mast House Terrace), the Ferry House on the southern tip opposite Greenwich (today the Ferry House pub), and the Folly House tavern on the eastern side (near the modern Folly Wall).

Earthworks were cut across this peaceful scene in 1800, when the West India merchants built the West India Docks in order to enhance and protect their profitable foreign trade. This signaled the start of the industrial era of the Island. The expansion and mechanisation of industrial production in Britain, the demand for shipping, London's central importance for finance and trade, combined to make the open spaces of the Isle of Dogs an attractive target for development; industry and population soon followed the docks. By 1811 a number of new firms had been established on Millwall, including a rope works, an iron works, and the chain cable works of Brown Lenox and Company.

These new firms would have found themselves living in a damp and isolated place. The greater part of the Island was still an open pasture. Ships were built and anchor chains forged a stone's throw from open meadows and reed beds. In 1840 the Clerk to the Commissioners of Sewers for the Poplar District claimed in evidence before a Government Inquiry into the Health of Towns that the Island was a healthy place, swept by cold fresh winds. And with the open drains sluiced out regularly by the tides. He stated that it was a place in the process of transition from a marsh to a manufacturing district.


In 1856-7 Robert Baillie and Joseph Westwood, subcontractors and managers at Ditchburn & Mare’s shipyard at Orchard Place for nearly 18 years, set up in business as shipbuilders, boilermakers and ironworkers, in partnership with James Campbell, in a new yard at Cubitt Town. The name London Yard derived from London Street, which originally gave access to the yard. In 1859 the firm leased a smaller site adjoining to the north. Westwood, Baillie, Campbell & Company’s London Yard was a parcel of land between Manchester Road and the Thames with a river frontage of 450 ft. By the end 1857 it was already considerably developed, with a smiths’ shop, boiler shop, machine shop, iron store, engine and boiler-houses, furnace shed, offices and a gridiron. One of the first orders was for a miniature steam yacht for Prince Halem Pacha to use to travel up the Nile. 

Another example of the work carried out at this time were spans of a bridge over the river Taptee for the Bombay and Baroda Railway. The illustration was published in The Illustrated News of the World on September 18th, 1858.

HMS Resistance being launched from London Yard in1861.


Campbell retired from the business in 1861. A lithograph by N. Newberry shows the arrangement and extent of the yard c 1862-4. Smiths’ shops and boiler shops ran west-east between Manchester Road and the river, with offices and other buildings facing the road, and stores, machine shops, and joiners’ shops in the yard behind. Besides shipping, a large domed structure was under construction - Probably part of a palace built by Westwood & Baillie for the Sultan of Turkey and erected at Istanbul.

In common with many other local firms, Westwood, Baillie & Company had difficulty surviving the decline in Thames shipbuilding of the 1860s, and the partnership suffered a period of financial stress and reorganisation. Between 1865 and 1871 production at the yard continued with Westwood and Baillie acting as managers for the London Engineering & Iron Shipbuilding Company Ltd.


Westwood, Baillie & Company regained nominal control of London Yard in 1872, continuing mainly with civil-engineering projects, in particular the construction of prefabricated iron and steel bridges for developing countries. However, the firm was wound up in 1893 and the yard and its contents were sold at an auction at which more than 1,300 lots were offered. The extensive machinery, including a long range of ten radial drilling machines and large hydraulic plate-beating presses, revealed the magnitude of the work once handled by the company. (Westwoods continued in the engineering industry at Napier Yard, Millwall, where a branch had been established in 1889.  

London Yard from the river 1893


Forward to: History of London Yard 1897 - 1983

Forward to: History of London Yard from 1984