Millwall Viaduct: A Rare Survivor
The Millwall Railway Viaduct running through Millwall Park, which features in our Treasure Island walk, is one of the Isle of Dogs’ few surviving nineteenth century non-residential buildings, of which there were once so many. It was built to carry a section of the Millwall Extension Railway which opened in 1872. Small steam engines hauled a couple of carriages along a single track high above the marshy south part of the island.
The viaduct is disused today -- apart from occupation of some of its arches -- but in its life-time it has seen two periods of train-carrying service, one of which ended in failure, the other in success. Branching off from the London and Blackwall line at the north of the island, the Millwall Extension Line was built to provide a link to the recently built Millwall Docks and was extended to the southern tip of the island where passengers could take the ferry across the river to Greenwich. That may explain why the terminus station was called North Greenwich, though some people say it was because it sounded more upmarket than Millwall! The station was above ground because the trains entered it from the viaduct. In this picture you can see Greenwich Hospital across the river behind the locomotive which is sitting high above water level just beyond the station platform.
The railway was never very successful commercially, although during a period when Millwall football club had their ground at a site where Millwall Park is now it was busy on match days! The line closed in 1926 but the viaduct remained in place and gained a new lease of life in 1987 when it came back into use to carry the Docklands Light Railway.
The DLR terminated at a new station at the end of the island -- slightly repositioned and renamed Island Gardens – but it still brought passengers into platforms above ground at the level of the viaduct. And you still got a good view across to Greenwich Hospital:
The DLR was built to provide needed transport links to support the development of the area overseen by the London Docklands Development Corporation. It proved a success – so much so that soon after it opened the London Borough of Lewisham pressed for the line to be extended to link with the area south of the river. This was done and entailed re-routing the railway through a tunnel passing under Millwall Park before continuing under the river to Greenwich and beyond.
Island Gardens station had to be rebuilt with platforms below ground. And the viaduct fell out of use again. Now it stands as one of the few remnants of the surge of building that took place on the island in the century before last as the area grew to be a great centre of industrial activity.
All photos (except the last) in this blog have been kindly passed to us by 'Friends of Island History Trust'. The wonderful shot of a steam train on the viaduct was contributed by Mrs Lana Wright. Friends of Island History Trust is a volunteer group which formed in 2014 and is based on the Isle of Dogs today. For further details please contact their Secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out their website at www.islandhistory.co.uk