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Island residents have objected twice to the proposed change of use which would allow the western half of the unique listed iron shipbiulder's forge in Westferry Road to become another Tesco's.

Despite a strong letter of objection from the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society (23 September 2013), officers decided that the proposed works were "acceptable to the listed building"; and when the 2013 application was refused, the officers' reasons did not include the substantial harm to the significance of the listed building.

The applicants came back in 2014 with a slightly amended application with a shop doorway near the front rather than the back of the building (allegedly to address Forge residents' concerns about loss of amenity).  GLIAS has objected to this second application (16 December 2014) and EEWG objected more or less at the same time.

Your correspondent thought that the 2014 application was not covered by an accompanying listed building application.  Having discovered that it is covered, the letter printed in full below has just been sent to replace the December 2014 EEWG letter of objection.
Brett Mc Allister
Planning Officer
Planning Department
Mulberry Place
Clove Crescent
20 February 2015
Dear Brett,

PA/14/02753 & PA/14/2754/BMC
Former Millwall Ironworks Building
Westferry Road E14


I am writing on behalf of the East End Waterway Group to object to this application for change of use to a retail foodstore (in the hall on the western side of the central cast-iron colonnade) and a multiplicity of speculative uses (in the hall on the eastern side); and the various associated works.

The application site is a Grade-II-listed, twin-roofed industrial building of 1860, which is the only surviving commercial iron shipbuilder's forge in England.  Formerly part of the renowned Millwall Ironworks, its national significance is enhanced by the so-called Plate House and associated buildings at Burrell's Wharf (which was formerly the main part of the iron works or iron shipbuilding yard) on the other side of Westferry Road.  The 1860 forge is, therefore, part of a unique group of industrial buildings which represent London's iron shipbuilding industry, when it was the country's main centre for iron shipbuilding.  

However, unlike the Plate House (built 1853-54 with overhead travelling cranes for assembling the Great Eastern's 40-ft-high paddle engines), the 1860 forge is the only member of the group to have been repaired and adapted ca. 2008 for a single use in its fully-open interior.  This not only contains the original 1860 central cast-iron colonnade but also the very unusual and rare iron and timber gantry with overhead travelling crane, in the eastern hall and the suspended early-C20th gantry with overhead travelling crane in the western hall.  Furthermore, all these listed internal structures are fully seen together from any viewpoint inside the listed halls.  This is the "special character of the listed building" and it is completely incorrect to state that the proposed works have been "carefully designed to preserve the special character of the listed building"; and that the proposed works are "acceptable to the listed building" (officer's delegated report 2013).  The forge was planned and built as a single workspace (with wide spaces between the columns in the central colonnade for the unimpeded movement of men and materials) and the proposed works would create a physical and visual barrier along one side of the open line of columns in the listed central colonnade ; and the back halves of the listed "two long parallel halls" would be infilled by the proposed mezzanine structures.

The demolition of a "section of existing outer wall "to create an entrance doorway to the proposed retail foodstore in the western hall would result in the unacceptable further loss of historic fabric and special character at the Westferry Road end of the listed building.  Despite strong objections from the Victorian Society, Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society and others, the three listed round-headed recessed brick panels in the Westferry Road walls were replaced by window frames c.2008, giving this industrial building the appearance of a non-conformist chapel.  Furthermore, the proposed entrance doorway is only needed because the dividing wall alongside the central colonnade would block the wide spaces between its columns; and these spaces provide access to the western hall from the eastern hall and its two very large entrances made c.2008.

The special character or significance of the listed building and its listed central colonnade, listed parallel halls and listed historic fabric would, therefore, be substantially harmed by the proposed works.  This harm to the listed building and the Chapel House Conservation Area would not be outweighed by any alleged public benefits.

Iron shipbuilding on the Isle of Dogs was to some extent succeeded by constructional engineering: using iron and then steel to fabricate girders for bridges, other structures and buildings.  The listed building is now the sole representative of this important aspect of the Island's rich industrial history.  Following its use as a forge by a succession of four or five iron shipbuilding companies, the building was acquired by Joseph Westwood & Company Limited, the renowned constructional engineers and bridge builders. In the early 1890s, they inserted an overhead travelling crane gantry in each half of the building to create a girder fabrication workshop.  Of the two gantries, only the composite example survives in the eastern half or hall, and is probably the only surviving example of its type in England. The original gantry in the western half or hall was replaced by the present gantry, which is supended from the steel roof trusses.  Both gantries and their overhead travelling cranes make the former forge "practically the last heavy engineering workshop still standing in London in an undivided state" (GLIAS letter 23 September 2013).

No other local planning authority in England has a building like the iron shipbuilder's forge heavy engineering workshop, and the East End Waterway Group expects Tower Hamlets Council to fulfil its statutory duty to care for this unique designated heritage asset in the Chapel House Conservation Area; and encourage an applicant to come forward with a single appropriate use, which genuinely preserves the building's special character without undermining the viability of local shops and having an adverse impact on the amenity of local residents.

Yours sincerely

Tom Ridge

Cc: Andrew Hargreaves, Vicki Lambert

It is vitally important for the Council's Development Committee to be aware that in addition to local concerns there are concerns about the integrity and special character of the listed building being damaged simply to bring one half of it into use, with no more than the possibility that others might come forward to occupy the other half.

We understand that the application is likely to be determined at the 11 March meeting of the Development Committee, so there are at least two weeks for as many people as possible to post or email letters of objection.  Please read all three letters and look carefully at Malcolm Tucker's excellent photographs.  Either write your own letter, objecting to the proposed shop doorway and the division and infilling of the single-space interior, or use the EEWG letter.  Put your full postal address on the EEWG letter and make the few changes necessary so that the letter is from you.
Click images to enlarge

View from Westferry Road end showing original 1860 central cast-iron colonnade or arcade (tallest columns linked by arches).

Eastern hall in foreground and in background back part of western hall to be filled by a mezzanine structure.

The halls would also be separated by a dividing wall along one side of the central cast-iron colonnade.


View from back end to Westferry Road end of western hall - to be occupied by Tesco's store with entrance doorway in the end of the western wall next to the three windows.

Steel roof trusses, suspended gantry and overhead travelling crane inserted early twentieth century.


View from back part of western hall through wide spaces in central colonnade to front or Westferry Road part of eastern hall - with part of full-length overhead travelling crane gantry.

The 1860 colonnade supports the valley between the twin roofs - its tall columns also served as rainwater pipes.

Front or Westferry Road part of eastern hall with the southern of two large doorways providing access to both halls - which would be prevented by dividing wall.

The early twentieth century overhead travelling crane runs on an early 1890s composite gantry.

Nearest side consists of reused cast-iron gantry columns and a timber gantry beam, whilst the side along the wall is a timber gantry frame.

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East End Waterway Group
Local residents, schools, community groups, amenity societies and businesses working with the Canal & River Trust, Tower Hamlets Council and others for the protection and beneficial use of the six mile waterway ‘ring’, its historic buildings, structures and habitats.
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