This weeks ‘London Shoes’ expedition had me heading off to the good old east end of London, to seek out a little known ‘gem’ of a place that is steeped in history, and known as “Three Mills”……..
The “Three Mills” site is located beside the River Lea, accessible by transport between Bromley-by-Bow and Stratford tube stations, and right next door to the Olympic Park and its London Stadium.
It is one of Britain’s and most certainly London’s oldest ‘industrial’ area – and has a history that goes back way over 1,000 years.
It’s hard to imaging today, but way back in time the east end of London was mainly a rural area – however, throughout the past centuries the area was extensively developed to accommodate the many industries that were needed to service London’s ever increasing population.
Historic records show that “Three Mills” has been a trading location for centuries – it even gets a mention in the Dooms Day Book of 1086.
The site is actually located on ‘Three Mill Island’ – a natural small island formed by tributaries and channels carved out by the River Lea.
Records evidence that by the 1500’s there were up to 8 mills operating at the site – it even had a Gun Power mill.
During the 17th century, grounded grain from the mills at Three Mills was used to distill alcohol, and the site was the main supplier to London’s popular ‘Gin Palaces’ – in fact the famous gin company ‘J. Nicholson & Co’ operated from Three Mills and continued to do so right up to 1941.
The ‘Mill House’ itself, dates back to 1776, and is reputed to be the largest ‘tidal’ powered mill in Britain – and as a result, today it is afforded Grade 1 listed status.
In 1817 the ‘Clock Mill’ was rebuilt, incorporating the original clock face and mechanism that had been there throughout the 18th century.
By 1878 records show that there were 7 ‘water wheels’ operating at Three Mills – producing an end result of approx. 125 tons of grounded barley and maize per week – depending on the ‘tides’ of course.
Because of extensive bomb damage during WW2, and natural decay – the ‘Mill House’ had to be re-built in 1995, particularly its interior – however, its exterior is the original one.
Other big companies that have operated in the past from Three Mills include brewers ‘Bass Charrington’ who ran a bottling plant and warehouse there, and also, Britain’s oldest wine merchants ‘Hedges & Butler’ once had their offices located there.
The ‘Clock Mill’ operated at the site right up until 1952 – and the ‘Mill House’ was still in production up until 1940.
Today the ‘Three Mill’ site is mainly used as an education and heritage centre – with the ‘Clock Mill’ housing the East London Science School – and with the ‘Mill House’ now run as a heritage centre conducting open day tours for the public most Sunday’s.
Also – within the Three Mills site is the ‘Three Mills Studio’ – a 10 acre film studio plot, which is now the largest of its kind in London.
The remainder of the old Three Mills site has been converted into an open garden area called ‘Three Mill Green’ – which has been designed as a playground and activity centre for families with young children.
I have to admit that for all the years that I have lived and worked in London, I was never aware of Three Mills, and its important place in London’s history – so I’m glad I can now add it to my ever growing list of ‘lesser known’ and more ‘unusual’ London landmarks.
So – having spent a large chunk of the morning, exploring Three Mills, under a miserable grey and bitterly cold London sky – I was in desperate need of some warmth and alcoholic sustenance.
Sadly, most of the famous old east end ‘rub-a-dubs’ in the Bow area have disappeared and are now long gone – and so I hopped on the Tube for the short journey to Stratford and headed towards the massive Westfield Shopping Centre situated next to the Olympic Park – for the sole purpose of sinking a couple of mandatory ‘cheeky’ ones.
Being a modern shopping centre, there are no ‘real’ pubs within the complex – and so my only option was to select a theme bar/restaurant for my ‘cheeky’ beers.
I finally decided on a place called “Eat Drink Ping Pong” – which is a large theme type bar/restaurant dedicated to the sport of ‘Table Tennis’ – with loads of table tennis tables situated on its first floor, whilst its ground floor is a large bar area with walls adorned with hundreds of photographs past & present, of all sorts of celebs playing…..table tennis.
A very unusual place and not normally my cup-of-tea – but I have to say that it did serve up a nice refreshing couple of ‘cheeky’ lagers and also a massive bowl of chips – all very enjoyable, and certainly a venue I shall return to again, on my next shopping trip to Westfield.
All in all, a very interesting and (although freezing cold) enjoyable day out and I would say that ‘Three Mills’ is certainly a place worth mooching around at for a couple of hours (preferably in warm weather) – and you can also enjoy a pleasant amble along the banks of the River Lea checking out the houseboats and wildlife.
Hope the accompanying photos bring this jaunt to life for you.