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London Uncovered is a series of blog posts that reveal London’s lesser known facts. In my previous blog post I explored the lost rivers of this magnificent city. The current blog post will give you a glimpse into some ghosts of the past, which at their time were important drivers of the London’s city life 

Millenium Mills

Once a centre of trading and industry, Royal Victoria Docks are now a fast developing vibrant area of luxury apartments with a small urban beach and even a floating hotel, all connected to Greenwich Peninsula via cable car. However, Millenium Mills, which stand rotting for more than 3o years now, create a sharp contrast with the rest of the area.

Millenium Mills (click the image for more info)

Surrounded by dark waters of the Docks, these gigantic structures have rich history of being one of the largest national flour mills. Perfect location of this early Edwardian industry sites (connected by water to Thames and railway to the rest of the country) once turned them into empire’s largest mills.

Royal Victoria Docks, view from Millennium Mills (click the image to read more)

Millenium Mills were rebuilt 3 times during their history. In 1917 the nearby munition factory had an accident which led to an explosion and as a result destroyed a large part of Millenium Mills. Later, in 1933 the Millenium Mills were rebuilt in a 10-storey art-deco building to celebrate their return. However, this only lasted until bombing raids during WWII. London’s Docks became the main target of air bombing. The Mills were severely damaged during those years. Yet again, Millennium Mills were reconstructed and reopened in 1953 for another almost 30 years of flour production. They were closed down in 1981 which meant an end of a whole era of flour milling in Royal Victoria Docks.

Lost Railways

The history of London Underground began back in 19 century when the first underground railway in the world was open running between Paddington and Farringdon Street in 1863.

Since then London Underground grew into a sophisticated network of railway transportation. Now London tube represented by 11 lines and 270 stations in total serving over 5 million passengers a day.

However, London Underground network seen some changes during its 155 year history. As a result of city expansion and historical events such as WWII, some stations and sometimes even entire lines disappeared forever. One of the most famous lost railway lines in London used to serve between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace, through Stroud Green, Crouch End, Highgate and Muswell Hill.

London’s lost railway line converted now into Parkland Walk

The line now converted into a 4.5 miles Parkland Walk providing tranquility and a chance to enjoy green environment in a heart of a bustling city. Parkland Walk is the longest Local Nature Reserve in London supporting some important and even rare biodiversity habitats, such as acid grasslands and bats. Moreover, it is a part of Capital Ring Walk.

Remaining structures of abandoned railway stations in Parkland walk

Another interesting thing to see in Parkland Walk is a sculpture of a Cornish nature spirit, Spriggan. The story tells that several decades ago an Arts Offices who worked in Crouch End had an intention to create a sculpture walk along the abandoned rail tracks. Unfortunately, his dream was never fulfilled but one sculpture, the Spriggan, was commissioned by local artist, Marilyn Collins, to the Parkland Walk and still remains there.

The Spriggan’s sculpture at Parkland walk (left) and abandoned railway tunnels that serve now as bat sanctuary (right)

Tea rooms

Chain coffee bars and US fast food culture that spread all over the world placed traditional English cafe culture and in particular London tea rooms in a position of a gradual decline. So called ‘greasy spoon’ cafes in London are disappearing at a rate of 1 a month being unable to survive in a tough competitive environment.

One of those tea rooms that disappeared in London during last decades was situated in Holborn, WC1. Being a favourite spot of local mostly elderly male clientele, this family-ran old parlour-style cafe served for over 40 years.

Tea Rooms exterior (left), Mrs Rene Corsini, the owner of Tea Rooms (right) Click the image to read more

Soon after the Tea Rooms were closed a sign in the window appeared that read:

If you are interested to discover more of disappearing London, there is a great book by Paul Talling “Derelict London” that is wonderfully illustrated and full of lesser known exciting facts about this magnificent city. The author also offers guided tours around derelict London and lost rivers tour.

Thank you for reading and hope you enjoy the London Uncovered series!

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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