Three Mills Island: A Historic Site in East London

Three Mills Island is a historic industrial hub located in London that dates back to the Saxon times. It is one of the oldest surviving industrial centres in the city and has a rich and fascinating past that is worth exploring. Today, Three Mills Island is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, offering a mix of attractions that include an island, a TV and film studio, and an open play space for the public to enjoy year-round.

The origins of Three Mills Island are rooted in London’s industrial history, and its development over the years is a testament to the city’s ingenuity and resilience. In this article, we will delve into the history of Three Mills Green and Three Mills Island, exploring how it came to be and why it is such a unique and important part of London’s cultural heritage. We will also provide practical information for visitors who wish to explore this fascinating destination.

Key Takeaways

  • Three Mills Island is one of London’s oldest surviving industrial hubs, with a rich and fascinating past that dates back to the Saxon times.
  • Today, Three Mills Island offers a mix of attractions that include an island, a TV and film studio, and an open play space for the public to enjoy year-round.
  • Visitors can explore the history of Three Mills Island and its significance in London’s industrial past, while also taking advantage of the many practical amenities and attractions available on the island.

Where is Three Mills Island?

Three Mills Island is located in the London Borough of Newham in East London, although most access points are from neighbouring Tower Hamlets. The site is situated in Bromley-by-Bow and is situated on the River Lea. It also forms part of the 50-mile Lea Valley Walk.

Why Visit Three Mills Island?

Beautiful Green Space

Three Mills Island offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of London’s East End. The stunning green spaces provide a beautiful and serene atmosphere for visitors to relax and unwind. The park’s cafe offers a variety of refreshments, including delicious cakes and hot beverages. Meanwhile, children can enjoy the Wild Kingdom, an exciting adventure playground featuring fallen trees and stumps, nets, ropes, and more.

The Line Walk

Located at the center of The Line Walk, Three Mills Island is home to several sculptures and artworks by renowned local artists. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the trail and admire the various installations, including works by Madge Gill, Tracey Emin, and Thomas J Price. The current statue at Three Mills is Reaching Out by Thomas J Price, a 9-foot-tall depiction of a Black woman holding a mobile phone. It was unveiled during the significant 2020 protests surrounding racial inequality, making it a poignant addition to the park.

Overall, Three Mills Island is a must-visit destination for those seeking a peaceful retreat amidst the lively atmosphere of London’s East End. With its beautiful green spaces and unique art installations, the park offers a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors of all ages.

History of Three Mills Green and Three Mills Island

Gunpowder, Linseed and Gin

The Three Mills Green and Three Mills Island have a rich history dating back to the late 11th century. The Domesday Book records eight or nine mills on the River Lea in the Stratford area, forming the earliest recorded tidal mills system in England. In the 16th century, the mills supplied the bakers of Stratford with flour that went on to supply the famous City of London market with bread of outstanding quality.

Production switched to gunpowder around 1588, and later on linseed oil. By the early 18th century, flour production had stopped as the buildings were purchased by a partnership to distil alcoholic beverages. The mills continued to grind, albeit now switching to grain which distilled the alcohol and worked with neighbouring distillery sheds, granaries, warehouses and a windmill to create gin.

House Mill and Clock Mill

The House Mill was built in 1776, a replacement mill that straddled the tidal Three Mills River on arches. After it was decimated by fire in 1802, the rebuilt mill contained a timber frame behind the surviving front wall fitted with four water wheels. Each wheel drove two pairs of millstones operated by an innovative gear system. Two of these wheels can still be seen today.

Meanwhile, the neighbouring Clock Mill was built in 1817 by Philip Metcalfe, renovating and extending an existing building on the site, partly with the addition of a beautiful and elegant clock tower. With its conical roofs, reminiscent of Dutch mill buildings, Clock Mill stood in front of the main distillery processing buildings.

Three Mills and Two Wars

The ownership of the site frequently changed during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries until it was purchased by Clerkenwell distillers J&W Nicholson & Co. During World War I, part of the distillery was commandeered to serve the war effort by helping to convert maize into acetone, an irreplaceable part of creating explosions in armaments. Chaim Weizmann discovered the process and oversaw the creation of the fermentation plant before becoming the first president of the state of Israel in 1948.

Twenty-five years later, during the Second World War, rationing shortages led to the end of gin production at the site. Sadly, Three Mills suffered substantial bomb damage during the Blitz, destroying the Miller’s House in 1941.

Three Mills Today

Despite the challenges faced during the wars, Three Mills Green and Three Mills Island remain a vibrant and integral part of the Stratford area. House Mill remains the largest tidal mill in the world, although the wheels are not in operation. It is one of four Grade I listed buildings in Newham, while the Clock Mill forms part of Three Mills film and TV studios.

Meanwhile, regeneration work ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics in nearby Stratford saw the entire area renewed, including the creation of Three Mills Green, the vast open space that combines play areas with somewhere for people to sit, rest and soak up the surroundings. Visitors can take a stroll around the island and the green, explore the historic buildings, and enjoy the beautiful scenery that has been preserved for centuries.

Three Mills Island: Practical Information

Three Mills Island is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Here is some practical information to help you plan your visit:

  • Location: Three Mills Island is located in the heart of East London, near the Olympic Park. The closest tube station is Bromley-by-Bow, which is on the District and Hammersmith & City lines.

  • Opening hours: The island is open daily from 9am to 5pm. However, it is important to note that certain areas may have restricted access or be closed for maintenance.

  • Admission: There is no admission fee to enter Three Mills Island. However, some of the attractions on the island may have their own admission fees.

  • Attractions: Three Mills Island is home to a variety of attractions, including the House Mill, the Miller’s House, and the Three Mills Wall River. Visitors can take guided tours of the House Mill to learn about the history of the area and see the working machinery. The Miller’s House is a museum that showcases the lives of the mill workers. The Three Mills Wall River is a scenic spot for a stroll or picnic.

  • Facilities: There are several facilities available on Three Mills Island, including a cafe, restrooms, and a gift shop. Visitors should note that there are no ATMs on the island, so it is recommended to bring cash.

  • Accessibility: Three Mills Island is wheelchair accessible, with ramps and lifts available in certain areas. However, some of the buildings and attractions may have limited accessibility due to their historic nature. Visitors with specific accessibility needs should contact the island in advance to make arrangements.

Overall, Three Mills Island is a unique and fascinating destination that offers a glimpse into the industrial history of London. With its convenient location, diverse attractions, and accessible facilities, it is a must-visit for anyone looking to explore the city’s rich heritage.