Millennium Mills

Millennium Mills viewed from the northwest. The adjacent building on the left is the former Rank Hovis Premier Mill[1]

The Millennium Mills is a derelict turn of the century flour mill in West Silvertown on the south side of the Royal Victoria Dock, between the Thames Barrier and the ExCel exhibition centre alongside the newly built Britannia village, in Newham, London, England.[2] Along with Millennium Mills, there remains a small section of the now destroyed Rank Hovis Premier Mill and a restored grade II listed grain silo, labelled the ‘D’ silo. Described as a "decaying industrial anachronism standing defiant and alone in the surrounding subtopia",[3] the Millennium Mills has become a well-loved icon of post-industrial Britain and has made its way into many aspects of popular culture, being used as a backdrop in films and television shows such as Ashes to Ashes and Derek Jarman's The Last of England. Millennium Mills is also a favourite destination for Urban Explorers despite high security, dangers of structural weakness, ten-storey drops and asbestos, and there are many reports and internal photos of the site.[3]



Rebuilt Millennium Mills, 1934
Main centrifugal dressing machine floor, Spiller's Millennium Mills, Royal Victoria Dock, London, 1934.

During the early half of the 20th century, the Royal Victoria Dock became an essential part of industrial Britain and London’s largest centre of flour milling.[2][4][5] The rail and water transport links made it an ideal location for business as well as an epicentre for international trade and commerce. The Cooperative Wholesale Society (CWS) was the first of the large nationwide milling companies to establish a flour mills in the area, with the opening of the Silvertown confectionery in 1901. Joseph Rank Limited would soon follow with the establishment of the Premier Mill at the Royal Dock in 1904. Vernon & Sons were the last to set up in the area when they built Millennium Mills. These mills, operated by Britain's three largest milling companies, converted imported grain from overseas into flour for the London market and were the first in the Port of London designed to take imported grain direct from the ships.[2][6]

Millennium Mills was designed and built by millers William Vernon & Sons of West Float, Birkenhead in 1905 with construction overseen by W. A. Vernon, the principal's son.[7][8] The mills were extensive, featuring two plants, equipped by Henry Simon Ltd, that had a capacity of 100 sacks per hour. W. A. Vernon described the mills in a single word as "palatial".[8] Vernon and Sons named the mill after their most successful product, a flour variety which they called "Millennium Flour" after winning the "The Miller Challenge Cup" at the 1899 International Bakers Exhibition.[7] The flour had been selected from "the best wheats of the world" and was put through a carefully designed industrial process.[9] The victory gained Vernon and Sons "world-wide fame" and dominance in the English flour market.[7] Millennium Flour was aimed at the rising twentieth-century masses, proving particularly popular in the mining districts, where it was known to make "beautiful white bread sandwiches."[9] The erection of Millennium Mills at the Royal Victoria Dock meant that this new flour could be brought to the Southern England market.[7][9]

...from the flour mills, where several hundred girls had been at work, came flying showers of millions of tiny particles of light as though a sweeping storm of sleet had become incandescent. No doubt these tiny specks were the glowing ashes of a myriad grains of wheat carried up into the sky by waves of flame. It was like a golden rainstorm.

—JJ Betts, former fireman, account of the Silvertown explosion [10]

All of these mills were partially destroyed in 1917 by the Silvertown explosion at Brunner Mond's munitions factory on the North Woolwich Road that was manufacturing explosives for Britain's World War I military effort. The Brunner Mond works was about 100 yards east of where Millennium Mills stood, and the ajoining grain silos and flour warehouses were amongst the 17 acres of buildings that the Port of London Authority estimated were affected.[11]

In 1920, Vernon & Sons was taken over by Spillers Limited at which time the Millennium Mills was acquired. Spillers was an established flour milling business founded in 1829, which subsequently went into the production of dog food and animal feeds and by 1927.[7] The Spillers name remains prominent on the east and west wings of the building.[9]

Millennium Mills was rebuilt as a 10-storey concrete art deco building in 1933.[12]

Many port mills throughout the country sustained severe damage from bombing in the Second World War; almost 75 per cent of the national capacity was concentrated at the ports which made them primary targets for air attacks. In London, Spillers' Millennium Mills as well as Rank's Premier Mills were substantially destroyed. Between 1945 and 1950 the ports underwent large-scale post-war reconstruction despite a deficit of raw materials and strict licensing. At this time Millennium Mills was rebuilt, including a windowless steel-framed infill on the west side, and was in operation by September 1953.[12][13]

Closure and future

Millennium Mills frontage in 2009

The Royal Docks closed in 1981,[14] and many businesses relocated to Tilbury.[4] The LDDC was in discussion in the 1990s with the Zoological Society of London for a public aquarium on the site of the former CWS mill, but funding for it was difficult to find and the idea was eventually shelved.[4] The Rank and CWS mills were demolished by the LDDC in the 1990s, along with the Millennium Mills' B and C silos. The D silo to the south is Grade II listed.[15] Millennium Mills itself is locally listed by Newham Council.[16]

In 2001 a project was proposed for the redevelopment of the former docklands area with a planning request being submitted to the Local Authority in 2003.[17] By 2007, a £1.5 billion building scheme had been approved to convert the 24 hectare (60 acre) site into a mixed use development with residential, commercial, leisure and public areas.[17][18][19] It was estimated that the scheme would be one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe, creating 2,000 jobs.[18][19] The scheme was set to deliver 4,900 waterfront homes, with the intention of converting the Mills themselves into 400 luxury loft-style flats called Silvertown Quays.[19] The development was also to include a new aquarium for London called Biota!, designed by Terry Farrell + Partners.[19] The building scheme was supported by a partnership between the landowner, the London Development Agency (LDA), joint developers Silvertown Quays Limited (SQL) and the Japanese developer Kajima Urban Development International with financial backing by the Bank of Scotland.[19] The first phase of the redevelopment was to see the Millennium Mills building developed into flats, with the demolition of the eastern and western wings, including the remains of the Rank Premier mill, leaving the main block of Millennium Mills, plus the south-western extension as a standalone tower. Planning approval was granted in 2007. However, no date was decided for work to commence.[18]

Like a booby-trapped House of Horrors, danger awaits their every step in Millennium Mills. The rotten floors are comparable to thick slices of Emmenthal, riddled with pigeon faeces and yawning holes (where machinery has been removed) that drop eight or nine storeys in some places.

—Christian Koch, "Urban explorers - the thrillseekers infiltrating unseen London"[3]

In 2009, the LDA, having seen no progress on the project, served termination notices to the SQL, setting a deadline of the February 13, 2010 for the company to secure sufficient funds for the project. When the termination notice expired and the funds were unable to be raised the LDA ended their agreements with the SQL and the Silvertown Quays development was officially cancelled. Despite discussion with SQL’s main backer, the Bank of Scotland, and a new plan and revised timetable for the regeneration of the site, the London Development Agency concluded that it could not accept the new proposals. The Agency is now considering how best to achieve the future regeneration of the site.[17][19] Architects Journal suggested that the area may now be incorporated into a larger masterplan for the docks as part of a wider Royal Docks masterplan housing up to 30,000 people.[17]

As of 2011, the building remains derelict[20] and is a destination for Urban Explorers who enter the site at high risk. There are many reports and internal photos of the site.[3]

Popular culture

The location has featured in various media. In 1985, the former CWS mill nearby was used in the Terry Gilliam's dystopian film Brazil. The interior featured as the ‘Department of Records’, a vast clerks pool where the character Sam Lowry worked, and the deserted corridors of the ‘Expediting Department’; the grim passageways and stairwells, as well as the exterior, served as ‘Shangri La Towers’, the Buttle family’s tower block.[21]

Derek Jarman's The Last of England

In 1987, British film-maker Derek Jarman released his self-shot avant-garde film The Last of England, which featured Millennium Mills as a key location. There was only one week of formal shooting for the film which occurred in November at the Royal Docks, an area Jarman described as "miles of desolation with the odd post-modern office building."[22] In one scene it shows characters dancing on the roof of the empty Millennium Mills building.[22]

British writer and psychogeographer, Iain Sinclair talks about the use of Millennium mills in Derek Jarman’s film, describing it as having “been christened by William Blake and delivered by Albert Speer"; the English Romantic poet and Adolf Hitler's chief architect. Sinclair goes on to call the mills "the perfect symbol for a cinematic endgame."[23] In another piece of writing, Sinclair analyzes Jarman as a man who "saw the downriver reaches of Silvertown, with its abandoned flour mills, as a site for dervish dances and the rituals of a punk apocalypse."[24]

Millennium Mills as a backdrop to the spectacular lighting and fireworks at the concert

Jean-Michel Jarre's Destination Docklands

Jean-Michel Jarre had the Millennium Mills painted white as a surface for projection of lighting effects for his 1988 show Destination Docklands. It formed one side of the backdrop, with the CWS mill in the centre and a screen supported by scaffolding on the other side.[25] The concert coincided with the release of his album Revolutions which dealt with the theme of the industrial revolution and the transition to the information age, themes that resonated with the abandoned docklands;[25] Jarre described the event as "a concert dealing with architecture".[26]

Other media

Millennium Mills was a recurring filming location for the British TV series Ashes to Ashes (2008–2010). It appears as one of the first locations in the series in Episode 1. The show is set in the 1980s, and using the Mills sets the scene for the London landscape of the show before the construction of the Millennium Dome dominated the East London skyline. At the start of the 1980s the industrial East End had yet to start its transformation at the hands of the London Docklands Development Corporation, which was founded in 1981.[27]

Most recently Millennium Mills was used as a location in the 2010 film Green Zone where the "desolate East London mill" provides the setting for Saddam Hussain's maze of underground tunnels and bunkers.[28]

The mills also appear as the setting for a number of music videos, including "Ask" by The Smiths (1986) filmed by Derek Jarman on the north side of Royal Victoria Dock,[29] "Fluorescent Adolescent" by the Arctic Monkeys (2007),[30] "Take Back the City" by Snow Patrol (2008) and "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall" by Coldplay (2011).[31]


  1. ^ Niziol, Simon. "The Spillers Millennium Mills". PortCities London. National Maritime Museum, London. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c PortCities London. "Flour milling and the port". PortCities UK. Retrieved June 12, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d Koch, Christian (2009-08-17). "Urban explorers - the thrillseekers infiltrating unseen London". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 2010-08-12. 
  4. ^ a b c Royal Docks Trust (August 27, 2008). "The Royal Docks - a short history". Royal Docks Trust (London). The Royal Docks Trust. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Appendix 2: Community Forum Area Analysis". Newham Character Study. Newham Council. November 2010. p. 6. Retrieved 16 June 2011. "Millennium Mills and Silo D – large, dockside buildings, remnant of past dockside activity, where most grain processing in the UK used to occur" 
  6. ^ W.R. Powell, ed (1973). "West Ham: Industries". A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6: 76–89. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Spillers: 1934 Review". GracesGuide. 2011-03-02. Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  8. ^ a b Jones, Glyn (2001). The Millers: a story of technological endeavour and industrial success, 1870-2001. Carnegie Pub.. ISBN 9781859360859. 
  9. ^ a b c d Patrick Wright (September 2006). "Industrial bread and a ship full of bombs: some reflections on history and heritage in East London". University of East London. Retrieved June 13, 2010. 
  10. ^ Hill, Graham; Bloch, Howard (2003), The Silvertown Explosion: London 1917, Tempus Publishing, Limited, p. 25, ISBN 9780752430539 
  11. ^ "Flourmills after the Silvertown Explosion - Photograph". Exploring 20th Century London. Museum in Docklands/PLA Collection. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  12. ^ a b Evely, Richard William; Little, Ian Malcolm David (1960). Concentration in British industry: an empirical study of the structure of industrial production, 1935-51. Cambridge [Eng.] University Press. pp. 281–289. 
  13. ^ Jones, Glyn (2001). The Millers: a story of technological endeavour and industrial success, 1870-2001. Carnegie Pub.. p. 319. ISBN 9781859360859. 
  14. ^ "Royal Docks". Completion Booklets. LDDC. 1988. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  15. ^ "Royal Victoria Dock". Royal Docks Trust. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  16. ^ "Locally Listed Buildings in Newham" (PDF). Newham Council. 2009. p. 14. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  17. ^ a b c d Klettner, Andrea (2010-02-16). "Silvertown Quays: officially dead". The Architects' Journal. Retrieved 2010-08-12. 
  18. ^ a b c "Royal Docks - development update". Royal Docks Trust. Royal Docks Trust (London). Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f Hill, John (2010-03-01). "Silvertown Quays cut". Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  20. ^ Images on the Forever Changes website
  21. ^ "Brazil film locations". The Worldwide Guide To Movie Locations. The Worldwide Guide To Movie Locations. 2009-09-29. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  22. ^ a b Clark, Jim (2006-02-08). "Jim's Reviews - Jarman's The Last of England". Jim's Film Website. Retrieved 2010-08-12. 
  23. ^ Sinclair, Iain (2009-04-24). "Tales from mean streets". The Guardian ( Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  24. ^ Sinclair, Iain (2009-06-25). "Upriver (A review of Thames: Sacred River by Peter Ackroyd)". London Review of Books (12): 5–10. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  25. ^ a b "Jean Michel Jarre; Destination Docklands; 1988". Stufish. 1988-09-24. Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  26. ^ Thames extravaganza threatened by fears, Ocala Star-Banner, 1988-09-11,,5813719&dq=jarre+newham, retrieved 2011-06-15 
  27. ^ McLean, Craig (2008-01-26). "Ashes to Ashes: Hot fuzz". Telegraph ( Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  28. ^ "The Art of Adaption: Green Zone". the writing studio. 2010 Universal Pictures. 2009. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  29. ^ "The Smiths - 'Ask'". Youtube. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  30. ^ "Arctic Monkeys - 'Fluorescent Adolescent'". Youtube. DominoRecords. 2007-06-06. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  31. ^ Snow Patrol - Making Of "Take Back The City". Brazil: Universal Music. 3 Feb 2009. Event occurs at 0:23. Retrieved 17 June 2011. "...interspersed with band performance here at the old Millennium Mill." 

External links

Coordinates: 51°30′19″N 0°01′49″E / 51.5054°N 0.0303°E / 51.5054; 0.0303

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