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Historic Isle of Dogs Victorian shipyard forge reopening as craft workshops

PUBLISHED: 09:50 28 July 2017 | UPDATED: 15:15 28 July 2017

Millwall's historic Forge shipyard at the Isle of Dogs soon being rented out for workshop space by Craft Central charity. Picture: Justin Webb

Millwall's historic Forge shipyard at the Isle of Dogs soon being rented out for workshop space by Craft Central charity. Picture: Justin Webb

Justin Webb

Craftsmanship is returning to the Isle of Dogs in what was once the hub of east London manufacturing industries when an old Victorian iron shipbuilding forge reopens as ‘workshops for hire’.

The vast space inside The Forge with its listed iron pillars and crane jib. Picture: Justin WebbThe vast space inside The Forge with its listed iron pillars and crane jib. Picture: Justin Webb

The historic Forge Thames waterfront shipyard is being taken over by the Craft Central charity moving in to bring design and manufacturing back to this area.

The charity is quitting its Clerkenwell offices where it has been since 1980 with its lease ending.

Their programme of providing studios, shared workshops and professional development support for its network of 700 designer-makers arrives in Millwall at the end of September where the organisation has taken a 20-year lease on The Forge in Westferry Road.

Workshops fitted inside the huge space of The Forge, preserving its Victorian iron pillars. Picture: Craft CentralWorkshops fitted inside the huge space of The Forge, preserving its Victorian iron pillars. Picture: Craft Central

“This is a time when so many studios are being forced to close,” Craft Central’s chair Sue Webb said. “But we’re making the Forge available for new craft businesses as part of east London’s newest creative community.”

The organisation plans regular public events like a Christmas market, open studio events, ‘Craft It Yourself’ workshops and exhibitions to bring back manufacturing to an area once at the hub of east London’s thriving manufacturing industries.

The building conversion makes the most of the immense height of the space so that the listed features are retained.

How designers see the open space for events, preserving the Victorian iron pillars. Picture: Craft CentralHow designers see the open space for events, preserving the Victorian iron pillars. Picture: Craft Central

A two-storey birchwood construction is being added either side of the Victorian central pillars for self-contained studios, leaving a full height space for events.

The Grade II-listed site, built in 1860 for CJ Mare, is the only surviving mid-19th century iron shipbuilders’ forge in London, possibly in Britain, outside the Royal naval dockyards. One of its earliest contracts was making the stern frame for HMS Northumberland, one of the world’s earliest ironclad battleships.

The Forge had six steam hammers in the 1860s fed by rainwater, long since demolished, and employed 5,000 men who had their own canteen, sports club and even a works band.

Bringing Victorian industrial heritage back to the Isle of Dogs. Picture: Justin WebbBringing Victorian industrial heritage back to the Isle of Dogs. Picture: Justin Webb

It was later converted into structural engineering workshops making airship hangars for the Army and steel frames for buildings and railway bridges for India and Brazil, until manufacturing of iron and steel girders ceased by 1951.

Craft Central now taking over the historic premises was founded as a society in 1970, later as the Clerkenwell Green Association, by a group of craftsman to preserve the future of craft. It operated from 1980 in two Victorian buildings at St John’s Square in Clerkenwell, currently with 74 studios, shared workspace, meeting rooms, galleries, shops and showrooms. But the lease is ending, so the charity is heading east.

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