pride of place
Throughout history, the watercourses surrounding the island have shaped the industries that operated here. The tidal mills that sit at the south of the Island are mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, making the River Lea’s mills amongst the earliest tidal mills ever recorded in England. The centre of a large circular economy, the mills generated work for mill operators, carpenters and coopers. Initially providing flour for the local bakers of Stratford, the mills turned to distilling gin in the 18th Century. Mash from the gin was used to feed large farms of pigs whose bones supplied the china factories at Bow, with their fat being used by local soap makers.
From architectural design down to the naming of streets and buildings, Sugar House Island draws inspiration from the area’s heritage at every corner.
An Island defined
From the 1600’s the river supported the textile printing and dye works. The northern part of the Island became a hub for printing, ink and colour-dye innovation in the 19th century. Dane & Co (later The Dane Group of Companies) was a world-leading producer of Day-Glo paints and was in operation here from 1853 until 2005. We remember this important part of heritage in the naming of our norther quarter ‘Dane’s Yard’, and the Dane’s Dog tile mural which has been reinstated on the High Street as part of the new façade of 1 Dane’s Yard.
The Island is named after a striking 19th century five-storey red brick warehouse which still stands on site. The original sugar refinery once stood at the top of Sugar House Lane where it meets the High Street, and was first recorded here in 1843. The building has been restored and reimagined to contain double-height workspaces and residential homes.
Ownership of the Three Mills changed frequently until 1872 when the Nicholson family bought the site. J&W Nicholson & Co was founded in 1736 and was one of the earliest and most famous London distillers. They we’re in operation at Three Mills until 1941 when the mills were damaged during the Blitz; and although distilling stopped from that date, the site continued to be used for bottling and warehousing until the 1990s.
Luke Howard (1772 – 1864), an amateur meteorologist, developed
the naming system for clouds (such as ‘cumulus’ and ‘nimbus’), and lived next to City Mill lock on the Bow Back River to the north
of the Island.