Three Mills Studios

Three Mills were working mills on the River Lee in the East End of London, one of London’s oldest still-surviving industrial centres, the largest and most powerful of the four remaining tidal mills in Britain, and is possibly the largest tidal mill in the world.

Nearby, the 3 Mills Studios are a 20 acre film studios, making a large number of major films and television programmes.

It is thought that there were 8 or 9 mills on the River Lee in Stratford in 1066 or at the time of the Domesday Book. These would there have been the earliest examples of a tidal mill system.

Some time during the middle ages, Stratford Langthorne Abbey acquired the three mills, and the area became known as Three Mills.

By the time Henry VIII dissolved the abbey in the 1530s, the mills were grinding flour for the bakers of Stratford-atte-Bow, who were celebrated for the quality of their bread and supplied the huge City of London market. In 1588, one of the mills was described as a gunpowder mill. During the 16th century the three mills were reduced to two and remain so to this day. In the 17th century the mills were used to grind grain which was then used to distil alcohol and the mills became a major supplier to the alcohol trade and gin craze of London.

The House Mill which was built in 1776 by Daniel Bisson is a grade I listed building: it is the only Grade 1 Listed building in the London Borough of Newham. The Clock Mill was rebuilt by Philip Metcalfe between 1815 and 1817 incorporating the old clock, and an older bell. There was also a windmill which survived until about 1840. The House Mill continued to operate until 1940 and the Clock Mill until 1952.

Ownership changed relatively frequently during the 17th to the late 19th centuries, until 1872 when the Nicholson family, a gin producer in Clerkenwell, acquired Three Mills. Distilling ceased after the mills sustained severe air-raid damage during the Second World War. Three Mills was used for bottling and warehousing by Bass Charrington and Hedges & Butler.

The site became a dedicated centre for film and television production with the establishment in the 1980’s of “Bow Studios”, “3 Mills Island Studios” and Edwin Shirley Productions. In the mid 1990s the three studios merged to become 3 Mills Studios under the management of Workspace Group Plc.

In August 2004, the London Development Agency acquired 3 Mills Studios as part of its ongoing commitment to develop London’s creative economies and strengthen the city’s position as a key location for filmmaking.

The House Mill is now being restored by the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust and is open to visitors on Sunday afternoons during the summer.

The River Lea Tidal Mill Trust Ltd operate the buildings, for educational and other projects.

The Lower Lea Project are also based at Three Mills.

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