What’s in a name?…Millbank

November 18, 2013

Millbank

The origins of this Thames-side district of London are as obvious as they sound – it was the site of a mill which stood on the west bank of the river.

The mill, which had served Westminster Abbey since at least the 16th century, stood here until about 1735 when it was demolished and replaced by a mansion built by Sir Robert Grosvenor, a member of the Grosvenor family responsible for developing parts of Mayfair.

The house was pulled down in 1809 to make way for Millbank Prison, which was the country’s first national prison and which was where prisoners were held before their transportation to Australia.

The prison closed about 1890 (a buttress which once stood at the top of the prison’s river steps commemorates the prison – pictured above).

The site is now occupied by some of the more interesting buildings in the area – including the Chelsea College of Arts (buildings formerly used by the  Royal Army Medical School, Tate Britain (which opened in 1897 as the National Gallery of British Art), and a housing development known as the Millbank Estate, constructed to providing housing for 4,500 members of the working class.

While the area was previously known for having been dominated by marshland, land was eventually reclaimed along the waterfront and an embankment established, defining the course of the river.

As well as the district, the name Millbank is also the name of the street which runs along the riverbank between the Houses of Parliament and Vauxhall Bridges.

For more on London’s prisons, check out Geoffrey Howse’s A History of London’s Prisons.