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Excel Docklands Property in the London Docklands,
Isle of Dogs
and the E14 area of East London.
London Docklands is the semi-official
name for an area in the east of London, England, comprising
parts of several boroughs (Southwark, Tower Hamlets,
Newham and Greenwich) in Greater London. The eponymous
docks were formerly part of the Port of London, at one
time the world's largest port. They have now been redeveloped
principally for commercial and residential use. The
name London Docklands was used for the first time in
a government report on redevelopment plans in 1971 but
has since become virtually universally adopted.
London Dockland areas
Docklands AreasLondon's Docklands comprise a number
of former dockyard complexes along the Thames, which
are (from west to east):
St Katharine Docks (Wapping)
London Docks (Wapping)
Regent's Canal Dock (now Limehouse Basin, Limehouse)
Surrey Commercial Docks (now Surrey Quays, Rotherhithe)
West India Docks and Millwall Dock inc Canary
Wharf (Isle of Dogs)
East India Docks (Canning Town)
Royal Docks (Royal Victoria Dock, Royal Albert Dock
& King George V Dock)
Another dockyard exists much further downstream at Tilbury,
but this is not generally regarded as part of the Docklands.
The area referred to as the Docklands, which mostly
lies on the north bank of the Thames, comprises chiefly
of the former properties of the Port of London. It does
not comprise the whole of the former riverside port.
Many other wharves and quays are located along the lower
Thames, though only a few (mostly in Greenwich) are
still used for their original purpose. These are not
generally regarded as being part of the Docklands.
London Docklands History
Development of the docks
In Roman and medieval times, ships tended either to
dock at small quays in the present-day flity of London
or Southwark, an area known as the Pool of London. However,
this gave no protection against the elements, was vulnerable
to thieves and suffered from a lack of space at the
quayside. The Howland Great Dock in Rotherhithe (built
1696 and later forming the core of the Surrey Commercial
Docks) was designed to address these problems, providing
a large, secure and sheltered anchorage with room for
120 large vessels. It was a major commercial success
and provided a template for two phases of expansion
during the Georgian and Victorian eras.
The first of the Georgian docks was the West India
(opened 1802), followed by the London (1805), the East
India (also 1805), the Surrey (1807), St Katharine (1828)
and the West India South (1829). The Victorian docks
were mostly further east, comprising the Royal Victoria
(1855), Millwall (1868) and Royal Albert (1880). The
King George V was a late addition in 1921.
The London docks in 1882. The King George V Dock had
not yet been built.
Docks and dockers
Three principal kinds of docks existed. Wet docks were
where ships were laid up at anchor and loaded or unloaded.
Dry docks, which were far smaller, took individual ships
for repairing. Ships were built at shipyards along the
riverside. In addition, the river was lined with innumerable
warehouses, piers, jetties and dolphins (mooring points).
The various docks tended to specialise in different
forms of produce. The Surrey Docks concentrated on timber,
for instance; Millwall took grain; St Katharine took
wool, sugar and rubber; and so on.
The docks required an army of workers, chiefly lightermen
(who carried loads between ships and quays aboard small
barges called lighters) and quayside workers, who dealt
with the goods once they were ashore. Some of the workers
were highly skilled - the lightermen had their own livery
company or guild, while the deal porters (workers who
carried timber) were famous for their acrobatic skills.
Most, however, were unskilled and worked as casual labourers.
They had to assemble at certain points, such as pubs,
each morning, from where they would be selected more
or less at random by foremen. For these workers, it
was effectively a lottery as to whether they would get
work - and pay, and food - on any particular day. This
arrangement continued until as late as 1965, although
it was somewhat regularised after the creation of the
National Dock Labour Scheme in 1947.
The main dockland areas were originally low-lying marshes,
mostly unsuitable for agriculture and only lightly populated.
With the establishment of the docks, the dockyard workers
formed a number of tight-knit local communities with
their own distinctive cultures and slang. Poor communications
meant that they were quite remote from other parts of
London and so tended to develop in some isolation. The
Isle of Dogs, for instance, had only two roads in and
out. Local sentiment was so strong that in 1920 residents
blocked the roads and declared independence!
The docks in the 20th century
Museum in Docklands, near Canary WharfThe docks were
originally built and managed by a number of competing
private companies. From 1909, they were managed by the
Port of London Authority, or PLA, which amalgamated
the companies in a bid to make the docks more efficient
and improve labour relations. The PLA constructed the
last of the docks, the King George V, in 1921, as well
as greatly expanding the Tilbury docks.
German bombing during the Second World War caused massive
damage to the docks, with 380,000 tons of timber destroyed
in the Surrey Docks in a single night. Nonetheless,
following post-war rebuilding they experienced a resurgence
of prosperity in the 1950s. The end came suddenly, between
approximately 1960 and 1970, when the shipping industry
adopted the newly invented container system of cargo
transportation. London's docks were unable to accommodate
the much larger vessels needed by containerization and
the shipping industry moved to deep-water ports such
as Tilbury and Felixstowe. Between 1960 and 1980, all
of London's docks were closed, leaving around eight
square miles (21 km²) of derelict land in East
London. Unemployment was high, and poverty and other
social problems were rife.
Canary Wharf at sunsetEfforts to redevelop the docks
began almost as soon as they were closed, although it
took a decade for most plans to move beyond the drawing
board and another decade for redevelopment to take full
effect. The situation was greatly complicated by the
large number of landowners involved: the PLA, the Greater
London Council (GLC), the British Gas Corporation, five
borough councils, British Rail and the Central Electricity
To address this problem, in 1981 the Secretary of State
for the Environment, Michael Heseltine, formed the London
Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) to redevelop
the area. This was a statutory body appointed and funded
by central government (a quango), with wide powers to
acquire and dispose of land in the Docklands. It also
served as the development planning authority for the
Another important government intervention was the designation
in 1982 of an enterprise zone, an area in which businesses
were exempt from property taxes and had other incentives,
including simplified planning and capital allowances.
This made investing in the Docklands a significantly
more attractive proposition and was instrumental in
starting a property boom in the area.
LDDC was controversial - it was accused of favouring
elitist luxury developments rather than affordable housing,
and it was unpopular with the local communities, who
felt that their needs were not being addressed. Nonetheless,
the LDDC was central to a remarkable transformation
in the area, although how far it was in control of events
is debatable. It was wound up in 1998 when control of
the Docklands area was handed back to the respective
The massive development programme managed by the LDDC
during the 1980s and 1990s saw a huge area of the Docklands
converted into a mixture of residential, commercial
and light industrial space. The clearest symbol of the
whole effort was the ambitious Canary Wharf project
that constructed Britain's tallest building and established
a second major financial centre in London. However,
there is no evidence that LDDC foresaw this scale of
development and nearby Heron Quays had already been
developed as low density offices when Canary Wharf was
proposed, with similar development already underway
on Canary Wharf itself, Limehouse Studios being the
most famous occupant.
Canary Wharf was far from trouble free (Please see
main article Canary Wharf), and the property slump of
the early 1990s halted all development in Docklands
for several years. Developers similarly found themselves
saddled with property which they were unable to sell
Transport in the Docklands todayThe Docklands historically
had poor transport connections. This was addressed by
the LDDC with the construction of the Docklands Light
Railway (DLR), which connected the Docklands with the
City. It was a remarkably cheap development, costing
only £77m in its first phase, as it relied on
reusing disused railway infrastructure and derelict
land for much of its length (LDDC originally requested
a fully specified Tube line, but the Government refused
to fund it).
LDDC also built Limehouse Link tunnel, a cut and cover
road tunnel linking the Isle of Dogs to The Highway
(the A13 road) at a cost of over £150 million
per kilometre, one of the most expensive stretches of
road ever built.
The LDDC also contributed to the development of London
City Airport (IATA airport code LCY), opened in October
1987 on the spine of the Royal Docks.
The Docklands Today
Tall commercial buildings now cluster around Canary
Wharf tube station.Over the past 20 years, the population
of the Docklands has more than doubled and the area
has become both a major business centre and an increasingly
acceptable area to live. Transport links have improved
significantly, with the Isle of Dogs gaining a tube
connection via the Jubilee Line Extension (opened 1999)
and the DLR being extended to Beckton, Lewisham, London
City Airport, North Woolwich and Stratford. Canary Wharf
has become one of Europe's biggest clusters of skyscrapers
and a direct challenge to the financial dominance of
the City. Further east, the Royal Docks are finally
being regenerated most prominently symbolised the ExCeL
Although most of the old Dockland wharves and warehouses
have been demolished, some have been restored and converted
into flats. Most of the docks themselves have survived
and are now used as marinas or watersports centres (the
major exception being the Surrey Commercial Docks, now
largely filled in). Although large ships can - and occasionally
still do - visit the old docks, all of the commercial
traffic has moved down-river to Tilbury.
The revival of the Docklands has had major effects
in run-down surrounding areas. Greenwich and Deptford
are undergoing large-scale redevelopment, chiefly as
a result of the improved transport links making them
more attractive to commuters.
The Docklands' redevelopment has, however, had some
less beneficial aspects. The massive property boom and
consequent rise in house prices has led to friction
between the new arrivals and the old Docklands communities,
who have complained of being squeezed out. It has also
made for some of the most striking disparities to be
seen anywhere in Britain: luxury executive flats constructed
alongside run-down public housing estates.
The Docklands' status as a symbol of Thatcher's Britain
has also made it a target for terrorists. After a failed
attempt to bomb Canary Wharf, on February 09, 1996,
a huge IRA bomb exploded at South Quay. Two people died
in the explosion, forty people were injured and an estimated
£150m of damage was caused(1). In a 1998 trial
James McArdle was imprisoned for 25 years after a trial
at Woolwich Crown Court that ended on June 24. Under
the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, McArdle was
released on June 28, 2000.
(1) The parlous state of the Docklands property market
at the time of the blast, combined with a lengthy delay
in implementing redevelopment, means a true estimate
of the financial cost is difficult to reach.
The continued success of the Docklands redevelopment
has prompted a number of further development schemes,
Extensions of the Docklands Light Railway to Woolwich
and possibly Dagenham.
Crossrail mainline link between Canary Wharf, central
London and north Kent.
Further development of Canada Water.
Redevelopment of Blackwall Basin and Wood Wharf, west
of Canary Wharf.
Further development of the Royal Docks area, including
the Silvertown Quays project.
In the early 21st century redevelopment is spreading
into the more suburban parts of East London, and into
the parts of the counties of Kent and Essex which abut
the Thames Estuary. See Thames Gateway and Lower Lea
Valley for further information on this trend
The famous 'U' bend in the River Thames borders the
Isle of Dogs with the tallest building in Britain, Canary
Wharf, marking out this thriving community.
Much of the London docklands area is concentrated around
the Isle of Dogs. In the last 10 years it has undergone
a massive, landscape-changing redevelopment.
The area comprises a blend of restored warehouses and
historic buildings, contemporary housing complexes and
office developments, many with award-winning glass and
Many international celebrities have taken penthouse
apartments on the Isle including Cher and Robert de
The high rise towers have an impressive, futuristic
feel with the beacon of Canary Wharf visible for miles
across London. This 244 metre, pyramid-topped building
stands on the site of a former dock for exotic goods
from the Canary Islands.
After the docks closed, regeneration started here with
tentative, small scale steps, some of which you can
see in Heron Quays. Then came the big, sweeping vision
of today's Canary Wharf. At first, many people derided
The theory was produced that no city had ever successfully
expanded to the east, a spectacular piece of nonsense.
Critics forgot that it takes time for people to get
used to big developments - it took ten years after the
Empire State Building's completion in New York before
the first tenants moved in.
The history of West India Docks is typical of many
of the developed docks on the Isle. They were opened
in 1802 by Prime Minister Sir Henry Addington and made
a strong contribution to the economic life of London.
What remains today are among the most elegant and historically
important of docklands warehouses.
Constantly expanding and developing, Canary Wharf is
becoming one of the busiest and most important areas
of commerce, and with it a desire for goods and services.
The area is well served by the fast and efficient Docklands
Light Railway (DLR).
For those who live and work on the Isle of Dogs, there
is a seemingly endless choice of eating places from
modern wine bars, traditional pubs, and pizza parlours,
to health foods, soups shops and sushi bars.
Water lovers are well catered for at the Docklands
Sailing and Watersports Centre, for those who wish to
dinghy sail, windsurf or canoe. There are also opportunities
for rowing, dragon boat racing and fishing.
For the children, there is a wonderful day out to be
experienced at the 40 acre Mudchute Park and Farm, one
of three urban farms in the borough and the largest
one in Europe. The farm boasts many farm animals, as
well as an approved riding school, regular summer play
schemes, festivals and agricultural shows.
There are two theories about how the Isle of Dogs got
its name. One is that Henry VIII kept his dogs here,
sending boats over to fetch them to his palace at Greenwich
when he felt like going hunting. The area is referred
to as the Isle of Dogs on a map made in 1588, so the
theory has some credibility.
The other theory is that the name derives from the
dykes which Dutch engineers created in the 17th Century
to drain the marshland which had made the peninsula
uninhabitable. Today's Marsh Wall follows the line they
took. Although they were successful, people were in
no hurry to move here. As late as the 18th Century,
the only two buildings on the Isle of Dogs were a chapel
and a pub on the site of today's Ferry House, serving
the needs of people using the ferry across to Greenwich.
The building of the docks, with their locks onto the
Thames at each end, made the word 'isle' into a reality.
Shipbuilding also burgeoned in the area during the 19th
Century. The most famous ship built here was Brunel's
Great Eastern, and the site from which it was launched
in 1859 is still preserved. Living conditions got worse
and worse, until in 1920 local residents closed the
two roads allowing access to the Isle of Dogs and declared
independence. During the war years the residents demonstrated
their resilience in another way when the island, as
locals call it, became the target for heavy bombing.
The docks were closed in 1969 by the arrival of containerisation,
which they couldn't handle.
Today, there is much for the visitor to see. The views
towards Greenwich from Island Gardens are spectacular,
as are those looking east over Blackwall Reach. At Mudchute,
so named after the chutes used to clear out mud as Millwall
Dock was being dug, there now exists Europe's largest
urban farm. So perhaps that Henry VIII theory is right
- today, as back in his day, the Isle of Dogs is a good
place for animals.