View of Isle of Dogs
from the air over Greenwich Park
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
The area comprises a blend of restored
warehouses and historic buildings, contemporary
housing complexes and office developments,
many with award-winning glass and steel
Many international celebrities have taken
penthouse apartments on the Isle including
Cher and Robert de Niro.
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
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
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
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.