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Isle of Dogs, Canary Wharf, Poplar E14 and Tower Hamlets

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 redevelopment.

The area comprises a blend of restored warehouses and historic buildings, contemporary housing complexes and office developments, many with award-winning glass and steel designs.

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 it.

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.


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