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21 July 2010

The Isle Of Dogs and Canary Wharf...

My scavenger hunts along the Thames beaches led me recently to the Isle of Dogs.
When I first got there I was thinking that I should write a jolly blog post about it's possible to spend a lovely afternoon in the sunshine on the beach without leaving London*. At one point I even bought an ice cream and looked at the view across the river. Nice.
But then I decided to walk all around the edge (coast?). I even ventured into the centre a few times. Sad to report that, as I suspected, nothing has improved in recent years. In fact it's getting worse.
There are some lovely little cottages and houses at the southern end, which still retains a modicom of historical charm, but the lack of a real high street means everyone there is reliant on the nearby superstore (another bugbear of mine!).
But, as for the rest of it, there is barely anything in this modern dreamscape to indicate that this was once a bustling area packed with families working on and around the docks. Where once there were thriving communities, there are now charmless glass and metal tower blocks.
Yet here and there it has been decided to leave in place some random bits of decommissioned machinery or large chains but there are no signs or plaques to explain why they things are there or what they used to be used for.
The north side of east entrance to the West India Docks seems to have been neglected by the developers (so far). Sadly, where it could look really good, it looks instead like a wasteland; some cranes still remain (as per the ones on West india Quay), there are some rusty old barges, decaying wooden barriers, dilapidated buildings, fenced off areas etc. It's a huge contrast to the shiny tall buildings that loom over it.
The paths along the Thames are really disappointing; again, there is barely anything left to hint at what went before except a pathetic attempt at a couple of information boards about Millwall and the docks, and IKB's Great Eastern. But these are useless because the boards are so bleached out, sctratched and uncared for that they might as well not be there at all.
Looking across the river to the wharves along the Deptford waterfront the same rape of the past is happening there too. I find it all so sad.
And, finally, the privately-owned Canary Wharf Estate; I could write a long piece here about what I think of this charmless zone but "aaargh, is this really progress?" will have to do. I wonder if people who live and work there say to their friends "ooh, you must come and have a drink in this wonderful little place round the corner; it's been there for three whole years"!
If you do want to find out more about this area and its past go to the fabulous Museum of London Docklands.

*Just opened this week's Time Out and Michael Hodges has beaten me to the London beach thing as he's already written an article about it.


  1. Not a very uplifting post Jane but it reflects well the sad state of an area dominated by the arrogance of the Canary Wharf towers. Decay can make very nice pictures but not a good place where to wander, let alone live. Not far from where you went is, I think, one of the most depressing views of London: Canary Wharf from the junction of Commercial Rd and West India Dock Rd in Limehouse. The contrast couldn't be greater!

  2. You are absolutely right, Jane. The complete lack of regard for the history and beauty of this area of London in favour for souless concrete and glass makes this an area I'd dread to live! Where's the character or interest here?! It is a real shame that the potential for sensitive redevelopment has been overlooked.

  3. Seb... it's, like I say here, a shame, as I really did want to write a positive piece what with the sun shining and all that. But you can't win them all and I am sure Elizabeth isn't the only one who agrees with me.
    I just had a poke about in your site Elizabeth... some great stuff in there and some cool links to other sites too. Thanks

  4. Sounds great Jane I must go....joking aside I agree with what your saying, I went to Punchdrunk and Eno's adaptation of The Duchess of Malfi over by Albert dock yesterday evening, I thought I'd get there early to have a look around the docks. Huge glass apartments sporadically dotted amongst wasteland...a very soulless place to live, no community or heart.... seems life is lived around there on a curfew of In my opinion the whole place stinks of construction greed with a distinct lack of any community planning...very sad.

  5. Thanks Jane!

    I do wonder if any community spirit can be salvaged amongst the souless buildings but like Andy C. says there has been little community planning. Having worked for some town planners in the past I know how easily they dismiss local needs over the financial desires by housebuilders to squeeze as many 'units', as they call them, as possible.

    A good book is 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities' by Jane Jacobs which is apprarantly a "bible" for Town Planners, although I'm sure they quickly forget the principles of good community planning in favour of progress and profit. It is such a shame.

  6. Elizabeth, I think community spirit can be salvaged but it has to start with a change in the government or local authority's philosophy to building programmes.
    They need to provide small shops and encourage a local business with financial start up packages..move into the area and we will help you set up your business to support the community, but alas they take the easy cheap option of plonking down soulless retail parks of KFC and burger bars that really encourage's you to ask your friends.. lets go out for fun evening of onion rings and Fanta, heaven forbid a romantic Big Mac meal ... ohhhh and don't get me onto Tesco's.

  7. Hi there Jane,

    I do think we should all stop ramanticising the past. My partner grew up in council flats around Millwall dock. He and his family were absolutely thrilled to be rehoused in Thamesmead in the 1970s. The Isle of Dogs was a dump.

  8. It's not about romanticising the past... it's about historical value.
    I don't know if your other half's family were linked with the docks in the past, but if so, wouldn't they like to have something there to remind them of the area's vibrant and important historical value?
    I am sure they must have been more than happy to leave there in the 70s because by then the industry of the docklands had already been severely diminished and, yes, it was a wasteland of unloved derelict buildings in need of regeneration. But not, in my view, the kind of regeneration that just bulldozes everything and builds rows and rows of 'Lego' apartment blocks and crushes any sense of community. Would they, I wonder prefer to live there now rather than Thamesmead? I doubt it!

  9. Jane, I have to say I am slightly bothered by this middle-class hand wringing over the loss of some idealised working-class 'community'.

    You're right - some of the new developments work better than others but they are all a helluva lot better than what was there before - my partner's family were moved because the damp flat they were living in was exacerbating his asthma.

    We now live in Greenwich and frequently hop over the water to shop, socialise and wander around Canary Wharf. Of course, with the regeneration something has been lost, but we would do well to focus on much that has been gained.

    And my parents-in-law, now in their 70s, regularly visit 'The Island'. They love it, actually.

  10. One last thing - sorry to keep blathering on, but I've had a few drinks and am feeling gobby - my own grandad was born in Evelyn Street, Deptford in 1914. A few years ago, just before he died, I took him back there - it was the first time he'd visited Deptford since the mid-1930s.

    We took a good look around the whole area and I was flabbergasted when he said: 'it's much nicer now then when I grew up here'.

  11. Er... Ok.... but why are you assuming that only middle-class people appreciate history?
    FYI I was born in Barking!


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Thanks, Jane