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London Docklands

Before regeneration entered the political lexicon, there was Canary Wharf. Its rise, fall and eventual phoenix-like rebirth as Britains financial centre is one of the most remarkable success stories of European industrial renewal. Today, the wharf and the Isle of Dogs it dominates are steel and glass testaments to Londons ability to mold itself according to economic circumstance.

Iconic Sites

  • Cabot_Square Cabot Square
  • dockalnds 5
  • crossrail Crossrail Station

Docklands Map

Great Eastern 1870sWhere once thousands of clippers, packets and steamers brought sugar, tobacco and timber into the hungry heart of the British Empire, now stand gleaming skyscrapers where an estimated 120,000 people work in banking, finance, the media, technology and the creative industries. More people work at Canary Wharf today than at any other time in its history, a remarkable statistic for an area once thought condemned to terminal decay.

Rise and fall

Before the banks, before the ships and before the empire, the Isle of Dogs was known as Stepney Marsh and for hundreds of years, it barely changed. As London grew from its Roman origins to the west, between 1300 and the mid-18th century, this area was almost entirely agricultural. Old maps show pasture stretching from Poplar all the way down to the southern tip of the island where a giant earth wall was built to protect the fields from the Thames which regularly broke its banks.


Along the western edge of the wall – now marked by the road, Marsh Wall – a series of windmills were built during the 17th century giving this area its name – Millwall. A track ran along the top of the bank while another led from Poplar High Street down to the southern end of the island where a boat ferried passengers to and from naval Greenwich on the south bank.

As trade with the East and West Indies started to grow, so London entered a long period of prosperity. Hundreds of ships were needed by the East India Company and yards opened at Limehouse and Blackwall to build them.

It is said that by the mid to late 1700s, the Thames west of Millwall along to the Tower of London was so crowded with ships carrying sugar from the West Indies that you could not see the water for sails. Alongside, the docks to the north and west of the marshes, accidents and collisions became commonplace and clippers were forced to wait for hours out on the river before unloading.

isle of dogs map

The Isle of Dogs

The Isle of Dogs survived the Second World War and picked up where it left off with cargo steadily rising to a peak of 60 million tons in 1961. But thereafter containerisation, which needed bigger ships with deeper draughts, led to a rapid fall of shipping as merchants switched to the new port downstream at Tilbury. All of the docks closed by 1973 save West India Quay which finally went out of business in 1980.

The area lapsed into dereliction and with it a once bustling community. From its peak of 120,000, the Port of London’s number of employees had fallen to just 3,000 by the 1980s. Warehouses stood empty. Houses were derelict. The docks silted up.


Merchants petitioned Parliament to build docks along the northern edge of what had now become known as the Isle of Dogs – a name whose origin is now lost in history – ushering in the great age of the docklands. Trade boomed and with it, the island with workers flooding in from all parts of Britain. The western shore became heavily industrialised and urbanised as it was taken over by shipyards and ironworks.

Workers were housed in Millwall – particularly along the streets around Millharbour. Row upon row of terraced cottages dominated the centre of the island while further out towards what is now Crossharbour, fashionable detached houses were built for the merchants and better off.

East of Millharbour, the master builder, William Cubitt, started a new community – Cubitt Town where streets were laid out in a grid pattern and workers for the new eastern docks housed in what were considered model homes for the 19th century.

In just half a century, the population of the Isle of Dogs had risen from barely 500 to almost 20,000.

Great Eastern Millwall

Shipping started to decline from the 1870s as continental Europe – particularly Germany – began to catch up with Britain’s industrialisation. But the boom on the Isle of Dogs continued with chemical making, engineering and food processing expanding rapidly. The Millwall Docks – still an expanse of open water today – opened alongside Millharbour in 1878 to feed industry’s demand for raw materials. Between the 1870s and the outbreak of war in 1914, millions of tons of pine from the Baltic was unloaded and processed here.

The island was still separated from the rest of the East End and the great Commercial Road which linked it to the rest of the capital continued to be bordered by fields right up until the turn of the 20th century. As a result, the communities of Millwall and Cubitt Town had their own distinct character from the rest of London, something that survives still.

As with the rest of the East End, the docks were targeted by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz with mass bombings regularly setting the area ablaze. On one night – September 7, 1940, so-called Black Saturday – a mass raid left 430 islanders dead, 1,600 seriously injured and 10,000 homeless.

The Isle of Dogs survived the Second World War and picked up where it left off with cargo steadily rising to a peak of 60 million tons in 1961. But thereafter containerisation, which needed bigger ships with deeper draughts, led to a rapid fall of shipping as merchants switched to the new port downstream at Tilbury. All of the docks closed by 1973 save West India Quay which finally went out of business in 1980.


The arrival of Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street led to the astonishing rebirth of Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs, turning it from near dereliction into Europe’s second financial centre behind the City of London further west.

In 1981, the government set up the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) to kickstart redevelopment of 8.5 square miles of former docklands.

Much of the area – with the Isle of Dogs at its heart – was classified as an enterprise zone with tax breaks and other financial incentives to encourage developers to move in. The LDDC was also given control over the area’s planning process.

In 1987, the Big Bang deregulated financial services and changed the way merchant banks worked. Out went smaller buildings with narrow corridors and individual offices and in came large, airy, open-plan buildings. The City resisted this change in an effort to keep its traditional architecture and the LDDC responded by giving the go ahead for 10 million square feet of new office space at West India Docks.

Construction started in 1988 with the first phase – consisting of the tower of One Canada Square – opening in 1991. Other skyscrapers followed with the second phase consisting of the HSBC Tower, Citigroup Centre headquarters buildings, and Heron Quays opening between 1997 and 2002.

A new rail link – the Docklands Light Railway – built partly on abandoned track beds was opened with an initial stretch from Tower Gateway on the edge of the City to the southern end of the Isle of Dogs opening in 1987. An extension into the centre of the City opened in 1991. The Jubilee Line was extended to and beyond Canary Wharf prior to the opening of the Millennium Dome at Greenwich in 2000.

Following the financial crisis of 2008/9,  the area has rebounded and plans have been approved for it to double in size again with the go-ahead for another 15 million square feet of office space.

Horrible histories

Pirates were reputedly hanged in chains on the banks of the Thames opposite Greenwich Hospital on the site of the park now called Island Gardens. The macabre venue was supposedly chosen so that pensioners in the hospital could watch the pirates dying through their spyglasses. A late 18th-century guidebook mentions three gibbets in Blackwall Reach “upon which have been hung persons who have committed murders on the high seas”. Thomas Davers built a folly here in the 1750s but the poverty-stricken aristocrat committed suicide in 1867 after losing all of his money and having to surrender the mock fortress after its completion. In the ultimate indignity, the building was soon turned into a pub.

Narrow Street

Today, Canary Wharf may be the most modern part of London but you don’t have to go far to get some idea of how the place looked in its shipping heyday. Narrow Street, running from the wharf through Limehouse, marks the original heart of the area’s connection with the sea. Chandlers, ropemakers and sailmakers made the street their home, supplying the rapidly increasing number of ships. In 1866, the Limehouse Bridge Dock was built to allow small ships into the Limehouse Cut which ultimately gave access to the Regent’s Canal. The diarist, Samuel Pepys, visited a porcelain factory in Narrow Street, arriving by boat and alighting on Duke Shore Stairs.

Present day Narrow Street is much sought after and retains a number of impressive Georgian buildings. Famous residents include actors Sir Ian McKellen and Steven Berkoff and former foreign secretary Lord Owen.

SS Great Eastern

Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Great Eastern was built by J. Scott Russell at Millwall and launched in 1858. At 211 metres in length, the ship was the largest vessel ever built at the time and could carry 4,000 people from England to Australia without having to refuel. The Great Eastern was damaged in an explosion on her maiden voyage but was repaired and plied the Atlantic route for four years before being converted to a cable-laying ship, laying the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866. She sadly ended her short life as a floating music hall and was broken up in 1889.


Republic of the Isle of Dogs

Mass unemployment among former dockers, poor quality housing and social decay led to serious discontent on the island in the late 1960s. Inspired by the 1949 Ealing Comedy, Passport to Pimlico, a group of angry residents banded together and called for independence on March 3, 1970. Led by Labour councillor Ted Johns, the group declared UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) and blocked the two swing bridges which were the only access onto the island. Headquartered in Ted Johns’s council flat in Manchester Road, they threatened to withhold rates from Tower Hamlets and the London Council. But after two weeks, Tower Hamlets announced new investment for the island and the ‘republic’ dropped its bid for independence.

South Quay bombing

South Quay bombShortly after 7pm on February 9, 1996, an enormous blast about 50 metres from South Quay DLR station killed two people, injured 29 others and caused enormous damage to nearby buildings. The bomb – a mixture of semtex and high explosive – had been planted in a truck by the IRA and marked the end of a ceasefire which had been called at the start of the Northern Ireland peace process. About £100million of damage was caused. Three buildings were badly damaged and the bomb left a smoking crater 10 metres wide and three metres deep.

The bomb was the last action the IRA took on mainland Britain. By the end of the month, the Prime Minister, John Major,  and John Bruton, the Irish Taoiseach announced that all-party talks would restart in the summer and with Sinn Fein allowed in.


Local Perspectives

Canary Wharf and its gleaming steel and glass buildings have come to symbolise the new London of finance and technology. But this testament to raw capitalism sits in Tower Hamlets, one of London’s poorest boroughs. The communities that were once at the heart of the area before the redevelopment of the 1980s are still there but some of the native residents feel that they have been left behind by the influx of wealthy professionals.
There are, however, groups who are working hard to try to reduce the disparity between newcomer and some of the less well off. By no means everybody decries the decline of the old communities and the rise of a new, more cosmopolitan Isle of Dogs. Steve Stride, the chief executive of Poplar Housing and Regeneration Association, believes that the influx of ‘big money’ has had a positive impact on the area.

That money, he said, brought value into an area which was already deprived and with it, came a mix of people along with the financial weight to transform what was an overwhelmingly rundown area. The focus since the boom started, Stride added, is on managing the disparity between the well off and the less well off.

He believes that it is working well across the whole of Tower Hamlets because of the mixture of people from different ethnicities and backgrounds. “We welcome big investment and the high values that come with it. This is a success story because economic success brings improvements to infrastructure and facilities for everybody.”

For those who have moved to the island over the last two decades there has been a dramatic growth in the number of restaurants, bars and cultural attractions, particularly over the last five years. The earliest residents of the new financial district would often complain that they only had “a pizza restaurant, Waitrose and a sushi stall” to choose from but the Wharf and its surrounding areas now boast one of the most diverse nightlives of anywhere in East London.

Steve Jenkins, a recruitment specialist who has lived at Crossharbour for the last 22 years, says that it is only in the last five or six years that he and his wife have stopped their weekly visits to central London for a dose of culture. “It’s so much better now. When we first moved here, there was very little going on… people complained that it was a bit sterile and I guess it was. Now there’s something for everyone thanks to the latest influx of new people opening bars, clubs and restaurants. It has become a community in its own right.



From pretty mediocre beginnings in the 1990s, Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs now boast one of the largest and most diverse range of great bars and restaurants of anywhere in London. All tastes and wallets are catered for on the island from small independent restaurants through well-known names all the way up to top-end establishments offering the best in fine dining.

Most visitors – particularly those at the weekend – head straight for the familiar names inside Cabot Square and Jubilee Place – Itsu, Pizza Express and the like –  but venture away from the manicured and immaculate centre of the estate itself and there are enough lively and independent bars and restaurants to keep even the most dedicated real ale fan or foodie happy.

First Edition

Intimate, big on seafood and tucked away in one of the quieter parts of the Wharf, First Edition is highly-rated among foodies for its food and atmosphere. Its independently run and offers curtained booths for those looking for a romantic evening. There is a big dining room, too, with a nautical theme – striped curtains, anchor motifs and deckchair-striped curtains.  Aside from excellent fish, there is a very wide menu with several elegant dishes inspired by French cuisine.

25 Cabot Square
fe cw


It may be part of a chain but don’t be fooled. Roka’s stylish Japanese dishes really are a cut above and the sushi bar and robata grill are things of wonder. Inside, this huge room is panelled in perforate wood panels and mood lighting adds to the atmosphere. You will be enticed by the food the moment you step through the door – the smell of chargrilling will have even the most sated reaching for the menu. London Tastin’ said of Roka: “A great variety of robata grill dishes, all delicious enough for a immediate return. The dish sizes seemed bigger than Zuma, which means better value.”

4 Park Pavilion, 40 Canada Square


Lime Bar and Restaurant

A short walk from the Wharf in Millwall, Lime may not look much from the outside but on the menu is probably some of the best Indian food anywhere in London. Inside, it’s all very contemporary with a backlit bar, orange banquettes and exposed brickwork. The choice of food is wide – from favourites like vindaloo and dhansak to specials including chargrilled spicy duck and sea bass. The restaurant is a favourite for vegetarians with a wide choice of meat-free dishes and there’s a good selections of fine wines.


2 Regatta Point


Blogger Recommendations: Boisdale of Canary Wharf

Embrace your inner Braveheart at this Scottish restaurant where you can enjoy only the finest MacSween haggis, venison from the Tweed Valley, and rock oysters from Cumbrae washed down with a dram of whisky from their extensive spirit menu. There’s live jazz six nights a week too.


Address: Cabot Place, Canary Wharf, London E14 4QT

Amerigo Vespucci

Long a lunchtime hotspot for workers at the Wharf, Amerigo Vespucci offers a modern Italian menu  and fine wines in a simple, uncluttered and contemporary setting. The restaurant has been a landmark here almost as long as 1 Canada Square and is owned and run by Italians whose menu includes a selection of regional foods from the country of their birth. Pasta, fish and salads are firm favourites while a large outside dining area is a real sun trap in the summer.

A popular destination for those seeking something a bit classier than the Wharf’s chain restaurants, foodie blogger Bhavani’s Kitchen raved about Amerigo Vespucci: “Even though it is a little pricey, Amerigo is value for money. The ambience is nice and the food is excellent! The menu covers a lot of ground with meat, fish, chicken and a myriad of pasta dishes. The service was impeccable with the head waiter being charming and friendly.”

25 Cabot Square


It would be churlish not to mention the restaurant with one of the best views in London. Set up on the fourth floor of Canada Place, this Conran showpiece has breathtaking views of Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. This is fine dining en haut with French-inspired cuisine presented by head chef Allan Pickett. If you arent after the full gastro experience, then the adjacent bar and grill serves smaller meals with the same selection of wines accompanied by real music.

4th Floor, Canada Place


Wibbley Wobbley

There are plenty of loud and brash bars on Canary Wharf but if you fancy something a little quieter, Wibbley Wobbley has peace in spades. This small bar is on a boat moored in Greenland Dock, Surrey Quays. It’s a bit of a schlep from the Wharf but Surrey Quays and Canada Water Tubes are just half a mile away. The beer is cheaper than anything you’ll find on the Isle of Dogs and there’s a restaurant upstairs. Sitting outside on a summer evening, you would be forgiven for thinking you’re on a boat in a quiet country bay rather than close to the heart of one of the world’s noisiest cities.

Greenland Dock, Rope Street

The Gun

A proper old boozer with a decent restaurant to boot, The Gun was the watering hole of choice for the hacks of Fleet Street when the industry upped sticks and headed east. Sadly, only The Mirror is now at Canary Wharf but The Gun is still worth visiting for its fabulous views out over the river and a great selection of beers and wines. There is a log fire in the winter and a summer terrace. The Gun has recently become a gastropub but drinkers are welcome throughout the year, lunchtime and evening.

27 Coldharbour,

the gun

The Attic

Cocktails and views sum up The Attic. Up on the 48th floor of one of the Wharf’s tallest buildings, this cocktail bar and restaurant is best sampled at night when the neighbouring towers of 1 Canada Square, HSBC and Citigroup are lit up. On the other side are some amazing views out towards the City and the rest of London. Cocktails, champagne and opulent furnishing make this a real treat and The Attic is available to exclusively hire on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.

48th Floor Pan Peninsula,

the grapesThe Grapes

One of London’s most famous, The Grapes has a well-deserved reputation as a beer-lover’s pub as well as doing a roaring trade in its excellent fish restaurant upstairs. Now leased by local residents Sir Ian McKellen, Evgeny Lebedev (owner of The Independent and Evening Standard) and Sean Mathias, The Grapes has a history dating back 500 years. It has a real ‘local’ atmosphere and serves its own choice of beers and wines. The upstairs dining room with its renowned seafood menu is a popular choice among locals but be warned – you will rarely get a table without a booking.

Pub blogger Boak And Bailey particularly liked the small terrace that almost hangs over the Thames: “There’s a deck out the back where you can sit and hear (and occasionally feel) the Thames lapping up against the wall. It almost felt like we were beside the seaside, particularly with the stormy skies and choppy water. Bliss.”

76 Narrow Street, Limehouse


With so many living and working in and around Canary Wharf, it should come as no surprise that there is a thriving cultural scene here.

The Canary Wharf Group itself maintains and organises a number of events and exhibitions throughout the year.  The spring and summer see music festivals and food markets both indoors and outside while the Wharf’s ice rink has become a major winter attraction. Theatre and major sporting events are also becoming regular features of the estate’s calendar.


Canary Wharf

Dancers from around the UK and across the world descend on Canary Wharf on Monday, June 29 for a week of ballet, street dance, contemporary dance and circus performances against the backdrop of the three main towers.



The Space

The Space on Westferry Road has been growing in popularity since its opening in 1989. Housed in a converted Victorian church, it hosts a wide variety of artistic performances including classical and contemporary music, theatre and comedy.

269 Westferry Road, Tower Hamlets, London E14 3RS

space theatre


The  Scottish restaurant has four branches across London but its Canary Wharf venue is known for its music events and gigs. Jazz and blues are firm favourites here but recent visitors have included Hot Chocolate and Jeremy Sassoon. Coming this summer are 1980s favourites T’Pau and a series of tribute events to Frank Sinatra, Elvis and the Buena Vista Social Club.


As well as one of the largest collections of public art anywhere in the country, Canary Wharf and its surroundings boast a wide variety of exhibitions and other artistic events.

Art on the Underground

Running for the third year, the Canary Wharf Screen features one of London’s largest public projection screens and is completely free. A series of moving images featuring historic and contemporary art are presented throughout the week until 7.30pm in the evening and on Saturdays until 6pm.

Canary Wharf Underground Station

Castle Galleries

Original and limited edition fine art at one of London’s best-known galleries. A lot of the work is very high end with prices to match, but Castle Galleries also hosts a series of free exhibitions for all art lovers as well as personal artist appearances, exclusive events and private viewings.

Canada Place Mall, 34 North Colonnade

St Matthias Community Centre

Formerly a church and nestling in a pleasant green space that was once its churchyard, St Matthias was built by the East India Company in 1654 but is a now a fully converted community centre which holds a series of performances, theatre workshops and other community events throughout the year.

113 Poplar High St

Properties in Docklands

Galliard Homes have been committed to regenerating London’s Docklands, providing infrastructure and affordable homes to the community. We have developments in Canary Wharf, Wapping, E14, E1W, SE16, E16

Harbour Central

The spectacular Harbour Central is a brand new development in London’s Docklands, comprising of five residential buildings and a leisure complex; this will be the height of luxury living and exclusivity just minutes from the booming financial centre of London – Canary Wharf.

The magnificent Maine Tower will offer 297 exquisite apartments, arranged over 41 storeys and promises breathtaking panoramic views from the upper floors. Designed as the impressive focal point of Harbour Central, this all-private tower is set to be a dramatic new landmark within E14.

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Royal Gateway

A BRAND NEW all private development comprising 336 exclusive apartments and penthouses, central to London’s most prolific regeneration master plan – The Royal Docks. Royal Gateway will comprise five apartment blocks offering a choice selection of studio, one, two and three bedroom apartments and two bedroom duplex penthouses, each designed to Galliard Homes’ premier level specification. The majority of upper level apartments and penthouses will have superb unrestricted views over the Royal Docks and London’s iconic skyline. Complete with a proposed concierge, podium landscaped gardens and secure parking, Royal Gateway is expected to provide an exceptional and truly exclusive lifestyle to its residents.

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Wapping Riverside

Set within a spectacular warehouse conversion, Wapping Riverside offers 37 exclusive apartments enjoying panoramic views across the Thames. Comprising one to three bedroom apartments, that will be designed to perfectly combine original features with luxury contemporary functionality.


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Baltimore Tower

Set to become a new landmark for luxury living, Baltimore Tower presents executive suites and 1, 2 & 3 bed apartments, rising up to 450 feet above Canary Wharf’s skyline. Each with their own private balcony, the spec of these premier apartments will be matched by a host of exclusive amenities.


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