Archive for the ‘Local Interest & History’ Category

Going to the Dogs…

November 8, 2015 4 comments

CoverA couple of years or so ago, I was looking through one of the many second hand shops on the Walworth Road when I was working down in that neck of the woods, and came across a box of old magazines published in the early 1970’s by the Architectural Association, a highly regarded institution based here in London.

11One magazine in particular caught my attention as it contained an article about my own bit of London, The Isle of Dogs. So I handed over my 50p, read the article on my way home that evening, told And all about it, agreed that we should follow the route the first sunny Sunday that came along, and then promptly forgot all about it…

Until recently that is, when I was asked about my island life, and whether I thought the place was worth visiting. After I’d said yes of course, it’s a brilliant place, I remembered the magazine and scanned the article for this post.

Spread out over 10 pages was a fascinating walk through the Isle of Dogs. Written originally back in early 1972, it describes the island as I can only now imagine it, a fact brought home by the opening paragraph which reads..

“The Isle of Dogs shares with Tibet and Timbuctoo, the reputation for being one of the least inhabited parts of the habitable globe”..

Obviously the opinion of an architectural academic and not one of the local islanders, the writer (Hubert Murray) begins his introduction to the walk with reference to a recent Tower Hamlets Planning survey that recorded the most common complaints of the people who lived on the Island (poor bus services, poor shops, lack of schools and too many tower blocks being the most common) and ends it with the bombshell that nothing was likely to happen in the short term until a decision had been made about whether to build an urban motorway across the IoD, a drastic and disastrous sounding solution to relieve traffic problems in  Greenwich and Blackheath… Remember this is nearly 10 years before the LDDC was set up in 1981 to create the success/ wonder/ hell hole/ expensive/polarised/ integrated/ etc. etc. (delete as appropriate) place that the Island has become today…

The walk starts at the top of the island on the east side in Poplar at the recently completed Robin Hood Gardens (a big favorite of the architectural profession at that time), heads down to Island Gardens before heading up around the west to Limehouse. Sights and landmarks on the way include: The Gun, Kelson House, The Watermans Arms, Edies Cafe, various allotments and the Globe Ropeworks building (now sadly long gone).

It makes for interesting reading, describing an area that has, for better or worse, long since been polished up, and one day I’d like to think we really will get round to following the route, finding some of the locations of these photos and seeing what still remains 43 years later…. 14




Lazy Post no. 14 – Sammy the Seal…

April 21, 2014 1 comment

P1050889_cropOver Easter we had the very good fortune to see of all things, a seal in the Millwall Inner Dock here on the Isle of Dogs…

There was a small group watching the water around one of the rafts that the nesting birds use, where the seal carrying what appeared to be a length of plastic pipe, was doing his best to annoy the coots on the raft.

One of the people there said they’d seen the seal two weeks previously and it had the pipe with it then as well. At one point the seal disappeared below the surface and then a couple of minutes later, rose vertically out of the water clutching the pipe, looked around a few times and then sank straight back down again, still holding the pipe. I’ve never seen anything like it…


Searching the web, it seems that the seals name is Sammy and he’s been here for about 13 years.. Which is not quite as long as I’ve been here, and begs the  question, why didn’t I know about him before now?


Anyway, it seems the fishmongers at Billingsgate Market up at the top of the island have been feeding him salmon all these years, which is why he stays presumably.

This is a link to a BBC news report from last year which shows Sammy in action…

The Isle of Dogs Lido…

February 26, 2014 2 comments

Lido location_planeWere are currently having our bathroom redone, and in the process of trying to find somewhere locally that we might go and have a shower for the next couple of weeks, I’ve discovered that many years ago, there used to be an open air swimming pool on the Isle of Dogs.

Opened in 1925, the pool was located within the red square marked on this now familiar, but still pretty amazing aerial photo of a German Bomber over the Docklands sometime during the 1940’s.

The other photo with a red square on it below, is from the 1930’s (ish) and shows the eastern side of the Island as it was in its industrial heyday, a pretty rugged place for an outdoor swimming pool I think you’ll agree…

The pool itself was about 50 x 18m in size, cost £10,495 to build and was free to get in until 1930. Surrounding the pool were changing rooms and ancillary support buildings and the stepped diving structure you can see in the bottom photos.

Wikipedia tells me that the term lido didn’t really come into common usage in the UK until the mid 1930’s, and that everything built before then was simply called a swimming pool. Like many things however, the name and the lifestyle they proposed became fashionable and eventually all such pools came to be described as a lido (which is simply the Italian word for beach by the way).

Sadly it was just such a plane as on the photo above that bombed the Isle of Dogs pool in 1940, making it unusable and forcing it to close after only 15 years. The lido buildings were later demolished and the land cleared to make way for an adventure playground, and latterly the sports field that lives there today…

Thanks to the ever informative Island History site for much of this info…

Lido location

millwall park 1925 IoD Swimming Pool


The Traffic Light Tree is Back…

February 2, 2014 Leave a comment

P1030370aA while ago I wrote a post about the sad and surprising disappearance of what is possibly the Isle of Dogs’s most infamous artwork, The Traffic Light Tree by Pierre Vivant.

Well I’m happy to confirm to all of you that were as worried as me, that it has recently reappeared on the other side of the island.

It will obviously take a while for the grass to grow and for it to look as comfy in its new home as it did in it’s old one, but I for one am very happy to see it back…

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Click the map above if you’re interested in where it now lives, red light = old home, green light = new…

John Betjeman on the Isle of Dogs…

July 24, 2013 Leave a comment

P1210527aI recently discovered that the nations favorite poet (certainly mine anyway) John Betjeman, that esteemed arbiter of good taste, sensible architecture and Gentlemanly manners, visited the Isle of Dogs back in the Spring of 1956.

Writing a piece for his regular “City & Suburban” column in the Spectator Magazine (a facsimile copy of which can be found here), Betjeman describes my chosen little bit of London as “a cut off kingdom”, remote and populated by proud people and ruined buildings… I get the distinct impression that his visit so far east of the city was something of a novelty, a change from the more leafy suburbs and halcyon times of which he always wrote so eloquently.

Along with this more usual interest in churches, public houses and dockside wharfs, its interesting to note that Betjeman writes about a then recently completed housing scheme, Castalia Square, comparing it favorably with the more widely known Lansbury Estate in Poplar at the top of the Island. Lansbury was a key aspect of the 1951 Festival of Britain, and is a subject I’ve written about in detail previously.

I must say I’ve walked through the Castalia Sqaure area many times, and although the houses are indeed nicely proportioned with now well established gardens and tree lined courtyards, the square itself must have looked very different 60 years ago, as since its refurbishment back in the 90’s, the large commercial building fronting the square looks rather nondescript and undistinguished, or maybe this is a later addition and wasn’t there at the time of John’s visit…

He’s dead right about Island Gardens though. A beautiful little park with an amazing view of Greenwich and well worth a visit, especially from the south with a walk through the foot tunnel, which I’m surprised Betjeman didn’t mention in his article. Maybe it was still closed after being bombed during the war.

Anyway I’ll leave you with a picture of the great man himself, as full of life as always, and the complete text of his piece…

John Betjeman“In the evening sunlight on Monday, I went to that least visited part of London, the Isle of Dogs. It’s more than a square mile of docks, houses: shattered Victorian churches, no train service, no cinema, a bus service, and only approachable by swing bridges. The people on the Island are proud of it and don’t like living anywhere else. Poplar people on the mainland don’t like coming to live on the Island.

It is a cut-off kingdom, the remotest thing you can find in London, and was very badly bombed in the war. Among the ruins three sights well worth the journey are to be seen. (1) Coldharbour, near Blackwall Basin, where some fine Georgian merchants’ houses have the water washing up to their walls and where a public house looks over Blackwall Reach. (2) Island Gardens on the southern tip of the Island, which commands the best view of Greenwich Hospital there is. Reflected in the water one sees the doomed Union Wharf beside the Hospital, with its weather-boarded houses, Queen’s House, and in the background the trees of Greenwich Park and the outline of the Observatory.

(3) One of the best new housing estates I have seen since the war, comparable with Lansbury, intimately proportioned, cheerful and airy and yet London-like. It is called Castalia Square and makes one realise. when one compares it with the gloomy blocks of ‘artisans’ dwellings’ of the mid-war and pre-1914 periods, how good modern architecture can be. In all the destruction I record in this column, it is a pleasure to be able to write about something newly built which makes one’s heart rejoice.”

Snow in Mudchute Park…

January 22, 2013 Leave a comment

As I’ve written before, living here on the Isle of Dogs, it’s sometimes easy to forget that you’re in Zone 2, a short journey to central London and within sight of Canary Wharf.

I took these photos of footpaths and routes around Mudchute Park and Farm whilst I was out walking yesterday morning. I was taken with the way the trees and fences seemed to point towards something unspecified in the distance, enticing me onwards towards the end of the track…

The grey skies, white snow and dark trees all conspired to create a monotone landscape that only heightened the sense of the unfamiliar, so that for an hour or so on a Monday morning, I was able to step out of my usual surroundings and be somewhere I hardly recognised, only 5 minutes walk from home…

(And no I didn’t use Photoshop to remove any people.. there really was no one about at all)














January 16, 2013 1 comment

A quick post of an amazing photo I’ve just found online of the place I call home.. The Isle of Dogs in London. That’s us bottom right, with Canary Wharf at the top in the centre, and Greenwich just out of shot at the bottom…

How wonderful the River Thames looks as it lazily meanders its way west, under Tower Bridge, past the City and on into the distance…


The DLR and London Docklands (before anyone took them seriously…)

January 14, 2013 9 comments

Steve White_25Oct88_2I love the internet, you can find so much amazing stuff, things you never even knew existed, just tucked away waiting to be found…

Take the photos that accompany this post for example. They are all borrowed from Steve White’s amazing Flickr site here, where he’s gathered over 1100 images. I can’t begin to imagine how long it must have taken to scan in all those original prints…

I came to London at the end of the 1980’s to do my year out and take my Architectural Diploma and by the early 1990’s was working for a Greenwich based architectural practice. Then, as now (apart from buses of course) there were really only two ways to get to Greenwich from north of the river:  overground from London Bridge or via the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).

In the early 90’s the DLR (much like the Docklands themselves) still had something of the novel about it: driverless trains, elevated trackways, unfinished stations, continuous weekend and evening closures, an abundance of blue powder coated steel structures and a track that stopped north of the Thames at Island Gardens.

Steve White_Canarywharf_17Oct89

What Steve obviously did and what I regret not doing, was documenting these early days with his camera, and for someone like me who regularly used the fledgling service to commute to work, his images are a treasure trove of visual clues and reminders of what a different world it was back then, covering everything from Tower Gateway to Beckton and Stratford and all points in between.

Admittedly these images won’t mean much if you’ve never been to the Docklands or had the opportunity to ride on the DLR, but trust me when I tell you that NOTHING looks like this anymore: not the buildings, the landscape, the trains, the stations… its all now super shiny, super busy, super dense and super expensive…

Steve White_WestIndiaQuay_21Aug89

Even having lived here over the last 12 years and experienced it all first hand, it’s still staggering the rate and amount of change the Isle of Dogs has been through. The huge empty spaces around West India Quay (above) and Limehouse (below) are particularly impressive especially when you think that these photos were all taken less then 30 years ago…

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I’ve taken the liberty of stitching a few of Steve’s photos together to give them a more panoramic feel, but even without doing that, the amount of space that the developers had to work with must have been simultaneously exciting and intimidating…

So a huge thanks to Steve for taking the time to document it all, I for one am very appreciative of his efforts.

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The above four photos are especially poignant for me as they show the old Island Gardens station as it was before the extension below the Thames made it all redundant and it was demolished.

Being the end of the line, the tracks split into a V either side of the central steps so that one train could wait for the other before it ran along the single track that ran most of the way to the next station, Mudchute. Reliability was not the DLR’s strong point in the early days, and I used to spend seemingly endless hours on these two platforms waiting to get back to civilisation in North London. Steve White_17Oct89_4

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It’s incredible to think that when Steve took this photo in June 1988, looking north from Heron Quays, nothing of the Canary Wharf existed… at all. One day I should go and take the same view as it its today and put it up here for comparison…

Steve White_19Oct88_1

Where has the Traffic Light Tree gone?

July 29, 2012 4 comments

The old roundabout at the top of the Isle of Dogs (over on the west where Marsh wall meets Heron Quays) has just undergone extensive regeneration. The roads and junctions have all been reconfigured and it looks pretty tidy now it’s all finished, offering swathes of beautiful flowers and expensive looking street furniture. There’s even some new trees… which is always a good thing…

However one of the biggest and best trees seems to have gone missing… The iconic Traffic Light Tree sculpture (Pierre Vivant/1998) that has stood in the center of the roundabout, and welcomed us back onto the island for the last 11 years we’ve lived here, is no longer there. I for one am disappointed that the designers and engineers couldn’t find a new new home for it, at what is effectively the main entrance to the island from the west.

On the plus side, Wikipedia tells me that Tower Hamlets have promised to relocate it elsewhere on the island, so lets hope they chose a suitably prominent place where everyone can enjoy this rather excellent piece of public art

It’s staggering how quickly our bit of London has developed in the time we’ve been here (and is still developing in fact). Much of it has changed  beyond recognition: Ever higher and ever more dense blocks now dominate the central spine of the island and whilst not all bad by any means, almost all of it is very obviously driven by the voracious need to make ever more and more amounts of cash…

Take the intriguing red buildings behind the Traffic Light Tree in the photo above (taken a couple of years ago) as an example. Known as Heron Quays, they were one of the very first developments at Canary Wharf by the old London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) and consisted of  small groups of rather odd, but strangely alluring, low key/ low density buildings which reflected the cautiousness of the early developments at Canary Wharf. Sat out on columns over the dock side water they came in a fine range of 1980’s colours: blue, red, brown and purple. All but the two purple ones have now gone, leveled in the short term for the temporary park described above, but in the long term to make way for some 30+ storey Richard Rogers towers.

Progress indeed…

Smoke on the Water

May 29, 2012 3 comments

What with one thing and another, I completely forgot to put this photo up on my blog yesterday…

We were both woken up yesterday morning at about 3.45am by a repeating alarm coming from the other side of the river: very loud and rather worrying. So after opening the curtains and seeing a huge pall of smoke drifting across our development, accompanied by an acrid smell of burning plastic, I got up, got dressed and walked to the river bank to see if it was anything we should be getting worried about.

As it turned out, the fire was in a building next to a large chemical store over on the Greenwich Peninsular, which by law has to have an alarm. Some one told And at work, that the siren was an old one left over from the war, although I’m not sure which one (the Cold one maybe) but it certainly had a dated wailing, up and down sound that was very distracting so early in the morning…

Anyway 12 engines and 60 firefighters soon arrived and by 7.00am I had fallen back to sleep and the fire was under control…

But as you can just about tell from my photo, the sky looking due east at 4.20am yesterday morning was a pretty impressive sight. In fact so much so, we might have to get up this early again another day and go for a walk along the Thames at dawn…

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