Stunning views from the Shard

18 January 2012 at 21:40 | Posted in Docklands present | 2 Comments

Just a very short update tonight to highlight an amazing photo, taken by Will Pearson from the top of the Shard. It is a dusk photo, taken in November 2010, showing the full 360° panorama from 310 metres above central London.

The view down the river through Docklands is stunning, and can be viewed in full screen, and you can pan around the image and zoom in.

Take a look for yourself here, and enjoy.

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Stave Hill

29 December 2011 at 22:03 | Posted in Docklands past, Docklands present, Photos | 3 Comments
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Stave Hill is a wonderful hidden secret of Rotherhithe, a 10 m high artificial mound alongside Russia Dock Woodland, lifting visitors just high enough to see over the rooftops.

The area is naturally very flat; until the Surrey Docks were built, the whole area was marshland, with occasional flooding on the highest tides. When urbanisation reached the area, and the Thames wall sufficiently protected from the tides, the site of Stave Hill became a part of Russia Dock, named for one of the countries which did business with the Surrey Docks.

Following the closure of the docks, Russia Dock was filled in, along with most of the Surrey Docks, while the GLC and local borough debated what should become of the area. In the 1980s the London Docklands Development Corporation controversially took over the task of regeneration, and set about creating some new open spaces around which residential development could take place.

The LDDC realised that while plenty of land would be needed if they were to create the number of homes they envisaged, they at least had the foresight to realise that infilling the waterways almost in their entirety left the centre of the peninsula with little character to build on, so a new canal – the Albion Channel – was dug, from Surrey Dock (now Surrey Water), through the former site of Albion Dock to the remaining part of Canada Dock, now Canada Water (the rest of the dock lying underneath Surrey Quays shopping centre and part of its car park).

What to do with the spoil? Another part of the LDDC’s plan was  a landscaped park centred on Russia Dock, but being very flat now (having been entirely filled in) there was nowhere that a visitor could go to take a view. The spoil from Albion Channel thus gained a home as an artificial hill alongside Russia Dock Woodland, providing some much appreciated elevation within the otherwise rather flat area. (The approximate location of Stave Hill is circled in the aerial photo above).

Stave Hill is approached from Dock Avenue, a residential pedestrian street linking Stave Hill (and Russia Dock Woodland) with Timber Pond Road, now much shadier than it was in 1987!

The first image below is from circa 1987, and shows the view across the rooftops of houses just being completed, to the City in the distance, with a single prominent tower (then still called the NatWest Tower, now Tower 42). (Click on any images for a larger version.)

By 2008, the view looks quite different, with the trees maturing, and some notable new buildings appearing in view, including the City’s Gherkin.

Finally, in late 2011, another new building in the City has joined the cluster, Heron Tower, slightly to the right (north) of the Gherkin and Tower 42.

Just out of shot in the above frames is the Shard, the new 310 m high tower on the south bank of the Thames at London Bridge; it can be seen in the wider view below:

Oh, and the view towards Canary Wharf’s not bad, either…

Docklands Football: Millwall

11 December 2011 at 18:29 | Posted in Docklands past, Docklands present, Football, Maps and plans, Photos | Leave a comment
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There is a long history of football in the Docklands area, which has spawned some famous football clubs over the years. In this short series I’ll briefly profile the clubs which grew up around Docklands (before in some cases moving away); however this is by definition only a brief overview I’ll provide links to more comprehensive information. I am not focussing on the clubs’ honours and achievements which are well documented elsewhere but on their links to Docklands.

Millwall feature in this first post as they are perhaps the club most closely associated with Docklands; indeed their nickname started out as The Dockers, and the east stand in the current ground is now known as the Dockers Stand.

They were formed, as Millwall Rovers, in the Millwall area of the Isle of Dogs, in the heart of Docklands, in 1885. It was formed by workers of JT Morton’s, a Scottish firm which employed a number of Scottish workers in their Millwall factory; Millwall’s colours of navy blue and white reflect the Scottish heritage of the club.

In 1899, the ‘Rovers’ in the name was replaced by ‘Athletic’, and Millwall Athletic were founder members of the Southern League. The club played in a number of grounds in the Millwall area of the Isle of Dogs, starting in Glengall Road (now Tiller Road), with other grounds following in East Ferry Road (one, shown on the left behind the still-standing Lord Nelson pub at the corner of Manchester Road, was then sold and became home to Manchester Grove), but the growing club needed a new ground to call their own, and wanted to locate in a more densely populated area.

In 1910 the club made the move across the River Thames to a new ground, The Den, in Cold Blow Lane, SE14, between New Cross/Deptford and Bermondsey, and a few years later dropped the word ‘Athletic’ from their name. The plan on the left shows the area in 1914, with The Den towards the bottom left (click for larger image). The pitch of the New Den (see below) is outlined in blue towards the top left of the map.

Ten years after moving into The Den, the Football League expanded with a new Third Division, and Millwall moved, with much of the Southern League, into the Football League. Playing in the national leagues, Millwall drew crowds of over 48,000 to The Den, which became known for its intimidating atmosphere and partisan Lions Roar from the crowd. This atmosphere intensified in the 1970s and 1980s, when hooliganism spread through English football, and Millwall gained a reputation which the club has struggled to entirely throw off.

As the 1990s arrived, the Den had changed little over the decades, and in a post-Hillsborough era was in need of complete overhaul, with terraces on three sides and the main stand past its sell-by date.

In 1993 Millwall made the leap from The Den to a new ground a few hundred metres away in Zampa Road, SE16, the New Den (the ‘New’ now having been dropped over time).

I was standing on the north terrace for that last game at the old Den. For all the inadequacies of the facilities, including the open air toilets, it was a ground full of character, and I sincerely miss the terraces of old; I think the game’s administrators have never understood terrace culture, and would love to see safe standing areas return to England’s football grounds.

Regrettably I didn’t have my camera on me for that final game, but I did return over the following months as the old ground gave way to the New Den. The site of the old Den is now a residential development called John Williams Close. Hover for captions and click for larger images.




For more detailed information, visit fan history site Millwall History and of course the usual suspects of the official club site and Wikipedia, and Simon Inglis’s superb football grounds books.

HMS Belfast, 1983

1 December 2011 at 20:43 | Posted in Docklands past, Photos | Leave a comment
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HMS Belfast was in the news this week; I was very relieved to here there were no serious injuries arising from the walkway failure and hope it reopens soon. But it reminded me of my first visit there with the cub scouts in about 1983, and how different the area around it was then.

Luckily, I have a photo of HMS Belfast and its surroundings from above in 1983 (click for larger version).

HMS Belfast obviously occupies the same spot in the Thames, and the brown building adjacent to it is Southwark Crown Court, still much the same.

However, much else in the vicinity has changed since. To the left of Southwark Crown Court are a series of warehouses around a narrow dock; this was Hay’s Wharf. In the 1980s the dock itself was converted to an underground car park, with the warehouses renovated, the centre section roofed over and Hay’s Galleria was born.

Much of the rest of the area has since been redeveloped, with More London wrapping new buildings around the court, and just to the right lies City Hall, home of the GLA and Mayor of London.

Some buildings along Tooley Street have been retained, if only the frontage in some cases, and Tooley Street itself is somewhat smarter, and now carries two-way.

The image below shows the area today (click for larger version) from Bing.

Canary Wharf, 1983

5 November 2011 at 15:56 | Posted in Docklands past, Photos | 1 Comment
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In 1983, Canary Wharf was a very different place from today, as the aerial photo below illustrates (click for larger version).

The view is looking approximately north-east, with the Thames in the foreground and Poplar at the top of the picture. The three visible docks are the former West India Docks, which occupied the northern part of the Isle of Dogs.

Just above and to the left of the top dock are the warehouses now known as West India Quay, and home to the excellent and now free Museum of London in Docklands. At the end of that terrace is the old ledger building, now a Wetherspoon pub called the Ledger Building.

Within the docks, two wharves jut out into the West India Docks; the larger of the two was Canary Wharf.

The view below from yell.co.uk shows the staggering change in the course of a quarter of a century; the last large site which is as-yet unbuilt can be seen by the Thames in the foreground, just below the two-level Westferry Circus roundabout. This is the site of Riverside South, a mammoth development of new offices up to 236 metres high, owned by and planned for JP Morgan. The basement levels are under construction at the moment, although it is unclear as yet whether JPM will go through with the full build, given the financial pressures on the financial sector at the present time.

Royal Docks and the Emirates Air Line

8 October 2011 at 12:50 | Posted in Docklands present | 2 Comments
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Being the furthest from central London, the Royal Docks were the last of London’s docks to be built, the last to be closed, and the last to be regenerated. There have been some new developments in the Royal Docks, but there remain large parts which are available and ripe for development if only there was some momentum and appetite to be bold.

Newham and the various London regeneration bodies have long felt that the area could form a major area for visitors. ExCeL brings in several million visitors a year, but almost all of these are associated with various trade shows and conferences, with heavy spikes for large shows and long periods without any large events, so these shows don’t bring many visitors to explore the docks.

Various schemes have been put forward to bring more year-round visitors and get the ball rolling, including advanced plans for a huge aquarium, which fell through, and bringing HMS Ark Royal to the Royal Docks. In 2010 Siemens announced plans for a visitor attraction at the western end of the Royal Victoria Dock (left), focussing on modern technologies, in association with office space. This is well under construction and is planned to bring 100,000 visitors to the area, in a more stable profile than the peaky-event traffic at ExCeL. This still leaves the non-event attractions in the docks looking pretty thin, and yet visible from here is the O2 across the river in Greenwich, a major attraction in its own right and recipient of 5 million visitors a year. This also suffers from peakiness though, being led by arena events despite the presence of a large cinema and lots of bars and restaurants.

In the case of both the O2 and ExCeL, moving event crowds is something of a challenge, which is generally well managed but desperately dependent on the Jubilee line and DLR (respectively) working perfectly, which didn’t happen often at weekends in the late 2000s while the Jubilee line was being painfully re-signalled.

In 2009 the Mayor – prompted by the late Sir Simon Milton – was determined to do something to put the Royals on the map, not least because through the LDA he had some very considerable landholdings in the area which were ripe for development, if only the private sector was interested.

With a large number of synergies between the Royal Docks and the Greenwich Peninsula, a direct link between them could make development in both areas more feasible; for example, the many hotels in the Royals which struggle for customers when there are no events on at ExCeL could better tap into events at the O2, while hotels on the Greenwich peninsula would benefit when the boat show’s on at ExCeL. If people could use the bars and restaurants on either side, they may arrive earlier to eat locally rather than depend on food at the venue. With a higher and more stable customer base the attractiveness of development on both sides would increase, and this would create employment.

So, how to link them? A railway line would take several years to build, and would be prohibitively expensive; with an alternative Jubilee/DLR route the cost could never be justified. A footbridge? Still very expensive, at over£100 million, comparing it with a similar proposal at Rotherhithe. And it would still only drop you at the river’s edge, with a 10-15 minute walk through grotty industrial estate to reach the docks, and with no revenue from users, it would be an expensive structure to maintain and keep secure. A tunnel would cost more, yet have the same downsides as a bridge.

A cable car was previously considered by green groups as an alternative to the  Thames Gateway Bridge, at the other end of the docks; doing the same at this end of the docks would be half the cost of a footbridge, and would oversail the industrial estate, getting over the problem of the walking distance from the Thames to the docks. It would provide a second link across the Thames from the Peninsula to help resilience, and link ExCeL to the O2. What’s more, it would be an attraction in its own right, attracting visitors to the area and supporting other local jobs.

With half an eye on the upcoming Olympics, when the scheme would link two venues, the Mayor didn’t hang about and took something of a gamble on being able to raise some private cash, giving the scheme the go-ahead in Spring 2011 with an ambitious one year programme, aiming to open in summer 2012. Will this be pre- or post-Olympics? Technically it doesn’t matter, the Olympic organisers are assuming it won’t be ready, and rightly so. But if it were open, I’m sure it would be hugely successful in those weeks.

Yesterday the Mayor – presumably with a huge sigh of relief – announced that Emirates would be sponsoring the newly christened Air Line. Out of a total build cost of £45M, they are paying £36M, leaving only £9M with TfL. And there’s a bid for European funding in too, so Boris may just pull the funding rabbit out of the hat. Even if TfL picked up the bill for the difference, that is small change; upgrading Victoria station will cost £700M, and that’s just to ease station crowding. (Not saying that’s a bad thing to do, but you’d lose the cost of the cable car in the budget for that scheme.) And who knows, it may even make a huge profit. If the London Eye pulls in 3.7M visitors each year at an eye-watering £13-31 a ride, who’s to say TfL won’t be pulling in profits to help other services?

If the experience is as good as the promoters hope, it should be pulling the visitors in, and money into the public coffers at the same time:

So, will it help with regeneration? It will undoubtedly add to the attractiveness of the O2 and ExCeL as venues, as there will now be more ways to get there (and away), more hotel beds within striking distance, and something else to do while you’re in the area. That means more jobs all round. It will surely massively increase visitors to ExCeL, and ties in beautifully with the new Skywalk which O2 are going to build next year as part of the strategy to get year-round visitors not coming to gigs.

And what about new developments? It can’t be a coincidence that the SS Robin will be mooring in the Royal Victoria Dock next to the new station. And there’s another application for a floating village to be built alongside (see left). This will comprise a swimming pool, restaurants, bars, cafés, and watersports, bringing new life to this dock, and a number of new jobs.

Are the Royal Docks on the verge of the tipping point, with a critical mass of complementary new developments making this a viable destination, and spurring new developments on the remaining brownfield sites? Some think so, and I certainly hope so too. Wary of the aquarium failure no-one should count their chickens, but for me the cable car, sorry Emirates Air Line, could just be the shrewdest thing the current Mayor’s done in his term in office.

Wapping, 1983

3 October 2011 at 19:53 | Posted in Docklands past, Photos | 1 Comment
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The photo below shows Wapping from above in 1983, with the former London Docks filled in for development (click for larger version).

The large space in the middle is the heart of the former London Docks, which made Wapping something of an island between the Thames and docks.

The docks were largely filled in to allow development of new homes in their place. The picture on the left shows the final stages of construction of new homes along the ornamental canal which features the former dock wall.

Homes also now surround the last vestiges of the docks at Hermitage Basin and Shadwell Basin, where Del and Rodney found Uncle Albert in an episode of Only Fools and Horses. Uncle Albert muses that it used to be a working dock and look at it now, all closed down with houses where the dockers used to work. “Yeah”, says Del; “Triffic, innit?”

Part of the site was shortly to become the infamous home of News International (at the top of the cleared land in this picture, incorporating the large brown building visible).

The print works were built in secret, but after completion in 1986 the main Rupert Murdoch newspapers – The Times, Sunday Times, Sun and News of the World moved here from Fleet Street, precipitating large-scale industrial action by the print unions at Wapping, and eventually the loss of all the major newspapers from Fleet Street for new premises. More recently the site returned to the front pages due to the phone hacking scandal, and the News of the World, based here since 1986, closed in the summer of 2011. In September 2011 News International announced that they would be leaving Wapping altogether, closing one of the most interesting chapters in UK newspaper history.

To the right of News International, and just below the white St George’s church, lies Tobacco Dock, a lovely survivor of the Docklands regeneration. The former tobacco warehouse was converted into small but interesting shopping centre in the 1980s, and I remember my dad taking me there very soon after it opened. I loved it, and thought it would be hugely popular. Sadly it didn’t work, and gradually the shops within it dwindled and the shopping centre was left empty, except for occasional TV filming. There are plans to turn it into a hotel, so maybe it’ll have another lease of life.

The red astroturf of the John Orwell Sports Centre is visible in the foreground, occupying the site of a former dock. Between there and the Thames is Wapping Pier Head, formerly an entrance into the London Docks. The waterway has long been filled in and now forms a communal garden for the gorgeous houses which were formerly occupied by dockmasters. They are now highly desirable, and allegedly home to such worthies as Graham Norton and Helen Mirren among others; I can’t vouch for that but google throws up plenty of such rumour! The Beatles visited before the gentrification of this area, and this was the location of Ross and Emily’s wedding, for aficionados of Friends!

The view below shows a more recent view of the same area, from bing.

Rotherhithe – a place in history, 1982 video

18 September 2011 at 17:37 | Posted in Docklands past, Videos | 1 Comment
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This fascinating amateur footage, if somewhat showing its age now, was shot around the Rotherhithe area in 1982, and has found its way onto YouTube for all to enjoy courtesy of Michael Reardon.

Part one:

Part two:

I’m very grateful to Michael Reardon for editing it and putting it onto YouTube (and to Gary for alerting me to it!).

Surrey Docks map, 1984

4 September 2011 at 18:56 | Posted in Docklands past, Maps and plans | Leave a comment
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The map below comes from a 1984 Greater London Council (GLC) book, Docklands History Survey. In it the GLC listed the buildings within the Docklands area worthy of future protection or conservation following the winding-up of the GLC two years later. (Click the map for a larger version.)

The map shows the derelict Surrey Docks in Rotherhithe.

The map is slightly odd in being formed of two separate surveys, with the northern part of the map obviously a year or two ahead of the southern part, with the northern part looking very similar to the 1983 aerial photo.

In both cases, Rotherhithe Street is the principal street around the peninsula, with Salter Road under construction in the newer, northern part of the map.

Several docks remain in whole or in part, with Canada Dock still visible, just before it succumbed to the new Surrey Quays Shopping Centre, and its car park, a few years later.

The Southwark /Lewisham boundary is interesting to me; in this area it still broadly (if not perfectly) followed the traditional parish boundary between Rotherhithe and Deptford, which also made it the boundary of Surrey and Kent before the London County Council came along. This made the southern edge of South Dock part of Lewisham at the time of this map, whereas the boundary was tidied up in 1994 and now runs along the middle of Plough Way, making this area part of Southwark. So if you happen to be bringing up a young cricket fan and live in one of the streets between South Dock and Plough Way, you’ll have to think hard whether they should support Kent (if you subscribe to traditional pre-1994 boundaries) or Surrey!

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.
© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved. Published according to Ordnance Survey’s Fair Dealing policy.

One Canada Square, 1992

29 August 2011 at 19:52 | Posted in Docklands past, Docklands present, Photos | 2 Comments
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In 1991, One Canada Square in Canary Wharf was completed, the pinnacle of London’s new Docklands, and now a potent symbol of the financial sector, making regular appearances in every news article about the banking crisis, and of course during The Apprentice. It wasn’t always so, though, with its initial completion occurring as Britain struggled with the end of the 1980s boom and slipped into recession, leaving the developers in significant financial difficulty at the time.

One Canada Square – often known simply as Canary Wharf – is 244 metres and 50 stories high, and held the position as the UK’s tallest building until the last year when it was pipped by the Shard at London Bridge. I took the picture on the left in about 1990, shortly after it reached its full height but before the cladding had been completed; the blue colour was a plastic wrap which protected the silver facade during construction and was in the process of being removed at the time of the picture.

The picture on the left, which I took in 1992, shows how isolated the tower was after its completion, with the surrounding skyscrapers put on the back-burner as the developers struggled to create the envisaged financial district which eventually came to pass.

Sadly beyond the basement retail areas, the tower itself if not accessible to the public, but for a brief time in 1992 it was open to visitors during the weekend, until a failed IRA bomb attack put a sudden end to it, and led to the security checks on entry which still keep tabs on movements into the wharf. I loved visiting; you took the lift to the 50th floor, letting your ears pop on the way up, and stepped out onto a huge, empty floor, busy around the windows but otherwise strangely empty. I have some photos I took from up there, nearly 20 years ago now, and when I visited a high floor for a meeting just a few weeks ago, I wish I’d had the temerity to take a camera along to do a before and after of the views!

I took the picture on left from the same spot as the one above, but 13 years later, in 2005 (the drain and the fire hydrant are good location markers!) and the place has changed significantly. The then-new library (sorry, “Ideas Store”) has been built in the foreground and sports the London 2012 bid logo; the lifting bridge has been replaced by a smarter bridge now out of sight; the pair of 200 metre towers for HSBC and Citigroup now frame One Canada Square; the traffic lights are now green (admittedly, that may have been luck) and of course the sun’s come out.

Still, it’s interesting to see how rapidly the view’s changed in little over a decade.

The picture on the left shows the return view from the 50th floor towards Blackwall Basin, and the location of the previous pictures. Somewhere down there on Trafalgar Way is my mate Mark’s mini, which took us to the wharf that day. In the centre of the shot is Blackwall Basin, the area to the left of which has since been developed into housing. To the right is Wood Wharf, which hasn’t changed quite so much, although it will do in the future if the masterplan for this land comes to fruition, with high-rise commercial and residential buildings planned.

The next image looks west, towards Westferry Circus, with Rotherhithe in the distance. The Thames-side site to the right (north) of the Westferry Circus landscaped roundabout has since been developed with a hotel, apartments and assorted restaurants etc. The Limehouse Link tunnel construction site can be seen far right. The site on the left is due to be home to Riverside South, now owned by JP Morgan.

If I knew then that I’d be living in Rotherhithe a few years later I’d have tried to zoom in closer, but sadly I’ve just chopped off my house at the top of the shot!

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