Walking to Work at Canada Water

Px02129_skewed_Av-HDR_800x500 - 27 Apr 2015

Above: Looking south beside the western side of Canada Water (originally part of Canada Dock) with part of Canada Water Library just visible on the right.

The picture was taken in April 2015. It looks south along the western side of the original Canada Dock, which was one of the original Surrey Commercial Dock. The concrete ‘hulk’ looming over the right side of the picture is the recently opened Canada Water Library complex. It was built over a side entrance to Canada Water Station, which serves both the Overground Railway and the Jubilee Line of the Underground Railway as well. That side entrance to the station is near the top right of the picture.

The view was actually taken about mid-day but, as I stood composing the picture on a sunny day with particularly unusual clouds passing overhead, people were walking past – either going to Surrey Quays Shopping Centre or having just been there. I could not help thinking that there were few places in London where those who walk to the station, on their way to work, could have such a pleasant view on a sunny day such as the one seen here.

Those thoughts took me back to the 1980s and 1990s when the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) were working in this area, transforming what had been derelict docks into a vibrant residential and business community. Behind the trees (also near the top right) stands the old Surrey Dock Offices which had been the central administrative offices when the Surrey Commercial Docks were in use by shipping.

When the LDDC started work in this part of London, they also needed a building for their offices so one of the first things that they did was to renovate the old Victorian building for their use. The Senior Area Architect was a man called Tony Shaw. I met him by chance one day and we became good friends. Sometimes I used to pop in to see him for a chat and at other times he needed my assistance in giving him the background history to a building that the LDDC were considering for renovation. My thoughts went back to those times and, as I gazed on this attractive view, I knew that it was due to his vision and the hard work by his team that this scene became a reality.

Canada Dock in 1980 was still full of water although its stonework was generally in a very poor state. The last time the dock had been used was probably around 1960. Re-developing the land was the main function of the LDDC but, at the same time, they were required to renovate any historic buildings and features that they found on the land. Their compromise in the case of Canada Dock was to retain the western half of the dock but to fill in the eastern part and use the land for a brand new shopping centre, to be known as Surrey Quays. This plan was carried out with the added feature of creating reed-beds with a back-drop of small trees along the south side of the dock to act as a nature reserve and attract wild-life. The remaining water in Canada Dock was renamed Canada Water.

The view looks south so it is the reed-beds and small trees that we see in the distance. The railings on the right of the view are along the western side of the dock. To anyone who knows the location, the contrasts nearby are quite dramatic. Around the corner (on the other side of the library building) is a busy main road, a large bus interchange and the very business-like circular entrance to Canada Water Station. As the pedestrian emerges from the transport hub and walks east there is suddenly this tranquil scene of open water, natural features and plants, with even ducks to be seen swimming in the old dock.

Libraries have also come a long way from the days of the stern notice simply saying ‘SILENCE’ in large letters on the wall. This library, only opened in November 2011, designed by Campbell, Zogolovitch, Wilkinson and Gough (known as CZWG for short). The four men were all students together in London and formed themselves into an architects practice which is now world famous. This library extends over two floors and, at street level, there is a vibrant cafe which looks out onto the pleasant scene of Canada Water.

Many of the old Surrey Commercial Docks were in such poor condition that they could not be renovated and this is a shame because it is the water that added a new dimension to the modern developments in the Docklands area. While talking to Tony Shaw one day, I was bemoaning the fact that so few of the Surrey Docks had been retained in the LDDC plans. His answer was something I will always remember. “Adrian, do you know what is the most valuable asset to this development?” he asked. He then added “The water is the most valuable asset because all the buildings around it are worth far more being beside water that they would be if the water was not there.”

Speaking as a developer he was as sad as I was that he had not been able to retain all the Surrey Docks. Speaking as a photographer, I too love the chance to photograph this part of London against the backdrop of the old docks.


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