Above: A map showing the Isle of the Dogs by John Rocque, 1746. The places of interest are described in the text. CLICK ON THE MAP TO ENLARGE.
Following the words of the ‘Good Book,’ we can say that ‘In the beginning’ we have plenty of accounts of the history of the Isle of Dogs but there are no good maps until 1746 when John Rocque published his wonderfully detailed map that included almost all of what is now Inner London.
When John Rocque published his map, there were no docks on the Isle of Dogs. Within the space of just over 50 years the City Canal was cut across the ‘island’ and two huge docks, extending across the width of the land, formed the West India Docks. Just over 50 years after that the Millwall Docks were to be dug out of the marshy land. Rocque’s map really does show in detail the original marshy state of the farmland that filled the ‘island’. You may need a modern street atlas handy to compare this map with what is there today. Just north of the Isle of Dogs, on the western side is Limehouse. Working around the river from that point, we can see the names listed below.
The Breach – Where, in 1660, the large piece of the dyke (which extended around the whole of the Isle of Dogs) was destroyed, having been weakened by ballast-digging on the foreshore.
Poplar Gut – This was also caused when the Thames broke through The Breach and flooded the land. This flooded land remained in that state until the City Canal was dug across the Isle of Dogs.
Windmills – Working south, we can see nine windmills carefully drawn on the map. Other authorities say there were only seven windmills and one source mentions eleven. Whatever the number there were quite a few, built on top of the wide dyke to take advantage of the prevailing westerly winds.
Marsh Wall – This was the early name for the track on top of the dyke along the western side of Isle of Dogs. The name of that track today is Westferry Road. Trying to keep history alive, the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) laid out a new road across the Isle of Dogs with the old name of Marsh Wall which had completely vanished from modern street maps. However, the modern road has no connection with the old one shown on Rocque.
Isle of Dogs – Notice that Rocque uses the name ‘Isle of Dogs’. The old name for this land was Stepney Marsh.
Gallows – Look carefully at the most southerly point on Rocque’s map and you will see a gallows. Look also further round the ‘island’, at the most easterly point and there is another gallows. Considering how few people lived on the Isle of Dogs at the time – just see how few houses are shown – it is surprising that there was a need for two sets of gallows.
Arrow Lane – a long winding road runs from north to south across the Isle of Dogs, ending at the ‘Horse Ferry House’. The road – greatly changed in alignment – is now known as East Ferry Road and ends at a pub with the slightly different name of ‘The Ferry House’. A horse-ferry plied between the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich.
Angel Lane – The alignment of this thoroughfare has been lost over time.
Chapel House – the only building on the southern part of the Isle of Dogs is labelled ‘Chapel House’. There was indeed a chapel known as ‘St Mary in Stepney Marsh’. It was known to be in existence in 1380 and last mentioned n the middle of the 15th century.
Cold Harbour – Working along the east side of the Isle of Dogs, we see a street of houses marked ‘Cold Harbour’. That street, still called ‘Coldharbour’ remains to this day.
Blackwall Causeway – Blackwall Causeway and Blackwall Stairs were part of the original hamlet of Blackwall which was so-called because of the large dark dyke of mud at this point on the river. As a result, a ship-building yard nearby was also called Blackwall Yard at a later time and remained in use until the 1980s.