Above: Aerial view looking west across the northern end of the Isle of Dogs. The points of interest are described in the text.
If you are a photographer, you will probably have come across a scene and wished that you could gain a higher viewpoint to make better sense of the view. These days, of course, drone photography is ‘the thing’. Back in the 1980s drone photography was only a dream and personal photography was conducted with both feet firmly on the ground. The London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was formed in 1981 and, with huge resources, they sometimes scrambled a helicopter on a sunny day to ‘get the feel’ of the large expanse of land that they were developing.
The above photograph was taken from a helicopter hovering above the Greenwich Peninsula (where North Greenwich Underground Station is now situated) on a day with good visibility. The exact date is not known but it was probably about 1984 which means that it is about 35 years old. Part of the Greenwich Peninsula lies along the bottom of the image. The white chimney (bottom right) is a ventilator shaft for one of the Blackwall Tunnels and is now incorporated into the structure of the large O2 Arena.
In the centre of the view, we look west across part of the Isle of Dogs, with the old village of Poplar (to the far right). The three parallel lengths of water, almost devoid of any buildings, are the West India Docks – the one on the left being South Dock. Today, a similar view would reveal that some of those docks were filled in and the whole scene would be one with very tall office blocks because the land around the docks was used to build the Canary Wharf Estate.
Further to the left are two docks forming a reverse letter ‘L’. They are the Millwall Docks which are now also surrounded by tall blocks – some are offices but most of them are residential apartments. The white tower block beside the Thames (to the right of what looks like a beach) was constructed in the 1960s and is part of the Samuda Estate. On the edge of the Isle of Dogs furthest from the camera are four tower blocks of flats which are still in existence on another 1960s housing estate.
To ‘get your bearings’, as the River Thames ‘snakes round’ towards the top of the view, it is just possible to see Tower Bridge, with a few of the tall offices of the City of London (far right). Below Tower Bridge is most of Wapping (right side of the Thames) and a large part of Bermondsey (left side of the Thames). On the Bermondsey side of the Thames are two old docks (towards the left near the centre) which remain today – called Greenland Dock and South Dock. Rather confusingly there are two docks called ‘South Dock’. There is a very large one which is part of the three old West India Docks. There is also the small old dock which was once part of the Surrey Commercial Docks.
South Dock, on the south side of the Thames, along with Greenland Dock are nearly all that remains of the old Surrey Commercial Docks system. To the right of those two docks, we see open land which was the result of filling in most of the other original docks. All that land became used mainly for housing and also the site of a shopping centre called Surrey Quays. That land is part of Rotherhithe.
In the haze (at the top of the view) are parts of Westminster and Chelsea. The view presents a picture of the Isle of Dogs, Wapping and Rotherhithe that now seems incomprehensible. It was taken within the first three years of the tenure of the LDDC – when they were busy laying out roads and putting in other infrastructures, like drainage and electricity cables. The houses and large office blocks started to rise a few years after this picture was taken forming what we know today as Docklands.