Above: Outline plan of the Canary Wharf Estate.
The vast modern estate on the Isle of Dogs derived its name from a humble warehouse, called Canary Wharf, used to store bananas – brought by ship from the Canary Islands to the old West India Docks. Most of the warehouses and land around those docks had been underused since the 1960s and, although ships did use some of the docks until the 1970s, everything was in decline.
The land part of London called Docklands was once the busiest port in the world. On the Isle of Dogs were the West India Docks, the Millwall Docks and the Poplar Docks. Just to the east were the East India Docks and much further east were the Royal Docks. To the west were the London Docks and the St Katharine Docks. On the south side of the Thames was the Surrey Commercial Docks. This vast piece of land, equal in area of the City of Oxford, was redeveloped by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) who were set up in 1981.
A very large development – more like a mini-city – was created in and around the West India Docks. The master plan was drawn up by the architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), keeping most of the three parallel docks and laying out a new road plan which aligned with the docks. It should be noted that unlike London’s streets (like Oxford Street) the streets on the Canary Wharf Estate are all private. Everything is private land – even the parks, squares and open spaces. It is rather like a gated community. There is no public land.
The name Canary Wharf soon became well known. When the huge tower block was built (1989–92) it became known as the Canary Wharf Tower and many Londoners thought that the tower was the development. In fact, the skyscraper is actually called ‘One Canada Square’ and at 770 feet (235 m) it was the tallest building in the United Kingdom at the time. It now has fallen into second place due to the construction of the Shard of Glass which stands 1,016 feet (309.7 m) high.
When Canary Wharf Tower opened in August 1991, designed by Cesar Pelli and originally owned by Olympia & York, there were hardly any other tall blocks on the site. Since that time building work has continued and is still in progress today. Google shows a helpful red line around the perimeter of the Canary Wharf Estate on the map shown at the top of this article. It will be noticed that the boundary does not include the buildings on the south side of South Dock. That piece of land is known as South Quay which has its own DLR station with the same name. Land on the north side of South Dock, at the eastern end, is another separate development called Wood Wharf and buildings are starting to rise on that land at the time of writing.
Canary Wharf Estate is served with several DLR stations – one actually called Canary Wharf DLR Station. There is also Canary Wharf Underground Station, on the Jubilee Line. Another station, which was supposed to be open and functional by 2019 is situated towards the northern end of the estate and called Canary Wharf Crossrail Station – a line linking Reading, Heathrow Airport, Oxford Street and the City of London with London City Airport, Shenfield Station (in Essex) and Abbey Wood Station (in Kent). If Canary Wharf is to continue as a vibrant financial centre to the east of London, all these rail connections are key to its success.
Canary Wharf has created thousands of new jobs for Londoners living in many parts of the capital. It is also the centre to up-market living space where thousands of workers live within a short walk of their place of work. In addition, there are three main shopping malls which are open seven days a week. Restaurants, pubs and cafes abound, to cater for every possible taste in the type of food and the kind of client. Because the trading floors of large financial institutions do business around the world, they operate on a 24-hour basis. The estate is open all hours of the day and the night.
For those who want to spend recreational time on the estate, there are several large parks, squares with fountains and a host of impressive public works of art. As well as a large cinema and a concert hall there are also many public events held in the open air all year round. In the NW ‘corner’ is the Museum of London Docklands, housed in one of the original warehouses that were used to store sugar in the early days of the West India Docks. This museum tells the story of all the docks in London. Because South Dock is so vast, sailing ships from around the world often visit the estate and can be seen moored there. They are often open to the public to go on board while the vessels are in the dock. In addition, there are several large hotels, probably numbering around 20, on the estate which means that visiting financial representatives do not have far to walk to see their clients.
What started out as derelict land, in the 1970s, has developed out of all expectations into a new commercial centre for London. Not only are there endless offices but the place has become like a ‘town’ because of its many residents.