1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf
Photograph Sue Gane (2001)
Sailing boats inside the docks
by Gustav Doré from London: A Pilgrimage (1872)
first sight London's
modern docklands is a network of impressive buildings, elegant squares
and gardens liberally sprinkled with interesting street sculpture, with
few reminders of the days when West
India Docks looked like the illustration on the right above and Dickens' godfather
lived in Limehouse village.
The docks were
badly damaged by World War II bombing. They
reopened but could not offer the deep berths and road access needed for the
internationally standardised containers introduced from the 1960s.
became derelict and the Canary Wharf
complex was built among the remnants of the docks from 1990 onwards, part of a major drive to regenerate the
area. It took its name from
the wharf used for unloading imported fruit which once stood on the site.
This modern mini-Manhattan is best approached via the Docklands
Light Railway and Canary
Wharf station, an impressive entrance to a temple of commercialism with a
red painted steel and glass-arched roof.
Cabot Square, an open space set around fountains, is a good place to look at the surrounding office
blocks, built to rival the City of
London. The tower, Number 1 Canada Square (by Cesar Peli, 1991,
illustrated on the left above) is 800ft high.
In the 19th century London was the largest and richest city in the world, its wealth largely
based on overseas trade.
West India Docks were built in the early 1800s, the first enclosed docks
in London. They
were paid for by a group of merchants who wanted to avoid the losses from
delays, fire and especially theft in the wharves that lined the banks of the
river Thames from the City of London eastward.
But just to the south of Canary Wharf is Garford Street,
where Charles Dickens’ godfather, Christopher Huffam, had a
sailmaking and ship chandlers shop. He lived nearby in the centre of Limehouse village, next to the
a child Dickens visited him often with his father and he drew on his boyhood experiences in Limehouse in writing Our
Mutual Friend and Dombey and Son.
Further east along the river is a terrace of c.1700 houses in Narrow
Street. At the end is The Grapes public house, immortalised in Our Mutual
Friend as the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters Tavern kept by Miss Abbey
Potterson (both illustrated below).
Street and The Grapes
Photograph by Sue Gane (2000)
Miss Abbey Potterson in her bar
by Marcus Stone from Our Mutual Friend (1865)
It was 'a tavern of dropsical appearance … long settled down into a
state of hale infirmity.
In its whole constitution it had not a straight floor, and hardly a
straight line; but it had outlasted, and clearly would outlast, many a
better-trimmed building, many a sprucer public-house.
Externally, it was a narrow lop-sided wooden jumble of corpulent windows
heaped one upon another as you might heap as many toppling oranges, with a crazy
wooden verandah impending over the water; indeed the whole house, inclusive of
the complaining flag-staff on the roof, impended over the water, but seemed to
have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver who has paused so long on
the brink that he will never go in at all.'