The Isle of Dogs is most notable for being the largest U bend in the river Thames. Look at any map, and it is hard to miss from its distinctive shape. Being central to London’s Docklands, the Isle of Dogs has been pivotal in its industrial history. Today, they are pivotal in shaping London’s financial future.
Up until the 13th century, the Isle of Dogs was marshland. Around this time it was drained so agriculture could take hold on the land. Unfortunately, in 1488, the embankment keeping the water out was breeched and the land returned to marsh. The small farming community that had developed here were forced to leave.
It is the next couple of centuries that this peninsula first gets its name, Isle of Dogs. There are two main theories, the first being that King Henry VIII (1491 to 1547) used the area as a kennel for his hunting dogs which would be taken across the river to his Greenwich palace when needed. The name apparently appeared on a map around 1588 to reinforce this theory. If this is true, it was quite possibly one of the largest kennels in the world’s history.
The second theory on its name is when Dutch engineers came over in the 17th century to drain the peninsula again, they gave it the name the Isle of Dykes which eventually became corrupted to the name we have today.
A couple of centuries later and you can begin to see the development that shapes the landscape of today. From 1802 to 1868, West India, East India and Millwall docks were all built here to handle the high number of ships unloading goods from the Thames. By 1901, the population had reached its peak of 21,000.
During the Second World War, the Luftwaffe heavily bombed the area and many died. After the war, the docks were rebuilt and the area reached its peak in trade around 1960. From this point on, with the invention of containerisation and the movement of larger ships to dock at Tilbury Docks, the area went into decline. By 1980, the docks were all closed.
To revive the fortunes of the area and give the Isle of Dogs its presence in the skyline we see today, the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was set up to revive Docklands, including the Isle of Dogs. Making the area and enterprise zone, investors and developers were attracted to the area, and the tallest building in Britain was built, Canary Wharf. Shortly after this, more sky scrapers were built in surrounding plots of land, and even today, more are being built. The most notable recently is the Ontario Tower, with its blue semi circular roof and luxury apartments.
For residents of today, the Isle of Dogs has a lot on offer. As well as the above mentioned developments, West India Quay has to be one of my favourite places for its mix of restaurants, bars and even a museum in the old warehouses from the working docks, all overlooking the calm waters of the dock.
Other amenities include Mudchute Park and Farm which over 40 acres has an equestrian centre, café and of course, the farm itself. If you like to travel further afield, there is the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which allows you to walk under the Thames and gives access to attractions such as the Cutty Sark, the 183 acres of Greenwich Park and the National Maritime Museum. Also, of course, this is the home of GMT, so if you have time, visit the Royal Observatory.
The final landmark that can be seen from Isle of Dogs is the Millennium Dome, home to concerts, gigs, events, cinemas and restaurants.
All in all the Isle of Dogs is quite a peaceful place but either end of it, you have a lot going on.