Home » Human Life » Charting the Past – Frontispiece at the Cannon Workshops

Charting the Past – Frontispiece at the Cannon Workshops

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Anyone wandering through the Canary Wharf mall until recently , could not fail to notice Frontispiece, a shop which sold antique maps and prints. With its maps and prints of the Docklands, it was always a fascinating place to spend some time browsing and was very different from most of the shops in the Canary Wharf shopping complex.

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Last year, the shop re-located to the Cannon Workshops near Museum in Docklands at West India Quay and I was determined to find out more about a firm that has since 1989 been intrinsically linked with the recent developments in Docklands.

The firm’s owner is Reg Beer who after a varied career that included Fleet Street photographer, firefighter and teacher founded the antique map and framing shop. Frontispiece had its origins in the ill-fated shopping centre in Tobacco Dock in the late 1980s, the decision to close down the shopping centre led Reg to look at the then new development at Canary Wharf. When Frontispiece moved to Canary Wharf in the mid 90s, there was a great deal of uncertainty about the future of the estate and the shop was the only store on the mall level for the first two years. The shop became increasingly popular as the site developed as some of the new workers began to want to find out more about the history of the area.

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Frontispiece in Canary Wharf

Last year, after 20 successful years in Canary Wharf, Frontispiece moved to the Cannon Workshops to develop the picture framing and online part of the business.

From 1800, this area was the West India Docks works yard designed by famous architect Sir John Rennie which largely remained unchanged until the Port of London Authority built their Central Stores Depot here in the 1920s. In the 1980s, the PLA set up an estate of rentable workshops for small businesses called the ‘Cannon Workshops’ after a cannon that had stood inside the entrance.

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On a lovely sunny morning, I wandered over to the Workshops to have a chat with Reg and to have a closer look at the firm’s vast library of prints and maps. His workshop is situated just inside the entrance and when you walk through the red door, you will find the workshop with the plaque from his old shop on the door that declares that the Canary Wharf shop was opened by  Philipa, Viscountess Astor in 1995.

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Walking into the workshop, Reg and his colleagues were busy, undertaking some filing of the various prints which tends to be an ongoing process. Reg then explained why he had decided to leave the shopping mall. After reaching 70 and working seven days a week and 12 hours a day for many years, he thought it was time to slow down and develop the picture framing and online part of the business. He had rented a workshop in the Cannon Workshops for 20 years, so believed it was the ideal place for the next stage of his business.

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Reg Beer of Frontispiece

The online part of the business allows Reg to fully investigate some of the stories behind the many pieces of ephemera which are neatly filed around the workshop. Copies of original prints from the Illustrated London News and Vanity Fair catch my eye, whilst Reg finds and shows me two attractive prints of Trinity Bouy Wharf from the 19th century.

For someone who writes about the Island and Docklands, the workshop is an Aladdin’s cave of information in which I could willing have spent hours. If you would like have a glimpse at some of the history in his collection, Reg is  publishing some of the stories and information on certain Facebook sites and on Twitter.

If you want to find an attractive gift related to this area or many others, take a walk down to the Cannon Workshops and Reg with his encyclopedic knowledge of the area will find something for you or contact and order through his comprehensive website here.

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