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The ‘Fishing City’ and Other Isle of Dogs Projects

Last week’s post about Wood Wharf was a reminder that the Isle of Dogs have had some remarkable transformations. However the Island has been subject of a few schemes of the last 350 years, some that came to fruition and others that were considered follies.

The peculiar nature of the  Isle of Dogs which forms a horseshoe around which the Thames has led many to consider the possibility of creating a short cut at the top of the Island to cut down the time spent going around it. In the early 1570s, a scheme was considered by the City of London to construct a canal from the Thames at Limehouse Hole to the River Lea. They even bought in a  Dutchman to survey the potential sites and come up with a plan, eventually nothing was done but it was an idea that did not go away.

A century later, in 1681, the engineer, Andrew Yarranton came up with a scheme for turning the Isle of Dogs into a ‘fishing city’, to provide safe berths for a shipping fleet and houses for fishermen. His plan was to build two parallel docks and a connecting channel, controlled by locks, with houses lining the quays for the fishermen and families. He also believed other businesses like the making of rope and nets could use the Island. The Fishing city never came to light but some of these ideas and the idea of a canal were part of the grand scheme to build West India Docks over a century later.

The building of the West India Docks between 1799 and 1806 changed the whole character of the Isle of Dogs with the top part of the Island effectively cut off by large walls, docks and the City Canal. Between 1800–5, the Corporation of London built the City Canal which had long been thought about but never built. The canal was 3,711ft long between the lock gates, 176ft wide at the surface of the water and 23ft deep at its centre, disaster struck in early 1805 when the coffer-dam failed, causing a great wave to rush through the canal. Extensive repairs were needed and the opening had to be delayed to late 1805.

The City Canal was not a success because the cost of going through the short cut was not really worthwhile. Eventually the West India Dock company bought the canal in 1829 and turned it into the South Dock. This was not the end of the docks expansion with the heart of Island turned into Millwall Dock in the 1860s.

Despite the success of the docks, Philip Revell developed a plan of the 1870s to clear the whole Island and build an island fortress for the defence of London. It was not taken that seriously but was an interesting idea with what seemed to be locks on the Thames.

Even as recently as the 1930s, people were looking at reintroducing a passageway through the Island, a newspaper report gives more details.

An ingenious scheme for shortening the course of the Thames in London by about two and a half miles and converting the Isle of Dogs into a vast docks is advocated by Mr. H. Bragg, L.R.I.B.A., in the current issue of Modern Building Construction (says the London “Daily Chronicle”).

Mr Bragg proposes that the present U-shaped course of the river encircling the Isle of Dogs should be “cut out,”, and that a straight cut be constructed across the north part of the isle between Bugsby’s Reach and the Lower Pool. This could be done, he suggests, by widening the present West India Import Dock and extending it to the river both east and west.

Mr Bragg’s other proposals are:— Five new docks to be built on the Isle of Dogs, A river wall to be constructed along the south bank of the river from Lower Pool to the east end of Greenwich Reach and then across the present land to the river west of Woolwich Reach. Mr Bragg proposes that the ground between the new docks should be utilised not only as wharfage and warehousing space, but also for the erection of dwellings for dock workers with attractive gardens and children’s playgrounds.

Mr Bragg’s ideas were not taken up but this is one of the lessons of these types of schemes it is very difficult to know which will be a success and which will be a disaster. The ideas to turn West India Dock into a financial district and the creation of City Airport were not taken seriously at first.

The Changing Face of the Isle of Dogs – April 2016

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Regular readers will know that part of the Isle of Dogs Life story is to look at the past and the present. Last year in March I wrote a couple of posts about the developments happening on the Island and Canary Wharf. Considering it was time for an update, I began to walk around the various developments.

Most of the work at Canary is taking place in the east and west fringes of the estate. two major schemes are under development, New Phase (formerly known as Wood Wharf) and the Newfoundland development.

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At first sight, The developments do not seem to have made that much progress. However, the developments are located near the docks and considerable time has been used cleaning and securing the docks. Both of the developments have built cofferdams that have reclaimed parts of the dock to enable building to be undertaken.

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When completed there will be 58-storey residential tower on the Newfoundland site and the New Phase site will have a mix of uses, including a residential area for over 3,200 new homes, nearly 2 million sq ft of  commercial office space, and 335,000 sq ft of shops, restaurants and community uses.

The other major buildings changing the skyline at the top of the Island is the new Novotel hotel, Baltimore Tower and the Dollar Bay development.

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By contrast with the Canary Wharf developments, each of these developments has made significant progress with indications that the Novotel Hotel may be open for business as early as late 2016. Novotel Canary Wharf will have an height of 124m and consist of 39 floors.

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The Dollar Bay development at the bottom of South Dock will be a 31 storey tower and is gradually rising above the dock.

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Baltimore Tower in Millwall Dock area is likely to become a significant landmark for the Island due to its location away from the Canary Wharf skyscrapers. The development seems well advanced and will eventually be around 45 floors.

Tower Hamlets is at the centre of the tower boom with 18 tall buildings under construction, 27 with planning approval and 14 in planning. It is worth mentioning that not all these big schemes get off the ground and many are often mothballed for years, the Riverside development near Westferry Circus is one such example.

However, even if only a percentage are built it will drastically change the face and the character of the Island. The new developments are still clustered around the top of the Island but its likely that lack of space will see a steady encroachment into the centre which will impinge on the many residential areas.

With a planning stage of generally eight months and then  around six years for completion, the full picture of these developments will not really been seen for 6 to 10 years. But these new developments under construction suggest that this once neglected piece of London will over the next ten years will have some of the most expensive property in London.

Superyacht Emelina in West India Dock

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After yesterday’s excitement with the arrival of five German Ships and four drone ships, we have the arrival of a Superyacht Emelina.

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Emelina is a 51m motor yacht, custom built in 2008 by Codecasa in Italy.

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The yacht has a steel hull with a aluminium superstructure with a beam of 9.50m  (31’2″ft) and a 3.30m  (10’9″ft) draft and has a maximum speed of 17.5 knots. She flies the flag of the Cayman Islands.

She has accommodation for up to 12 guests in 2 suites, she also capable of carrying a crew of 10.

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One of the novelties of the ship is a foldable sea balcony in the owner’s suite, giving direct access to the sea.

As usual in the world of Superyachts, the two questions that most people will ask namely how much did the ship cost to build ? and who owns her ? are very difficult to find out.

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However she will have company in a very crowded West India Dock until Sunday when the German Navy will depart.

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The Great Days of the Clippers – Joseph Conrad in West India Docks

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West India Dock ( New South Dock) National Maritime Museum

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Joseph Conrad wrote a series of essays under the title of the Mirror of the Sea about the various aspects of a nautical life. Conrad had for nearly 20 years worked on a variety of ships starting as a steward before working his way up to the rank of Captain. He had left Poland when he was 17 and then worked on French ships for four years before transferring to the British merchant fleet.

In 1894, Conrad he gave up the nautical life to pursue a career as a writer. Although it took a long time to gain success, many of his stories often with a maritime theme are now considered classics especially Heart of Darkness.

In the following piece, Conrad remembers the great days of the Clippers that used to be moored in the South Dock of the West India Docks.

To a man who has never seen the extraordinary nobility, strength, and grace that the devoted generations of ship-builders have evolved from some pure nooks of their simple souls, the sight that could be seen five-and-twenty years ago of a large fleet of clippers moored along the north side of the New South Dock was an inspiring spectacle.  Then there was a quarter of a mile of them, from the iron dockyard-gates guarded by policemen, in a long, forest-like perspective of masts, moored two and two to many stout wooden jetties.  Their spars dwarfed with their loftiness the corrugated-iron sheds, their jibbooms extended far over the shore, their white-and-gold figure-heads, almost dazzling in their purity, overhung the straight, long quay above the mud and dirt of the wharfside, with the busy figures of groups and single men moving to and fro, restless and grimy under their soaring immobility.

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West India Dock ( New South Dock) National Maritime Museum

At tide-time you would see one of the loaded ships with battened-down hatches drop out of the ranks and float in the clear space of the dock, held by lines dark and slender, like the first threads of a spider’s web, extending from her bows and her quarters to the mooring-posts on shore.  There, graceful and still, like a bird ready to spread its wings, she waited till, at the opening of the gates, a tug or two would hurry in noisily, hovering round her with an air of fuss and solicitude, and take her out into the river, tending, shepherding her through open bridges, through dam-like gates between the flat pier-heads, with a bit of green lawn surrounded by gravel and a white signal-mast with yard and gaff, flying a couple of dingy blue, red, or white flags.

In the New South Dock there was certainly no time for remorse, introspection, repentance, or any phenomena of inner life either for the captive ships or for their officers.  From six in the morning till six at night the hard labour of the prison-house, which rewards the valiance of ships that win the harbour went on steadily, great slings of general cargo swinging over the rail, to drop plumb into the hatchways at the sign of the gangway-tender’s hand.  The New South Dock was especially a loading dock for the Colonies in those great (and last) days of smart wool-clippers, good to look at and—well—exciting to handle.  Some of them were more fair to see than the others; many were (to put it mildly) somewhat over-masted; all were expected to make good passages; and of all that line of ships, whose rigging made a thick, enormous network against the sky, whose brasses flashed almost as far as the eye of the policeman at the gates could reach, there was hardly one that knew of any other port amongst all the ports on the wide earth but London and Sydney, or London and Melbourne, or London and Adelaide, perhaps with Hobart Town added for those of smaller tonnage.  One could almost have believed, as her grey-whiskered second mate used to say of the old Duke of S-, that they knew the road to the Antipodes better than their own skippers, who, year in, year out, took them from London—the place of captivity—to some Australian port where, twenty-five years ago, though moored well and tight enough to the wooden wharves, they felt themselves no captives, but honoured guests.

One of the most famous of the Wool Clippers was the Cutty Sark who regularly made the London to Australia trip often starting off from the West India Docks, it is somewhat ironic that a ship known for its speed in the water would end up ” captive” in dry dock in nearby Greenwich.

In October, the hulk of one of the oldest clippers The City of Adelaide will towed to Greenwich for a few days before being transported to Australia to be totally renovated.