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With all the new development in the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf, it would have been easy to overlook the demolition of the Westferry Printworks. Although it was only built in the 1980s, the works played an important part in the modernization of the newspaper industry and led to the decline of Fleet Street as the heart of British Newspapers.
Whilst many people may remember the Wapping dispute, the newspaper revolution of the 1980s led to the introduction of new technology. Docklands played a major part in the story with printing facilities set up on the Isle of Dogs, the West Ferry Printing Works of the Westferry road were considered the largest newspaper print works in Western Europe when it was built in 1984–6.
The closing of the docks led to large expanses of relatively cheap land not far from the centre of London. Newspaper owners saw the opportunity to modernise the printing plants and introduce different working practices. This was not completed without conflict which was mostly focused on Wapping.
There is some irony that the decline of the newspaper industry has coincided with the rise of land prices in the Isle of Dogs. This led to the decision to close the West Ferry Printing Works in 2011, move the works to Luton and redevelop the site.
The 15 acre site will provide over 700 new private and affordable homes which will be available to buy or rent. There are plans for open spaces, waterside walks, two new parks and a waterfront promenade.
Some concerns has been raised about the future of the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre which is near the site and will be impacted by the development.
The West Ferry Printing Works has always been quite mysterious, when it was open, you seldom saw anyone go in or come out. The dark mirrored glass made it difficult to see inside. It seemed just the place where a Bond villain would hang out and rather bizarrely the works were used as Elliot Carver’s printing works for his paper “Tomorrow” in the film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), where James Bond fights with several henchmen.
The rise and fall of the West Ferry Printing Works is just the latest of a long line of businesses who have been located in the Isle of Dogs in the last 200 years that became internationally famous before they either closed or moved elsewhere.