The Isle of Dogs is a large peninsula bounded on three sides by a large meander in the River Thames in East London, England, which includes the Cubitt Town, Millwall and Canary Wharf districts. The area was historically part of the Manor, Hamlet, Parish and, for a time, the wider borough of Poplar. The name had no official status until the 1987 creation of the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood by Tower Hamlets London Borough Council. It has been known locally as simply "the Island" since the 19th century.
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Location of the Isle of Dogs within Inner London
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The whole area was once known as Stepney Marsh; Anton van den Wyngaerde's "Panorama of London" dated 1543 depicts and refers to the Isle of Dogs. Records show that ships preparing to carry the English royal household to Calais in 1520 docked at the southern bank of the island. The name Isle of Dogges occurs in the Thamesis Descriptio of 1588, applied to a small island in the south-western part of the peninsula. The name is next applied to the Isle of Dogs Farm (originally known as Pomfret Manor) shown on a map of 1683. At the same time, the area was variously known as Isle of Dogs or the Blackwell levels. By 1855, it was incorporated within the parish of Poplar under the aegis of the Poplar Board of Works. This was incorporated into the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar on its formation in 1900.
The first known written mention of the Isle of Dogs is in the ‘Letters & Papers of Henry VIII’. In Volume 3: 1519–1523. 2 October 1520. No. 1009 – ‘Shipping’, there is a list of purchases, which includes:
A hose for the Mary George, in dock at the Isle of Dogs, 10d
The 1898 edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable attributes the name: "So called from being the receptacle of the greyhounds of Edward III. Some say it is a corruption of the Isle of Ducks, and that it is so called in ancient records from the number of wild fowl inhabiting the marshes." Other sources discount this, believing these stories to all derive from the antiquarian John Strype, and believe it might come from one of the following:
Canary Wharf, located in the Isle of Dogs, took its name from sea trade with the Canary Islands, which were named in Latin as Canariae Insulae ("Dog Islands").
Following the building of the Docks (especially the West India Docks and the adjacent City Canal), and with an increasing population, locals increasingly referred to the area as The Island. This area includes Millwall, Cubitt Town, and Blackwall. The south of the isle opposite Greenwich was once known as North Greenwich, now applied to the area around the Millennium Dome on the Greenwich Peninsula. Between 1986 and 1992 it enjoyed a brief formal existence, as the name Isle of Dogs was applied to one of seven neighbourhoods to which power was devolved from the council. The neighbourhood was later abolished.
It was the site of the highest concentration of council housing in England but is now best known as the location of the Canary Wharf office complex. One Canada Square, also known as the Canary Wharf Tower, is the second tallest habitable building in Britain at 244 metres (801 ft). The peninsula is an area of social extremes, comprising some of the most prosperous and most deprived areas of the country; in 2004, nearby Blackwall was the 81st most deprived ward in England out of over 8,000, while the presence of Canary Wharf gives the area one of the highest average incomes in the UK. Lincoln Plaza was the 2016 winner of the Carbuncle Cup for the year's "worst new building" and The Times described it as "mediocre at best, ugly at worst".
The Isle of Dogs is situated some distance downriver from the City of London. It was originally marsh, being several feet below water at high tide. In the Middle Ages it was made available for human habitation by a process known in the Thames estuary as inning. The reclaimed land was below high water, protected by earthen banks. These banks if not properly kept up were liable to be breached. This happened in 1448, drowning the land for 40 years.
In 1660 the river started to break through the neck of the peninsula, initiating meander cutoff. This was arrested by human intervention, but it left a 5-acre lake called Poplar Gut, which appears on John Rocque's 1746 Map of London and ten miles around in the extract reproduced in this article.
One road led across the Marshes to an ancient ferry, at Ferry Road. There was rich grazing on the marsh, and cattle were slaughtered in fields known as the Killing Fields, south of Poplar High Street.
The western side of the island was known as Marsh Wall, and the district became known as Millwall with the building of the docks, and from the number of windmills constructed along the top of the flood defence.
In 1802 the West India Docks began to be developed on the Isle of Dogs. Beginning in 1812 the Poplar and Greenwich Ferry Roads Company installed tolls on the East Ferry Road. These proved to be unpopular and after many years of lobbying the Metropolitan Board of Works bought the company and abolished the tolls in 1885.
The Docks brought with them many associated industries, such as flour and sugar processing, and also ship building. On 31 January 1858 the largest ship of that time, the SS Great Eastern designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was launched from the yard of Messrs Scott, Russell & Co, of Millwall. The 211 metres (692 ft) length was too big for the river so the ship had to be launched sideways. Due to the technical difficulties of the launch this was the last big ship to be built on the Island and the industry fell into a decline. However, parts of the launching slipway and plate works have been preserved in situ and may be seen close to Masthouse Terrace Pier.
The urbanisation of the Isle of Dogs took place in the 19th century following the construction of the West India Docks, which opened in 1802. This heralded the area's most successful period, when it became an important centre for trade. The East India Docks were subsequently opened in 1806, followed by Millwall Dock in 1868. By the 1880s, the casual employment system caused Dock workers to unionise under Ben Tillett and John Burns. This led to a demand for 6d per hour (2.5p), and an end to casual labour in the docks. After a bitter struggle, the London Dock Strike of 1889 was settled with victory for the strikers, and established a national movement for the unionisation of casual workers.
The three dock systems were unified in 1909 when the Port of London Authority took control of the docks. With the docks stretching across from East to West with locks at each end, the Isle of Dogs could now almost be described as a genuine island.
Dock workers settled on the "island" as the docks grew in importance, and by 1901, 21,000 people lived there, largely dependent on the river trade on the Isle as well as in Greenwich and Deptford across the river to the south and west. The Isle of Dogs was connected to the rest of London by the London and Blackwall Railway, opened in 1840 and progressively extended thereafter. In 1902, the ferry to Greenwich was replaced by the construction of the Greenwich foot tunnel, and Island Gardens park was laid out in 1895, providing views across the river. The London and Blackwall Railway closed in 1926. Until the building of the Docklands Light Railway in 1987, the only public transport accessing and exiting the Island consisted of buses using its perimeter roads. These were frequently and substantially delayed by the movement of up to four bridges which allowed ships access to the West India Docks and Millwall Docks. The insular nature of the Island caused its separateness from the rest of London, and its unique nature.
During World War II, the docks were a key target for the German Luftwaffe and were heavily bombed. A number of local civilians were killed in the bombing and extensive destruction was caused on the ground, with many warehouses being destroyed and much of the dock system being put out of action for an extended period. Unexploded bombs from this period continue to be discovered today. Anti-aircraft batteries were based on Mudchute Farm; their concrete bases remain today.
After the war, the docks underwent a brief resurgence and were even upgraded in 1967. However, with the advent of containerisation, which the docks could not handle, they became obsolete soon afterwards. The docks closed progressively during the 1970s, with the last – the West India and Millwall docks – closing down in 1980. This left the area in a severely dilapidated state, with large areas being derelict and abandoned.
The Isle of Dogs' economic problems led to mass unemployment among the former dockyard workers and caused serious social deprivation. Ted Johns, a local community campaigner, and his supporters, in protest at the lack of social provision from the state, made a unilateral declaration of independence for the area from the United Kingdom as the Republic of the Isle of Dogs and set up an 'Island Council' with Johns himself as its elected president, and for a single day in 1970 blocked the two swing-bridges providing the only access to the area by road.
Successive Labour and Conservative governments proposed a number of action plans during the 1970s but it was not until 1981 that the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was established to redevelop the area. The Isle of Dogs became part of an enterprise zone, which covered 1.95 km2 of land and encompassed the West India, Millwall and East India Docks. New housing, office space and transport infrastructure were built. This included the Docklands Light Railway and later the Jubilee line extension, which eventually brought access to the London Underground to the area for the first time.
Since its construction in 1987–1991, the area has been dominated by the expanding Canary Wharf development with over 437,000 square metres (4,700,000 sq ft) of office and retail space having been created; 93,000 now work in Canary Wharf alone.
The Island achieved notoriety in 1993 when Derek Beackon of the British National Party became a councillor for Millwall ward, in a by-election. This was the culmination of years when race was a prominent issue in local politics, especially with regards to allocation of housing. Labour regained the ward in the full council election of May 1994, and held all three seats until a further by-election in September 2004.
On 9 February 1996, the IRA detonated a truck bomb near South Quay DLR station on the Isle of Dogs that killed two people and injured more than a hundred others.
There are four state primary schools located on the Isle of Dogs – Cubitt Town Junior School, Arnhem Wharf, Harbinger School and St Edmunds. There is also an independent primary school, River House Montessori, located near South Quay.
George Green's School is a secondary school and Specialist Humanities School at the southern tip of the island.
The nearest London Underground station is Canary Wharf on the Jubilee line. Key areas including Regent's Park, The West End, Westminster, South Bank, Millennium Dome and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, are all within 20 minutes of Canary Wharf by Tube.
The DLR runs north–south through the Isle of Dogs. Docklands Light Railway stations are Canary Wharf, Heron Quays, South Quay, Crossharbour, Mudchute and Island Gardens. Key areas including the City of London, Tower Hill and Greenwich are all within 20 minutes of the Isle of Dogs by DLR.
The Elizabeth line's Canary Wharf station opened in 2022. Situated at the north of the Island, it provides high-frequency, fast connections to the heart of the West End, Paddington Station, Heathrow Airport and Abbey Wood.
Regular commuter boat services serve both Masthouse Terrace Pier and Canary Wharf Pier on the Isle of Dogs.
The Thames Clippers provides regular commuter services to Woolwich Arsenal Pier, Greenwich Pier in the east, and the City of London including St. Katherine's Dock, Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Greater London Authority building, Tate Modern, Blackfriars, as well as the West End of London in the west on the commuter service. There is also a connecting shuttle service to Rotherhithe and the Tate to Tate service from Tate Modern to Tate Britain via London Eye.
From Summer 2007, the service has been enhanced with express boats from central London to the O2 Arena (former Millennium Dome).
The Thames Path National Trail runs along the riverside. At the southern end of the Isle of Dogs, the Greenwich foot tunnel provides pedestrian access to Greenwich, across the river.
National Cycle Network route 1 runs through the foot tunnel (although cycles must not be ridden in the tunnel itself).
The nearest airport is London City Airport, which is 25 minutes away from Canary Wharf by DLR.
There is also a helipad situated on the west of the Island and next to Ferguson's Wharf, which is privately run by Vanguard.
The presence of docks, some of a considerable size, has enabled a practice of various watersports, like sailing, kayaking, windsurfing and Standup paddleboarding.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2016)
In modern times the Isle of Dogs has provided locations for many blockbuster films, including the opening scenes of the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, and more recently Batman Begins, The Constant Gardener, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Love Actually. The Isle of Dogs featured heavily in the 1980 British film The Long Good Friday, and the Isle of Dogs is the primary location of the 2007 horror film 28 Weeks Later, where it is the only secure and quarantined area in all of Britain suitable for recivilisation after a virus epidemic kills the population of Britain.
The Isle of Dogs was the setting for the 1986 Channel 4 comedy-drama Prospects starring Gary Olsen and Brian Bovell.
While shooting in East London for his film Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson spotted a road sign directing to the Isle of Dogs. This sparked his imagination, becoming an eponymous source of inspiration for his animated 2018 film Isle of Dogs.
It is opposite Greenwich in Kent; and when our sovereigns had a palace near the site of the present magnificent hospital, they used it as a hunting-seat, and, it is said, kept the kennels of their hounds in this marsh. These hounds frequently making a great noise, the seamen called the place the Isle of Dogs.
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