The changing face of London – Isle of Dogs

The A-Z Digital team looked through our archives, dating from 1938, to see how areas of London have changed. In this blog, we shall have a look at the Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets London Borough, famous home of Canary Wharf and heart of the Docklands.

The area known as The Isle of Dogs was only officially named so in 1987 with the creation of the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood by Tower Hamlets Borough Council. The name itself might have originated from a corruption of Isle of Dykes or Isle of Ducks due to the presence of Dutch Engineers reclaiming the land after a large flood in the 17th century and the fact that this peninsula was primarily a wetland until more significant development in the 19th Century.

The growth of development was driven by the expansion of trade and the enlargement of the British Empire most noticeable by the creation of the West India Docks and Millwall Docks.

In the early 20th Century, the area was mapped by Geographers’ A-Z Map Company in the 1938 London AZ Atlas.

The docks in this area expanded and worked through a “golden era” until the Second World War when the area was of key strategic military importance to the German Luftwaffe and as such was heavily bombed and much of the dock system being put out of action throughout the war.

After the war, the docks were repaired and the area was again mapped in the 1956 edition of the London AZ Atlas. A brief revival of the docklands continued with trade commencing after the war which coincided with the development of containerisation and the movement of manufacturing away from the local docklands area.

This changed the nature of maritime trade, which the docks did not cope with; it removed the handling of breakbulk cargo for most shipments as well as the need for warehousing, leading to the displacement of many thousands of dock workers who formerly handled such cargo. For this reason, the docks closed progressively throughout the 1970s.

The 1975 London AZ Atlas captures the unchanged state, comparable to 1936, of the West India and Millwall docks, which were the last docks to close down in 1980. Trade dwindled to almost nothing until the government acquired the land. This loss of industry left the area in a severely dilapidated state, with large areas being left derelict and abandoned.

The London Docklands Development Corporation was set up to develop the area. The dramatic changes can be seen in some of our most recent mapping from 2016. Changes include large residential and commercial developments like Canary Wharf and One Canada Square, the creation of the DLR and, though not on the Isle of Dogs, the O2 arena.

Take a look at the mapping of the area from 1938, 1956, 1976 and 2016.

Isle of Dogs 2016 A-Z Street Mapping
Isle of dogs 1976 A-Z Street mapping
Isle of dogs 1956 A-Z Street mapping
Isle of Dogs 1936 A-Z Street mapping
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