CANARY WHARF (Jubilee Line) LONDON TUBE RAMBLES WALK
Allow about half an hour to wander round this area (more if visiting the museum).
Coming out of the state-of-the-art Jubilee Line station you will find yourself in Canada Square, built on part of West India Export Dock. Now there are no physical imports and exports here – only the ‘invisibles’ of financial wheeling and dealing. This is the heart of the Docklands business centre. To the north the famous pyramid-topped 46-storey tower block of One Canada Square presides over the whole Canary Wharf estate. A landmark for miles around, this first skyscraper, completed in 1991, has now been joined by many other giants. The expanses of water that help to make this area so exciting also remind us that part of it was literally built over the West India Docks. For a full description of the development, including details of the various architects involved, see links below. Just so nobody is left in any doubt about what Canary Wharf is all about, the curved Reuters building to the west has an illuminated ‘ticker-tape’ of share prices running round it. Meanwhile, red DLR trains constantly trundle to and fro, suddenly appearing and disappearing on raised lines between the office blocks.
The Tube station is not the only public subterranean area. Underneath Canada Square is an extensive shopping mall with floor mosaics depicting various commodities that used to be handled in West India Dock. It is accessed through sets of glass doors conveniently placed throughout the square so an entrance is never far away*. At lunchtime it gets very busy, so if you fancy buying something for a picnic try to go earlier. Telling the time by the array of six clocks in Nash Court outside No.1 is confusing, since they are an art installation by Konstin Grcic (1999). Although each clock tells the same time, only one (different) numeral shows on each face. I mention a picnic, because to the south of the Underground station is Jubilee Park which has a raised water feature. In fine weather it's ideal for a pause and people-watching.
To investigate Canada Square further, wander by the stream to the end of the park. Cross over Upper Bank Street towards something resembling a giant glass slug (actually another entrance to the Tube). Walk left along Upper Bank Street and the east side of Canada Square, passing the pale green Waitrose store. Take the next turning to the right. No 15 is spectacular - two joined blocks, one at an angle to the street with a huge atrium joining the two buildings. Cross the slope that leads to Service Area S. The road then goes over a channel between the docks. Follow the path as it curves through Churchill Place, then on to the Cartier Circle. This is the place where security staff check all vehicles wishing to enter the eastern end of the estate. At the roundabout go left and carefully cross the entrances to Service Area T to find a bridge, Trafalgar Way.
On the left is Billingsgate fish market which moved here in 1984. The tall brick building with red doors in the market car park is a (1857) hydraulic accumulator tower which served the London and North Western Railway. Retrace your steps as far as Upper Bank Street, but this time cross straight over to the north side of Canada Square. Outside the HBSC building is a surprise - a pair of bronze lions. They are replicas of the ones that guard the bank’s offices in Shanghai and are a emblem of the business, appearing outside several other HBSC headquarters throughout the world.
At this point cross over the road towards Canada Square Park where you will see a striking artwork, The Big Blue (Ron Arad, 1998) which sits atop a circular window, a lighting source for the underground mall. Walk to the right past the stainless steel pillars of No.1. Opposite is a covered walkway leading to the new Crossrail Station. This is not yet in use as a station, but you can explore the delightful roof garden - definitely worth a detour.
Continue to the end of North Colonnade (DLR on right) to reach Cabot Square with its large fountain and angular statue, Couple on Seat (Lynn Chadwick,1984). Turn left to Wren landing, north of the square, and descend steps to get to a yellow floating footbridge (1996). It reminds me of those water creatures that skim over the surface of a pond. Before you is the quay of West India Import Dock. The first two West India Docks, Import (north) and Export (middle) opened in 1802 to cope with the problems of overcrowding, as ships from the Caribbean laden with rum, coffee, sugar and other produce arrived mainly between July and October. Nine warehouses were built round the dock to store the valuable cargo and the area was surrounded by high brick walls, closely guarded in an attempt to stop goods going missing. Sadly, of the warehouses only Nos.1 and 2 remain, the rest having been bombed in WW2. Today we are impressed by the height of the office blocks, but just imagine what a sight nine 223ft warehouses must have been! The quay was known as ‘Blood Alley’ because of the damage to dockers’ skin from unloading sacks of sticky sugar.
Beyond the warehouses to the west is the Ledger House, now a restaurant, where records of everything that went through the docks were kept. Once over the bridge go to the left, passing St.Peter’s church boat, originally a Dutch freight barge. At the end of the dock look to the left to find some interesting veteran tugs. Ahead is the small-scale replica of the Hibbert gate.The original was the main gateway to the new docks, west of the existing warehouses. It is so called because of the model ship on top, ‘The Hibbert’, named after the first chairman of the West India Company. George Hibbert was a plantation owner and merchant trading chiefly in Jamaica. The statue (1812) in front of the museum commemorates another merchant, Sir Robert Milligan, who worked with Hibbert to get the docks built here instead of Wapping. Back at the main quayside make for a large brick archway, once the inner gateway. The round building (1805) in front was a guard room where firearms were kept. In those days it was paired with one opposite, which was used as a lock-up. Through the arch are the Cannon Workshops. In the nineteenth century these were occupied by engineers, carpenters etc. There was also a large water tank in case of fire - from 1875 used for compulsory swimming lessons for boy labourers. Nowadays the workshops house a series of independent businesses.
At first the dock companies employed their own police forces to try to cut down on the pilfering (the Metropolitan Police Force was not created until 1829.) In 1909 all the dock security forces amalgamated and were run by the Port of London Authority. The red brick building to the north of the Cannon Workshops was a PLA Police Station and bears the date 1914. On the curve of the massive dock wall to the right is a foundation stone laid in 1800. Hibbert and Milligan are mentioned as being instrumental in promoting an undertaking ‘which, under the favour of God, shall contribute stability, increase and ornament to British commerce’. It is worth walking round Hertsmere Road to the back of the old warehouses where you can get more of an idea of what the area must have been like in its heyday. As you turn the corner you will come across the Georgian Dockmaster’s House on the left, once dock offices, now a restaurant – never lived in by a Dockmaster. In the photo below, the DLR train in the background is going over the old Blackwall railway viaduct.
You can return to the quay by going down the steps under the archway half way along the warehouses (continue to the end for a slope). As you pass through the building, notice the huge timber beams resting on millstone grit blocks to protect the wood from rotting. Once back at the dock you might want to visit the (free) Museum of London Docklands with its excellent section on what happened round here in WW2. Not surprisingly the docks were a prime target for German bombers and suffered serious damage throughout. Nonetheless important war work was carried on – much of it in conditions of strict secrecy. An example is the construction of parts of the Mulberry Harbours so crucial to the success of the D-Day landings. As in the other locations concerned in their building, those working on them had no idea of their purpose. For a detailed history of this fascinating area and its regeneration see the links below.
As you are so near West India DLR station (it’s at the eastern end of the dock, just behind the two large cranes), you may prefer to get home from there rather than going back to Canary Wharf.
For more walks in the area check out my set of walks in the Isle of Dogs
For more walks in the area check out my set of walks in the Isle of Dogs
Photos: To enlarge, click on images
View from Jubilee Line escalator
Reuters building, DLR train in background
Raised stream in Jubilee Park
Billingsgate fish market, with accumulator tower in foreground
Roof garden, Crossrail station
Lunchtime outside 15 Canada Square
West India Import Dock from West India DLR station
Architectural links: e-architect (mainly Canary Wharf)
History link: Island History Trust and British History Online (West India Docks)
*Disabled access throughout the estate is excellent, with lifts or slopes where needed.
This is just one walk from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings even in the most unpromising areas covered by the outer London Underground stations. Usually the discoveries are within a mile of the Tube - often only five minutes walk away. If you reached this as an individual page via a search engine, you might like to click on the above link and see the other destinations explored. It's amazing what's out there!