being derelict

Isle of Dogs

The Isle of Dogs is a former island in the East End of London that is surrounded on three sides (east, south and west) by one of the largest meanders in the River Thames. To the north, are the West India Docks, and the only road access to the island is across the two bridges that cross the eastern and western entrances to the dock. It is part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and part of the London Docklands.


The name Isle of Dogs is first recorded in 1588 (see below), but had been in use for some years before this. Brewer's 1898 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 Stype, and believe it might come from:

  • the presence of Dutch engineers reclaiming the land from a disastrous flood;
  • feral dog packs inhabiting the uncultivated marshland;
  • the presence of gibbets on the foreshore facing Greenwich;
  • a yeoman farmer called Brache, this being an old word for a type of hunting dog;
  • A later king, Henry VIII also kept deer in Greenwich Park. Again it is thought that his hunting dogs might have been kept in derelict farm buildings on the Island.

The reality is that the origin of the name remains an enigma.


The whole area was once simply known as Stepney Marsh, the name Isle of Dogges first 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.

After 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. Between 1986 and 1992, it enjoyed a brief formal existence, as the name Isle of Dogs was applied to one of seven neighbourhoods, to whom power was devolved from the council. This resulted in replacement of much of the street signage in the area, that remains in place. The neighbourhood was abolished on a further change of power. 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.

It was the site of the highest concentration of council housing in England, but is now best known as the location of the prestigious Canary Wharf office complex. One Canada Square, also known as the Canary Wharf Tower, is the tallest habitable building in Britain, at high. The peninsula is an area of social extremes, comprising some of the most prosperous and most deprived areas of the country; nearby Blackwall is the 81st poorest 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.



The Isle of Dogs is situated some distance downriver from the City of London. The area was originally a sparsely populated marshland before its drainage and planting in the 13th century. A catastrophic breach in the riverside embankment occurred in 1488, resulting in the area returning to its original marshy condition. This was not reversed until Dutch engineers successfully re-drained it in the 17th century.

One road led across the Marshes to an ancient ferry, at Ferry Road. There was rich grazing on the marsh, and cattle were killed for market in fields known as the Killing Fields, south of Poplar High Street.

The western side of the island was known as Marsh Wall, 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.


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 system caused Dock workers to unionise under Ben Tillett and John Burns. This lead 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 once again 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.

During World War II, the docks were a key target for the German Luftwaffe and were heavily bombed. A significant number of local civilians were killed in the bombing and extensive destruction was caused on the ground, with many warehouses being totally 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 Docks brought with them many associated industries, such as flour and sugar processing, and also ship building. On January 31, 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 length was too wide for the river, and 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.

London Dockland Development Corporation

The Isle of Dogs' economic problems led to mass unemployment among the former dockyard workers and caused serious social deprivation. The local community highlighted its problems on 3 March 1970 by declaring the Isle of Dogs to be an "independent republic", with its own elected president, community leader Ted Johns. 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 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 was built, as was new office space and new transport infrastructure. 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 to date over 14 million square feet (437,000 m²) of office and retail space having been created; 93,000 now work in Canary Wharf alone.

LDDC legacy

It has been argued by some that the redevelopment has not benefited the indigenous population as much as it might, with accusations of a "land grab" of riverside sites for private apartment blocks during the period of relaxation of planning conditions under the LDDC. Some tensions remain, as in most areas of central London, between the close-knit island community and professionals who have more recently moved to the area. Today, this revolves around the formers' need for family homes, against further development of small high priced apartments.

There has also been criticism of the landscape architecture and urban design standards achieved in post-1980 redevelopment of the Isle of Dogs. The tendency has been to plan tower blocks in rather vacant open spaces, instead of creating pedestrian-friendly spaces, and the emphasis has been on mechanised transport (car and train) instead of green transport.


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 of resentment by local residents of perceived neglect by both Liberal Democrat and Labour Party politicians. 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.

In the 2006 local elections all six Isle of Dogs council seats, including those in Blackwall & Cubitt Town ward were won by the Conservatives.



Nearest places

London Underground and DLR stations

London bus routes

River bus services

Currently, the only river boat pier on the island is Masthouse Terrace pier. The regular boat services are provided by Thames Clipper, Canary Wharf Pier, situated at the Canary Riverside, just north of the island is the other nearest pier. Thames Clipper provide regular commuter services to Woolwich Arsenal Pier, Greenwich Pier in the east and the City of London: St. Katherine's Dock, Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Greater London Authority building, Tate Modern, Blackfriars and the West End of London in the west on the commuter service, as well as a 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).

Pedestrian and cyclists

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).

In the media

The Isle of Dogs was the title of an early play by Ben Jonson and Thomas Nashe, briefly performed in 1597 and then thoroughly suppressed as slanderous.

In modern times the Isle of Dogs has provided locations for many blockbuster films, including the opening scenes of the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough, and more recently Batman Begins, The Constant Gardener, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Love Actually.

In the movie 28 Weeks Later, the Isle of Dogs is the primary location of the film, being the only secure and quarantined area in all of Britain suitable for recivilization after a massive epidemic.

In the 1960s and 1970s it was used in many British movies while still a working port. More recent films featuring the Isle of Dogs include:

Television shows using the location include Primeval (2007).

In the television show The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mr. Waverly's private blend of pipe tobacco was called Isle of Dogs #22.

See also

References and notes


  • The Isle of Dogs – 1066 to 1918, A Brief History Vol 1, by Eve Hostettler, an Island History Trust Publication; 120 pages paperback

External links

Search another word or see being derelicton Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature