Hermitage Basin

Hermitage Basin

In its heyday the busy London docks specialised in luxury commodities such as silk, spices and tobacco. Now it’s a tranquil residential area with avenues of trees and a canal; more Amsterdam than London. The London Dock Company was formed in 1800 and work began the following year in building the docks. The docks were constructed by hand and required hundreds of labourers mainly economic migrants from Ireland.

Plan of London Docks 1831

Plan of London Docks 1831

There were three connecting docks the Western, the Eastern and the smaller Tobacco. They were linked to the Thames at the Hermitage Basin and this was the starting point of my walk through the Shadwell Basin. The London Dock closed in 1969 and the land was sold to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets who filled in the dock with the intention of building houses. Connecting canals between the docks remain plus a strip of water on one side of the Western dock providing a footprint of the original docks. Information boards along the route have the original byelaws which include rules for the Master of Vessels. Water fowl are the only things now navigating the waterway.

London Docks

Old Lock on London Dock

Locks have been transformed into decorative ascending flower beds and water level markers are still visible in the stone lining of the canals. As you approach the smaller Tobacco dock two replica ships are visible,in dry docks, close to the warehouse.
Tobacco Dock

Tobacco Dock is a Grade 1 listed building (1812) and in 1989 was converted into a shopping mall at a cost of £47 million. The development included high end shops and restaurants with a terrace overlooking the canal. Retail and recession are not happy bedfellows and by the early 1990s the shoppers stopped coming and the shops began to close. Except for the occasional private events its been closed for business ever since.

St George in the East

St George in the East

Opposite the warehouse is the majestic Hawksmoor church St George in the East. This was severely damaged by bombing in 1941 which meant that services were conducted from a prefab in the grounds which became known as St George in the Ruins. Within the shell of the church is a re-designed place of worship built in the 1960s.

Swing Bridge

Swing Bridge

Much of the Eastern dock is now a parkland with the inevitable new waterside luxury apartments rising on the canal banks. The striking structure of the bascule (swing) bridge leads the way into the Shadwell Basin with Canary Wharf on the horizon.

Shadwell Basin

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