Wapping appears to have existed since the 1600's and was always an industrial area - Wapping Dock appears on a map of London as it was around the time of the Great Fire. London Dock, one of the city's first dock basins, was excavated in 1801 and was later connected to the nearby Shadwell Basin. The streets of the district were populated first by craftsmen, then by labourers, then by immigrants. Wapping was always poor and mean, and remained so up to the late 1960's when the docks fell into disuse.
The London Docklands Development plan changed much of Wapping for ever, or at least that part of it south of the Fenchurch Street railway line. Nowadays it's a world of smart, expensive riverside apartments, tree-lined suburban roads and Dutch-style canals. Leisure facilities are appearing, among them the refurbished Tobacco Dock. There are commercial developments too, including Thomas More Square and the print works of News International (publishers of the Times). Water channels and basins such as Spirit Quay, Hermitage Basin and Shadwell Basin have been retained as features in a similar style to Rotherhithe, across the river. Elsewhere, the old wharves and warehouses that still stand are being refurbished and are being reborn as apartments and small business premises. They still exist cheek-by-jowl with Victorian Wapping, for it must be admitted that the smartening-up process has been patchy here and there and the mean streets, grubby terraces and council high-rises in the north and east of the area have not changed.
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Thomas More Square
Thomas More Square is an office and retail development immediately to the east of St Katherine's Dock. It's a bold and elegant construction featuring vast acres of glass, not unlike the new buildings at Canary Wharf a couple of miles to the east.
Smart residential streets immediately east of Thomas More Square and south of the News International print works, centred around Kennett Street, have replaced dockland wharves and grimy terraces.
Hermitage Basin is a rather lovely waterside development built around what used to be the entrance to the London Dock complex from the Thames. Although it's only a quarter of an hour's walk from the City and three hundred yards east of St Katherine's Dock, few people seem to know it even exists. The Thames frontage itself is still under development.
A taste of Holland - the old ship channel that connected the Thames to London Dock has now become a water feature within the new residential developments.
A former wharf situated between the old London Dock and Shadwell basin, Tobacco Dock has been refurbished as a two-level shopping mall and has great potential. At the time of writing, however, the place is still lifeless and has been so for some two years. It would be very unfortunate if some financial crisis had befallen such an imaginative development - let us hope that this is not the case and that Tobacco Dock will soon be a lively and thriving place. It deserves to - it has a great feel about it.
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This page last updated 22nd October 2002