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From a Dock to a Wharf: A Walk in East London

By Staff 
Originally published by British Heritage magazine. Published Online: March 22, 2011 
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Where once trucks rumbled, television stars, City business folk, MPs and the country set seeking glamorous pied-à-terre have revived the abandoned buildings. There remains one working business in the riverside warehousing: a wine and beer wholesaler still finds the waterside climate a good place to store its stock.
Wapping is the location of the world's first underwater tunnel, still in use as part of the London Overground rail network. Here, join the Thames Path eastward toward Canary Wharf. The Thames Path darts to the river's edge where it can, but it is clearly marked and can be easily followed. You'll now be walking along the river, which can be glimpsed tantalizingly between the apartments. Setting off eastwards, you quickly notice that the road now has a residential feeling as stores and offices disappear.
Now that you are halfway along the route, drop in to The Prospect of Whitby for a reviving drink. With its river frontage, the pub has become a favorite site along the river. The pub's riverside location is its main asset, with a large terrace overlooking the Thames. Every window in the pub has a river aspect, and a raised seating area, mainly used by diners, who should feel like being in the captain's cabin on a great ocean-going vessel under canvas. However, web critics have flooded sites with claims of indifferent food and service, so perhaps better just drink up the beer as you drink up the view.
Follow the Thames Path from outside The Prospect, and you come to a fascinating half-moon landing that juts out into the Thames at the entrance to the former Wapping docks. From the landing there are extraordinary views forward toward Canary wharf.
A quick stroll past a kayak-club based in the former lock gates brings you to King Edward Memorial Park. This delightful green sward harbors a ventilation tower for the Blackwall road tunnel that joins the two river banks. The park, adorned with bandstand and waterfront benches, is a popular venue for local people, office workers and those traversing the Thames Path. Linger and enjoy the superb views of the Thames from the park's river walkway and terraced garden.

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London's first Chinatown
Farther along the Thames Path, you are in Limehouse, truly one of the most engaging London riverside districts. You turn into Narrow Street, at once one of London's most ordinary yet fashionable streets.
Here, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey took over a beautiful Grade Two listed building in an exquisite location to create The Narrow Street & Dining Room, at 44 Narrow Street, where the Grand Union Canal and the Regents Canal meet the Thames. The building was constructed around 1910 as a house for the dockmaster serving the Limehouse Basin. It was felt important to retain the historic qualities of the building as well as to relate the design to the locality and the history of the Limehouse area. The wall colors are muted to highlight features such as the fireplaces and lounge armchairs, and the wall space is animated through the use of black-and-white photography depicting the history of the area. However, food and drink websites are full of mixed comments on the quality of the food and dining experience here.
At the heart of Limehouse is the basin which, like St. Katharine Dock, is still an operational marina. Here the hardy, workmanlike narrowboat canal barges set out to travel the nation's canal network. Beyond the bridge, taking Narrow Road across the basin entrance, following the bend in the river, there is a splendid Georgian terrace and an old tavern immortalized by Charles Dickens: he wrote about The Grapes, built in 1720, in Our Mutual Friend, renaming it the Six Jolly Fellowships.
Long before Chinatown sprung up in the heart of Soho, there was an earlier Chinatown to be found in the back alleys, crowded streets and environs of Narrow Street, between the docks at Wapping and Isle of Dogs, now better known as Canary Wharf. The small Chinese immigrant community that lived here from the late 19th century was a source of both fascination and fear to other Londoners: it was the cauldron from which came both the criminal mastermind Fu Manchu and Thomas Burke's fanciful short story collection, Limehouse Nights. Now the site of $2 million riverside apartments, Limehouse is wrongly credited with being the origin of the "Limey" soubriquet that has hung around Englishmen's necks for centuries; prosaically, it seems to have been the site of ancient lime kilns. The Chinese population, dependent on cargo ships for trade and jobs, moved out of the area when the docks declined in the 1950s.
The Thames Path now takes you straight into the glistening moneyed towers of the 21st-century Canary Wharf. Glance back and you can make out The City, barely three miles away, and The Shard rising above London Bridge.
Following the Thames Path, continue along the river to Canary Wharf pier, take the steps up to Westferry Circus and the incredible landscape facing you belies the fact that within living memory, as recently as 1967, the London Docks were being upgraded despite the wave of containerization gripping the maritime business.
Walk the short distance to the Museum in Docklands to conclude your exploration. Here you can find the truly engaging history of the London dock system, the people who worked there, the goods that passed through the docks and its fate—both at the hands of German bombs and economic forces.
This is no longer a voyage to the Abyss; it is now one to take in some of the most attractive parts of London.  


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One Response to “From a Dock to a Wharf: A Walk in East London”

  1. 1

    [...] Canary Wharf is not a 3-mile walk through history into the very upscale neighborhood it is today.  Click here to read this excellent piece from and discover this wonderful area that is worth [...]

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