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Tower Hamlets

A historic riverside district situated east of Poplar. The name probably derives from the embankment built to prevent tidal inundation, although there is a story King Alfred had a weir constructed nearby to strand invading Danish ships that had sailed up the River Lea. The first wharves appeared at Blackwall in the late fifteenth century. This was later than the developments between St Katherine’s and Limehouse but 200 years before the adequate drainage of Stepney Marshes allowed waterfront construction on what became the Isle of Dogs, so Blackwall long remained an isolated satellite of the Port of London. Shipbuilding and repairs were carried on, and the Mary Rose was refitted here in 1514. Blackwall had a proud maritime tradition and both Raleigh and Nelson are said to have had homes here. The first colonists of Virginia sailed from Blackwall in 1606 and later the East India Docks brought thriving international trade. Today, Blackwall is best known for its tunnels under the Thames, constructed in 1897 and 1960. Until recently Blackwall has had a declining residential population and a high level of social deprivation, but luxury riverside apartments began to be added from the late 1980s. One of the latest and largest of these is New Providence Wharf, which has 550 apartments, a hotel, and an office, shopping and leisure complex. It has no perceptible link with the neighbouring community or Blackwall’s heritage; its promotional literature referred, without apparent irony, to ‘this brave new world’.

click for area map (opens in a new window)
Detail from Charles Napier Hemy's 1872 painting 'Blackwall' [Museum of London]

Postal district: E14
Population: 11,939 (Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward)
Station: Docklands Light Railway, Beckton branch (Zone 2)
Further reading: Stephen Porter (editor), Survey of London, Volumes 43 and 44: Poplar, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs, Athlone Press, 1994

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