London: Pt 7 – Borough of Tower Hamlets

Crossing Tower Bridge from Southwark, we entered the Borough of Tower Hamlets, home to the famous Tower of London, bordering on the ancient City of London

Tower Hamlets:

Status: London Borough of Southwark, Greater London (historically Middlesex), District, England

Date: Various

Travel: London Underground (Various), Docklands Light Railway (Bank – Greenwich)

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Canary Wharf, One Canada Square, Docklands Light Railway, West India Docks, North Dock, Middle Dock, South Dock, 40 Bank Street, 25 Bank Street, 8 Canada Square, One Churchill Place etc

Tower 0

Connecting Southwark with Tower Hamlets is 1 of the most famous bridges in the world, and a triumph of Victorian Engineering. Its construction came about after increased traffic in the capital, coupled with the various imports/exports associated with the docklands required a new river crossing downstream of London Bridge. The problem was that some of the docklands themselves lay very close to London Bridge, so any new bridge would need to allow for ships to pass through.

The solution was designed by Horace Jones (1819 – 1887, English Architect who worked for the City of London) and Sir John Wolfe Barry (1836 – 1918, Engineer for the Project), in the form of a large bascule bridge, the central span of which could be lowered and raised as required. On either side of the Central Span was a long pier to connect it to the North/South Banks, and above a walkway spanned the gap between the 2 central towers, allowing pedestrians to still use the bridge when it was open.

Construction was completed by 1894, and the bridge opened to traffic. The central towers stand at 213 ft tall, the central span at 200 ft, and the overall length is 800 ft. A large electro-hydraulic lifting system operates each bascule, and is housed in the lower portion of each tower.

The bascules have been the feature of many incredible stories of real life events, including 1 that occurred in December 1952. The bridge was accidentally raised as the Number 78 Bus from Shoreditch to Nunhead was about to cross over onto the North Bascule from the South. The driver of the bus, Albert Gunter, decided to accelerate, rather than end up stuck at the top of the bascule when it had fully raised, and flew 6 ft down onto the North Bascule, making it safely across the bridge.

A few yards West of Tower Bridge on the North side of the River, sits the historically famous Tower of London, pictured here from the Southwark side of the river.

The central tower shown in the 1st picture was built by William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087, Norman King who invaded England in 1066) in 1078, and is known as the White Tower, the most well recognised emblem of the Tower. 3 later monarchs would build the remaining portions of the complex:

1) Inner Ward

The Ward encloses the White Tower to the North, East & South, and was added by Richard I (1157 – 1199, aka Richard the Lionheart) and Henry III (1207 – 1272).

2) Outer Ward

This forms a ring around the whole fortress, and is the outermost wall of the complex, and was an addition made by Edward I (1239 – 1307). 13 separate towers are built into the wall, and still exist today. You can see the Outer Ward in the 2nd picture, with Cannons in the foreground.

The Tower was the defensive focal point of London, and throughout it’s history the Tower, most notably the White Tower, has seen a variety of uses, starting with a Prison when it was 1st opened. When Edward I took the throne, he had the Royal Mint moved into the Tower, where it would remain until the 16th century. Around 1303, the Crown Jewels of the English Monarch were moved to the Tower, after they had been stolen from Westminster Abbey, which was presumably deemed too insecure. Today the Jewels are housed in the Waterloo Barracks, built in the 1840’s on the former site of some storehouses.

The Tower has luckily survived some of the most destruction events in UK history, the Great Fire of London in 1666, which started in Pudding Lane and fortunately moved West towards Westminster, and the Blitz, although some parts of the complex were damaged by falling bombs.

The Castle continues to be 1 of the most popular tourist attractions in London, with the Crown Jewels still on display to the public. You can find out more about opening times and tickets for the Tower on their official website here.

Tower 3

A number of landmarks in neighbouring Southwark are visible from the North bank of the Thames, including City Hall, shown above. It has been the home of the Greater London Authority since it’s completion in 2002 by Norman Foster, who would go on to design One Canada Square at Canary Wharf, but more on that later.

Tower 4

Looking further to the right, the 1004 ft tall Shard, now the tallest building in the UK/European Union, dominates the Southwark skyline. Designed by Renzo Piano (Born 1937, Italian Architect) and completed in 2012, the building houses a mixture of offices, residential and hotel space, with a large observation deck on the top floors, providing incredible 360 degree views out over London.

Moored on the Thames underneath the Shard is HMS Belfast, an old Royal Naval Ship built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast between 1936 and 1938. She served extensively in World War II, and has served as a Museum Ship since she was moored here in 1971.

The Tower of London lies directly on the boundary with the City of London, and because of this numerous city landmarks are visible from the area. On the right, the top of 122 Leadenhall Street (the Walkie Talkie) and 30 St Mary Axe (the Gherkin) rise above the local city buildings.

In the centre of the picture, you can see the “Port of London Authority Building” at 10 Trinity Square, clad in stunning Portland Stone. The central interior section is the only portion which isn’t part of the original building, completed in 1922 to the designs of Sir Edwin Cooper (1874 – 1942, Yorkshire Architect), as it was destroyed during the blitz in World War II, and replaced in the 1970’s. As the name suggests, the building originally housed the Port of London Authority, created in 1908 to oversee the Port of London, although they now meet at the Royal Terrace Pier in Gravesend, Kent. The building has now been earmarked for conversion into a large hotel.

In the grounds of the Tower of London itself, lie a number of sculptures by notable artist Kendra Haste (British Architect) in the form of a Lion, surrounded by 2 Lioness’s, all crafted out of Galvanised Wire. You can find out about her other works on her official website here.

The following day we made it to Canary Wharf, the newest major area of London, a financial district home to some of the worlds largest banks, from HSBC to Clydesdale. The district was built on the Isle of Dogs, an area of Tower Hamlets previously home to some of London’s docks from 1802 when the original, the West India Docks, opened for business. The docks eventually closed in the 1980’s as they couldn’t handle the new container ships being used worldwide, however the docks themselves still exist, with the new towers and offices built around them, in a major redevelopment plan which includes new homes and open spaces. The name Canary Wharf was chosen to refer to the whole area, and comes from the old Berth 32 of the former West Wood Quay, built by Fruit Lines Ltd in 1936. They sold fruit from the Canary Islands and the rest of the Mediterranean, hence the name Canary Wharf.

Canary Wharf Tube Station opened in 1999, when the Jubilee Line was extended from Westminster through to Stratford via Canary Wharf. The station itself is 1 of the largest on the network, and it is connected directly to a large underground shopping complex. The station is served only by the Jubilee Line, however there are 2 Dockland Light Railway stations just a few minutes walk away, with “Canary Wharf” to the North, and “Heron Quays” to the South.

To get to street level you can travel via a set of large escalators, which rise up beneath large glass canopies at every entrance. Looking straight up, you can see the many skyscrapers high above, and a visit at night is particularly rewarding, as you are about to see.

Tower 7

The most famous skyscraper in the Canary Wharf complex is One Canada Square, a mammoth building which, until the Shard opened in 2012, was the tallest building in both London and the United Kingdom, at 770 ft tall. Designed by Cesar Pelli (Born 1926, Argentinian Architect) the building took 4 years to build, between 1988 and 1991. It is topped by the famous pyramid, which features an aircraft warning light, even though other much taller buildings like the Shard do not. This may be related to the fact it is quite close to London City Airport, just 4 miles East along the river.

The building is mainly office space, with a restaurant in the lobby and the water supply units/maintenance plants located in the Pyramid. Numerous large firms have their offices here across the 50 available floors, including Scottish Bank Clydesbank on the 6th floor.

Tower 8

Other standout buildings in the complex include 8 Canada Square, the tall building on the left emblazoned with the HSBC Logo at the top. It is currently the 2nd tallest building in the Canary Wharf complex at 656 ft, and the 4th tallest in the UK as a whole.

This Glass/Steel giant was designed by Sir Norman Foster (Born 1935, founder of Foster + Partners in 1967) with construction beginning in 1997, almost a decade after One Canada Square. It opened in 2002, and is now home to the main HQ of HSBC, who moved out of their previous home in Hong Kong in 1993. Outside the main entrance sit 2 Bronze Lions named Stephen & Stitt, named after similar Lions from the Hong Kong branch dating back to 1935.

To the right of 8 Canada Square is One Churchill Place, the 4th tallest building at Canary Wharf, and 7th in the United Kingdom. It stands 512 ft tall, and is home to numerous offices spread across 32 floors. As the sign at the top of the structure suggests, it has been home to the HQ of Barclays Bank since it opened in 2005, and they inhabit all but the 18th, 19th and 20th floors. It is quite similar in appearance to the HSBC building, however it was designed by a different company called HOK, an American based architecture firm founded in 1955.

Tower 9

The rest of Canary Wharf is home to a plethora of skyscrapers, which mainly house offices for some of the worlds largest companies, from Banks to Media. The major exception to the office space which dominates the skyline is the new Baltimore Tower, which is presently under construction. It is due to reach its full height of 492 ft in late 2016, with residents moving into the 330 flats across 45 floors, complete with a bar, restaurant and brasserie.

1 of the other notable buildings in the Wharf is the 502 ft tall 25 Bank Street, shown above, home to J.P. Morgan & Co, an American Investment Bank created in 1871, by John Pierpont Morgan (1837 – 1913, American banker from Connecticut) himself. It had the same designer as One Canada Square, Cesar Pelli, and took just 3 years to build, from 2001 until 2003. When it opened however, J.P. Morgan was nowhere to be found, as it was built as the home of Lehman Brothers (Financial Services Company from the USA) who eventually went bankrupt in 2008, with the building being sold to J.P. Morgan by the end of the following year.

Tower 10

The layout of Canary Wharf is based around a number of large docks, with most of the main towers located around the original area of the West India Docks, with the central most areas being the North (originally Import Dock), Middle (Export Dock) & South Docks.

Bordering the Middle Dock is a large square where the main entrance to Canary Wharf Tube Station empties out at street level, and the J.P. Morgan offices stand on the Southern edge. Above you can see the Middle Dock itself, which runs West from the centre of the square, terminating before Westferry Road which runs around the edge of the complex along the Thames.

A fine view is afforded towards Central London, particularly at night, with the Shard visible behind a crane on the left, over in the Borough of Southwark. To the right you can also see the major towers of the City of London, including 30 St Mary Axe (aka the Gherkin), Tower 42 and 122 Leadenhall Street (aka the Cheesegrater) amongst others. You can find out more in my City of London Pt 1 post here.

Tower 11

Cutting through the square, and crossing over the Middle Dock are the tracks of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), heading South towards Greenwich & Lewisham on the far side of the Thames. There are 2 stations here in close proximity, with “Heron Quays” to the left where the train is pulling in, and “Canary Wharf” just a few yards out of sight to the right. Just behind “Canary Wharf” lies North Dock, and on the far side of that is “West India Quays” station, so they effectively form a trio together.

All 3 stations were present when the DLR opened in 1987, although only Heron Quay was ready for operation. As capacity would soon be increased, instead of opening Canary Wharf Station, it was redeveloped, and opened on schedule to meet the new branches of the DLR in 1991. As the Canary Wharf complex grew, so did the DLR, with new lines and stations being added, and the DLR being extended towards Greenwich, and into the City of London to meet the Tube at Bank station.

Unlike the Tube, the DLR uses driverless trains, and is officially counted as a separate Light Rail System alongside the Tube.

Tower 12

If you leave the main square outside Canary Wharf Tube Station, you can pass through 40 Bank Street, a 502 ft tall skyscraper home to various firms who have inhabited its 33 floors since it was topped out in 2003. On the far side lies a cable-stayed pedestrian bridge which crosses South Dock towards the Millwall Inner & Outer Docks. You get a great view back across the taller towers, with One Canada Square the standout landmark, as shown above, at the back of the picture. To the left lies 25 Bank Street, with 40 Bank Street on the right. It marked the end to a fascinating evening of exploring 1 of London’s newest, and most successful projects.

That wasn’t the end of our journey through Tower Hamlets however, as a few days later we boarded a Docklands Light Railway train at Bank in the City, and undertook a journey towards Greenwich. On the way, the train passed through some of the old Docks in Tower Hamlets, and even cut straight through Canary Wharf, allowing for an extra bit of sightseeing as we went, on both the outward and return journeys…

Tower 13

After leaving Bank Station, the DLR passes out of the City of London into Tower Hamlets, through the Shadwell & Limehouse areas. On the way, it skirts around the edge of Limehouse Basin, shown above.

The Basin was dug out at the start of the 19th Century, as a link between the Regents Canal, which runs 13.8 miles from the Grand Union Canal to Tower Hamlets, and the River Thames. Cargo would be unloaded here by barges on the Thames, and transferred onto Canal Boats to continue their journey. Like many of the other docks around Tower Hamlets, it eventually entered a decline, particularly when railways started to handle a lot of freight and cargo being sent round the UK, spelling the end of the working life for most British canals. From the 1980’s onwards the Basin has been redeveloped with numerous homes and flats lining its shores, along with pubs, restaurants and other shops to make it almost a small community in it’s own right.

The DLR line which runs through it opened in 1840 as the London & Blackwall Railway, which was used to run just over 3 miles from the area around London Fenchurch Street through to Blackwall, on the Isle of Dogs. As the Docks began to decline, so did traffic using the railway here, so it closed to passengers in 1926, and later to goods in 1968. The DLR opened in 1987, and made good use of a number of abandoned lines, and the viaduct which already existed to cross the water courses that enter the Basin.

Tower 14

Leaving Limehouse Basin, the various towers of Canary Wharf come into view, with One Canada Square immediately drawing your eye, as it glistens in the sun.

The final area we passed through as we approached Canary Wharf Station before heading through to Greenwich was the North Dock of the West India Docks, which opened as the Import Dock. Part of it has been filled in to allow new buildings and the DLR to run through the area, whilst the rest has been left as it was over 100 years ago.

Around the outside some of the old dock cranes have been left as a reminder of days gone by, and the imposing figure of the Marriott Hotel at 22 Hertsmere Road allows some spectacular views across the docks, the Thames and Canary Wharf.

Tower Hamlets certainly stands out as an incredible London Borough, which has successfully combined older landmarks such as the Tower of London with the new complex at Canary Wharf. With the arrival of the DLR, Tower Hamlets is very much integrated into the London Transport Network, and around 16 stops serve the Borough. At least 8 Tube Stations across numerous routes also serve Canary Wharf and areas towards the City of London, such as the Tower of London and Millennium Park.

The borough is a stunning place, where you can see London’s heritage, yet also celebrate the future, and there appears to be no slowing down at Canary Wharf, with various new towers proposed, and under construction as you read this, soon to grace the London skyline…


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