The East side of London where the new honours the old.
Just about twenty five years ago I set off to start a new job and a new life living in the depths of the east end of London. I had spent most of my previous working life around Berkshire and Cambridge and I sensed that the move would be an intimidating culture shock. When I started, I found that east London was emerging and blossoming from the grubby post war industrial years right in front of my eyes. I loved living there and the job was the best that I ever had, by a long chalk. After a quarter of a century I still rent a room in east London that I use each month. I have never looked back. I joined in with the experience of the changing face of the old ‘East End’ and still love to mingle amongst all of the new and constantly evolving life there.
Governments and corporations have invested heavily in east London from the early 1980s. Great commercial risks have been taken plumbing a glossy new business culture onto the preserved remnants of a redundant past. East London now, from Greenwich at one end and up to almost the City at the other, is an uplifting and inspiring district to be a part of.
Take a visit and experience how London’s old ‘East End’ is facing up to its new, twenty first century life style. Start in Greenwich Village and see what they have done to the Cutty Sark sailing ship exhibition. This cargo vessel was the fastest on the London to Australia route in 1883. It was quicker than any other ship in the world and was registered in England. The hull was almost completely destroyed by an accidental fire in its present location during 2007. It has been fully restored and has re-emerged as a symbolic Phoenix. It stands proudly again as a sort of token to a brand new London that it presides over. The cutter can be visited in a shiny new display case and is highly visible against the backdrop of all the new east London commercial investment.
From Greenwich, jump on the driverless Docklands Light Railway and head north under the Thames. Get off at Mudchute and have a look at the new urban farm. When Millwall Dock was being constructed in the 1860s, fertile land and mud was excavated and dumped in this area. A natural wildlife reserve emerged and now that has been transformed into an animal farm in the heart of built up east London. It is the largest inner city farm in Europe and is a reminder to local people of the reality of a modern food chain. The farm is a glimpse of the countryside surrounded by preserved traces of the long redundant dock yard.
Look just to the north of Mudchute Farm and survey the overbearing sight of Canary Wharf. The skyscraper buildings here form one of the two major financial centres in London. They have been constructed on the site of the old West India Docks in the Borough of Tower Hamlets. Around 90,000 people work at Canary Wharf nowadays where the local economy has been transformed. Many of the earlier dockyard cranes and quay sides have been preserved in this district as a permanent reminder of earlier days. The view of the highly illuminated Canary Wharf at night is a truly startling sight.
A few kilometres to the east of Canary Wharf visitors will find London City Airport. During the 1980s, the historical King George V Dock was subjected to one of the most challenging and enterprising civil engineering projects that were part of the transformation of east London. The previously ghostly harbour side was converted into an international airport to serve the newly emerging enterprise culture.
Scheduled air services now operate across all of Europe alongside daily, very prestigious passenger flights to New York, three times a day. Take a look and admire the way huge civil engineering problems have been overcome to provide the airport. The present day very energetic, yet routine activity at London City Airport, compares so poignantly with the rusting remains of an older economy from such recent history.
Adjacent to City Airport stands the huge and sparkling Excel exhibition centre. It rests on the site of the original customs house that served all of the old port and dockland industry. Exhibitions range from the tiniest technological devices to the greatest modern warships moored outside in the old Royal Victoria Dock. Visitors come from all over the world and President Obama attended the G 8 financial conference there in 2009.
So much of the new east London now stands on the visible and preserved remains of an old and expired industrial culture. Time has moved on but so much of the past has been retained as a reminder of the past roots of an earlier British Empire commercial inheritance.
A little to the west of the Excel centre on the south bank of the Thames river, visitors can find the Millennium dome. This is really an enormous and imposing but very robust tent. It is supported by twelve iron pillars symbolising the numbers on a clock face. The prime meridian passes over its western edge and these two features symbolise Greenwich meantime. This is a standard datum used for sea and air navigation across the world. This dome was constructed to herald the arrival of the twenty first century and is a very imposing landmark. It belongs nowadays to the O2 communications company and is used for prestigious world class concerts and exhibitions.
On the north bank of the Thames, just a little to the east of the city itself, is the borough of Wapping. This part of London was home to the newspaper printing industry in the mid 1980s. Rupert Murdock, of News International, defied union strike action when he decided to introduce radical new printing technology. Mr Murdock won in the end and many people from the outdated old working styles lost their jobs. Wapping came to represent a new technical and digital revolution that has contributed so much since that time to the present day economic development.
Wapping now is the home to many luxury flats that have been constructed from all the old print shops and warehouses. Visitors to Wapping can visit a few of the public houses maintaining their heritage from earlier seafaring centuries. The ‘Prospect of Whitby’ and others are very fashionable dining and drinking establishments in the twenty first century. Morbid signs of public pirate executions from days gone by can still be seen in this quarter. You can really sense the impression of how London has moved on so much.
The Olympic park at Stratford remains a very prominent new feature of the east side of London. It was built on discarded land to stage the games that brought so much prestige to Britain in 2012. The freshly built, state of the art sports centres and aqua facilities will be used for the future benefit of so many London people in the years to come.
The site has transformed this part of London and brought much renewed wealth in its wake. The adjacent Westfield shopping centre is the largest and glossiest in Europe. Every day it is full of local people enthusiastically shopping and contributing to the new, emerging economic growth that we all benefit from.
London’s east side is served by both the old Central underground line and the brand new Docklands Light Railway. They in themselves represent a poignant comparison of how times have moved on. The new, in all its different disguises in east London, is complemented everywhere by preserved reminders of the old. East London is almost a heritage centre where all of us can look forward to an emerging and wealthier future surrounded by the older building blocks of our past history. Take a visit to this part of the City and see for yourself how the new is definitely in the ascent.
- Canary Wharf
- Cutty Sark
- O2 dome
- Westfield shopping, Stratford.