Walk 1: Bank & Tower Gateway walk to Limehouse

Walk 1

BANK and TOWER GATEWAY to LIMEHOUSE

2 1/2 hours

This section of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is primarily a conversion of an old railway serving the London docks that had been closed in 1966 when the docks in this area were abandoned. This railway opened in 1840 and used the exact alignment of the present DLR but the stations were different: Minories (now Tower Gateway), Leman Street (between 1877 and 1941), Cannon Street Road (between 1842 and 1848, replaced by Leman Street station), Shadwell & St George’s East (between 1840 and 1941, now Shadwell) and Stepney East (between 1840 and 1926, now Limehouse).

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DLR train in Tower Gateway terminal

 

There had been plans to build a London Underground extension instead, but the government was short of funds in the 1980s and preferred a cheaper solution. Because the available train line ran on a viaduct, a tram concept (the solution used in Croydon) was considered inappropriate. The original line between Tower Gateway and Limehouse opened in 1987 and was a very cheap system: standardised platforms, automatic driving with just a service agent to control door closure.

Considerable traffic growth due to many banks relocating staff to the former Docklands combined with bad connections at Tower Gateway led to the construction of a spur to Bank through a very deep tunnel connected with London Underground. To sit at the front of the train when it enters the tunnel is an interesting feeling.

The system was operated by a private company for 25 years and is now operated by a 70% subsidiary of the French government-owned railway SNCF.

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DLR tracks near Tower Gateway terminal

 

The differences between suburban trains and light railways are obvious in terms of optics. The DLR has advantages compared to a train line:

– services can be more frequent due to much shorter braking distances

– the trains can turn at tight corners as they are articulated

– the infrastructure is much cheaper to build as the weight of the carriages is much lower

– operating costs are lower as there are no unionised drivers, just service staff that needs little education and can be paid the minimum wage

There are also disadvantages:

– Capacity per train is lower even though platforms have been extended later, causing potential overcrowding at rush hour

– Services are slow due to the many stops and smaller electrical motors

You need to be aware that Oyster pay-as-you-go cards are accepted as if you were on a bus but that they malfunction frequently depending on where you change to the DLR. You might be charged unexpected amounts.

Routing note: There are frequent large construction sites in the City of London and some of the passages I suggest might be blocked for the duration of the works. It is easy to find parallel passages and you do not really need a map to find them.

This route will connect in Bank with London Underground Central line walk 7, with Northern line walks 10 and 11, and with the Waterloo & City walk. You can connect to London Overground walk 3 in Shadwell but the stations are clearly apart. Finally, this route connects in Limehouse with DLR walk 2 and with Fenchurch Street network walk 1.

BANK

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Bank station entrance

 

The DLR platforms at Bank opened in 1991 underneath the existing London Underground stations and the way to the exit appears impressively long and convoluted with a number of stairs and elevators. Surprisingly for a railway connecting the City with an airport, the first step away from the platforms is an uncomfortably long flight of stairs.

A station building had originally been intended in 1900, but this would have forced the demolition of a church and the railway company was only allowed to use the crypt as an entrance. As a result, the station is entirely underground with no building above.

Take the exit towards Bank of England and turn into Prince’s Street (leads North from the crossroads)

This street runs between the Bank of England and the head office of a large commercial bank. The main hall of the commercial bank is a seriously imposing covered courtyard and is worth a look. You may not take pictures for obvious security reasons but you can enter the premises as it is a normal retail branch.

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Bank of England (rear view)

 

The Bank of England building is an entirely different story. The institution itself dates back to 1694 but the present building is from the 1920s. It is by a leading architect of the period who was actually working mostly in the Colonies (South Africa and India), and it is a typical example of imperial bombast with oversized neo-classical elements. The best view is from the corner of Prince’s Street with Lothbury.

 

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Curtain wall of the Bank of England

 

You do not see much of the building from the streets as it is hidden behind a curtain wall broken only by armoured steel gates. The walls were built after a riot had managed to vandalise offices of the bank in 1780. This is somewhat ironical as the Bank of England prides itself on having a particularly transparent monetary and supervisory policy.

 

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Set of doors of the Bank of England

The head offices of central banks in other large countries are much more representative buildings, be it the Banque de France, the Bundesbank, the European Central Bank, the Banca d’Italia or the Nationale Bank van België. There are no security problems as central banks don’t normally keep valuable reserves in the headquarters – except in London.

Ahead Moorgate

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Basildon House on Moorgate

 

Basildon House at 7 Moorgate is a late 19th century office building. It is a good example of Victorian neo-baroque with Palladian triangles above the windows and a very conspicuous optical grid through a heavy horizontal cornice in the William Kent style and heavy columns to stress the vertical. In the 1930s, architects were to reject this grid appearance in favour of stressing either the horizontal or the vertical but not both.

 

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Medieval style on Moorgate

The building used by the Europe Arab Bank at the next street corner is a striking contrast. It is neo-medieval in a manner seldom seen on so large buildings. It stresses horizontal lines (which is not very gothic) with the only vertical accent being the corner tower. Because decoration is concentrated on the tower and smaller scale, it is much more balanced than Basildon House. It feels solid rather than bombastic.

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Lighthouse on Moorgate

 

The last interesting historical building on Moorgate is a neo-Renaissance palace used now by the Habib Bank. There is a delightful corner sculpture showing a lighthouse. This is linked to the fact that the building was erected in 1914 for the account of a maritime insurance company.

Turn R into a narrow passage at the foot of the lighthouse (Moorgate Place). The passage turns R

 

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Institute of Chartered Accountants

 

The impressive neo-Renaissance building along the second part of the passage houses the Institute of Chartered Accountants, an association founded in 1870 to improve standards in a profession that was seen at the time as not very competent and prone to manipulations. Accounting fraud is very well alive and extremely dangerous nowadays, but most critics agree that it is seldom due to incompetence of accountants, rather to the criminal intent of top managers.

 

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Neo-baroque façade on Great Swan Alley

 

The building from 1890 is considered one of the finest late Victorian neo-baroque structures. There is a little too much decoration, but there is a clear division between the levels with the vertical being only stressed at the top level where it counts more. The elaborate frieze is also well integrated. The architect is John Belcher and the statues and friezes are by leading sculptors of the period.

at the end L Great Swan Alley

R Copthall Avenue, turns L

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Drapers’ Hall

 

Looking R to the end of Throgmorton Avenue (actually more a quiet dead end private street controlled with gates), you see the late 19th century brick building of the Drapers’ Guild with a front reminiscent of Jacobean palaces. The livery company is officially called simply “The Master and Wardens and Brethren and Sisters of the Guild or Fraternity of the Blessed Mary the Virgin of the Mystery of Drapers of the City of London”. Drapers were among the most influential traders in medieval England and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a member of the company, as are a number of Royals both British and foreign. Pictures on Internet show the reception rooms as being among the grandest in London, but it is very difficult to visit them.

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Drapers’ Garde,

 

The small garden at the corner of Copthall Avenue with Throgmorton Avenue belongs also to the Drapers’ Guild. Considering land values in the City, the small patch of greenery indeed proves considerable wealth. It was originally the garden of a mansion bought by the guild in 1543 as their new seat. When it is open, it provides pleasant sitting with no noisy traffic in sight. There are several mulberry trees in the garden; this has been a tradition since the drapers followed the lead of the king in encouraging the local silk industry around 1600, mulberry trees being essential for providing the necessary raw material.

L Throgmorton Avenue

Directly R Austin Friars (initially a pedestrian passage)

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Dutch Church in Austin Friars

 

The church in this passage is the Nederlandse Kerk Londen, built for the Dutch calvinists after World War II to replace their old chapel also located here but destroyed by bombs. The present building dates back to 1954 and is a simple combination of concrete blocks as there was not much money available for reconstruction at the time. The church is very important in the Protestant tradition as it the oldest Protestant church in Dutch language, being recognised in 1550 at a time when the Low Countries themselves were still officially Spanish and catholic. The building is not normally open outside of services and is very plain according to pictures, as you can expect from a strictly calvinist Church.

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Garden of the Nederlandse Kerk Londen

There is a small garden at the side of the church with a statue of a monk. This refers to the former owner of the area, a convent of Augustinian friars who settled here around 1269. The order put a strong emphasis on a modest way of life and spiritual exercise; it developed a very strong tradition of teaching and scientific work.

(Ahead) Pinner’s Passage (under a building)

R Old Broad Steeet

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Typical City labyrinth

You are clearly in the core of the business area of central London with a very intricate maze of passages under and around modern glass buildings of all sizes. This is a specialty of London as most contemporary business areas like Canary Wharf and La Défense tend to have skyscrapers isolated in the middle of wide, bleak, empty spaces. Some of those passages appear unused and don’t lead anywhere useful. This is the case of the network of staircases at the back of tower 42.

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Tower 42

 

Tower 42 was not named after the street number (it is at number 25) but after the number of levels as there is an expensive bar at level 42. It is one of the highest skyscrapers in London (183 m) and was built originally in 1980 for a bank. When the tower was built, there were many discussions about allowing such tall buildings in the City but greed won, also because developers promised in exchange to keep some of the traditional buildings around. The tower is a good example of the rather uninteresting design of office buildings in the 1970s, attention being paid at the time only to the technical challenges of the height and not much to the external appearance.

L Adams Close / Adams Court (a pedestrian passage under a building snaking first L then R passing a courtyard)

I could not take a picture because this is a private property, but this is one of the passages I found particularly enjoyable in the City due to the internal courtyard. There are many somewhat overpriced restaurants for City bankers inside.

L Threadneedle Street

L Bishopsgate

Follow Bishopsgate until you reach St Ethelburga church

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St Ethelburga on Bishopsgate

 

This is one of the few medieval parish churches still standing in the City of London, but only the tower dates back to the 15th century because the rest of the church was destroyed by a terrorist attack in 1993. Interestingly, the terrorists (the IRA) warned the police and detonated the bomb on a quiet Saturday, trying to avoid casualties. This is a striking contrast with terrorism connected to the wars in Irak and Syria.

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Intercultural pillar in St Ethelburga

 

The church was rebuilt as a “Centre for Reconciliation and Peace”, managed by a charity encouraging intercultural and interfaith dialogue. The courtyard garden is definitely worth sitting for a few minutes. It is full of very intricate symbolic details combining in a subtle way European and Islamic motives. The walls of the garden are broken by windows in a gothic shape but with wrought iron designs like in Northern Africa. The mosaics on the ground have centered designs as usual in Europe, but use geometrical patterns like in Morocco. The ornamental pillar combines scrolls reminiscent of Irish crosses with lions from Islamic al-Andalus.

 

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Courtyard of St. Ethelburga’s

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Mosaic pavement of St Ethelburga’s

Turn around on Bishopsgate, going back south

L Great St Helen’s, a passage for cars and pedestrians under a building

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Great St. Helen’s

 

The church is one of the largest and most venerable parish churches in the City of London. It was also destroyed in the terrorist attack of 1993 and was rebuilt in a very austere, calvinist style. The street front shows the peculiar structure of the church, made of two parallel, equal naves. This is due to the fact that the church was part of a nunnery and that the nuns used one nave, closed off from the second nave used as the parish Church.

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Glimpse of Great St. Helen’s Inside

 

The church has a lively series of activities but they are meant for specific groups and it is difficult to visit the church itself. This is possibly due to the fact that the church has only weak links with Anglicanism and defines itself as “Conservative Evangelical”. My picture is taken through a window and hints at the large number of burial monuments for which the church is well known.

Cross the square in front of the church and walk along the right side of the church into Undershaft

Detour R along St Mary Axe to St Andrew Undershaft church

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St Andrew Undershaft

 

The church is very interesting because it is one of the very few medieval churches in the City of London that were not rebuilt. It dates back to 1532 and is an authentic example of the perpendicular gothic style, inspiring many Victorian architects. The name of the church comes from a maypole that was traditionally set up every year opposite the church. The tradition stopped in 1547 after a riot cut down the maypole shaft for being a “pagan idol”.

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Lloyd’s Building from St Andrew Undershaft

 

The street corner is useful to get views of several of the surrounding skyscrapers as they are usually difficult to see properly from directly beneath. My pictures show Tower 42, the Lloyds tower, the Willis building and of course the iconic “Gherkin” (officially plain 30 St Mary Axe).

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Swiss Re tower with St Andrew Undershaft

otherwise cross St Mary Axe and walk to the right of the round tower (the passage is called Brown’s Buildings)

 

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Gherkin tower

The tower was known originally as the Swiss Re tower after its main tenant (like Tower 42 as NatWest tower). It is 180 meter high and was built in 2003 on a plot that became available after a terrorist attack in 1992 destroyed the previous building.

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Curving shapes

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Top of Gherkin tower

 

Speculators tried to get permission for a 386-meter high tower, but this was considered really excessive and also slightly problematic in view of commercial aircraft flying relatively low over London. The tower was designed by a leading architect, Sir Norman Foster, and ushered the era of conspicuous skyscraper designs in London. The design remains iconic as very few towers use rounded shapes for fear of losing valuable space at the upper levels and the tower won the Stirling Prize in 2004. In recent years, specialists have started to criticise the all-glass hull of the building as being out of fashion and more difficult to maintain than a steel-and-glass structure.

(Ahead) Bury Street

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Holland House on Bury Street

At the corner of the street, Holland House is an exquisite Art Déco office building designed in 1916 for a Dutch shipping company. It is an extremely rare example of Dutch Art Déco in London, stressing vertical lines and playing with strong colour contrasts. The very tall windows were unusual at the time in Britain for offices as they were difficult to clean from soot caused by coal heating.

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Prow of Holland House

The corner of the building is marked by a very appropriate sculpture showing the prow of a ship plowing through the waves. It is the work of a Dutch artist. The building is also listed for its interior decoration, a supposedly magnificent work by leading designer Van de Velde, but the building is strictly private and the owner does not even post pictures of the inside on their website.

R Creechurch Lane

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St Katherine Cree

 

The church at the end of the street is St Katherine Cree, a guild church (rather than a parish church). The tower is a late gothic structure from 1504, the nave is the only Jacobean church in London and was built in 1630. This is reflected in the rectangular shape of the windows, a reference to Renaissance custom. You stand a good chance of finding the church open and it is definitely worth a visit.

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Stained glass rose in St Katherine Cree

 

The first striking element is the magnificent rose over the altar, kept in the Tudor gothic style. The rose is supposedly a smaller scale copy of that of old St Paul’s Cathedral as it was before the 1666 fire. The stained glass is an extremely rare original version from 1630. In line with protestant tradition, the design is mostly geometrical.

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Guild coats of arms

 

The ceiling appears surprisingly flat to our eyes but we are influenced by the many neo-medieval churches from the Victorian era. In medieval times, most churches were covered by flat wooden ceilings and the shape in St Katherine’s is therefore perfectly in line with tradition. It is just unusual for a stone ceiling as it demands a lot of experience from the masons. When the ceiling was renovated in 1962, the coats of arms of the guilds were added and provide colourful designs.

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Font in St Katherine Cree

 

The font is also an original Jacobean work with rather heavy neo-classical shapes. The shaft looks more like a guide to Roman architecture with designs piled according to size. There are a few monuments in the church, in particular the conspicuous memorial to Sir Nicholas Throgmorton, who navigated the very difficult politics between Henry VIII and Elizabeth I brilliantly and had a adventurous career as an Ambassador to France and Scotland, ending up in prison a few times.

 

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Monument to Sir Throgmorton

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Hartshorn Alley

L Leadenhall Street

R Hartshorn Alley (a very inconspicuous pedestrian passage through building no. 65)

Cross Fenchurch Street and continue ahead into the next passage

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Neo-Renaissance on Fenchurch Street

 

On Fenchurch Street, my picture shows a late Victorian building that is interesting to compare to two buildings you saw at the start of the walk because all three are neo-baroque. The Fenchurch Street building has a ground floor similar to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, but the first floor is less well designed as the many columns and the Palladian window surroundings overload the design. The top floor is neo-Renaissance with curiously recessed windows and small balconies reminiscent of France.

Ahead Northumberland Alley

R Crutched Friars

soon L Crosswall

R America Square passing underneath train tracks

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No.1 America Square

 

There is a conspicuous building at 1 America Square. It is primarily a conference centre and this justifies an entrance that draws visitors in. The architect clearly intended to refer to US Art Deco and the entrance is duly impressive. Looking from further away to the building, you see better how vertical lines are stressed. The protruding shape is meant to bring associations of speed, of steamships through the ocean or of fast cars, Art Deco being also about being modern and fascinated by the “age of machines”.

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Inspired by American Art Deco

L Hammett Street

Cross the road for

TOWER GATEWAY

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Tower Gateway terminal

 

The station was the original DLR terminal in 1987. It has become a secondary terminal since the more convenient terminal at Bank opened in 1991.

The platform is a lightweight shelter in cheapest steel and glass; the principle was to achieve the lowest construction cost possible back in the 1980s. The access to the station is simple but quite pretty with a rotunda bearing flags – you can notice that the choice of countries is very 1990s, ignoring Asia except for Japan and also ignoring Russia. The curved roof over the elevator is equally pleasant to look at and the overall scale is human-sized, a contrast to the surrounding office towers.

R Minories

(Ahead) Cross the busy main road towards the Tower of London, turn L and go down steps to the pedestrian walkway at the lower level along the moat.

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Tower of London seen from Minories

 

This is an unusual perspective on the Tower as you get the feeling that the buildings inside the compound are not much higher than the wall around them. The outer wall dates back to about 1285, some two centuries after the construction of the original keep. By then, the Tower was seldom used as a royal palace, more as a prison and as a threat to potentially unruly London residents. The use of the moat as a tennis club was very surprising to me as this feels like a slightly undignified use of a national monument.

L Subway under Tower Bridge Approach

Follow the signs for St Katherine Docks, turning R after the subway and very soon L again

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St Katherine Docks

 

St. Katherine’s docks were built in the 1820s on the site of a medieval hospital. The docks were very modern in that warehouses had direct access to the ships, avoiding traffic on a cluttered quayside. But they had little success as they accommodated only rather small ships. Nearly all buildings were demolished around 1970 and replaced by office and luxury residential buildings of limited interest.

 

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Historical ships in S Katherine’s Docks

 

The most interesting items in the present docks are the flotilla of boats and ships including a few historical coastal navigation ships moored alongside the hotel on the west side of the dock. Unfortunately, you can only see them from far away as the quay along which they are moored is part of the hotel grounds. Apart from the working boats, you will see a huge number of colourful pleasure craft. I think most of them are visiting boats but some appear to moor all year long, which must be a rather expensive option in this marina. The boats are at their best during the annual Thames Festival weekend.

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Development in St Katherine Docks

 

The apartment buildings along the north and east side of the basin were among the first reconversion projects in the London dock areas and they set the guidelines for many later projects in terms of height and sprawl. Whereas it was popular in the 1970s to have separate towers spread over an open space, urban planners advocated in the 1990s a feeling of courtyard and therefore long buildings on three or four sides. The concept proved very popular with affluent bankers worried about their personal safety as this made gated estates easy to organise. The council authorities who reviewed the St Katherine Docks application must be commended for their foresight in the 1990s, imposing rights of way and waterside walkways.

Follow the N edge of the two basins (called first Commodity Quay and later Sun Walk), then R along the eastern edge of the second basin

L away from the basin using the only available passage

R Thomas More Street, the road turns R at a crossroads

At the end L Wapping High Street

Soon L Redmead Lane

immediately L to the edge of the basin

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Hermitage Basin

 

This is Hermitage Basin, the upstream entrance of the Shadwell / Wapping dock complex. There were warehouses along the basin but they accommodated only smaller ships and closed as early as 1909. The end of the basin is marked by a nice sculpture in the shape of a looping rope. Apparently, the artist meant the part inside the loop to be illuminated in a specific way, but I have never seen this as it uses too much electricity.

 

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Rope sculpture in Wapping

Continue into the cycle route and footpath along Hermitage Basin

Follow the cycle route as it crosses the canal and passes under a road

Continue along the canal, turning L with the canal when it branches off

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Wapping Ornamental Canal

 

Wapping Ornamental Canal is not an actual canal from the Docklands era. When the Wapping docks were demolished in the late 1970s, they were completely filled in and built over. As the estates are all gated and as there were no roads across the area due to the past as basins filled with water, the planners found it sensible to plan for a path across the area. This was beautified through the ornamental canal. In order to keep the water not too dirty, the water is aerated by pumps and flows naturally down low steps from east to west.

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Side arm of Wapping canal

 

The canal divides into two arms in the middle of Wapping, the side arm being a dead end. The houses along the side arm have some walls covered in slate, an expensive and unusual covering for London. You would expect this rather in areas heavily exposed to snow and rain driven by high wind, like in Wales and Cornwall. The railings along the canal are quite expensive but necessary because of the size of the canal; similar schemes in Rotherhithe were built later with a much narrower and shallower canal in order to save on railing costs.

The canal turns R again, continue on the cycle route passing under a footbridge and later under a road bridge

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Estate facing Tobacco Dock

 

The canal passes between an estate and a derelict shopping centre called Tobacco Dock. The estate is an interesting example of a modern terrace imitating the alignment and the height of late Victorian terraces but without front gardens. The houses are oversize cottages with steep roofs, which is not done since about 2000 as it is more profitable to plan the top level as a penthouse apartment. The façade is broken by protrusions ornamented with coloured panels in cheap plastic covering, a style that was popular in the 1980s.

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Tobacco Dock fancy ship

 

Tobacco Dock is a failed shopping centre. Planners had hoped for customers from further afield but it attracted only local shoppers because of the suboptimal connection with London Underground. The main structure is a listed warehouse from 1811, one of the oldest in London, and belongs to a Kuwaiti investor. No convincing plans have been brought forward to make sensible use of the premises. The large ship moored in front of the abandoned area, the Three Sisters, is a fancy decoration item where developers had thought of putting a “piracy museum” in order to attract families to the shopping centre. An other, smaller ship folly was planned as a children’s playground. It is a pity that the ships are fake as they would indeed be popular with children if they could be relocated to somewhere more accessible.

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Eastern end of Wapping canal

After Tobacco Dock, the ornamental canal soon comes to an end with stepped ponds that enable the oxygenation of the canal water and help prevent algae growth.

At the end of the canal L along the edge of Wapping Woods, continues as a paved access way

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Wapping Woods

 

Wapping Woods is a strange name for an open space with isolated clumps of trees. When the docks were demolished, planners had more trees planted but the ground was rubbish from the docks. It was probably polluted and drained too fast so that only the hardiest trees were able to grow. Lessons were learned from this half-failure when a similar scheme in Rotherhithe led to the much more successful creation of Russia Dock woodland. This being said, the open space is a valuable patch of greenery in an area of London where this is scarce.

Ahead Dellow Street (you might have to detour to traffic lights R or L in order to cross the main highway)

R Cable Street

L Watney Street

SHADWELL

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Shadwell DLR station

 

The station opened in 1987 together with the DLR line and did not use the site of the old train station (located a few yards further east). The station is also clearly separated from London Overground Shadwell station, located a few hundred yards away.

As usual on the DLR, there is no station building or ticket office, just a sign under the appropriate arch of the viaduct. The access hall is sheltered by an interesting set of coloured glass panels that makes you feel like fish in an aquarium.

 

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Shadwell station aquarium

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Shadwell DLR Platform

 

The platform is protected by a standard steel-and-glass awning.

Turn around on Watney Street

L Cable Street (following the same direction as before)

R King David Lane

R The Highway, cross the road at the next traffic light and continue in the same direction

L Garnet Street (there is also a pedestrian sign for “Shadwell Basin”)

Very soon L Newlands Quay (the road is unmarked but there is again a pedestrian sign for the basin)

Go to the edge of the basin and continue walking East (away from Garnet Street)

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St Paul’s Shadwell

 

The tall wall to your left is the buttressing wall of the parish churchyard. St Paul’s Shadwell was built in 1821 in order to replace the 17th century church that was too small considering the strong growth in population in the East End. Parliament paid for the construction because it was very worried that residents left without supervision from clergymen could become unruly. The nave is in neo-classical style, the tower refers to the previous church and is baroque. I have not read details about interesting monuments Inside.

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Shadwell Basin

 

Shadwell Basin at the foot of the church is the only part of the old Wapping dock complex that was kept as a basin. It is therefore very useful to sportsmen like rowers for whom the Thames is not always appropriate, but the water is not clean enough to swim in it. The basin was opened in 1832 and the present lock is from 1858. The basin became too small for standard ships by the end of the 19th century although warehouses continued to be used to some extent.

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Development on Shadwell Basin

 

The Shadwell docks were closed in 1969 and houses were built on three sides in 1989. The strong colours were popular at the time, as were the conspicuous arches at the ground level. The houses are not very tall compared to most riverside developments because the architects were asked to respect the scale of the derelict warehouses in order to keep a feeling for the actual size of harbour basins.

Follow the basin walkway turning R then L again to a road

L on the road and directly R on the footpath marked as Thames Path

The footpath leads along King Edward Memorial Park. The core of the park directly along the riverside is an elegant cylindrical structure in typically Edwardian white and red bricks. I noticed very nice cast iron grills. The structure is the ventilation shaft for the road tunnel linking Limehouse and Rotherhithe (not to be confused with the older train tunnel in Wapping).

I crossed it once by car and it is a somewhat frightening experience as the road is very narrow with sharp bends. The pavements on either side are nearly as wide as the road, the reason being that the tunnel was planned primarily for harbour traffic, i.e. horse-drawn carriages on the road and goods carried on wheelbarrows on the pavement. Because of the wide pavement, the tunnel can be used by pedestrians and cyclists, but it is very unpleasant to do so.

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King Edward VII Park

 

King Edward VII Park uses ground where a fish market had been built in the 1880s but had become derelict. Their Majesties opened the park themselves in 1922, which is a testimony to the importance it had in the very poor and very industrial East End. Apart from the obviously very pleasant views over the river, the park offers the usual number of sports grounds but also a particularly well planned green area that reminds more of an orchard than of a football ground.

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Flowers in King Edward VII Park

 

On a terrace overlooking the rest of the park, you can also find a few flower beds. The terrace is an interesting feature at the transition between Edwardian parks (pergolas with square brick columns overlooking formal flower beds) and Art Déco (making use of the natural ground features by underlining them in geometrical shapes such as terraces and round ponds).

 

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Ziggurat development

 

Continue on the riverside walkway. The first development after the park is a very massive building but has an interesting, unusual pyramidal shape. This is called a ziggurat after the antique pyramids of Iraq and was a popular shape for a short period in the 1960s, the idea being that it enabled a large number of flats to enjoy balconies and sunlight. The development is much newer (I guess 1990s) and this is a rare design nowadays because it is less profitable than a shoebox-style tower where you can pack more luxury flats for Canary Wharf bankers per valuable square foot of ground. The view from the river is particularly interesting as you can see that the riverside walkway stands on the old wharf – wooden, not concrete and steel.

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The Listed Building development

 

The next development along the riverside was built by the same developer at the same time. The scale and style are very different because this was a listed monument, a 19th century warehouse. I think it was not really worth listing considering how much it was changed and how little it reminds of an actual warehouse (as opposed to Shad Thames for example). The development has one of the stupidest names in London as it is called “The Listed Building” and the access road is called “The Highway”.

You are forced temporarily off the riverside into Narrow Street.

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Limehouse tunnel portal

 

Looking into a side street called Spert Street, you can see a towering white and pink structure with four green chimneys and a large sculpture on the side. This is just the portal for a road tunnel that runs for a little more than a mile under Limehouse in order to improve access into Canary Wharf from Central London. The chimneys are the exhaust vents. The sculpture is called “Restless Dream” and is by a celebrated Israeli artist who lives in London, Zadok Ben-David.

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Limehouse Lock

 

Continue following the Thames Path signs as they point to a riverside access a few buildings further

When reaching the lock for Limehouse Basin, turn L along the lock, then L again on the walkway along the basin

 

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Limehouse Basin

 

Limehouse Basin was opened in 1820 at the place where Regent’s Canal meets the river Thames. This made it extremely busy as seagoing ships would transfer goods here onto canal barges. The main cargo was coal for the North London factories and it declined slowly in due course due to competition from railways. Because it is the entrance to the canal network, it remained open to traffic throughout the 20th century. It is now used primarily as a marina.

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Limehouse Basin development

 

Several towers with luxury flats were built on the north side of the basin around the year 2000. They are supposed to have the shape of ship prows. The style sells well and has been reproduced on a much larger scale in other locations like in Wandsworth.

The walkway leads around the basin until it comes near the train viaduct

L along the viaduct for

LIMEHOUSE

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Limehouse DLR station

 

The old train station opened in 1840 under the name Stepney and was renamed Stepney East in 1923. It was then replaced by the neighbouring train station located on the Fenchurch Street line in 1926. When the DLR opened in 1987, both the suburban train station and the new DLR stop were renamed Limehouse.

The picture shows the DLR part of the complex with the two lift shafts and the access staircases in drab grey. There is no DLR building or ticket office while there is a station for the suburban trains, but it is integrated in the viaduct arch and of no architectural interest.

 

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