Trading on the docks’ rich industrial past
Anna White looks around London Dock, where historic phrases are carved in the granite and photos display its cargo hauls
Nineteenth-century phrases such as “dragon’s blood” and “bear’s grease” – a treatment for stomach ache and a cure for hair loss – have been carved out of granite and set into a network of pathways that run along alongside the Thames in Wapping.
This is not part of an avant-garde East London art exhibition. The creation, which lists the goods imported through the area’s harbour over the past 400 years, was commissioned by the developer St George to emphasis the rich history of its latest scheme, London Dock.
A collection of black and white photographs showing cargo such as tea, silks and the odd elephant being hauled off the returning ships is displayed in a nearby pop-up studio space. The room, which smells of nutmeg and spices to evoke the exotic cargo, is a departure from the soulless sales and marketing suites so typical of central London property projects.
St George, a subsidiary of the volume house-builder Berkeley Group, is working with architecture firm Patel Taylor to regenerate the old News International site. Half a kilometre long, it sits between St Katherine’s Docks and the Grade I listed Tobacco Dock building. As well as the erection of new apartment blocks, the capital’s old cargo vaults and warehouses will be restored, delivering 1,800 homes in total.
Many will associate London Dock with the Wapping dispute and the print protests of the late Eighties – but its industrial history dates back much further and shapes the site today.
What was a Saxon riverside village grew into one of the world’s busiest waterfronts, and by 1798 plans were drawn up to build secure, enclosed warehouses. Even now, on the outside of the surviving Pennington Street warehouses, you can make out the bricked-up archways through which goods were carried; they were later sealed, leaving just one guarded entrance. Robbery was rife on the Thames.
Over the course of the 20th century, sailing ships were replaced by vast steam vessels too big to navigate Wapping’s narrow locks, and in 1969 the docks were closed. “This is a part of town which has huge historical reference but has been disconnected from its surroundings. We are opening up what we believe will be a thriving space,” says Neil Bowron of St George.
Apartments in Clipper Wharf, Alexander Wharf and Admiral Wharf – all under construction – are set around Gauging Square, which Bowron is positioning as the “Covent Garden of east London” with bars, restaurants and shops.
However, Emery Wharf – the latest phase of the scheme, launching sales next weekend and due to complete in late 2019 – sits slightly apart, facing the City and jutting out of the development site like the prow of a ship. The 12-floor building, a clash of steel and brick, is the one that best reflects the area’s history, according to architect Andrew Taylor.
Inside, there is no sign of the typical West End luxury trimmings – no crushed velvet furnishings or polished marble floors. These minimalist flats are being marketed to east London’s young and wealthy workers; techies, bankers and executives from the cluster of professional services firms on the other side of the river in More London Place, between London Bridge and City Hall. Property investors and private landlords are also expected to wade in.
The black metal ironmongery in the kitchen (from the smooth taps to the sleek extractor fan), grey tiling in the bathrooms and engineered timber flooring throughout are Taylor’s nods to industrial Britain.
“The building draws inspiration from the area’s architectural and trading heritage, combined with a distinctive modern industrial specification,” he says.
Each of the 105 apartments will have underfloor heating, Bosch and Miele appliances and a wallmounted 55in Samsung smart TV, and the building has two communal rooftop gardens. Prices in Emery Wharf for a one-bedroom pad start from £539,950.
Those looking for softer interiors might prefer Clipper Wharf, the first phase of the scheme. It has only two three-bedroom apartments left, at £2,199,950.
The refined interiors, designed by the firm 1508 London, reflect the luxury goods that were traded through London Docks such as silks, woods and wools. Buyers can choose from three palettes.
The first is centred around a shimmering grey composite stone worktop, the second a natural oak flooring with a complementing beige colour scheme and the third features greys and browns with a plush wool carpet. The building has a 24-hour concierge service.
“I was inspired by the clipper ships,” says Taylor. The maritime theme can be seen in the design of the balconies, which are long with oscillating edges, creating a wave effect as your eye runs along the building. “Their intricate bronze detailing creates reflection and movement,” adds Taylor.
St George’s Bowron is far more cloak and dagger about the final use of the Pennington Street Warehouse. The 1,027ft-long cave, segmented by thick brick pillars, will house quirky businesses, he hints. The first occupier will be architecture and town planning firm JTP, relocating from its Clerkenwell headquarters early next year. And the others? Possibly coffee roasters, craft brewers or an arthouse cinema. All he’ll say is: “Watch this space.”
Making waves: the balconies at Clipper Wharf, above, are designed to evoke water; Gauging Square, left, is being designed as “the Covent Garden of east London”; the industrialinspired interiors at Emery Wharf, far left, where prices start at £539,950