The history of the Isle of Dogs is a remarkable story. Before the closure of the docks and the development of the shiny new financial centre around Canary Wharf, most people – including Londoners – had never heard of the place. Further back, before 1800, only a few people lived around the edges of this marshy wasteland. Yet, this small area of East London, hidden away behind high dock walls and the embankment of the looping Thames, was the birthplace of an uncountable number of industrial innovations and mighty enterprises. Its people, isolated from the rest of London for close to two centuries, had their own character, a character that is still there, if you know where to look for it.
Collaborating on a couple of other Island history projects I have come to realize the greatness of its history, a greatness that was completely lost on me when I lived on the 1970s/1980s Island that was my childhood home.
A few efforts have been made to capture the Island’s history, from the weighty Volumes XLIII and XLIV of the “Survey of London” edited by Hermione Hobhouse (Athlone Press 1994) to the personal stories and great research carried out by Islanders themselves in the Island History Trust. On the one hand, an industrial-archaeology tome. On the other, a community story. Nothing at all wrong with either of these, but they do leave a large gap in the middle that needs filling. That’s where I hope this blog will reside.