What was Canary Wharf before?

Before the Investment banks, finance offices and accountants in Canary Wharf, what was the infamous district?

When you think of Canary Wharf, naturally you think money. Investment banks and private equity firms along side head offices for our high street banks and Accounting giants are synonymous with the eastern area of the capital. But what of Canary Wharf before the money rolled in? Historically, the Docklands area has played a crucial role in the fortunes of London’s East End.

Canary Wharf takes its name from a Quay in the Mediterranean and Canary Islands where fruit and vegetables were brought in and unloaded. A former docklands site, formed by a loop in the River Thames, was turned into what we know as the financial district post 1987.

A huge part of the success of London over the years has revolved around the Thames and its waterfront. It wasn’t until the 17th century, though, that the city began to use its East End water access. In the 1690s, a dock was built at Rotherhithe. As a result of this location, several more docks were built nearby, including West India Dock and St Katherine Dock. The Docks attracted people from all over the nation and from all over the world, creating a highly populated East End.

While the docks in the area promoted London’s commercial businesses, the area was far from wealthy and it suffered from poverty and crime. Docks served as a prime target for German bombing raids during the Second World War. If the docks were shut down, all of the United Kingdom suffered. It is estimated the Germans dropped around 2,500 bombs into the East End area, destroying numerous buildings.

There was some rebuilding work after the war and the docks continued to operate. But, by the 1970s, cargo transportation caused problems that the East End’s docks couldn’t recover from. The Docks were repaired after the war, but by the 1970s, the East End’s docks faced problems they couldn’t solve. The city’s docks didn’t have the capacity to handle container ships and the city’s industrial needs. During the 1980s, all of the East End’s major docks closed down, causing a lot of problems to local residents. Unemployment increased and the area once again was known as a social, economic, and crime problem.

Once a hub of trade and industry, it today is home to one of the largest financial centres in the world. The Docklands have gone through many ups and downs over the years, but the new developments around Canary Wharf and the surrounding area have remade this area into an important part of London’s economic landscape. Although many locals felt they were being pushed out of their homes by the redevelopment, the East End economy and other localities have benefitted from the redevelopment. Thousands of local residents are now working in the Tower Hamlets area.

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