This once marshy peninsula was originally known as the ‘marsh of Stebenhithe’ or Stepney Marsh with farmers and fishermen dwelling there from the 13th century on. By the early 16th century, the area had earned itself a new name: Isle of Dogs. The history books are unclear as to why. Could it be because the word ‘dog’ derived from ‘doggers’ or fishing boats? Alternatively, because Henry VIII kennelled his hunting hounds here while staying at Greenwich Palace across the Thames?
London began expanding during the next few centuries, and the close proximity to the Thames allowed the area to become rich in shipbuilding and maritime industries.
The West India Docks opened in 1802, built out of pure marshland and a significant feat of engineering. They ushered in trade from afar, like a magnet to vessels carrying valuable cargo such as sugar, a most highly sought-after commodity, rum, tea, spices, shell and jute from tropical islands such as Barbados, Jamaica and Cuba in the West Indies.
And so London began its ascent as one of the world’s most important trading cities, with Canary Wharf, later becoming a major financial hub crowned by glittering skyscrapers.
The docks became the heart of the British Empire, bringing with them shipyards, iron works and warehouses to house the diverse and exotic imported goods.