Blackwall, Tower Hamlets

A historic riverside district situated east of Poplar

Hidden London: New Providence Wharf – Providence Tower and Ontario Tower, by Matt Buck

Blackwall’s name probably derives from the embank­ment built to prevent tidal inun­da­tion, although there is a story King Alfred had a weir constructed nearby to strand invading Danish ships that had sailed up the River Lea.

The first wharves appeared at Blackwall in the late 15th century. This was later than the devel­op­ments between St Katharine’s and Limehouse but 200 years before the adequate drainage of Stepney Marshes allowed water­front construc­tion on what became the Isle of Dogs, so Blackwall long remained an isolated satellite of the Port of London. Ship­building and repairs were carried on, and the Mary Rose was refitted here in 1514.

Blackwall had a proud maritime tradition and both Raleigh and Nelson are said to have had homes here. The first colonists of Virginia sailed from Blackwall in 1606 and later the East India Docks brought thriving inter­na­tional trade.

Today, Blackwall is best known for its tunnels under the Thames, constructed in 1897 and 1960.

Until rela­tively recently Blackwall had a declining resi­den­tial popu­la­tion and a high level of social depri­va­tion, but luxury riverside apart­ments began to be added from the late 1980s.

The largest of these schemes is New Prov­i­dence Wharf, which was completed in 2016. Its fraternal twin towers – 43-storey Prov­i­dence and 31-storey Ontario – are shown in the photo­graph at the top of this article.* As is often the case in Docklands, the devel­opers made no attempt to establish any connec­tion with the neigh­bouring community or with the locality’s signif­i­cant heritage; New Prov­i­dence Wharf’s early promo­tional liter­a­ture referred, without apparent irony, to “this brave new world.”

Postal district: E14
Population: 19,461 (Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward, 2011 census – a 63 per cent increase on 2011)
Station: Docklands Light Railway, Beckton branch (zone 2)
Further reading: Hermione Hobhouse (editor), Survey of London: Poplar, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs, the Parish of All Saints v. 43 & 44, Athlone Press, 1999
* The picture of New Providence Wharf at the top of this page is minimally modified from an original photograph, copyright Matt Buck, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.

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