Fish Island

Fish Island, Tower Hamlets

Situated north of Bow, Fish Island was formerly the borough’s largest industrial area but has recently undergone a transformation

Fish Island - Omega Works

Fish Island is locat­ed south of the Hert­ford Union canal where it joins the Hack­ney Cut and is so called for some of its street names: Dace Road, Roach Road and Bream Street. His­tor­i­cal­ly, this local­i­ty was part of Old Ford but the cre­ation of the East Cross Route sev­ered the con­nec­tion in the late 1960s. Old Ford Road used to con­tin­ue through the marsh­es and across the Riv­er Lea via the orig­i­nal ‘old ford’. One large house, lat­ter­ly known as King John’s Palace, stood here until 1863.

In 1865 the Impe­r­i­al Gas Light and Coke Com­pa­ny bought 30 acres of land as the site for a new works, but instead decid­ed to build these on the east bank of the Lea in Brom­ley-by-Bow. The com­pa­ny sold the site and the present net­work of streets was laid out, and filled with small hous­es and mul­ti-storey fac­to­ries. Until the late 1990s the island’s largest employ­er was Per­cy Dalton’s Famous Peanut Com­pa­ny, at the Old Ford Works in Dace Road.

Fish Island was until recent­ly dom­i­nat­ed by waste dis­pos­al and recy­cling facil­i­ties and whole­sale and dis­tri­b­u­tion ware­hous­es, togeth­er with some offices. After a num­ber of vacant prop­er­ties fell into dis­re­pair the coun­cil per­mit­ted their con­ver­sion to live/work loft apart­ments – and in 2005 the con­struc­tion of the Roach Point pedes­tri­an and cycle bridge across the Hert­ford Union canal halved the length of the jour­ney from Fish Island to Hack­ney Wick sta­tion.

As in Hack­ney Wick itself, the rel­a­tive­ly afford­able avail­abil­i­ty of dis­used indus­tri­al premis­es has attract­ed a thriv­ing com­mu­ni­ty of artists and design­ers to Fish Island.

A notable exam­ple on Roach Road is Stour Space, an exhi­bi­tion, per­for­mance and stu­dio space for the devel­op­ment of cre­ative enter­pris­es – with a café/bar that’s open dai­ly.

H For­man & Son – who pro­duce smoked salmon, oth­er smoked and mar­i­nat­ed fish and shell­fish – moved to Stour Road after being dis­lodged from premis­es that occu­pied the pre­cise site of the Olympic sta­di­um. Forman’s smoke­house has a restau­rant and an art project space on the top floor.

The prox­im­i­ty of the Queen Eliz­a­beth Olympic Park on the oppo­site bank of the Riv­er Lea increased the island’s appeal and the first major res­i­den­tial project was the Omega Works at the north-east tip of the island, shown in the pho­to at the top of this arti­cle.

Fish Island Village, canalside

In 2014 plan­ning per­mis­sion was grant­ed for upwards of 500 homes and 3,000 square metres of com­mer­cial space at Nep­tune Wharf, a 6‑acre site north of Wyke Road. The site is now being devel­oped by the ven­er­a­ble hous­ing asso­ci­a­tion Peabody, in part­ner­ship with the house­builders Hill, as Fish Island Vil­lage, which is visu­alised in the CGI above. Most of the com­mer­cial space will be oper­at­ed by social enter­prise The Tram­pery.

The present line of think­ing among those with local plan­ning respon­si­bil­i­ty is that the remain­der of Fish Island will not be ‘Strat­fordised’ in the fore­see­able future. In an arti­cle pub­lished in August 2014 Den­nis Hone, chief exec­u­tive of the Lon­don Lega­cy Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (LLDC), stat­ed a desire to pre­serve the char­ac­ter of areas such as Fish Island and Hack­ney Wick, with their artis­tic com­mu­ni­ties and “indus­tri­al feel,” adding: “Build­ing 25-storey, one-bed­room apart­ment tow­ers is the last thing we want to do across the [Olympic Park’s] sur­round­ing areas.”

How­ev­er, devel­op­ers aim­ing to reha­bil­i­tate run-down local­i­ties have habit­u­al­ly encour­aged the estab­lish­ment of cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ties mere­ly as an inter­im stage – a step­ping stone on the jour­ney to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. As soon as a drea­ry place has been glam­or­ised the cre­ative types are deemed to have served their pur­pose and become vul­ner­a­ble to dis­place­ment in favour of more prof­itable ten­ants. There are indi­ca­tions that this is already hap­pen­ing on Fish Island. In Sep­tem­ber 2016 scores of artists and start-up busi­ness­es were evict­ed from Vit­to­ria Wharf – a for­mer ware­house that had been declared an asset of com­mu­ni­ty val­ue in 2013 – in advance of its pro­posed demo­li­tion. The LLDC has since built a foot­bridge on the site to con­nect Fish Island with new facil­i­ties planned for the Olympic Park.

Channel 4’s Big Breakfast was broadcast from the Lock Keeper’s Cottage at Old Ford Lock from 1992 to 2002. There had been rumours that the show’s founder Bob Geldof would blow up the cottage on the show’s final day but computer tricks were instead used to fake its disappearance.

Postal district: E3