West India Quay

West India Quay, Tower Hamlets

A Docklands Light Railway station and its immediate vicinity, located in the north-western corner of the Isle of Dogs and named after the docks that occupied the site for most of the previous two centuries

West India Quay c2005

Dur­ing the course of the 18th cen­tu­ry the num­ber of ves­sels dis­charg­ing their car­goes at London’s river­side docks almost tre­bled and with this growth came over­crowd­ing and increased pil­fer­age. Liv­er­pool had shown that wet docks pro­vid­ed a solu­tion and a group of mer­chants, togeth­er with the West India Com­pa­ny and the Cor­po­ra­tion of Lon­don, chose the Isle of Dogs as their pre­ferred site as oth­er investors already had plans for Wap­ping and the peninsula’s dis­tance from Lon­don was per­ceived to pro­vide added secu­ri­ty from theft.

The West India Docks opened in 1802, divid­ed into sep­a­rate import and export docks – set­ting a prece­dent in dock con­struc­tion. South of the export dock the City Canal tra­versed the Isle of Dogs. The canal proved a com­mer­cial fail­ure and was sub­se­quent­ly enlarged to become the South Dock. Sug­ar, rum, teak, mahogany and cof­fee made up the docks’ prin­ci­pal imports. The fol­low­ing cen­tu­ry saw alter­nat­ing phas­es of enlarge­ment, increased com­pe­ti­tion, finan­cial dif­fi­cul­ty and merg­ers with oth­er Lon­don docks.

Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant event, with hind­sight, was the company’s deci­sion in 1881 to build a new dock at Tilbury, rather than fur­ther enlarg­ing the West India Docks. Addi­tion­al expan­sion did even­tu­al­ly come, espe­cial­ly after the cre­ation of the Port of Lon­don Author­i­ty in 1908, but the docks’ long-term fate had by then been sealed. Most of the West India Docks were wrecked dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, after which the facil­i­ty slow­ly declined until its clo­sure in 1980.

The quays have since been rede­vel­oped Man­hat­tan-style as Canary Wharf, Heron Quays and South Quay. The sur­viv­ing ware­hous­es of the North Quay have been rebrand­ed ‘West India Quay’, and pro­vide ameni­ties for local work­ers and res­i­dents, with bars and restau­rants, a mul­ti­plex cin­e­ma and the oblig­a­tory health club. West India Quay also has new apart­ment blocks and the Muse­um of Lon­don Dock­lands, based in the for­mer No. 1 Ware­house.

Postal district: E14
Station: Docklands Light Railway, Lewisham branch (zone 2)