Last Updated on January 10, 2022 by CanaryDevelopmentAdmin
Naming Canary Wharf
How the docklands area got its name
But it hasn’t always been this way. The Isle of Dogs has a long and winding history, but the upper portion of docklands area only became known as Canary Wharf relatively recently.
Here’s the backstory to how Canary Wharf got its name, and a brief overview of the area’s history.
When did the area become known as Canary Wharf?
Canary Wharf officially took its name in 1937 — a result of the areas docklands history and its close links with the Canary Islands.
To find out why this small area of East London is associated with a collection of 8 tiny Islands 2900 km away, we need to go back through a very brief overview of the areas history.
A brief history of the docklands
This part of East London has had its fair share of change over the years:
In the present day, the area is well known for its financial status. However, arguably the Canary Wharf area’s most famous period was its time as a commercial docklands.
- Docklands activity peaked in London throughout the 1800’s, at the height of the British Empire.
- As the boats got bigger and bigger, docks moved further away from the congested centre of London towards the Thames Estuary.
- The first docks on the Isle of Dogs were opened on 22nd August, 1802.
- In the late 1800s, the construction of Royal Albert dock was completed, making the area now known as Canary Wharf, the largest dock in the world.
A connection to the Canary Islands
Why it became known as Canary Wharf
In the early 1900s, the connection between the Canary Islands and this area of the London Docklands — now know as Canary Wharf — finally begins.
- The Canary Islands, as an important refuelling point for coal fired ships, had not only plenty of passing boats, but dedicated coal transport ships to restock the Island’s coal stocks.
- The Islands also had a climate ripe for growing exotic fruit and vegetables, and with the shipping links already in place, began to export these cash crops back to the UK.
- Initially the import of bananas started as a means to fill the empty restocking boats returning from the Canaries.
- Later, as the reliance on coal waned — and stopping at the Canary Islands before crossing the Atlantic no longer became necessary — the import trade continued in its own right.
This booming import business with a continuous supply of fruit ships arriving into the docks at Londons docklands, now called South Quay, prompted the fruit ship unloading dock to be referred to as the Canary docks.
Allegedly in 1937, when the import business “Let to Fruit Lines Limited” took over one of the docks full time, the Canary Wharf name became official.
A modern tribute to the crops imported from the Canary Islands and all over the world, can be seen at Crossrail Place, Canary Wharf’s crossrail station. Planting representing a selection of the cash crops brought to the docks has been created in the roof garden, a great free to visit public space in Canary Wharf.
Nautical themed names
Keeping the docklands history alive is popular with developers of new-build and renovation projects alike.
As a result, many of the newest developments in the Isle of Dogs area still sport names dating back to their original docklands usage!
Why is Canary Wharf called a Wharf?
Some people make references to wharf being related to the warehouses themselves, and there are plenty of warehouse conversions along the shore called wharves. There is also an urban myth that wharf is an acronym for warehouse at river front, but it doesn’t really stack up.
Wharf, quay, pier, and dock, are all seemingly interchangeable. They are all describing a man-made structure where boats are unloaded.
In addition, due to the complete overhaul in the 1980s the Canary Wharf estate is one of the few places in the docklands area that doesn’t really have any original warehouses that remain. Those warehouses that do remain are also often also referred to as Quays. As examples, South Quay and West India Quay — now both sporting flagship local developments — 1 West India Quay and South Quay Plaza.
So why is the modern area now called Canary Wharf? Luck really, it could quite easily have been possible for the area to be known as Canary Quay!