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Hidden History of London

London's Hidden History
West India Quay

We are now in serious Docklands on the Isle of Dogs. Depending on what version you want to believe the Island got its name from where Henry the Eighth kept the royal kennels to keep the noise of the barking dogs out of earshot of his Greenwich Palace. Could be, but more likely the name came from a corruption of the dykes that Dutch engineers built in the 1600s to drain the Island. Dogs or dykes - take your pick!

Anyway, it's not really an island at all! It only became surrounded by water when the building of The West India Docks cut through the neck of the peninsular in 1802. These are the quays where rum and sugar was unloaded from the West Indies and stored in huge elegant clinkered warehouses built by George Gilt, some of which stand today.

No longer is rum and sugar stored but is served up in fancy cocktails in the posh nosheries that now occupy the remaining Victorian warehouses! The new Museum in Docklands is also housed in one of these impressive Grade I listed buildings.

Originally the area outside the warehouses was known as Blood Alley because as the dockers unloaded the sugar sacks their backs were scratched so badly they bled profusely. The area, now in the shadow of Cesar Pelli's Canary Wharf Tower, could still retain its historic name as nowadays the blood is sweated by the thousands of local office workers!!

Before leaving West India Quay seek out the statue of Robert Milligan (1740-1805). It used to be at the gate of West India Docks but as the old docks closed down in the 1960s, as containerisation was introduced, the statue has been moved to the quayside. Robert was a distinguished merchant who can take most of the credit for building the original docks.

Take a close look at the statue's pedestal - there's a grammatical mistake in the engraving. Instead of "its" there's a wayward apostrophe making an "it's" - yes picky but is not the sort of lack of attention to detail we is used too today!

Salute the two old boats as you pass them near the entrance to the station - the Portwey and SS Robin. Both have illustrious histories, take some time to stand and stare.


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