site unseen: Dock Police Cottages, West India Dock, London

Related Topics
In the past, towns and water went together. The terrible state of most roads meant it was easier to transport goods by sea or river than by land. In the 18th century, the arrival of the canals stimulated trade, in the 19th, the docks brought prosperity to many Victorian cities.

After the Second World War, the impact of the lorry, the aeroplane and new forms of shipping goods ensured that swathes of Britain's old Docklands became redundant. Liverpool, Hull and Gloucester in particular have risen to the challenge of finding imaginative new uses for old places. But the most amazing transformation of them all is, of course, the Canary Wharf project, London's own "Manhattan on the River Thames".

There is no need to go through the familiar teething problems: the lack of the tube link, the recession, the uneasy relationship with local residents. What remains invigorating is the contrast between old and new.

Walk away from the tower, flanked by its attendant offices of glass, steel and marble towards the old entrance of West India Dock, opened in 1802. Suddenly, a grouping of elegant and inevitably much smaller buildings grab the eye.

There is the guard house of 1803, built as a lock-up and armoury. Nearby are the sugar warehouses, with spiked window glazing to stop theft, and also the Cannon Workshops, originally used for storage. A stone's throw away is the Dockmaster's House of 1807, one of the finest of all industrial buildings, which later became the Jamaica Tavern.

Stretches of imposing wall emphasise that the West India Dock was built in order to prevent pilfering. Originally, ships had discharged their goods in the middle of the Thames, producing a "thieves' paradise". Of the workforce of some 37,000 employed on or about the Thames at the end of the 18th century, one third were thought to be professional criminals. Not surprisingly, the architect who built this enclosed dock, a Mr DA Alexander, had also been responsible for Dartmoor Prison.

But there has been loss, too. Walk up West India Dock Road towards the Docklands Light Railway. The extension of Westferry station brought oblivion for one of the East End's renowned pubs, Charlie Brown's, named after the famous local figure and former sailor who turned his watering-hole into an informal museum. When he died in 1932, huge crowds followed the funeral to Tower Hamlets Cemetery.

Best of all is Garford Street on the left, with its collection of small but perfectly formed cottages. Once the homes of the dock police, naturally the sergeant occupied the largest dwelling in the middle. The four constables had to make do with those on either side. Somehow the cottages take us back to a time when police work was more gentle and less aggressive.

The former dock police cottages are in Garford St, London E14

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas