Our Future's Orange: Surrey Quays, Canada Water, Rotherhithe

This is part two of our preview of the East London Line, profiling many of the stops along the new route, ahead of its opening in May.

The course of the East London Line will carry us through Surrey Quays, Canada Water and Rotherhithe stations along the base of the Surrey Quays peninsula, an area of dockland that was redeveloped by the London Docklands Development Corporation in the 1980s. Many of the old docks were filled in and thousands of new homes built.

Today, the area is still littered with artefacts from its days as a working commercial dock and is home to the Brunel Museum, which commemorates Isambard Kingdom Brunel's first and last projects - the Thames Tunnel that the East London Line will run through and the Great Eastern steamship as the first modern ocean liner.

Like Canary Wharf, much of the early 80s development has aged badly. Surrey Quays shopping centre is a dismal spot, its scale and facilities too mean for teenies consumers. The neighbouring leisure park provokes an existential crisis in us every time we see it. But Surrey Quays rewards the persistent. Press on past the dross and you'll discover stunning waterside development and parkland, as well as one of London's greatest views from the top of Stave Hill.

Greenland Dock was one of the few to survive and is now one of London's most important centres for water sports, with sailing and kayaking among the sports played on the 1km-long expanse of water. The Surrey Docks Watersports Centre is undergoing the final stages of its refurbishment to include a gym and fitness studios.

Russia Dock enjoyed a different fate and became a woodland nature reserve after it was filled in. Home to a number of rare species, its beauty is captured in exquisite detail on this blog. The park is also home to a 30-feet-tall decapitated cone called Stave Hill, an artificial construct, made from rubble from the construction works. It serves as a unique viewing platform for the dockland on both sides of the river.

Perhaps in the mistaken belief that a 'Fatty Arbuckles' next to a bowling alley constituted all you could wish for from a good night out, the eighties master planners neglected to include much in the way of eating or drinking establishments and the area can sometimes feel spookily quiet as a result.

The Wibbly Wobbly, an eccentric little pub on a barge parked in Greenland Dock is about the only show in town. Even so, it's not as packed as the number of homes surrounding it ought to merit. Formerly owned by Up the Creek's Malcom Hardee, he drowned rowing back to his houseboat from it in 2005.

On the western bank, near Rotherhithe Station, The Mayflower pub stands on the site of the Shippe pub that dates back to around 1550. It was renamed in 1957 and it was from the nearby landing steps to this pub that the Pilgrim Fathers set sail. Today, its prices suggest that its target market is their more fortunate descendants.

Southwark is trying hard to inject more life in to the Surrey Quays waterside and the area is home to one of London's biggest regeneration programmes, including a major project underway at Canada Water. Centred around a major new library, designed by Piers Gough, the new development aims to create a waterside town centre, including 2,700 new homes (35% affordable) and new retail, office and leisure facilities arranged around a new civic square.

The Decathlon store (much loved by everyone we know because it has the distinction of being the only sports shop which gives priority to sports equipment rather than trainers and embraces natural light rather than fluorescent posters) is to be expanded and will become the company's headquarters in the UK. The site will provide 430 flats together with new retail and community space and café, restaurants, bars along the waterfront. It will also create a new "boulevard" connecting it to the Surrey Quays shopping centre.

Even the soul-crushing Surrey Quays Leisure Park has been given outline planning permission for 500 residential units and 123 units for students, a new cinema complex and leisure building that will include restaurants, commercial floor spaces and public and private open space.

Click here to read about Dalston.

51 comments:

Brockley Kate said...

No mention of Brunel's original Thames tunnel, through which the ELL travels? The first tunnel known successfully constructed underneath a navigable river - and still in use! Probably the most historic aspect of the whole area. Should be renamed the Brunel line, by rights.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thames_Tunnel

Brockley Nick said...

Not really something you can enjoy on a Sunday afternoon stroll, but I'm glad you've put the record straight ;)

tyrwhitt ali said...

There's a museum in one of the original pump houses though. It's been on my list of random places to go for ages. Maybe I'll finally go when the ELL opens :-)

Brockley Nick said...

I was just reading about that via Kate's link and will update the article, thanks.

Tamsin said...

People died and Brunel himself escaped by a whisker. Also, controversially, the cause of the ELL closing for a couple of years only relatively shortly before it closed for these current works. Various historical societies controversially demanded that restoration and upgrade works preserve the fabric of Brunel's construction which got people very cross and added hugely to the time-scale.

Monkeyboy said...

But was he a civil or mechanical engineer? Bearded engineers both claim his soul.

Incidently, the great eastern laid one of the first transatlantic cables. It was manufactured in Greenwich, the company still exists in a modern form under the Alcatel-Lucent name. I used to work there, they have an origional painting a copy of which is in the maritime museum showing the installation.

Do I get a prize for the most self indulgent digression?

Brockley Nick said...

@MB - not by a mile. That was genuinely interesting.

Deptford Dame said...

Don't forget the Great Eastern was actually built just across the river from Deptford. Brunel has many links with this area, which pleases me greatly.
http://deptforddame.blogspot.com/2009/12/brunels-great-eastern.html
He had expertise as both a civil and mechanical engineer - they didn't really distinguish in those days. Probably could be described as an architect too.

Pete said...

We lived in Surrey Quays for 6 years before we moved to Ladywell.

We rented flats in Baltic Quay and Swedish Quay which both sit next to Greenland Dock and South Dock Marina before buying a flat down the road towards Deptford.

You're right in that there isn't a great deal to do up there. There is also a lack of community with the majority of flats seemingly rented by people who only stick around for a year or two at most before moving on.

You did miss out a couple of things that are good about the area though:

1.) The yellow house bar & kitchen which is the only decent restaurant in the area. It can be found on the busy junction right next to Surrey Quays station in what used to be a pub
http://www.theyellowhouse.eu/

2.) You said that the Wibbly Wobbly is the only decent pub. I used to prefer the Ship & Whale which is round the end of Greenland Dock.

Another thing is the city farm!

Brockley Nick said...

Thanks Pete - great additions.

Tamsin said...

Went for a walk around where the City Farm is just after Christmas. Lovely green space with looming photogenic sky-scrapers and a riding stables where someone was harrowing the sand in the sand-school. Also as the dusk was deepening the only other people in sight were a couple of blokes with a guitar testing out the acoustics where there is a bit of a natural amphitheatre - quite surreal.

drakefell debaser said...

The view from Stave Hill is quite something. The bronze map on the top shows how the docks were laid out helping you appreciate the scale of them.

Further West in Bermondsey you can find the statue of Dr Salter and his daughter Joyce, and the cat. Salter was a doctor at Guys Hospital who lived in Bermondsey and Joyce, his only child, died of Scarlet Fever. The statue has the doctor sat on a bench watching Joyce play with the cat nearby on the Thames wall with Tower Bridge in the background. It is one of the best statues I have come across.

Danja said...

It's hardly going to be on anyone's list for a Sunday walk (even for a sad tool addict because it wouldn't be open), but London Power Tools on Lower Road is one of the best tool shops in London.

Anonymous said...

The Pilgrim Fathers set sail from Southampton, not Rotherhithe.

Matt-Z said...

The views from the tall blocks on the Pepys Estate are stunning. I've only been in Daubney which is still council owned, but I imagine the one they controverisally flogged off, Z-Block, offers an even better panorama, as it's right on the river.

Danja said...

I thought it was Plymouth, but it seems they sailed from Rotherhithe to Southampton, had a couple of false starts and then ended up sailing across from Plymouth.

Monkeyboy said...

In case you're having a geek moment


http://www.greenwich.co.uk/magazine/02556-east-greenwich-the-home-of-communication/

Headhunter said...

I walked along from Brockley down to Deptford and along the Thames Path to the Millenium Bridge and up as far as Holborn/St Pancras one day last year. The Thames Path was an eerily quiet, but lovely wide stretch of riverside walk. I stopped in at the Brunel museum thing which is tiny but interesting. You would have thought that someone would have made more of Brunel's achievment, although the current museum is run by volunteers I think so good on them for contributing something.

On the subject of Brunel and the Great Eastern, yes it's true that the Great Eastern laid the first transatlantic cable to allow communication direct with the US and in fact one of the earliest uses of the cable was for currency conversions for business transactions as US/UK business took off. It is for this reason that Sterling/the Pound is still has the nickname "Cable" on the currency exchange markets to this very day. Sterling spot FX traders are known as "cable traders".

As for the whole area around Canada Water/Rotherhithe/the Thames Path, parts of it are pretty soulless and feel like Milton Keynes, however there are some lovely bits. You mention the Mayflower pub, just by that there is a lovely square of Georgian or early Victorian houses near the river and a big old church. The whole thing feels like it should be in Islington rather then nestled amongst the red brick 80s terraces and blocks of flats.

As for Surrey Quays, I agree that the shopping centre there is completely naff, however it does have one redeeming feature - the enormous sports shop that is Decathlon. Anyone who has any interest in any sport should go there for bargains. I buy a lot of my cycling stuff there from inner tubes to clothing and gloves, it's dirt cheap. As a French company they also have a good selection of very good bikes, unlike somewhere like Halfords which mostly sells heavy weight rubbish.

Other than that they sell everything for just about every sport. Last time I was there wandering about I notcied they sell kendo (Japanese martial art with wooden swords) swords and clothing! Amazing!

Headhunter said...

Ooh that was a long one. Got carried away there...

Anonymous said...

The Mayflower left from Rotherhithe but the Pilgrim Fathers weren't onboard, they boarded at Southampton.

Brockley Nick said...

Someone must have been on board. Presumably at least two pilgrim fathers?

Bea said...

The captain?!! (After all, Mayflower not Mary Celeste!)

Brockley Kate said...

The Brunel museum is small but lovely. And sometimes they run special trips through the tunnel on the ELL, where they slow the trains right down and explain all the original engineering bits and bobs you can see. You get to walk up through the core on the other side, too.
Yes, I am an engineering geek ...

Tamsin said...

Far too holy to work the ship - and weren't they simply passengers and left there?

Decathlon also sells archery equipment - otherwise you have to go to a specialist shop in Braintree or somewhere in the South Downs. Good, with serious advice and customising of the equipment but quite a trog. (Quite amusing too - models of Thumper with target circles on him!)

Danja said...

It's only one source but this http://tinyurl.com/yeemtoy suggests that the story is more mixed - some Pilgrem Fathers (those not at risk of arrest) got on the Mayflower in London and sailed for Southampton, where they met with the Speedwell which had carried the emigree part of the Pilgrem Father community from Holland. After a false start or two, eventually they sailed from Plymouth.

Billericay seems to be very proud that some of the Pilgrem Fathers are supposed to have met there to organise the journey, so a London connection makes sense.

Brockley Kate said...

Awaits jokes - 'No wonder they left if they lived in Billericay' etc etc ...

Anonymous said...

I have lived in the area overlooking Greenland Dock for nearly 10 years now, and soon to move down the ELL to Forest Hill. No decent 3 bed houses for sale in Brockley at the moment unfortunately!

You have hit the nail on the head with the downsides of the area. Amongst the positives I can recommend the Ship and Whale which has already been mentioned, but also Simplicity restaurant in Rotherhithe which is just round the corner from the Brunel museum and serves exceptional food (http://www.simplicityrestaurants.com/)

Despite its ugliness, we will miss the proximity of the cinema given the general lack in Lewisham...

Headhunter said...

Yes, they comlpetely forgot to build any kind of space for local entertainment such as small cafes, bars and restaurants in the 1980s playground that is Surrey Quays and Canada Water. It's all about megacentres - big(gish) shopping centres, multiplex cinemas and bowling alleys and then rows and rows of 1980s Barratt style homes and flats.

Anonymous said...

Aaah, Fatty Arbuckle's - that brings back fond memories. I went there over a decade ago with a friend and instead of leaving a tip we left a napkin with our 'top 10 reasons why we are not leaving a tip' written on it.

Agree about Decathlon - pain to get to without a car, but good for all sorts of stuff.

Lou Baker said...

This train line gets better and better.

Not only can we go direct to Hackney (a dump) and Croydon (also a dump) we can also go to Surrey Quays which is, erm, a dump.

No seriously Nick - you've not mentioned Southwark Park which is an ace spot for a picnic.

Oh and are you going to do a line guide on Wapping? Unquestionably the highlight of the ELL ...

Anonymous said...

of course the only valid railway goes from your house to your office via belgravia.

Mine is, obviously, a stupid irrelevant comment. I find fighting fire with fire an effective and satisfying technique.

drakefell debaser said...

Lou, you live in New Cross right? Hardly what you could call posh, unless you walk around with welding googles on.

ppp said...

Lou aspires to being linked to useful places, what's wrong with that? But that's not to say that Hackney and the other places won't change in time.

Anonymous said...

no, Lou is a curmudgeon. The current railway we all love, and would ideally like to see run every 2 mins to London Bridge, connects to many areas that some would call a 'dump'.

Anonymous said...

I live near Stave Hill. Best thing about the area is that it is nice and quiet for such a central location and the fact that I get to work at Canary Wharf via a short walk through the park and a dead easy ferry trip. I hardly have to cross a road. It is also an easy walk down to the South Bank and the City.

Worst things - all of the horrible things mentioned above, that bloody shopping centre and leisure park make me lose the will to live. Tesco pretty much sucks all the economic life out of the area leaving only a couple of cramped and grotty convenience stores. A near desert in terms of pubs and restaurants (Simplicity is an oasis, Blacksmiths also OK if you don't mind the Canary Wharf types) and general culture.

But despite all that it works for me, got a young kid I want to be home with not stuck on a bloody train for an hour every night. Plenty of time at the weekends to get well away from the place.

I suspect I'll be more interested in getting down to Brockley once the train is running than anybody will be to come up here though.

osh said...

I've never been to Surrey Quays. I probably should.

osh said...

oh and lou. how do you get to the cinema by public transport at the moment? The west end is expensive and takes two trains to get to. Greenwich is a long walk and only has a limited range of films. Surrey Quays odeon will be a couple of quick stops away soon. that on its own is a good reason to have a stop at surrey quays.

aero-static said...

@osh: there's always Cineworld in West India Quay - 10 screens, comfortable seating, easily accessible from the DLR, especially for wheelchair users.

Will the new ELL be disabled-friendly, I wonder?

Tamsin said...

West End used to be one train away - and maybe again.... (sign petition!)

Peckham has a good cinema and incredibly cheap. Take the 343 bus - and there are probably other means too. (Or, dare I say it, it is right by the multi-storey car park.)

Lou Baker said...

@osh

I'd certainly never go to the cinema in the West End - too pricey. The Peckham Plex is cheap but full of chavs. The Greenwich picture house is expensive and full of toffs.

As for Surrey Quays cinema. I went there once and won't be hurrying back, train line or not.

Sky Box Office is best. That way I can enjoy films in my own space well away from the great unwashed.

one of the great unwashed said...

I think we're all probably happier that way.

Is he having a laugh? said...

Misanthropy. Look it up

patrick1971 said...

The great thing about the Peckham cinema is that if you want to see a film that requires more than one brain cell, you will have the cinema to yourself.

Headhunter said...

I went to see one of the Star Wars films a few years back at that cheap as chips cinema in Peckham and can vertify that it was full of chavs on mobiles, shouting across the cinema to each other and throwing chocolate and popcorn at around. Never again. I'll pay the excess at the Greenwich Picture House.

Does the Peckham cinema even show films that need more than 1 brain cell to comprehend?

Tamsin said...

But cheap is useful if you've got several children, plus their little friends with you.

Tyrwhitt Michael said...

Shiny new ELL train spotted this morning at the platform at New Cross.

Nick or more probably Jon how about a countdown box, you know a days to go display to the opening date in the right hand column? Where the surveys usually go or something.

mintness said...

There's always the cinema at the O2, since we're getting a direct connection to the Jubilee again. Pricey, but then it's a Vue.

The Greenwich Picturehouse is pretty cheap on Mondays.

Danja said...

Saw that train too. I asked the bloke at the gates when services were starting. He said no firm decision yet, but it would be "April - April or May".

Mb said...

Well there are peeps in my office working on bits of it. April is a target for some of it but there is some debate about meeting that. It would be an early finish so lots of back slapping if it happened

Anonymous said...

Vue at O2 works out cheaper than Surrey Quays Odeon as Vue offers student discounts to pupils still at school who don't have a NUS card - have complained about this to Odeon but to no avail. My teens travel by bus to Vue (nicer cinema and cheaper). Live in SQ/Deptford area and for me is a hidden jewel in the crown - fantastic location on the river - great transport links - bus, riverboat, tube (Jubilee and East London lines). Walking distance to Southbank area if you like a stroll. Some peaceful walking round Rotherhithe too - along the river etc plus the city farm is a bonus as is the watersports centre. I think for an area in Zone 2 - everything is on your doorstep can easily get to and from theatre in evening and fairly safe area too. Brunel Museum intersting and go for one of their special days when you can actually see the original tunnel.

Jasmine said...

oh and lou. how do you get to the cinema by public transport at the moment? The west end is expensive and takes two trains to get to. Greenwich is a long walk and only has a limited range of films. Surrey Quays odeon will be a couple of quick stops away soon. that on its own is a good reason to have a stop at surrey quays.

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