Fish Island, London

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Fish Island
Dace Road, near Hackney Wick.jpg
View down Dace Road, Fish Island, with the London Stadium, over the River Lea, in the distance.
Fish Island is located in Greater London
Fish Island
Fish Island
Location within Greater London
OS grid referenceTQ372841
• Charing Cross4.5 mi (7.2 km) SW
London borough
Ceremonial countyGreater London
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townLONDON
Postcode districtE3, E20
Dialling code020
EU ParliamentLondon
UK Parliament
London Assembly
List of places
51°32′20″N 0°01′26″W / 51.538768°N 0.023850°W / 51.538768; -0.023850Coordinates: 51°32′20″N 0°01′26″W / 51.538768°N 0.023850°W / 51.538768; -0.023850

Fish Island is the name given to an area in east London, England in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

It encompasses one of 58 designated conservation areas in Tower Hamlets, with many of its buildings considered important to Britain’s industrial heritage, though there are no listed buildings in the area[1].

Regeneration and construction projects in Fish Island from 2016 onwards have caused the area to be referred to as "the new Shoreditch", in reference to the gentrification of that neighbourhood in the late 1990s.[2][3][4]

Nearby Hackney Wick has a similar character to Fish Island and this sometimes leads to Fish Island being described as part of Hackney Wick[citation needed], though they are in different boroughs.

Fish Island, despite its name, is not an actual island.


The area of Fish Island runs along the river Lea and borders the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the east.

It is separated from Bow to the west by the A12 and it's southern border is the intersection of the A12, the river Lea and the train tracks to and from Stratford.

According to the council's Fish Island Area Action plan, the area extends north past the Hertford Union Canal to border with the London Borough of Hackney along the Hackney Wick railway station[5].

The area of the Olympic park belonging to Tower Hamlets is also considered as part of Fish Island by the council, making it the north-eastern most part of the borough[5].


Early history[edit]

Although it is thought the area has had human settlements since pre-historic times, evidence of human activity prior to the Roman period is sparse[6][7].

Evidence from the Roman period, however, is abundant[6][7]; the exact nature of the Roman settlements is undetermined, though there is evidence that the area was occupied until the end of the 4th or 5th century and, according to the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society (LAMAS) "it produced large quantities of Roman pottery, coins, burials, ditches, pits and animal bones, particularly of cattle"[7].

Pye Road, the main Roman road linking London to Colchester, passed through the area and would likely have crossed the river Lea at what is now Fish Island, though the nature or exact location of the crossing point is not fully understood[7].

Immediately after the Roman period, little is known of what became of the local settlements. In the Domesday Book of 1086, the wider area is known Old Ford and is listed as part of the Manor of Stepney and remained as such until at least the early 1300s[7].

At some point the Roman road and crossing will have fallen into disrepair[7], though the area remained the main crossing point between London and Essex until the early 12th century, at which point a stone bridge was constructed approximately half a mile downstream[6][1][8][7][9].

There are few historical references of the area from the medieval and post-medieval periods; the first known map of the area, from 1665, shows what is now Fish Island as an undeveloped marshland only sparesly populated[7].


In the late 18th and early 19th century, the Hackney Cut and the Hertford Union Canal were cut into the local marshes and a series of railway lines were established through the area[1][7][9] which precipitated the shift from rural to industrial[6]. Toxic processing plants for commodities such as crude oil and coal tar were set up along the Hertford Union Canal; these factories were soon followed by others using these materials to produce things like printing ink, rubber and dry cleaning. The waterways were a vital part of this industry, allowing for raw materials and finished products to be moved to and from the docks[8][6][1], it was at one point London's largest waterside industrial area[1].

In 1865, a 30-acre plot of surplus railway land in the area was purchased by the Imperial Gas Light & Co. in order to establish a new gasworks. However, a decision was made to set up the new works in a different location and so the land was sold on to the Gas Light and Coke Company (separate company), they instead used the land to build a factory town comprising a series of small houses and multi-storey factories and a network of new roads. These roads were given the names of fresh water fish (Dace, Bream, Roach) and, as the local area had been known to residents as "the Island", it eventually became known as Fish Island[10][6][1][8].

By the end of the 19th century, Fish Island had become an area of intense and diverse industrial activity, often dangerous or noxious in nature[6][1][8]. At this time the area had a population of approximately 6,000 inhabitants, mostly consisting of local workers and their families and although local living conditions were improving towards the beginning of the 20th century, most residents of Fish Island lived in poverty and squalor in makeshift accommodation[6][8][11].

During World War II, Fish Island suffered extensive bomb damage with many of the buildings either completely destroyed or seriously damaged[1][11].

Post-war and recent regeneration[edit]

Fish tail sculptures at the junction of Monier Road and Wansbeck Road

Following the war, the area changed greatly as local industries shifted to "low employment uses", such as waste disposal, timber yards and warehouses, and much of the population left the area. Houses and local amenities were cleared and converted to industrial use; as a result, by the 1970s, the area became almost exclusively industrial in nature and was virtually devoid of other uses[6][8][11][1].

By the late 20th century, the area was dominated by either waste disposal sites or warehouses.

However, at some point during the 90s, the area saw an expansion of new creative industries and an influx of artists, who converted old and dilapidated warehouses into studios or lofts, it is claimed that the area had the highest density of artists in the Europe in the 90s and Fish Island, together with neighbouring Hackney Wick, is now better known for its local art scene than its industry[6][8][11][2].

In the early 2000s, Fish Island came to greater prominence and received new attention given its proximity to the site of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the venue for the London 2012 Olympics. Local councils identified Fish Island, together with Hackney Wick, as key areas for regeneration as part of the development for the Olympic games[5][6][9]; as a result, the area has recently seen the construction of a number of large residential and mixed use buildings, with more planned in the coming years[11][2][8][12].

This new regeneration of the area and the associated increase in living cost and property prices has led many to draw parallels with the recent gentrification of Shoreditch in the late 90s, with Fish Island frequently referred to as "the new Shoreditch"[2][3][4].


Fish Island falls within the parliamentary constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets; the electoral ward it falls within is the Bow East ward.[13]


Street art on rear of Fish Island buildings as seen from Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Fish Island has a long tradition as a home to artists and art spaces;[14] the Island, and adjoining Hackney Wick, has 'one of the highest densities of fine artists, designers and artisans in Europe', with a 2009 study identifying around 600 artists' studios.[15]

The London Centre for Book Arts has been based in the Britannia Works building (part of SPACE (studios)) since 2012; the first and only centre of its kind in the UK, the Centre’s mission is to foster and promote book arts and artist-led publishing in the UK through collaboration, education, distribution, and by providing open-access to printing, binding and publishing facilities. [16] [17] [18]

In 2014, a partnership between tech hub The Trampery and the Barbican Centre, led to the establishment of Fish Island Labs, a mentored art and technology project; the Labs will allow 40 to 50 participants, for ten months, to share a low-cost workspace in a converted Fish Island warehouse.[14]

Channel 4’s Big Breakfast was broadcast from the Lock Keeper's Cottage at Fish Island from 1992 to 2002.

Nearest places[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Fish Island Conservation Area" (PDF). Tower Hamlets council. November 4, 2009. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Fraser, Isabelle (October 2, 2016). "Welcome to Fish Island, the new Shoreditch". The Telegraph. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Wadeson, Oliver (January 15, 2018). "Fish Island might just be London's latest hipster paradise". Metro. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Lawford, Melissa (February 9, 2018). "Help to Buy replaces 'bank of mum and dad' in Hackney Wick". Financial Times. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c "Fish Island Area Action Plan, 2012" (PDF). Tower Hamlets council. September 2012. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Bevan, Robert (January 2014). "Fish Island and Hackney Wick South - Conservation Area Appraisal & Draft Management Guidelines" (PDF). Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stephenson, Angus (January 2014). "Bridging the Lea: Ecavations at Crown Wharf, Dace Road, Tower Hamlets" (PDF). London & Middlesex Archaeological Society. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Agnew, Megan (June 20, 2018). "The fishy tale of Fish Island". Roman Road London. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c "Hackney Wick and Fish Island - Baseline and Key Issues Report". Hackney Council. April 2008. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  10. ^ Bridget Cherry; Charles O'Brien; Nikolaus Pevsner (2005). London: East. Yale University Press. p. 626. ISBN 978-0-300-10701-2.
  11. ^ a b c d e Bird, Edmund (November 2009). "Design for London - Heritage Scoping Report for Hackney Wick" (PDF). Hackney Wicked. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  12. ^ "Fish Island, Tower Hamlets". Hidden London. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  13. ^ "Bow East Ward Profile" (PDF). Tower Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  14. ^ a b Curtis, Nick (2014-06-27). "Fish Island Labs: the Barbican's fuzzy new frontier where art and technology meet". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 2014-09-06.
  15. ^ "Creative. Connected. World Class. East Wick and Sweetwater. Development opportunity on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park" (PDF). London Legacy Development Corporation. Retrieved 2014-09-06.
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External links[edit]