LDDC Completion Booklets
Surrey Docks (Dedesignated 20th December 1996)
  Home > Completion Booklets > Surrey Docks


Site Index (Alt+1>Enter)



Surrey Docks in history
The end of the docks
Filling in the docks
What the area was like in 1981
The LDDC's approach
1981-1996: a radical transformation
  ~ New homes
  ~ Environment
  ~ Commercial
  ~ Leisure
  ~ Public Art
Investing in the community
  ~ Education
  ~ Training
  ~ Young People
  ~ Health
  ~Community Support
Emphasis on ecology
The future of the area

Other Completion Booklets
LDDC Monographs
Popular Press Releases
Annual Reports and Accounts


Map showing location of Surrey Docks







Note by Webmaster
For up to date information about this area visit the Rotherhithe, Surrey Docks, Surrey Quays, London SE16 web site



(Note: This Booklet has been reproduced by kind permission of the Commission for the New Towns now known as English Partnerships. It is published for general interest and research purposes only and may not be reproduced for other purposes except with the permission of English Partnerships who now hold the copyright of LDDC publications)


Introduction View from Stave Hill

The LDDC has much to be proud of in the Surrey Docks. Today it is a balanced community with some of ondon's most attractive housing and more green space than most other parts of the capital. It has an excellent shopping centre which not only serves a large catchment area south of the river but also provides many local jobs. The opening of the Jubilee Line Extension with its station at Canada Water, by the end of 1998, along with the current and planned expansion of shopping and leisure facilities on the peninsula, will complete the development jigsaw in what is now a most sought after residential location in London.

A trip to the top of Stave Hill at the heart of the peninsula provides perhaps the single most impressive demonstration of what has been achieved since the LDDC was passed the regeneration responsibility for the area in 1981. Then, employment was sparse and the housing run down. Now, looking north-west towards the City of London, south towards Greenland Dock and south-west towards Canada Water, the emphasis in on high quality design and landscaping, a variety of homes for sale and for rent and new facilities such as Bacon's College, Alfred Salter Primary School, the Surrey Docks Watersports Centre and a number of ecology initiatives.

The Corporation completed its remit on the Surrey Docks peninsula on 20 December 1996, handing on its regeneration task to Southwark Council. With the completion of our work in Bermondsey Riverside in October 1994, the Corporation is confident that regeneration south of the river will be carried forward by the Council and that the future of the Surrey Docks has been secured. When the Jubilee Line opens major centres of employment such as the City, West End and Canary Wharf will be only minutes away. The future of the Surrey Docks is very bright.

Neil Spence Roger Squire
Joint Chief Executives - LDDC
July 1997

Top of Page

Surrey Docks in History

The pre-dock history of Surrey Docks peninsula lies in the historic village of Rotherhithe, a name which probably comes from the Saxon redhra (sailor) hyth (haven). Certainly, it has provided a haven for plenty of sailors over the centuries. It was also at times called Redriffe: Samuel Pepys refers to it as such, and Redriffe is also the fictitious home of Gulliver in Jonathan Swift's travels. The word comes from the distinctive red gravel visible at low tide in the Thames, which was originally called red reed. Rotherhithe Street, on the western side of the peninsula, is one of London's longest streets. The street was a wall against the river, and probably begun in Roman times.

Long associated with ship building, in the 14th century a fleet was fitted out at Rotherhithe for the Black Prince and John of Gaunt. But the village's greatest claim to fame came in 1620, when the Mayflower sailed for America carrying the Pilgrim Fathers from a pub then called The Shippe - and now renamed The Mayflower. St Mary's Church nearby was built in 1715 on the remains of a church dating back to Saxon times. The local shipbuilders who built it left their mark by putting in tree trunk pillars and by shaping the vaulting in the manner of an upturned ship.

Howland Dock c.1700Inland, the peninsula was wet marshland and unsuitable for farming, but an ideal location for docks resulting from pressure of ship repairing work at the Royal Dockyard at Deptford next door. Howland Great Wet Dock, named after the family who owned the land, was dug out in 1696. It was the largest commercial dock of its time, able to accommodate 120 sailing ships.

By the middle of the 18th century the dock had been taken over as a base for Arctic whalers and renamed Greenland Dock. However, by the beginning of the 19th century the needs of the Scandinavian and Baltic timber, and Canadian grain, cheese and bacon trades, proved more urgent, and it was mainly these products that the docks were devoted to for the rest of their productive lives. More and more docks were dug out and named after the countries from which their cargoes came, such as Russia. Eventually, 85% of the peninsula, an area of 460 acres, was covered by a system of nine docks, six timber ponds and a canal that was three and a half miles long - the latter associated with the Grand Surrey Docks and Canal Company. This company's commercial interest was not international: it shipped garden produce up from Surrey to the London market. Nevertheless, it is by the shortened version of that company's name that the entire peninsula came to be known.

Top of Page

The end of the docksSurrey Docks 1969

The docks continued to thrive well into the 20th Century with, for example, Sir John Wolfe Barry enlarging Greenland Dock in 1904 to accommodate larger ships. During the Second World War the Surrey Docks suffered the most extensive bomb damage of any dock system in Britain. They fought back: South Dock was pumped dry, and used to build the concrete caissons for the Mulberry Harbours (named after Mulberry Quay in the docks) used in the D-Day landings.

Surrey Docks had a distinctive type of docker, with their own slang and their own forms of entertainment (the Blacksmith's Arms in Rotherhithe Street still houses a local docker's game called "Down the Slot"). They also had special hats for carrying planks of wood. Picturesque as these were they were no match to containers in transporting timber and other goods. Containers needed bigger ships. The Surrey Docks could not handle them. They closed in 1969.

Top of Page

Filling in the docksSurrey Docks 1981

In the decade following their closure, the Port of London Authority and the London Borough of Southwark infilled 423 of the peninsula's 460 acres of dock waters. In Rotherhithe Street the riverside warehouses were demolished.

The Council built a new distributor road around the peninsula, began some warehousing and residential developments, planted a new woodland open space on what had been Russia Dock, and built a new sports pavilion with playing fields.

The 1976 Greater London Development Plan envisaged Rotherhithe as a residential, and not an industrial area. However at the end of the 1970s there was little incentive for developers to build these new homes.

Top of Page

What the area was like in 1981

When the London Docklands Development Corporation was set up in 1981, it faced an enormous challenge in the Surrey Docks. The overall appearance of the area reflected its isolation from the mainstream economy and life of London. The population was 5,923, living in 2,346 homes, only 42 of which were owner occupied: 81% of households rented their homes from the Council, and 17% privately or from a housing association. 63% of households did not have a car.

Lavender HouseThe area was characterised by vast tracts of vacant development land on the infilled docks, a collection of temporary industrial and storage uses on short term leases around the remaining docks, the vestiges of some wharfage related activities on privately owned sites around the riverside and a ring of local authority housing, much of which was in a poor state of repair. Rotherhithe Village on the west site of the peninsula included some industry and more local authority housing in urgent need of refurbishment.

Few jobs had been created in the 12 years since the closure of the Surrey Docks. Unemployment was a severe problem - 5,821 people worked for 287 firms across the whole of the Docklands area south of the Thames, including Bermondsey Riverside. Basic social and community facilities were available with some shops and services in the small district centre on Lower Road, the boundary of the Urban Development Area (UDA).

There was a library and three primary schools, but no secondary school. Most of the doctors were based outside the UDA. However, a number of well established community centres, such as the Dockland Settlement, served the local population.

Top of Page

The LDDC's approach

Wolfe Crescent

In the Surrey Docks, as elsewhere, the LDDC's task was to create incentives for developers to carry out the essential work of regeneration. Development plans inherited by the LDDC contained few such incentives. Rotherhithe was defined as a residential area, but almost exclusively for local authority housing. By contrast, the LDDC which inherited 277 acres of development land from the Port of London Authority in 1981 vigorously pursued a policy of marketing sites for private housing in the early years, enticing developers with new roads and serviced sites on the peninsula.

Two principal development areas - the Southwark Site on the peninsula and Greenland and South Dock - were the subject of development framework plans prepared in 1983 and 1984. The LDDC commissioned Conran Roche to draw up a development framework for Greenland Dock and South Dock, the largest remaining areas of water in the peninsula. The brief, amply reflected in the result, was to integrate new development with existing communities, create the framework for attractive mixed developments of squares and streets, with plenty of attention paid to pedestrian links. Buildings heights were regulated, as were the materials which could be used and the density of housing.

In 1983, to encourage new housing and jobs, the LDDC held a national competition for developers to design and build new homes and offices at Elephant Lane on the west side of the peninsula.

Albion ChannelIn Greenland Dock the LDDC also introduced a new element of competition with competitive tenders for sites determined not just on the basis of money but on the architectural merits of the proposed developments. The quality of the 1,250 homes built at Greenland Dock between 1984 and 1990 provide an eloquent tribute to the wisdom of this policy.

The architecture of new housing development in the Surrey Docks sought to bridge the gap between suburban and inner city building, to create a new urban environment in the heart of the capital.

Development in Surrey Docks was created around a strong landscape infrastructure, with the masterplan drawn up by landscape designers Brian Clouston and Partners. The backbone of this is a series of new canals, walkways and open space linking the Thames with refurbished quaysides around the former dock water areas.

Stave Hill, with its height and its views, became a pivotal point, with the infilled bare terrain of Russia Dock continuing to be planted with woodlands to create an ecological corridor south to Greenland Dock.

Top of Page

1981-1996: a radical transformation

New homes

Between 1981 and 1996 the Docklands population south of the Thames increased to over 16,000. Housing has seen a major transformation in numbers, in quality and in types of tenure. Owner occupation has risen to more than 40%. The peninsula is now a very attractive place in which to live, and many of the housing schemes have won design awards.

Finland StreetOf the 5,500 new homes built in the Surrey Docks over 4,000 of them have been on land previously owned by the LDDC. This enabled the Corporation to secure a priority period for local residents to have first choice of the new homes for sale at a discounted price. For example, local people literally queued overnight for new homes at Broseley's Nelson Reach in Downtown on the eastern side of the peninsula. In 1985 more than 90% of the 118 new homes were taken up by locals and a similar proportion were snapped up at Lovell Urban Renewals Lady Dock scheme in Rotherhithe, also completed in 1985. At Lavender Quay the builders didn't even bother to finish the show home as most of the units were gone in two months a quarter of them to local tenants.

As well as encouraging home ownership the Corporation worked with Southwark Council, housing associations and private developers to provide more homes for rent by local people. In 1985 the Corporation agreed the "Downtown Package" with Southwark Council, a number of housing associations and developers. The Corporation paid the Council 3 million for seven derelict and rundown estates enabling the Council to spend the cash on much needed refurbishment of other estates in the area. The blocks were transformed into high-quality, modern housing for rent, shared ownership, discounted and open-market sale.

Together with a further LDDC/housing association initiative on the Redriffe Estate in 1989, well over 800 homes in Downtown were rescued and returned to local housing stock. The Redriffe Initiative also secured new-build rented housing nearby at Norway Yard, Barnards Wharf and Finland Quay.

Russia Dock Woodland

In total the Corporation has contributed 7.1 million towards 240 homes for rent and 291 for shared ownership, along with over 14 million towards council housing refurbishment schemes in the Surrey Docks. This work has benefited 2,350 homes across the peninsula.

Top of Page


With Russia Dock Woodland and its ecology park at Stave Hill, Southwark Park and other open spaces developed since the closure of the docks, the Surrey Docks has more than five acres of parks and three acres of enclosed water. As elsewhere the LDDC reversed the previous policy of denying access to the river and dock sides, encouraging access to this unique characteristic of London Docklands, with riverside and dockside walkways being opened up and linked in to the Countryside Commission's Thames Path.


Over 840,000 sq ft of commercial and industrial floorspace has been completed on the peninsula. A key year was 1988, when the 280,000 sq ft Surrey Quays Shopping Centre opened with a large Tesco, and branches of major name stores such as BHS, Boots and Dixons.

Surrey Quays Shopping CentreIn 1994, the Corporation followed up the success of the Shopping Centre by bringing a further 8.3 acres adjacent to it on to the market. Developers PSIT Ltd started work in 1996 on a 105,000 sq ft retail park, expanding the existing centre and scheduled for completion by the end of 1997. On the eight acre Canada Yard site close by, owned by Southwark Council a joint venture of London and Bath Estates plc and AR & V Investments Ltd have started construction of a 135,000 sq.ft leisure development with a nine screen cinema, bingo and social club, restaurants and a pub. Together with the new Associated Newspapers printing plant which opened in 1989, there are some 1,000 jobs in the new commercial and employment heart of the peninsula. This has been supplemented by the small business units at St Olav's Court and the Mulberry Business Park. The development of small businesses in the area has also been helped over the last 10 years by the setting up of the Docklands Enterprise Centre in Marshalsea Road in 1989.

Top of Page


South Dock now houses London's largest working marina, with berths for over 200 vessels. It is staffed 24 hours a day - an important point for visiting vessels, as is the fact that the marina has its own crane and boat hardstanding. Busy sailors can also leave the task of berthing and preparing their vessels for departure to the marine staff. The Corporation acquired the marina from the receivers in 1994, and spent 550,000 on rationalising and improving its land based facilities.

South Dock MarinaAt Greenland Dock the Surrey Docks Watersports Centre opened in 1990 with over 1.2 million funding from the LDDC whilst private investment led to the opening in the same year of The Moby Dick, an attractive new pub on two floors with waterside views.

The peninsula acquired its own 390-bedroom four star hotel in 1991 with the opening of the Scandic Crown Hotel (now Holiday Inn Nelson Dock). It occupies the converted and listed Columbia Wharf as well as two new buildings. The Youth Hostel Association has added further to the area's hospitality potential with the opening of a major family hostel.

Also in the field of leisure and recreation, the LDDC has given 355,000 to relocate Surrey Docks Farm into new buildings and 405,000 to establish Surrey Docks Play Association. It has given 374,000 to Seven Islands Leisure Centre, Surrey Docks Stadium has received 86,000, and Barnard's Wharf Walkway 332,000. An all weather community sports pitch and the play area at Neptune Street have also been made possible by LDDC funding.

Sculpture - Deal PortersPublic Art

Among the hidden delights of the area along the riverside or by the ponds in the Surrey Docks is a charming series of sculptures by established artists, commissioned by the LDDC and each specifically linked with the history or attractions of the area. At Cumberland Wharf, near the Mayflower pub, "The Bermondsey Lad and The Sunbeam Weekly", a series of three bronze figures - a Pilgrim Father, a small boy and a bull terrier - by Peter McLean refers to the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail for the New World from here in 1620. Philip Bews' Deal Porters at Canada Water recalls the agile men who unloaded deal (timber) from the ships in the local docks while on the top of Stave Hill a Bas Relief by Michael Rizzello depicts the Surrey Commercial Docks as they were in 1896 - after a shower of rain the "docks" fill with water. At Barnards Wharf a cavalcade of farmyard animals by a variety of artists including pigs, a donkey, goats, geese, an owl and a mouse parades along the riverside towards Surrey Docks Urban Farm.

Top of Page

Investing in the Community

EducationAlfred Salter Primary School

In education, Surrey Docks has received one of the LDDC's largest single grants with 3.5million towards Bacon's College, the first new build City Technology College which opened in 1991. A further 200,000 was granted in 1996 to increase Sixth Form provision. The Surrey Quays Annex to Southwark College, the largest post-16 provider in the borough, was assisted with a grant of 439,000 from the Corporation. LDDC grants to younger age schooling include 500,000 to Alfred Salter Primary School, 277,000 to Redriff Primary School, 256,000 to St. John's R.C. Primary School, 77,000 to Peter Hill Primary School and 13,000 to Albion Primary School.


The Corporation has always attached the greatest importance to encouraging training. Grants in this field include 480,000 to Skillnet, 223,000 to Mari Training and another 223,000 to Jarvis Construction Training, the first construction training centre in London Docklands.

Young People

Youth, play and childcare in the area have also benefited from LDDC grants. The Surrey Docks Play Association has received 405,000, and other grants have gone to Lavender Playgroup, Newpin, the Playgroup at Bacon's College, Playshack, St Mary's Parent and Toddler Group, Time and Talents Playgroup and Trinity Childcare.

Top of Page

Albion Street Health CentreHealth

The LDDC paid a quarter of the 600,000 spent to build a new extension to Albion Street Health Centre. This opened in 1996, allowing the practice to expand from three to five GPs. Earlier, the Corporation had given a grant of 117,000 to improve Surrey Docks Health Centre. The LDDC's plans to ensure that by 1998 all Docklands residents are served by a new or refurbished health centre, integrating GP and community health services in modern, flexible premises, able to respond to local needs well into the next century, is on target.

Community Support

The Corporation's record of funding for community projects of all types and sizes is well upheld in the peninsula with voluntary groups helped in a wide variety of ways, including money for fund raising consultancies to help secure continuity for groups supported by the Corporation.

Major existing community facilities that have received LDDC grants for refurbishment include Holy Trinity (224,000), Dockland Settlement (188,000) and Time and Talents Association (112,000). The LDDC has also contributed to creating community facilities at Bacon's College.

Top of Page

Emphasis on ecologyWind turbine

The LDDC has contributed substantially to improving the ecology of the Surrey Docks peninsula and creating a new green environment.

Lavender Pond, the first ecology park in London Docklands, was created in 1981 as a joint initiative between Southwark Council and the Trust for Urban Ecology. The LDDC funded the restoration of the pumping house as an Environmental Studies Centre. LDDC grants to Lavender Pond Nature Park total 278,000.

Stave Hill is a major example of ongoing LDDC concern for the environment. In 1986, the Corporation relocated the former William Curtis Ecology Park from its original site at Hay's Wharf in Bermondsey to Stave Hill. The Trust for Urban Ecology has turned this seven acre site into one of London's most popular ecology parks. In 1992, the LDDC paid to establish the UK's first ever designated urban butterfly sanctuary here, and came back again in 1994 to install a 12m high wind turbine to feed the park's man-made ponds and canals with natural water.

At Canada Water, LDDC grants of 1 million created a soft ecological edge and funded a low-speed wind turbine drawing fresh spring water from a depth of 80 metres to constantly feed the dock. Russia Dock Woodland has received 60,000 and Pearson Park 200,000.

A strong and distinctive landscape structure now exists in Surrey Docks. In addition to the many ecological improvements, riverside, canalside and dockside walkways have been created and greenlinks and cycle paths now traverse the peninsula. More than 6.4km of quay and riverside walks have been created. Albion Channel, a canal linking Canada Water and Surrey Water, was created out of the infilled Albion Dock.

Top of Page

Handing on Ceremony, Dec.1996The future of the area

Public transport access to the Surrey Docks peninsula will be revolutionised by the opening of the Jubilee Line Extension, with a station at Canada Water which includes an interchange with the East London Line. London Transport are funding a bus station to become part of the integrated Canada Water Station and will also carry out road improvements, including pedestrian crossing facilities.

Prior to the handover of the area to London Borough of Southwark the Corporation spent approximately 1.5 million on projects to facilitate the area's continued maintenance, including repair works to docks and river walls, improve the flow of water at Canada Water, Albion Channel and Surrey Water and refurbish Albion Street play space.

There will be a final phase of new building at Surrey Quays and Canada Yard in the next few years to add to jobs, leisure and housing in the area. Already the Surrey Docks is thought to be one of the most pleasant places to live and work in Docklands. Continuing improvements are expected on traffic schemes, pedestrian routes and the environment of the area by the London Borough of Southwark, which will enhance its attractions further.

Top of Page

Completion Booklets

Top of Page

Other Monographs in this series, all published in 1997/98, are as follows

Top of Page

Annual Reports and Accounts

As with most organisations the Annual Reports and Accounts of the LDDDC are a good source of chronological information about the work of the Corporation and how it spent its money. Altogether these reports contain more than 1000 pages of information. These have been scanned and reproduced as zip files on our Annual Reports and Accounts page

Top of Page

The Innes Partnership logo

LDDC History Pages
Tel: +44(0) 208 123 6374 ~ Fax: +44(0)1487 842623 (by arrangement)
E mail: Click Here
High speed hosting by Zyne Technologies
Page last modified: 18th April 2009