Canary Wharf is built on the site of the old West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs.
From 1802 to 1980, the area was one of the busiest docks in the world, with at one point 50,000 employed. Canary Wharf itself takes its name from the sea trade with the Canary Islands, whose name comes from the dogs (Latin canis) which the Spaniards found there, producing the linguistic coincidence of trade between the Dog Islands and the Isle of Dogs.
During WWII, the docks area was bombed heavily and nearly all the original warehouses were destroyed or badly damaged. After a brief recovery in the 1950's, the port industry began to decline. Containerisation and a lack of flexibility made the central London docks less viable than out-of-town sites like Felixstowe and Harwich, and by 1980 the docks were closed.
Thousands were out of work and a huge area of the Docklands lay in ruins - a testament to the changing world economy.
The project to revitalise the 21 km² (eight square miles) of derelict London docks began in 1981 with the establishment of the London Docklands Development Corporation by the government of Margaret Thatcher.
Initially redevelopment was focussed on small-scale, light industrial schemes and Canary Wharf's largest occupier was Limehouse Studios, a TV production company.
In 1984 the restaurateurs, the Roux Brothers, were looking for several thousand square feet of space to prepare pre-cooked meals. The late Michael von Clemm, chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) and also chairman of Roux Restaurants, was invited for lunch by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) on the boat Res Nova moored alongside Shed 31 at Canary Wharf, to promote the idea of this food packaging factory being based on the Isle of Dogs.
Von Clemm came from Boston and when he looked through the porthole at Shed 31, a simple brick-concrete infill, he commented that it reminded him of the warehouses in Boston harbour which had been converted into back up offices and small business premises. Reg Ward, at the time LDDC Chief Executive, remembers him suddenly leaning back and saying: "I do not know why we do not go for a shed like 31 as a 200,000 sq ft back up office."
This led on to discussions at CSFB's offices, during which their American property adviser G Ware Travelstead, raised his hand and said: "We're asking ourselves the wrong question. Of course we can take Shed 31 and convert it into a back up office, but we have spent the last five years courting at the Court of the City of London for a new site for a new configuration of building without success. The question is: 'Can we move our front office to the Isle of Dogs?"
This idea came from a basic need. The Big Bang deregulation of financial services in London had radically changed the way merchant banks operated. Instead of the small, corridor and office based buildings occupied in the traditional square mile, the demand was now for large floor-plate, open plan space which could be used as a trading floor. The Corporation of the City of London had been resisting such development, preferring instead to conserve its historical architecture and views. So banks like CSFB had spent years trying without success to locate suitable space close to the financial heart of London.