Wapping has been thrust into quiet isolation by the closure of the East London line. But this year sees the unveiling of the local Tube station, due in early summer when work on the extended route is completed.
- © Ian Hay
It will coincide with the arrival of the area's biggest development in more than a decade: 382 homes, half of which will be in a 20-storey tower with curving ends resembling the hull of a boat.
Wapping encapsulated the charm of Docklands, with historic wharves and warehouses, cobbled lanes and famous inns. One negative has been accessibility; it is rather cut off, which the Tube station closure has highlighted, corralled in as it is by the Thames and The Highway, a busy main road.
During the Eighties, when the Docklands property boom took off, Wapping was the number one place for riverside and warehouse living. But as time moved on, the neighbourhood was left behind. The promised restaurant and retail scene never happened and developers focused on nearby Limehouse and Canary Wharf.
Actress Helen Mirren owns a listed Georgian house in Wapping. She discovered the area while filming the 1980 classic The Long Good Friday. Today, Wapping is cheaper than many imagine. Prices start at about £310,000 for one-bedroom flats.
"We expect prices to jump by as much as 30 per cent as this second wave of regeneration takes hold," says James Hyman of estate agent Cluttons. "Reopening the Tube station will again thrust the spotlight on Wapping, so there is a window of opportunity for buyers."
Wapping starts in the shadow of Tower Bridge and runs east to Shadwell Basin, where a Victorian pumping station has been turned into an art gallery and restaurant.
Right next door, the original stationmaster's house, a pretty, red-brick, four-bedroom detached, is up for sale at £895,000. "It's a complete one-off," says Sarah Shelley of estate agent Knight Frank. Call 020 7480 6848.
Prices are highest in west Wapping. This is the strip closest to the City, between Pier Head, a Georgian terrace, and St Katharine Docks, a neighbourhood in its own right, with both old and new homes overlooking two yacht basins.
River-view flats command more than £1,000 a square foot. A spectacular, 2,000sq ft, three-bedroom penthouse at Harlequin Court is on the market for £2.75 million. Call Cluttons on 020 7407 3669.
Olivers Wharf in Wapping High Street has among the most coveted flats in Docklands. The listed Victorian warehouse was bought in 1973 by a group of architects and artists, sparking the whole conversion fever along this stretch of the Thames. Today, smaller apartments cost from about £450,000. A 2,351sq ft loft is selling for £2.1 million. Call Savills (020 7456 6800).
Redevelopment of News International's 11-acre Wapping plant would provide another boost to the area. News Corporation, the parent company, has lodged a planning application for a campus-style complex for about 4,300 staff, many of whom are likely to want a crash pad within walking distance of the office. The proposals include communal roof-terrace gardens as well as shops open to the public.
Estate agents report a steady trickle of buyers from Shad Thames, the fashionable Docklands district in SE1, on the riverbank opposite, where prices are 20 to 25 per cent higher.
Wapping gets ship-shape
Some locals are startled by the modern look of Ballymore's 21 Wapping Lane development, a scheme of five buildings with "staggered elevations" resembling the rigging and masts of tall ships. Prices will start from £215,000 (for a studio). The launch will be before Easter. To register, call King Sturge (0800 096 7777).
Retail and commercial space is part of the mix, and will go some way to filling the gap left by the closure of Tobacco Dock in 1990. This splendid listed structure has brick vaults and had been trumpeted as the "Covent Garden of the East End". But it is now a desolate space, boarded up and on English Heritage's Buildings At Risk register. The owner, a Kuwaiti investment company, is working up fresh proposals for a hotel, shops and luxury apartments.
Waitrose, badge of middle-class affluence, has opened a store in Thomas More Street, while Gastronomica, an authentic Italian deli and café, has replaced a scruffy video rental store at New Crane Wharf.
More independent shops, bars and eateries are expected to emerge around the upgraded Tube station, where Transport for London has planning consent for an apartment complex with ground-floor commercial space.
Size really does matter
Thirtysomethings Amber and Steven Tebbutt moved to Wapping five years ago. The couple married last year and plan to start a family, so have put their two-bedroom flat up for sale and are buying a nearby warehouse apartment three times the size.
Their current home overlooks Hermitage Basin and a war memorial garden. The property is on the market for £529,999. Call Knight Frank on 020 7480 6848.
"We love the tranquillity of Wapping, especially at weekends when it is wonderfully quiet. It has an intimate feel and lots of character," says Amber, who works in west London. Steven walks to his job in the City.