Wapping's magnificent past is the secret to its exciting future

Wapping is going for gold. New plans will make it Docklands' most fashionable quarter
ariel shot of Wapping
Wapping stretches from the shadow of Tower Bridge to Shadwell and, with narrow cobbled streets retains much of the character of the old docks
A Manhattan-style “creative village” of loft apartments, designer offices, destination restaurants, art galleries, an organic food market and a members club — that’s the impressive plan being unveiled this week to put Wapping back to the top of the pile as Docklands’ most fashionable quarter. Search for property in Wapping.

Historic Metropolitan Wharf is one of Wapping’s finest — with a listed eight-storey former tea warehouse that had missed out on previous regeneration and was left empty and decaying for decades. The building was audaciously snapped up during the depths of the banking crisis three years ago by niche developer Nick Capstick-Dale, who spotted an opportunity to establish a new venue to snatch creatives back from Soho and Shoreditch.

The warehouse’s magnificent, stripped-back fabric of exposed brick, cast-iron columns (dozens and dozens of them) and pine flooring is a genuine classic, worthy of a Kate Moss fashion shoot. The ground-floor entrance space is crowned by a bespoke, capsule-like copper reception desk (which alone cost £60,000) designed by Tom Dixon, and leads through a wall of glass to a vast private riverside terrace, big enough to land a helicopter on. Until 1830, the site was Execution Dock, where the Admiralty used to hang pirates and brigands.

Past and present are mixing well

With its handsome wharves and warehouses, cobbled lanes and famous inns, nowhere do you get a better sense of the old London docks than here. Capstick-Dale’s project coincides with the arrival of Wapping’s biggest new-build development for 20 years — 382 homes, half of which will be in a 20-storey tower with curving ends reflecting the hull of a boat, at Ballymore's 21 Wapping Lane (see below).

During the Eighties, when the Docklands property boom took off, Wapping was the premier place for riverside and warehouse living; actress Helen Mirren stills owns a listed Georgian house, having discovered the area while filming the 1979 British crime classic The Long Good Friday.

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.

Metropolitan Wharf
Commercial space at Metropolitan Wharf will be aimed at creative companies who might otherwise choose Soho or Shoreditch
Today the area is cheaper than many people imagine. Prices start at about £350,000 for one-bedroom flats in Wapping without river views. The best waterfront apartments cost more than £2  million.

Oliver’s Wharf on 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. A spectacular three-bedroom 2,188sq ft refurbished penthouse is on the market for £2.5 million. Call Cluttons on 020 7488 4858.

Wapping starts in the shadow of Tower Bridge and is an exciting stretch of the river that runs east to Shadwell Basin where a Victorian pumping station has been turned into an art gallery and restaurant — an amazing post-industrial space and cultural venue.

Though charming and authentic, Wapping is a somewhat cut-off neighbourhood, coralled by the Thames and The Highway, a busy main road. The reason for this dates back to when the docks were built in the 19th century: Wapping was enclosed by a high wall to stop the theft of cargo. Brunel’s Rotherhithe Tunnel and then the East London line station helped remedy this (remarkably, for a brief period in its early years, the tunnel, with its 64 very fine stone arches, served as an underground shopping arcade).

Lofts at the top of Metropolitan Wharf have up to 4,000sq ft of space, 30ft ceiling heights, rafters and a roof terrace. When finished early next year, some will even retain original machinery such as hoists and pulley wheels.

Fashion and media sector companies are moving in — among them Brand National, Lazarides Gallery and Norton & Sons — and Capstick-Dale is in discussions with Michelin-star chefs for the restaurant and bar space.

“It’s a village in a building,” he says. “We’re declining offers from companies who don’t fit our ethos or the spirit of the place and offering good deals to those that do.”

Capstick-Dale, 48, is an old-school property developer who has built up a £230 million portfolio without massive bank borrowing, which frees him up to cherry-pick the buildings he loves. He likes to have an affinity with his schemes, to be “emotionally involved”, taking all the gains — or all the losses — rather than gambling with other people’s money.

Another current project is Lighthouse Island, a V-shaped site on Pentonville Road that is reminiscent of the famous Flat Iron Building in his beloved New York — he splits his time between the two cities. Capstick-Dale was an early fan of King’s Cross, first buying there 10 years ago when it was still a red light district. “The buildings remind me of the Meatpacking District in New York and are hard to find in London.”

21 Wapping Lane
From 275,000: flats at 21 Wapping Lane, the area's big new development
For residential and commercial enquiries, contact Pilcher Hershman on 020 7399 8600.

The steady comeback

Ballymore’s 21 Wapping Lane is the area’s big new development. It comprises five buildings with “staggered elevations” like the rigging and masts of tall ships. Prices start at £275,000 for a studio, and from £895,000 for three-bedroom apartments. To arrange a visit, call 0800 096 7777 or email sales@21wappinglane.com.

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. It 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. Its Kuwaiti owner is working up fresh proposals for shops and luxury flats.

Ballymore has also unveiled new apartments at Canary Wharf, where the property market has been quietly convalescing since the dark days of the collapse in 2008. Ironically, the latest financial crisis — in the eurozone — has brought a fresh wave of foreign buyers looking for a property safe haven in a district they like. “Buyers from Asia and the Far East in particular like the waterfront setting, the glamorous new skyscrapers, shopping malls and the secure, clean environment,” says James Barnes, sales director.

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