Canary Wharf and One Canada Square: How it all started

Canary Wharf has become the UK’s biggest financial hub and one of the most iconic features in London’s famous skyline. But life in the Docks wasn’t always this way. Over 12,000 jobs were lost between 1978 and 1983 due to London’s shift away from the blue collar work. The Docks quickly declined from what used to be a thriving place of industry to a derelict land.

This blog takes a look back at how Canary Wharf’s regeneration project started and the key moments along the journey that led to it being the success story we know it to be today.

Canary Wharf Skyline

The origins

The origins behind the name ‘Canary Wharf’ come from the quay where vegetables and fruits from the Canary Islands were unloaded. In 1981 Michael Heseltine, Secretary of State for the Environment under Margret Thatcher, had set up the ‘London Docklands Development Corporation’ to regenerate the Docklands area. However, due to financial constraints in 1987 Paul Reichmann’s company ‘Olympia & York’ took the driving seat.

It has been an adventurous journey for Canary Wharf over the past 30 years. The timeline below breaks down the main headlines.

The timeline

1802 - Heart of the British Empire

A wealthy merchant and ship owner by the name of Robert Milligan headed a group of powerful businessmen who planned and oversaw the construction of the West India Docks, which Canary Wharf was later built around. The West India Docks soon became the world's busiest shipping port for its time.

1860's - The West India Dock expansion

A third dock was constructed, labelled 'The South West India Dock'.

1980 - Commercial closure of the docks

Business in the West India Docks started to dwindle in the 1960's. With logistical advancements and developments of the shipping container paired with businesses moving from the area, this led to the docks commercially closing in 1980.  

1988 - Construction

Olympia & York begin construction on One Canada Square. Soon to be the standout building of the Canary Wharf skyline for many years to come.

1990 – Record height

One Canada Square becomes the tallest building in the UK standing at 235 meters. Fun fact - The original plans were for the building to be 263 meters tall but this would have obstructed the approach to London City Airport. 

1991 – Banks move in

Heavyweight banks such as Morgan Stanley, HSBC, Citygroup, Credit Suisse First Boston and the Financial Service Authority (now known as the Financial Conduct Authority), all become the first tenants.

1992 – Property Crash

Olympia & York become bankrupt due to the ‘Property Crash’ and Canary Wharf is placed in administration.

1995 – Reichmann returns

Paul Reichmann buys Canary Wharf back from the Banks for £800m under the new company name of Canary Wharf Limited (now known as Canary Wharf Group), with the help of foreign investors from Saudi Arabia and America.

1999 – The Stock Market

The property market recovers and the company join the London Stock Market. More firms move to the Docks increasing the value of Canary Wharf.

2002 - Working population

The daily working population is 42,000

2003 – The skyline develops

Various tall building projects are completed in Bank Street and Canada Square that makes up most of the skyline in Canary Wharf that we see today.

2004 – Songbird Estate takeover

Canary Wharf Group is taken over by Songbird Estates which is led by Morgan Stanley, ending Reichmann’s 20 year involvement with the project. With various tall building within Canada Square that makes up most of the skyline in Canary Wharf that we see today.

2010 – Higher heights

The Shard becomes the tallest building in the UK at 310 meters making One Canada Square the second tallest.

2014 – Crossrail plans

Canary Wharf begins plans to spread east with projections of the number of people living and working in the area set to double within a decade. Crossrail plan to run through Canary Wharf, boosting attraction as it looks to launch in 2018

2018 - Canary Wharf in numbers

There's now 16.4 million sqft of completed office space in Canary Wharf. A daily working population of 120,000 along with over 300 shops, bars, restaurants and 20 acres of green space.

The Crossrail - Elizabeth line is delayed to autumn 2019 (and then pushed back again due to COVID-19 and route construction).

2020 - New skyscrapers

22 Bishopsgate becomes the second tallest building in the UK (278 meters) knocking One Canada Square to the third spot. A new skyscraper called the Landmark Pinnacle in Canary Wharf takes the fourth tallest in the UK and second tallest in Canary Wharf, closely behind One Canada Square at 233 meters.

2021 - The skyline broadens

Canary Warf based residential skyscrapers South Quay Plaza 1 and One Park Drive join the top 10 tallest buildings in the UK at 215 meters and 205 meters.

View from Dockside at MillharbourView from Dockside at Millharbour

2022 - Elizabeth Line

The central part of the Elizabeth line is set to start running in June 2022, with 24 trains per hour in peak hours travelling through Woolwich, Custom House, Canary Wharf, Whitechapel, Liverpool Street, and Tottenham Court Road. With the complete line looking to be complete in May 2023 that'll see trains run from Shenfield to Reading.

Living in a Tower

Canary Wharf is one of London’s greatest success stories, with the interest around and within the area increasing at a rapid rate. Our Able Quay Millharbour and Dockside at Millharbour developments are just a 3 minute walk away from South Quay DLR station and a 10 minute walk away from Canary Wharf tube station. With 2 bedroom apartments available, you don’t want to miss out.

Dockside at Millharbour showhomes

Also to mention central London is within easy reach. You can reach Bank within 18 minutes via DLR from South Quay station and you can reach Liverpool street via the Jubilee line from Canary Wharf station in 33 minutes. The local area boasts plenty to do; See famous acts at the O2, pop to the cinema, hang out in the parks and tropical gardens, see the Cutty Sark, visit museums, and much more. 

Contact us

For further details on owning a Shared Ownership apartment call 0203 815 2222, email us at 

This blog was originally posted in November 2016 but has since been updated.