Coldharbour is a street located on the Isle of Dogs which has managed, unusually, to withstand the curse of modern development and remain in its pre-nineteenth century condition. Either by oversight or by sheer luck the street managed to avoid any kind of development performed in the name of modernisation through both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. If ever there was a place where you could truly step backwards through time, it is here.

Photo by Reading Tom
Photo by Reading Tom

When you step into Coldharbour you are entering the period in the life of the city when it was regarded as the most important port anywhere in the world. It’s easy to imagine how noisy the old cobbled streets would have been, and how the narrow alleys would have been filled with people going about their business, legal and more than a little shady alike. The houses are old and tightly packed together and they are just loaded with centuries’ worth of history.

The Isle of Dogs

The Isle of Dogs came into its own with the building of the shipyards for the East India Company in 1614. It brought work, it brought revenue and it allowed the area to grow. The location of Coldharbour Street close to the river saw it flourish during this period of industrialisation and expansion.

Coldharbour continued to do well right up until the early part of the nineteenth century, when what could have been an oversight on the part of the developers and planners of the city saw the street isolated from the heart of the docklands. The docks were made bigger and the City Canal was constructed and Coldharbour was unceremoniously cut off. It went from being the vibrant heart of the area to a forgotten and neglected backwater. Though in fairness it has to be said that the reason the street exists in its ‘out of place’ state is because of those developments. What could on the one hand be described as neglect has served to preserve an important part of the city’s history.

The Buildings

At the end of the street stands Number 1. Quite a grand house that once belonged to the Dock Master at the East India Yards, it bears the name Isle House and was built in 1825. The house next door dates back a little earlier and is known as Nelson’s House.  Rumour has it that Lord Nelson lived there for a while though no proof of this has ever come to light. The most popular building in this part of the Isle of Dogs has to be the pub, The Gun. The site of this watering hole has long been associated with the business of drinking and there is believed to have been a drinking establishment on the spot since 1720. Nelson himself was believed to be a regular customer using it when he came to carry out inspections in the dockyards close by. This is also where he is believed to have carried out his secret meetings with Lady Hamilton, in one of the rooms upstairs.

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