The Islands Of London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 11 months ago
The Islands Of London

The Western stretch of the Thames is studded heavily with eyots (or aits) and islets. As you pass through central and east London, the nature of these islands changes. Here we wend our way east, mooring up at some along the way.

Duck Island, St James's Park. Although, as any pedant will tell you, this is actually on a peninsula. Photo: Conor MacNeill.

Platt's Eyot

Platt's Eyot is London's westernmost island, and for such a pint-sized landmass, it's seen a lot of action. Until the 1880s, it was used to grow osiers, a kind of willow used to make baskets. During the second world war, industry became altogether more heavy duty; they made torpedo boats here. This is an island that's moved with the times; businesses on Platt's Eyot now include Panic Button and Stakeout music studios. A miniature green suspension bridge takes you across the water, to the wooded island, which also apparently has a café. You might need to book in a recording session to get access — the island's private.   

Raven's Ait Island

If you're looking to get married in the middle of the Thames (and fancy something more romantic than HMS Belfast — which is an option, by the way), you could do worse than Raven's Ait Island. Canopied vessels shuttle you and up to 250 guests over to the ait, where they perform civil wedding ceremonies and reception bashes. They missed a trick not calling it Love Island.

Photo: Raven's Ait.

Swan Island Harbour

Perhaps the ultimate London island experience would be to get married at Raven's Ait, then make the short boat ride to your new home at Swan Island Harbour. Among the floating homes here are 'little boats' from Dunkirk, alongside narrowboats, and a handful of small homes built on the land itself. Get your vessel seen to by Newmans, a family company working on the island. Far from being in the middle of nowhere, it's a stone's throw from the famed Strawberry House Hill. All very quaint.

Eel Pie Island

Another you can live on, Eel Pie Island is far more than an enticingly slippery name. The Eel Pie Island Hotel became an uncannily hip club during the mid 1950s, when an antiques shop owner started holding dances here. Come the next decade, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and scores of other seminal acts were cranking up their amps here. More recently, the island was home to indie band The Mystery Jets. It's also become a colony of creatives, which explains the random skeletons in cages, mannequin parts and crocodile heads. Though the island is largely closed to the public, you can have a cheeky snoop outside some of the residences, with names like this:

Otherwise, go along to an open studio weekend.

London Wetland Centre, Barnes

Not all London's islands are on the Thames, or even a river. Those at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes are so small, they barely qualify as islets. They are, however inhabited by some vibrant, feathered residents. Ascend Peacock Tower with a pair of binoculars, and watch black-necked swans, kingfishers, jack snipes and bitterns swim around and waddle over this swathe of reclaimed reservoir. Species change depending on the time of the year, with a sightings record kept.

West Island and Duck Island, St James's Park

There's a spine-shivering tale to accompany West Island, on St James's Park Lake. It involves the discovery of a skeleton in 2011, which transpired to be that of a royal stalker. Harbouring an obsession with the Queen, Robert James Moore had made the overgrown island his home, so he could be close to Her Majesty. He sent her score of "peculiar" letters, some up to 600 pages long.  

At the opposite side of the lake, the story couldn't be any more fairy tale. Duck Island is home to a Hansel and Gretel-style cottage (see main image), that's actually the office for London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust. Technically though, this 'island' is a peninsula — connected as it is, to the rest of the park.  

A statue of ornithologist Peter Scott (on a very very tiny island) at the London Wetland Centre. Photo: Matt Brown.

The Magic Roundabout, Old Street

Another curve ball, because this is a traffic island, see? You enter the somewhat mazy Magic Roundabout through an entrance in St Agnes Well, nestled between Old Street's jumble of shops and pop-ups. Rather than bucolic views and swan-laden waters, you find yourself surrounded by giant neon mushrooms, burger pop-ups and a perma-fog of traffic fumes. It's a proper urban island: some people's idea of paradise... others, not so much.

Chinese Pagoda, Victoria Park

Just about on an island (there's not much water between it and the 'mainland' of Victoria Park), is the Chinese Pagoda. Secreted among shrubbery and rushes, here's a spot for early morning contemplation (for instance contemplating how you'll fit on the rush hour tube at Bethnal Green). This is the second incarnation of the pavilion; the first was an entrance to a Victoria Chinese exhibit in Hyde Park. It later moved to Victoria Park and was demolished in the 1950s. £4.5m of lottery money in 2010 set that right.  

Last Updated 16 December 2016