The Next Stop Is...Fish Island

By Jonn Last edited 66 months ago
The Next Stop Is...Fish Island

This is a common sight on Fish Island today. Because of artists.

Continuing our occasional series on some of London's more intriguingly named bus stops...

Number 3: Fish Island

Where: A far flung outpost of Tower Hamlets

Route: 339

The name Fish Island poses an odd sort of philosophical conundrum. An island, if you’re being tediously literal, is generally defined as a piece of land surrounded by water. Metaphorically, though, it can also be a zone of comfort surrounded by hostile territory: an oasis, for example, is a sort of island in the desert. With that in mind, from the point of view of the fish, shouldn't an island be a body of water surrounded by land – or, in other words, a pond?

This is all irrelevant, of course, because London’s own Fish Island isn't actually an island anyway. It's a sort of isosceles triangle, with Hackney Cut forming one boundary and the River Lea Navigation another – its long western boundary is not formed by water, but by the concrete barrier of the East Cross Route, which links Leyton to the Blackwall Tunnel. Actual fish are in short supply, too: the name was taken from the piscine-based theme of the local street plan (Roach Road, Bream Street et al.), and is now celebrated in the fin-like street art adorning some of the lampposts.

The area is historically part of Old Ford, and cousin to Hackney Wick, which abuts it across the canal to the north. But while the word Wick traditionally refers to farming land, the area's riverside location meant it was already attracting factories as far back as 1800. By the early 20th century the area was heavily industrialised, poverty-stricken and known mainly for its badly built temporary housing. Then, in the 1960s, the powers-that-were decided to slice it in two with a monster A road, which obviously sorted everything out.

Ten years ago, Fish Island was still dominated by waste disposal, recycling and other such sexy industries. But in 2005 things started to change. Firstly a new pedestrian bridge across the Cut slashed the time it took to get to Hackney Wick station, making it a more viable place to live. Then London won its bid to host the Olympics, on a site just across the Lea, and a few brave property developers started to move in.

Today, the industry is almost entirely gone. The factories and warehouses remain, but they're now home to film makers, artists, fashion designers and other such people. There's an arts centre. There's an events venue. There's even a business that specialises in helping people find homes elsewhere in London’s ex-industrial wastelands.

For all that, though, the area still stands apart from the city around it. It offers frequent views of the water. And it attracts so little road traffic there might as well be none. Fish Island isn't really an island. But it does rather feel like one.

Image courtesy of Carlie Lazar, taken from the Londonist Flickr pool

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Last Updated 09 July 2013