Commercial Road, E1

Road in/near Shadwell, existing between 1803 and now

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Road · Shadwell · E1 ·

Commercial Road is a major thoroughfare (the A13) running east-west from the junction of Burdett Road and East India Dock Road to Braham Street.

In 1802, the East India Company secured an Act of Parliament for the building of a new road beginning at the new West India Dock Gate and terminating at Church Lane, Whitechapel. The line of the new road more or less followed the path of an existing one called White Horse Lane. This pre-existent pathway through fields can be seen on maps of the time with the line of the new road already marked in. This first stage of the road was constructed in 1803.

The development of the road into a residential neighbourhood began with the establishment of sugar refineries in St. George’s-in-the-East, which led to the erection of small houses for the accommodation of the workers employed in that industry. On the Stepney stretch, an attractive residential district for the well-to-do was built, forming ’Terraces’ and ’Places’ and for a while at least, the Commercial Road had an air of prosperity about it, reinforced by the appearance of shops.

The increase in heavy traffic along the road during the 1820s and 1830s gradually saw this attractiveness begin to dwindle in the eyes of those who lived there and at this time it also became a toll road. Charles Dickens described the Commercial Road before it was paved in 1855:

"Pleasantly wallowing in the abundant mud of that thoroughfare and greatly enjoying the huge piles of buildings belonging to the sugar refiners, the little masts and vanes in small back gardens in back streets, the neighbouring canals and docks, the India vans lumbering along their stone tramway, and the pawnbrokers’ shops where hard-up mates had pawned so many sextants and quadrants that I should have bought a few cheap if I had the least notion how to use them."

Commercial Road was extended west to meet Whitechapel High Street at ’Gardiner’s Corner’ in 1870; in 1874 it was renumbered.

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Shadwell is a district in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and located on the north bank of the Thames between Wapping and Ratcliff.

In the 13th century, the area was known as Scadflet and Shatfliet – derived from the Anglo-Saxon fleot, meaning a shallow creek or bay – the land was a low lying marsh, until drained (by order of Act of Parliament, after 1587) by Cornelius Vanderdelf. A spring, issuing from near the south wall of the churchyard was dedicated to St Chad, and filled a nearby well. The origin of the name is therefore confused, being associated with both the earlier use and the later well.

In the 17th century, Thomas Neale became a local landowner, and built a mill and established a waterworks on large ponds, left by the draining of the marsh. The area had been virtually uninhabited and he developed the waterfront, with houses behind as a speculation. Shadwell became a maritime hamlet with roperies, tanneries, breweries, wharves, smiths, and numerous taverns, built around the chapel of St Paul's. Seventy-five sea captains are buried in its churchyard; Captain James Cook had his son baptised there.

By the mid-eighteenth century, Shadwell Spa was established, producing sulphurous waters, in Sun Tavern fields. As well as medicinal purposes, salts were extracted from the waters; and used by local calicoprinters to fix their dyes.

In the 19th century, Shadwell was home to a large community of foreign South Asian lascar seamen, brought over from British India by the East India Company. There were also Anglo-Indians, from intermarriage and cohabitation between lascar seamen and local girls. There were also smaller communities of Chinese and Greek seamen, who also intermarried and cohabited with locals.

The modern area is dominated by the enclosed former dock, Shadwell Basin, whose construction destroyed much of the earlier settlement – by this time degenerated into slums. The basin once formed the eastern entrance to the then London Docks, with a channel leading west to St Katharine Docks. It is actually two dock basins - the south basin was constructed in 1828-32 and the north basin in 1854-8.

Unlike nearby Limehouse Basin, few craft larger than canoes can be seen on Shadwell Basin, which is largely used for fishing and watersports - and as a scenic backdrop to the modern residential developments that line it. The basin, however, is still connected to the Thames and the channel is spanned by a bascule bridge.

The original Shadwell station was one of the oldest on the network, and was built over a spring. First opened by the East London Railway on 10 April 1876, it was first served by the Metropolitan District Railway and Metropolitan Railway on 1 October 1884. It was renamed Shadwell & St. George-in-the-East on 1 July 1900 but reverted to its original name in 1918. In 1983, a new ticket hall was built on Cable Street, replacing the original building in Watney Street.

Shadwell DLR station opened on 31 August 1987 as part of the first tranche of DLR stations. Initially designed for one-car DLR trains, Shadwell's platform underwent extension to two-car operation in 1991. The station underwent further refurbishment in 2009, which extended the platforms to accommodate three-car trains, revamped the station entrance at ground level, and added an emergency exit at the east end of the platforms.

Shadwell station closed on 22 December 2007, reopened on 27 April 2010 for a preview service to New Cross and New Cross Gate, and from 23 May 2010, the latter service extended to West Croydon / Crystal Palace operated within the London Overground network.
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