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The power of waterside placemaking

Insights 10 September 2019

The Museum of London Docklands is celebrating the history of London’s ‘secret’ rivers in an exhibition this summer.  From the Tyburn to the Fleet, the museum explores the central role that London’s waterways have played in the city’s industrial and cultural development.

In our post-industrialised era many have now disappeared from view, hidden beneath our feet or obscured by buildings and infrastructure.  Yet they continue to inform Londoners’ identity, cementing ideas of place and local heritage.  One doesn’t have to travel far to find a street or district that shares its name with a nearby waterway – think Fleet Street or the River Peck and its namesake Peckham.

The Wandle River which flows through the London Borough of Wandsworth is a good example.  Both are said to derive their name from a local landowner called Wendle during Anglo-Saxon times.  During the Industrial Revolution, the Wandle was pivotal to the success of the area’s economy, supporting the many Wandsworth mills and breweries that relied on it – including Young’s Ram Brewery.

The Wandle, overgrown and hidden behind brewery walls for centuries, now winds its way peacefully through our Ram Quarter development.  Bringing the river back into the heart of the Wandsworth community has been central to our vision for the site.  Wandsworth residents have a strong sense of ownership over the river, and putting the Wandle at the centre of Ram Quarter has connected this new exciting destination with the area’s history.  Working with EPR Architects, we have created a riverside terrace with space for shops, eateries and bars, alongside waterside apartments and a public promenade along the Wandle’s bank which links Wandsworth Town station and the high street.

Many developers are now rethinking what placemaking means in 2019 – with some jettisoning the word entirely.  Creating successful places is complex, but we shouldn’t overlook some essential truths.  Our landscape has shaped the identities of our towns and cities for centuries, and rooting new communities in this context is a powerful way to show the evolution of a place.  Waterside living and leisure have obvious allure, but our rivers also play important roles.

Patrick Gloyens, Greenland

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