Evolving Canada Water


In the Paper Garden we have used storytelling, to draw out the stories of the past and evoke the stories of what might be. Others involved in the changing face of this part of London, are also working with stories. In Canada Water, British Land and historian Sarah Yates, have been gathering stories from local people, about the cultural history of the area. This is one of the ways community is being kept at the heart of what, in the wrong hands, could all too easily become yet another anodyne commercial development. Stories conveyed in pictures and words. Stories told during excuses for different people to come together, as we did at the launch of a photography exhibition, that celebrates the history of Canada Water and Rotherhithe.

I was heartened to hear Roger Madelin, head of the Canada Water Master Plan, question the use of the word ‘Place Making’ in favour of ‘evolving a place’. The word Place Making, much used by developers, seems disrespectful to the place that already exists. Our Paper
Garden practice is being influenced by the many stories that have grown in an area with a vibrant and unexpected history. An area that has been for many, a hidden part of London. We took some of our Generators to visit the exhibition which included examples of the many
knots used in the work of the docks. Afterwards we sat together and wrote freefall style, about our experience:

I was surprised that the Rotherhithe tunnel was actually called the Thames tunnel before. They changed it so that all the tunnels in London weren’t called by the same name. I found out that the world’s most big and famous ships were moored and repaired in Rotherhithe. - Gabrielle Brown , 12 

What struck me from the exhibition was the enormous amount of work people put into the docks, and the lives that depended on the docks, the lives the water sustained and the homes that were built around it. The resilience of people in the face of troubles and hard
times. The things that have come out of hard times, resilience, health reforms and green spaces. The micro communities that formed and the larger picture of world trade that was entwined - Emma

I was struck by the pictures of the times when this area was all docks and how many people were working on ships. There was a picture of a lighterman that I found really intriguing - Leo 13

I was struck by people’s daily life and downtime and also that many of the children had to be in workhouses, where they also lived. I also noticed people’s relationship to nature changing over the years. For example, as the times changed more trees were grown and we cared more about streams and waterways. What also surprised me was the smog and pollution we had. - Melinda 11 years

What stood out for me was the King’s that have come and spent time in Rotherhithe. From King Canout in 1017 to the more recent exiled King of Burgunda in the 1930’s who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. It seems like Canada Water was always a  place where people sought refuge and retreat with tea gardens and woodlands. A place of bustling trade with pockets of peace - Jane