If You Build it, They Will Come: The Role of Individuals in the Emergence of Canary Wharf, 1985–1987

Jack Brown*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Canary Wharf is now arguably Britain's premier banking centre, employing over 100,000 people. However, this is a relatively new phenomenon. A declining area until the mid-1980s, London's increasingly derelict Docklands had been haemorrhaging jobs and people since the mid-1960s. The arrival of the Canary Wharf development between 1985 and 1987 was pivotal in reversing this decline, as well as having wider national and international effects. This article examines the significance of the role of individual actors in the emergence of East London's Canary Wharf as a global financial centre in the years 1985–1987. In combining oral and archival sources, the difficult, challenging and at times fractious process of meetings, negotiations, bluffs and double bluffs that took the Canary Wharf development from conception to construction can be uncovered to an extent not previously attempted. This article examines the work of a small group of key individuals, forgotten or ignored in contemporary analysis, who pioneered and developed the concept over a 2-year period. The article argues that the emergence of Canary Wharf was far from inevitable; in fact, it seemed almost inconceivable in the buildup to its announcement. Proving the downfall of both its pioneers and its eventual builders, making Canary Wharf a reality required incredible ambition, risk, and even bankruptcy. It shocked the City of London into changing its planning policies, allowing for expansion at just the right moment, and changed the face not only of London but also of the UK.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalThe London Journal
Issue number1
Early online date1 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Banking and Finance
  • Canary Wharf
  • City of London
  • Docklands
  • East London
  • London Docklands Development Corporation
  • Regeneration


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