Our project is located in London's creative heartland.



London's Factory Town

Exploring Fish Island's Past and Present

Matchbox cars, the world’s first plastic and the word ‘petrol’ were all born in Hackney Wick. We take a look at the manufacturing past of the Wick’s southernmost reach, Fish Island.



Fish Island was uninhabited marshland for millennia before the industrialists arrived here in the 18th Century. The first factory was a silk mill established in the sleepy hamlet of Hackney Wick in about 1787. But it was to be another 100 years before the area was in full industrial bloom, a condition bought about by the arrival of the Hertford Union Canal in 1830 and the railway in 1851.


The area became a centre of oil and tar processing, which in turn attracted industries including printing and dry cleaning. Fish Island also provided London’s burgeoning retail scene with an array of novelties, delights and conveniences including die-cast toy cars, chocolates, sweeties and waterproof clothing.


Hackney Wick and Fish Island’s boom years came to an end during Britain’s industrial decline in the 1960s, when it turned from a vibrant and populous place of production to a venue for waste disposal and recycling, storage and distribution. Factories, pubs, schools and streets emptied, and vast warehouses were thrown up as distribution centres for products made outside the UK.  But as one door closed, another opened, and in the 1980s the area’s relative affordability began to attract artists and designers. Over the next 30 years, Hackney Wick became one of Europe’s most densely populated creative areas. In 2009 over 600 creative businesses were counted here, including fashion and jewellery designers, photographers, graphic designers, musicians, film-makers and fine artists. Many of the original industrial buildings are now entirely given over to artists’ and rehearsal studios, exhibition and performance spaces, and bars, while vibrant street art provides a new graphic overlay on some of the original buildings.


Explore past and present uses of  Fish Island's historic buildings with our interactive map.




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