The present development stands between The Highway and the River Thames, and is adjacent to King Edward VII Memorial Park. It is on the site of the busy warehouses, owned by the East India Company
Historically the site lay within the Hamlet of Ratcliffe, in Stepney. It is now in the Borough of Tower Hamlets. The Highway was formerly the notorious Ratcliffe Highway, a rough crime-ridden slum area. (Not to worry though, it has since changed.)
(Details of the history of area can be found in East End Chronicles by Ed Glinert, published by Penguin)
The old disused warehouses were bought in 1977 by the Inner London Education Authority, for a site for City of London Polytechnic. When this plan was abandoned, the land was acquired by Regalian Homes; the developers of the SIS Building.
Designed by architects Holder Mathias Alcock, the first phase of Free Trade Wharf was built in the 1980s, and the first flat sold in the 1987. It is described as having “dramatic ziggurat-style terraces” and has often been called ‘The Lego Development’ because of its shape.
Subsequently the two adjoining “listed” warehouses, which were originally used by the East India Company to house saltpetre, were converted into flats in the second phase of the development.
Nicholas Pevsner in Buildings of England: London East writes: “The entrance to Free Trade Wharf is announced by a handsome gateway of 1846 (rebuilt in 1934). It bears lions and the coat of arms of the East India Company. The present elegant warehouses facing each other a long paved court were built in 1795-6 and converted into flats and offices in 1995-7 by Holder Mathias Alcock. To the west lies the modern part of the building by the same architects, …… a huge development…..Prominent piled-up red brick flats with layers of balconies facing the Thames.”
‘Where the free trade wharves once stood at Ratcliff there are now great complexes that resemble ocean liners’ – Peter Ackroyd, Thames Sacred River