11. ‘An improbable fierce survival’

The great architectural critic Ian Nairn didn’t find much to impress him in the Isle Of Dogs in the mid-’60. Just one pub and one church from the area made it into his peerless book Nairn’s London. He was particularly excited by the church, St Paul’s Presbyterian in Millwall. ‘I always expect this astonishing little building to have gone by my next visit: it seems such an improbable fierce survival … [Architect TE Knightley] chose to recreate Pisa on the Isle of Dogs: a fussy piece of Romanesque, fighting mad, polychrome from end to end … It is a very lovable firework, and deserves to be better known.’

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Considering so very little of what stood on the Isle Of Dogs in 1966 is here still, you wouldn’t expect to find the eccentric church that so delighted Nairn down Westferry Road today. And yet, there it is, having long outlived the end of the working docks and the arrival of tides of international capital and gated apartments. It was a probably a near thing several times, though – it stopped being a church in 1972, and ‘was then used by the owners of the adjacent site for testing crane components’. It was rescued in 1989 and is now a performing arts and community centre called The Space.

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Incidentally, the pub, The Gun, is still around, too.

(Nairn’s London is available from Penguin Modern Classics in replica of the original 1966 edition, £10.99. Please buy it from a proper bookshop and not sodding Amazon)

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