London simultaneously steeps you in cosmopolitan bustle and historical intrigue. At the end of June, I spent a week reveling in both worlds. My apartment was along Shad Thames, a street formerly host to wharf commerce, that trails southeast away from Tower Bridge along the Thames River.
I was across the street from Butlers Wharf, an old warehouse district that housed incoming goods, notably spices, from the Thames. The wharf opened in 1872, closed in 1973, and sold for redevelopment a decade later.
I could look down from my bedroom to see tourists stop and stare at the iconic iron bridges suspended between buildings, once avenues for trade, now home to flower pots and patio chairs. The bridges that used to guide spices into London are now inspiration for passersby to wonder: who is lucky enough to live here?
Developers converted many old wharf buildings to apartments, with restaurants and other businesses lining the ground floor along semi-preserved cobbled streets.
Most of the remaining iron bridges stretch between the Butlers Wharf building and a converted spice warehouse, the Cardamom Building. Cardamom Building shares Cayenne Court with Fennel Apartments and is across the street from Vanilla and Sesame Court.
Next to the preserved brick and aged cobble, you can almost hear the spice barrels rolling. Myth has it that the first tenants of Cardamom’s apartments could whiff the namesake seed pods. Nostalgia dissipates though, with the view from Cardamom’s top floor, over the roof of Fennel Apartments.
The Shard towers over the old wharf district. At 1,016 feet, The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe and is a sharp contrast to the six-story warehouse apartments. Its glassy, geometric silhouette is a continuation of the city’s modern skyline and it breaks my spice barrel reverie. Some say the high rise construction is ruining London’s outline. And it’s true that the view from Cardamom is changed by The Shard. But as the sun set over the old wharf, I was pleased to at least have something more interesting than a tall block interrupting the sky.
Less than a quarter mile from Cardamom is Thames Path, a place where historic and contemporary flow so quickly together that you stop trying to distinguish the two and just sink into London. I’ll leave you with a quick preview of an evening Thames walk: