Walk 7: Stratford Intl walk to Canning Town

Walk 7

STRATFORD INTERNATIONAL walk to CANNING TOWN

approx. 1 1/2 hours

The Docklands Light Railway was originally built in 1989 to connect the former London docks undergoing conversion with the City of London. As authorities were sorely short of funds and did not expect much traffic initially, they settled for a lightweight service comparable to a driverless tram. It is a railway and not a tram because it runs on dedicated tracks and never on rails laid on a road.

The high success of the initial line led to an extension of the network over the years. When derelict industrial land north of Stratford was chosen for major London Olympics equipment, a good connection to this area became essential and a DLR extension was built between the olympic site gates and London City Airport. The line opened just in time in 2011.

Actually, the DLR line re-uses a former train line that remained in use until 2006. It linked Stratford with the Woolwich ferry while the short section between Stratford and Stratford International was a creation ex nihilo for the Olympic Games.

The DLR is a system similar to a tram. Travel is also ticketed in a manner similar to a bus and you need to be aware that Oyster cards are occasionally charged surprising amounts if you are not very careful about where you touch the machines.

Routing note: This walk connects in Stratford with DLR walk 4 and with Liverpool Street network walks 9, 13 and 14. It will also connect in Stratford with Underground Central Line walk 8 and with Jubilee Line walk 10. It connects in West Ham with the same Jubilee walk 10 but also with Fenchurch Street network walks 1 and 2 and with Underground District line walk 13. Finally, this walk connects in Canning Town with Jubilee line walks 9 and 10 and with DLR walks 5 and 8.

STRATFORD INTERNATIONAL

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Stratford International DLR terminal

The DLR station lies alongside a train station called confusingly Stratford International although no international trains call here. The name comes from a plan to have Eurostar trains from France calling at Stratford and continuing towards Birmingham. The plan never came to fruition and international trains bound for the St Pancras terminal have no need to stop so close to their final destination.

The DLR tracks start in a completely separate location on the other side of a service road. The terminal opened in 2011 together with the new DLR line.

The station is much more substantial than most DLR stations, probably because of its intended use as a gateway during the Olympic Games. The platforms are in a deep cutting and the facilities above ground are limited to a lift shaft and staircase access. All of this is under a wide, high canopy carried by thin pillars typical for DLR aesthetics. I find the whole setup a bit sterile but pleasantly uncluttered. The recessed lighting is even really elegant.

Exit the DLR station

R on the footbridge crossing the long-distance train station

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Canopy of Stratford Intl train station

As mentioned above, international trains do not stop here. The station is used by a small number of fast commuter trains linking Kent with the St Pancras terminal. As a result of this arrangement, the sizeable customs and passport facilities have been mothballed. The station architecture is surprisingly similar to that of the nearby DLR station, a large canopy on tall, thin, boringly grey pillars.

Ahead into the shopping centre, turn L into the first main mall avenue

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Westfield Shopping Centre

The shopping centre is huge, the third largest in Britain. It is also a large source of employment with 10,000 jobs but the shops in the centre actually kill the high street shopping in surrounding areas, as has been experienced all over Britain, so that many people are losing their jobs at the same time. You might argue that a shopping centre is a more attractive place to look at shops than a high street if the weather is unreliable. In my opinion, Westfield Centre is not very interesting and the inside architecture is boring.

Urban planners have mixed feelings about huge shopping centres. They do concentrate traffic away from central city areas that can be converted to pedestrianised precincts. They also attract many people to an area of town where they would not go otherwise, the local authorities getting some return in terms of local taxes on businesses. But these shopping centres lure people away from the streets, leaving streets empty, boring and potentially more difficult to police. In addition, competition from the shopping centre shops kills the more individual shops and many restaurants, making the city centre dull.

For business, shopping centres are also a mixed blessing. They attract more visitors than a high street shop could reach, but the rents are so high that only chain shops can afford them. As a result, all shopping centres have the same shops and it is difficult to attract visitors as soon as distance to the next shopping centre is similar. The other issue is that the high rents imply that most of the profit goes to the developer or owner of the shopping centre, often a foreign institutional investor nowadays. Considering manyfold opportunities to optimise the tax basis, not much of the profit is taxed in Britain ultimately.

Exit ahead and cross the many train tracks on the footbridge

R on the forecourt for

STRATFORD

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Stratford main station

This very important interchange is one of the oldest train stations in London as it was opened as early as 1839. The first line to pass through the station ran from London Devonshire Street (a temporary terminal in Mile End) to Romford. The station has a very complex layout on two levels. The low level includes the terminal of London Underground Jubilee line and two platforms used by the DLR line from Canning Town to Stratford International.

The high level includes the terminal of the DLR line to Canary Wharf, two platforms used by the London Underground Central line, two platforms used by London Overground trains towards Richmond and four platforms used by trains from London Liverpool Street towards East Anglia. There is an isolated platform at the rear of the station used as the terminal for train services towards Tottenham Hale. Interestingly, there are even two platforms that are unused as plans to run trains from London Fenchurch Street to Barking via Stratford in the 1940s were abandoned despite finishing construction.

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School of fish in front of Stratford station

The station was rebuilt several times due to the considerable extension of interchange possibilities. The current building is an imposing contemporary construction meant as a gateway for the 2012 Olympics visitors. There is a nice decoration along the fence between the bus station and the road. It looks to me a little like a school of fish although you could also see trees with leaves.

Walk along the length of the bus station towards a footbridge over the DLR and Underground tracks

L opposite the footbridge on a passage between office buildings towards the main highway

Cross High Steeet at the traffic lights passing the steel sculpture on the central reservation

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Stratford Magistrates’ Court

The large traffic island has a few thin palm trees and a very large abstract steel sculpture. The work by Malcolm Robertson is called “Railway tree” and refers to the 19th century growth of Stratford fueled by its location as an important railway junction. The large shopping centre you crossed before was actually built on the location of the former sidings and works.

The building on the south side of Broadway opposite the traffic island is Stratford Magistrates’ Court. It is a modern building but the front to the main road is quite elegant. It has some reminders of a medieval castle with crenellations and gothic, narrow windows. The colour scheme combining cream stone with bricks is a recurrent fashion in English architecture, it was fashionable for a time in the 17th century and again around 1900. Altogether, it is interesting and unusual to see a modern public building using neo-gothic elements like in the Victorian era.

R High Street

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Former theatre in Stratford

Just after crossing Bridge Road, you pass a composite building which was originally an Edwardian extravaganza, the Borough Theatre, seating 3,000 people from 1897 onwards. It was sold to a film theatre operator in 1933 and got a new front in a restrained Art Déco style. As the new owners only rebuilt the corner, the mix with the older parts of the building is quite weird. Like many suburban cinemas, it became later a bingo hall and then a night club.

L Bridge Road

STRATFORD HIGH STREET

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Stratford High Street DLR station

The station first opened as a train station on the line between Stratford and Canning Town and was called Stratford Bridge between 1847 and 1880, Stratford Market between 1880 and 1888, “Stratford Market (West Ham)” from 1888 until 1923 and again Stratford Market from 1923 until closure in 1957. The present DLR station opened with the new line that replaced the train line in 2011.

 

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Stratford High Street platform access

The original Victorian station building is still standing on High Street. It is substantial because of the important goods traffic, but it is surprisingly sedate with very little in terms of decorative frills or colour games. The building is now just a façade hiding a few shops and offices. A long concrete ramp gives access to the platforms.

Follow Bridge Road all the way along the DLR tracks.

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Dawn Crescent greenery

The only feature in this section is a strip of greenery along the road. Stratford (from a ford used by a “street”) is a working class suburb and you will cross mostly low-rise suburban estates on this walk.

ABBEY ROAD

The station opened in 2011 together with DLR line.

 

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Abbey Road DLR station

This is the most convenient station to have a look at the standard platform furniture used at all stations between Stratford and Canning Town: short awnings carried by plain grey pillars, small grey towers for the lifts and a very simple footbridge. The 1994 line from Stratford to Canary Wharf has awnings covering most of the platforms, the 1999 line from Canning Town to Beckford has red lift towers. But materials are always cheap, simple and dull.

L Abbey Road away from the DLR tracks

R Leywick Steet

R Manor Road

WEST HAM

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West Ham DLR platforms

The station was opened in 1901 by a railway company linking London Fenchurch Street with Barking on a line that already existed since 1858 because it was necessary to provide access to a new football stadium nearby. When the London Underground District Line opened in 1902, the station became an interchange, but trains stopped calling here from 1908 onwards (with a few exceptions). Trains call again since 1999.

In 1979, platforms were built on an other train line that ran through West Ham on its way between Stratford and Canning Town. This interchange was available until 2006; the train line was replaced by a DLR line on the same route that opened in 2011.

In addition, West Ham is served by London Underground: District Line since 1902 on tracks parallel to the Fenchurch Street train line, Jubilee Line since 1999 on tracks parallel to the Stratford-Canning Town train line.

The station building is a rather impressive structure from 1999 but the DLR part is just a short platform.

L Memorial Avenue

Enter Memorial Recreation Ground

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Memorial Recreation Ground

The original user of this place was the Thames Ironwork Football Club founded in 1897. The club is better known as the West Ham United Football Club, their later name. They moved away in 1904 to Upton Park and the grounds have mainly been used for football and rugby pitches since. The blue building with a glass roof near the playground is a community centre, but I paid more attention to the new pavilions. They gained an architecture commendation in 2010 and were built specifically with a view to discourage vandalism and graffiti through the use of appropriate materials.

The grass expanse of the park is uninteresting and there are no flower beds.

R along the sports fields to the park exit

L Grange Road

R Hermit Road

The road runs along Hermit Road Recreation Ground

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Hermit Road Recreation Ground

This park opened in 1899 as a typical neighbourhood park in the quickly growing suburb. It had most usual amenities of the time like a bandstand, a drinking fountain and a playground, with a bowling green being added later on. What it did not have was flower beds while a small rose garden exists now in a corner of the park.

 

 

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Rose garden in Hermit Road Recreation Ground

At the street corner where you leave the park edge, there is a beautifully painted substation. It commemorates primarily a former mayor, Daisy Parsons. What makes her special is that very few women were elected into political positions at the time (1937). The reverse wall of the substation is more male. I wish more boroughs would ask artists to paint such urban furniture in an interesting manner.

 

 

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Daisy Parsons mural

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John Bethell mural

R Kimberley Road

At the end L on a footpath past school grounds, the path turns R

Ahead Chester Road

L Hilda Road

R Star Lane

STAR LANE

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Star Lane DLR station

 

The station opened in 2011 together with the DLR line.

The platforms are an exact copy of those at Abbey Road. The only addition is that the station footbridge also extends above the neighbouring road to an additional grey lift tower.

Turn around on Star Lane without having crossed the DLR tracks

R Clarence Road

The road runs along Star Park, so that you can walk in the park instead of the road

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Star Park

 

This is more an open space than a real park with just a few amenities for informal sports and a small playground. Being located on the very edge of the built-up area of West Ham near industrial premises, I suppose it was leftover land that was just not convenient for housing. There is a similar, smaller open space a little further on off Malmesbury Road.

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Open space in Malmesbury Road

 

 

 

Ahead on the paved track across a corner of Star Park

R Percy Road

L Malmesbury Road

R Oak Crescent

R Barking Road

Cross the roundabout under the motorway for

CANNING TOWN

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Canning Town DLR station

The station was originally a normal train station called Barking Road and was renamed Canning Town in 1873. It opened in 1847 on the railway linking Stratford with the Woolwich ferry. The railway closed at the end of 2006 and was partly converted to the DLR line that opened in 2011.

In 1999, London Underground opened services on the Jubilee line through Canning Town. Finally, a DLR line to Royal Victoria and Beckton opened in 1995 and an additional DLR line between Canning Town and London City Airport opened in 2005.

These many lines imply a complex set of platforms. The lower level includes the former train platforms, now used by the DLR from Stratford, and the Jubilee Line platforms. They need to be kept strictly apart due to the different power system. An upper level was built in 1995 for the DLR line from Poplar.

There is no real station building, but there is a half subterranean concourse for the Underground platforms. The unusual layout of one platform above an other one, but both being open-air, was solved by the architect with rather elegant, unobtrusive shapes. The roof above the upper platform reminds of an airplane wing. Unfortunately, it was fashionable in the 1990s to use undecorated concrete and this material turns grey and dirty over time.

Posted in DLR Docklands Light Railway | 1 Comment

Walk 6: Royal Victoria walk to Beckton

Walk 6

ROYAL VICTORIA walk to BECKTON

2 hours

A light railway was built in the 1980s to link the newly developed Docklands with Stratford and with the City of London. It proved very successful both in terms of traffic and in terms of attracting conversions and developers. As a result, an additional line was opened in 1994 between Poplar and locations further east in order to encourage development in this area. The light railway uses former quayside tracks at some points but runs often on viaducts and is more or less a creation ex nihilo.

Traffic expectations were moderate and a light railway appeared perfectly sufficient. It actually works more like a tram and even the Oyster software deals with the DLR like with a bus, causing occasional overcharging if you are not very careful about where you touch the machines.

Routing note: This walk connects in Royal Victoria with DLR walk 5.

ROYAL VICTORIA

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Royal Victoria DLR station

The station opened together with the new DLR line in 1994.

As usual on the DLR, there is no station building and there are not even awnings. The staircases are standard prefabricated versions and the red footbridge pillars with the broken tops are standard for this DLR line.

Exit the station towards the new developments on the dockside

Take the narrow footpath between the apartment buildings towards the waterside

L along the basin

The Royal Victoria Dock was opened in 1855 as the largest of the Port of London docks. It looked different while in use because it included several long piers cutting it into a series of interlinked smaller basins. The dock was large enough to remain very active after World War II, accommodating large seagoing vessels. After the onset of container transport made traditional docks and warehouses redundant, the dock was left idle until conversion started in the 1990s.

Part of the conversion was commissioned by public authorities because interest from private speculators was limited: the clientele for luxury flats could afford flats nearer to Canary Wharf. The typical clientele for flats in outer suburbs with few amenities such as pubs and supermarkets in the vicinity is the lower middle class and this is not an interesting market for speculators.

Walking along the former dock gives you an overview of different types of conversions. There is the landmark development trying to do an architectural statement, a type more frequent directly around Canary Wharf.

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Development on Royal Victoria Dock

 

Then, there is the boring, high-density development compensating the lower purchasing power of the buyers through maximisation of the space available.

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Pile’em-high development near Royal Victoria station

Then, you have the derelict surviving building that developers hesitate about because they fear pollution issues.

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Derelict mills on Royal Victoria Dock

Lastly, you have the unimaginative row of mock suburban houses. They are just too tall and too fat to be real villas and they are all alike. Similar schemes were used in Rotherhithe and this is the type favoured for public commissions.

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South side of Royal Victoria Dock

 

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Royal Victoria Dock footbridge

The first part of the dock ends at a rather impressive footbridge built in 1998 in order to connect the residents of the new development on the south side of the dock with the shops on the north side. The bridge stands 15 m above water level in order to enable unhampered sailing in the dock. The shape is inspired by the several masts of 19th century vessels. I recommend you take the lift and have a short walk at the top of the footbridge in order to enjoy the view east towards Canary Wharf.

On reaching the footbridge L along the exhibition centre

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Former warehouse

The exhibition centre itself is a huge empty box, something unavoidable for this type of building. On the other side of the walkway towards the station, you can see one of the few old warehouses that were converted rather than demolished.

A covered walkway leads the DLR station

CUSTOM HOUSE for EXCEL

t32-custom-house-for-excel-station_bThere was a train station here between 1855 and 2006 on a train line linking Stratford with the Woolwich ferry. The DLR station opened in 1994 together with the new light railway.

There is no station building like in most DLR stations. The platforms and staircases are standard issue except that the station has a central platform. The awnings are therefore a simplified version of the Poplar model and not the more typical Blackwall model.

Cross the DLR tracks and the highway

Ahead Freemasons Road

R Ethel Road

At the end of the road R and soon L into Cundy Park

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Cundy Park

The park is a modest strip of greenery with no amenities of particular interest, one of several neighbourhood parks serving West Beckton.

The eastern exit of the park is a small gate at the north-east corner

R Prince Regent Road

Cross the highway using the traffic lights

PRINCE REGENT

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Prince Regent DLR station

The station opened in 1994 together with the DLR line. Its purpose is in part to provide an additional access into the nearby Exhibition Centre when overcrowding threatens at Custom House.

The platforms, stairs and pillars are a nearly exact copy of the Royal Victoria set, which obviously helped to save design and construction costs.

Cross the DLR tracks and walk between the hotel and the exhibition centre to the waterside (the easiest way is to use the raised walkway if this is open as it will lead you directly to stairs towards the basin)

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School building near Prince Regent station

From the footbridge over the tracks, you have an interesting view of the local primary school. It has a rather unusual shape, a cross with four arms around a central dome. This was made possible by the sizeable grounds but is seldom done because many school directors and parents prefer children to play in courtyards protected from potential outside influence. In the 19th century, this shape was considered convenient for buildings that needed permanent surveillance such as prisons and hospitals.

There was a lovely freeze on the wall between the DLR tracks and the bus stops when I was there in 2010. It shows typical dock activity including unloading circus animals, but it also shows World War II remembrances.

 

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Unloading circus animals

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World War II remembrances

There is also a somewhat ridiculous poem in the form of a fancy sailor’s alphabet. If you read it, you will realise that the ponderous English is likely to be a late Victorian composition for children of the upper middle class.

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Victorian sailors’ alphabet

L along the basin passing under the road

The road bridge is Connaught Bridge, actually a swingbridge as it can be opened when a larger boat needs to pass from Royal Victoria Dock into Royal Albert Dock. From the riverside pier under the bridge, you get a good view of the Excel centre and the footbridge appears now surprisingly far away.

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Royal Victoria Dock from Connaught Bridge

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London City Airport

After the bridge, the view is towards the narrower Royal Albert Dock. What you do see very well is London City Airport, one of the main reasons why the area had only limited appeal to prospective buyers of luxury flats. The noise level is limited by the fact that only smaller planes can land due to the short runway, but it is still way above a pleasant level. Services stop at night and on Sundays, but there are always exceptions with many commercial interests finding ever more pretences to achieve additional exceptions. The best view of the runway comes later, the view you have for the time being is more of the terminal and operations.

Continue along the basin to the large office building

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Royal Albert Dock from Connaught Bridge

The solitary office building along the waterside (Newham Dockside) was built in 2009 by the borough council in order to concentrate a certain number of offices that did not need to be in a central location. The borough tries to offset some of the costs by renting out part of the building, which regularly leads to speculation about the borough wanting to sell out. I expect this will not happen before the area has become significantly more attractive to developers.

 

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Entrance of borough offices

L along the building for

ROYAL ALBERT

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Royal Albert DLR station

The station opened in 1994 together with the DLR line. At the time, there were neither houses nor offices nearby and this proves how the line was planned initially as a motor for conversion and development of this derelict harbour area. Although housing remains relatively far away, the lack of alternatives ensures reasonable traffic.

The station lies on a viaduct and the architecture (or the lack thereof) follows the Blackwall model. I was a little surprised at how clean the glass panels of the staircase and platform were when I took the picture.

Cross the highway at the roundabout

After the roundabout R into Beckton District Park, keep on the edge of the park parallel to the highway

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Newham Dockside office building

The only interesting thing to be seen in the vicinity is the dockside building now that you are far enough to get an overview. The building is a rather successful example of the fashion in office building in the 1990s. It stresses the horizontal rather than the vertical, it has an unbroken glass façade hiding completely the concrete pillars and it has a central atrium up to the roof. Transparent rather than reflective or tainted glass is also rather 2000, being somewhat suboptimal in terms of sunlight and heating, but is appropriate for borough offices as it can be seen as stressing transparent administration.

At the end of the park R across the highway for

BECKTON PARK

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Beckton Park DLR station

The station opened in 1994 together with the DLR line and has not attracted much development for the time being so that traffic is very low.

This is one of the more interesting DLR stations. It does not have a station building but it is located interestingly under the central reservation of a highway roundabout. Instead of the usual blocky footbridges at both ends of the platforms, there is an elegant suspended bridge in the middle of the station.

Go back into Beckton District Park walking along the eastern edge

At the further corner R on a passage across Parry Avenue into the park extension called New Beckton Park

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New Beckton Park

The park was created in 1901 when the borough opened a council estate nearby. It was a typical Edwardian neighbourhood park with a bandstand and a lake. The primary purpose of local parks has changed since to providing sports fields and playgrounds and is not very exciting. In the case of Beckton Park, there is a large nature area, but it is located further north in a section of the park that I visit on a Jubilee line walk.

At the end of the park, take the footpath along the grounds of the primary school (the school is on your L)

At the end R along the road following the pedestrian sign for

CYPRUS

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Cyprus DLR station

The station opened in 1994 together with the DLR line.

It is an exact copy of Beckton Park station including the nice suspended footbridge.

Cross the DLR tracks and walk under the arch of the university building to the waterside.

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Older view of the University building

 

Compare my picture of the arch with that of the same arch taken three years before and you will notice that the colour changed from strong red to sky blue. The University of East London opened a campus here in 1999 when this was still a completely unused area. It is quite normal for a government to settle an important institution in such areas in the hope of kickstarting development. I must admit that I noticed little student life or corresponding commercial amenities in the vicinity.

L along the basin

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Plane spotting

This is an interesting walkway between the airport runway and conspicuous housing towers. It is one of the best locations to do a bit of plane spotting without harming too much your health. You will be less exposed to noise and fumes than you would be at the end of the runway.

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University of East London

 

 

 

 

 

The round towers are student accomodation. I suppose they are highly sought after, but certainly not because of many opportunities to go out, visit clubs, do your shopping or get drunk in walking distance – these are sorely lacking. The attraction comes rather from the fact that student flats are completely unaffordable in more attractive parts of London. I don’t know if the flats are managed by a public body or by a private corporation, which would fit the British model better.

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Student housing along Royal Albert Dock

Just before the road bridge, turn L towards the DLR viaduct

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Royal Albert Dock

You can also detour on the bridge for a view of the basin from its end. It is similar to the view from the exhibition centre footbridge, just with more water in the foreground. When it opened in 1880, this was an even large dock than the neighbouring Royal Victoria Dock. The City Airport runway was built by infilling the southern edge of the dock. There is a marina at the end of the dock near a lock still giving access to the Thames.

Follow the tracks R along part of the large roundabout for

GALLIONS REACH

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Gallions Reach DLR station

The station opened in 1994 together with the DLR line and has not attracted much development for the time being except for a shopping mall so that traffic is quite low.

The station lies on a viaduct and the architecture (or the lack thereof) follows the Blackwall model.

Walk back to the roundabout and take the second R. This is Woolwich Manor Way

At the following roundabout R on the road towards the bridge (this is unnamed because it is actually only the access bridge to an industrial facility)

Just before crossing the bridge R into a inconspicuous, paved cycle path

The path turns on itself in order to lead under the access road

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Elaborate bridge to nowhere

After crossing under the road, you get a surprising view if you turn back and look at the bridge. It has elaborate steel finials for no apparent reason.

Now ahead and right on the cycle route (marked Dagenham). It runs soon between a motorway and the grounds of a primary school

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Cycle route

At the end of the school fence L along the DLR tracks on a minor road called Stonewall

BECKTON

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Beckton DLR terminal

The station opened in 1994 as the terminal of the new DLR line. Considering that it is a terminal and that it is the main means of transportation to a densely populated suburb, it looks surprisingly modest.

The only sign of architecture is prefabricated awnings on the Custom House model.

Posted in DLR Docklands Light Railway | Leave a comment

Walk 5: Westferry walk to Royal Victoria

Walk 5

WESTFERRY to ROYAL VICTORIA

2 hours

A light railway was built in the 1980s to link the newly developed Docklands with Stratford and with the City of London. It proved very successful both in terms of traffic and in terms of attracting conversions and developers. As a result, an additional line was opened in 1994 between Westferry and locations further east in order to encourage development in this area. The light railway runs on viaducts across the maze of channels of the Lea River mouth and is a creation ex nihilo. Traffic expectations were moderate and a light railway appeared perfectly sufficient.

Routing note: This walk connects in Westferry with DLR walk 2, in Poplar with DLR walk 4, in Canning Town with DLR walks 7 and 8, and in Royal Victoria with DLR walk 6. It will also connect in Canning Town with Underground Jubilee Line walks 9 and 10.

My time indication does not include a visit of the Museum of Docklands. This may take about 1/2 hour if you visit just out of curiosity. If you are really interested in harbours and in urban planning, you may need up to 2 hours.

WESTFERRY

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Westferry DLR station

The station opened in 1987. The name comes from Westferry Road, a road running west of the docks to the ferry for Greenwich.

The station is a plain glass awning with a covered staircase up to the platforms. The lift shaft has a decorative panel but it is not really an artistic achievement.

Follow the cycle route marked in blue on the ground (CS3). The cycle path leads along the DLR viaduct on the south side. When the cycle path finally crosses under the viaduct, you need to leave it.

Follow now the sign for pedestrians towards Dockmasters House

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Dockmasters House in Westferry

The house is a very elegant neo-classical villa from 1807 built by the dock company but it was not originally the residence of the master of the docks as you might think. It was a tax office and later a harbour office before being converted around 2008 to an elegant restaurant. The roof balustrade, the entrance portico and the Palladian first floor windows are typical for the time of construction. The ground floor windows are unusually high and might have been changed later.

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Typical converted warehouse in Hertsmere Road

After the house L Hertsmere Road. The road gives you a good feeling of dock warehouses and is used more for deliveries. Feel free to walk along the warehouses on the basin side as this is only a very minor detour.

If you can ignore the many overpriced eateries catering to Canary Wharf clerks, you could have a look at the Museum of Docklands, well advertised locally. It is an annex of the Museum of London and deals logically with the harbour and with urban planning for Canary Wharf. My pictures do not show the museum itself, but a similar atmosphere in the neighbouring small shopping mall. The low ceilings and very sturdy wood pillars remind you that it was essential to maximise the use of the space without risking a collapse of the floors.

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Shopping mall in a converted warehouse

You do not need much time if you only visit the more fun section of the museum with a reconstructed shopping street (including somewhat unpleasant smells !) and entrance is free, so do not hesitate. If you are really interested in learning more, there are not many objects (mainly a few ship models and copies of old photographs) but there are many excellent information panels that took me two hours to read. The museum says very honestly that the conversion of the Isle of Dogs cost taxpayers two billion £ and did not bring back jobs for plain harbour workers, but it did bring in 100,000 high-level jobs with good tax income for the government. One of the main mistakes done when planning the conversion was underestimating the demand for public means of transportation, which forced several DLR capacity extension programs later on at much increased cost.

At the end ahead along the motorway following a detour sign for pedestrians towards Poplar station

Take the footbridge for

POPLAR

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Poplar DLR station

The station opened in 1987 together with the DLR line from Stratford to Canary Wharf. It was a normal, small station, except for having a junction to the DLR depot. The station was rebuilt in 1994 when the DLR opened the new line between Westferry and Canning Town in order to provide a proper junction. It is one of the very few stations on the network with four platforms.

 

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Poplar DLR station access

 

The junction concourse is a jumble of shapes that do not seem to obey an overall concept. You have bright red columns with weird oblique tops, typical for 1994 line extension, a half-dome with aggressively pointy endings, a rather elegant, bright white staircase access tower and a relaxing, round footbridge. The view from the footbridge towards the snaking tracks on a variety of viaducts is interesting.

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Station footbridge

 

The footbridge is meant as a landmark and is suspended by cables to a single central pillar, which is technically something quite common nowadays but which can seldom be examined as easily as here. Note that the cables are exactly symmetrical on all sides of the pillar; some architects try to impress customers by proposing asymmetrical cables, which is more complicated to calculate but was already done on a German motorway in the 1960s without computers or calculators !

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Platforms at Poplar station

The platform awnings are unusual for the DLR. The canopies are attached to thin pillars of unnecessary height, but the idea is that the awning pillars are the same type as the lighting pillars who need to be high enough. The awning shape reminds somewhat of a bird in flight when seen from the footbridge, which is neat. You do not realise this from the platform itself.

Exit the station through the north staircase

Ahead along the footpath away from the DLR station

R Poplar High Street

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College in Poplar

One of the first buildings you pass is the majestic façade of a college, now part of a very large organisation. It was originally in 1906 the London School for Marine Engineering and Navigation. The overall style of the building is rather heavy and a little forbidding, which was often the case for Edwardian utilitarian buildings. The door on my picture points to the original use of the building with putti riding dolphins and symbols of England and Scotland.

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Poplar Recreation Ground

Opposite the college, you can detour into Poplar Recreation Ground, landscaped on an interesting site. This was originally the location chosen by the East India Company in 1628 to house seamen disabled through accidents on its ships. When the company was forcefully nationalised in 1858 for mismanagement of its empire in India, Parliament had no use for publicly-owned almshouses and had them demolished in 1866.

The borough opened a park with all the appropriate 19th century amenities such as formal flower beds, fountains, seats and elaborate railings. A bowling green was added in 1910. Over time, cost issues forced the borough to convert the park to a normal plain green space with a small playground. But the old plane trees from the 1860s are still standing and have become rather impressive. There is also a nice circular flower bed with formal planting.

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St Mathias Poplar

From the recreation ground, you can enter the churchyard and have a look at St Mathias church before going back to High Street. From the outside, its only remarkable feature is the strange tower reminiscent of a Norwegian or Carpathian wooden church (wood preventing the steeper towers usual in Victorian England). The church was originally built in 1654 by officers of the East India Company for their staff living in the area; it was turned into a parish church in Victorian times.

It was deconsecrated in 1977 and converted into a community centre but is very seldom open. This is a pity as pictures show an interesting 17th century structure on an unusual square plan (unusual but not unique, there are similar churches in the City). The really special point of St Mathias is that it is the only church in London built under Cromwell’s Protectorate during the Civil War.

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Former Poplar town hall

The conspicuous building at the corner of High Street with Woodstock Terrace was indeed supposed to be noticed at it was the main office for Poplar Town Hall from 1870 until 1936. The choice of the architect was heavily criticised at the time because all three final candidates happened to have suspicious personal links with the jury members. In addition, experts found the winning project outstandingly ugly, as were apparently all other projects as this was a low-profile commission in a poor suburb.

Problems with the contractors and legal claims caused costs to be three times the estimate given by the architect. When finally opened, the building proved badly planned with inefficient heating, terrible acoustics in the board room and an unheated laboratory. The architecture is mainly neo-gothic, in line with popular taste at the time, but the tower is more Carolingian in shape. Very eclectic overall.

High Street crosses a DLR line. It then turns R at the end and leads directly to

BLACKWALL

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Blackwall DLR station

The station uses more or less the site of an old train station (between 1840 and 1926) but there is nothing left of the original, elegant train terminal. The DLR station opened together with the light railway line in 1994.

As usual on the DLR, there is no actual station building, just a modest prefabricated awning and a long staircase up to the viaduct.

 

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Environment of Blackwall station

Go back to the nearest crossroads with High Street

R on the marked cycle route towards Royal Docks

Take the staircase on the left side to walk on top of the wall rather than along the street at the bottom

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Town Hall for Tower Hamlets

The modern glass building on your left is the large complex of the Tower Hamlets Town Hall. When you reach the end of the building, you see the next DLR station in front of you on the other side of the motorway and the footbridge leading to it. Before you go this way, you could walk the few steps L until you can see the basin in front of the town hall with a fountain. 

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Town hall courtyard

 

 

The town hall is not ugly but it is a very boring building. It could be any office building in the Canary Wharf area and is very 1990s with dull colours and ground level arcades. Too bad the good use of water features was not combined with a more imaginative architecture. The borough seems to be aware of the issue because it has decided to transfer the more official offices to a historical building that is to be converted for the purpose.

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Statue in front of town hall

At the core of the complex, between the more natural basin and the formal town hall courtyard, I noticed a modern statue by Maurice Blick. I forgot to check what the actual title is but is does look like a nudist guy on a windy beach trying to catch his towel before it flies away. East London is not renowned for its nudist beaches normally.

Cross now the footbridge over the motorway

EAST INDIA

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Overview of East India DLR station

The station opened together with the new DLR line in 1994. There were discussions about naming it Brunswick Wharf in case East India could be confused with West India Quay but the present name appeared easier to spell.

As usual on the DLR, there is no station building. Because of the motorway, the network of footbridges is a little bit more complex than usual, but the awnings and staircases are the usual prefabricated version.

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Station on a winter night

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Station in daylight

Cross under the DLR viaduct

Ahead Newport Avenue past the small supermarket

Ahead on the footpath towards the riverside, called Prime Meridian Walk

The name is obviously linked to the fact that the Greenwich Meridian, marking the international reference time GMT, runs from the Greenwich Observatory nearly exactly along the line of this path. Foreign countries accepted in 1884 to use the Greenwich time as basis for their own legal definition. Although the sun sets in Paris and Madrid close to the London time, Spain and France decided to go for GMT-1 because this made a unified time in most of Europe easier.

L on the Thames Path along the river

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Thames Path in East India area

This is the last section of the nearly continuous Thames Path on the left bank of the river because of numerous industrial premises further downstream. There are some interruptions upstream, particularly in Wapping and Fulham, but the path runs otherwise all the way to Chiswick. In many sections, though, it runs along a busy road. The Thames Path here gives a good feeling of how you are at the very edge of the developed Canary Wharf sector.

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UFO in North Greenwich seen from the left bank

 

 

The UFO you see on the other side of the river is the notorious O2 dome that you certainly have read about. If you are lucky, you can take interesting pictures of the building floating on the river and really appearing like a UFO.

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Monument to the Jamestown settlement

 

 

A small monument on the riverside reminds you of the Jamestown settlement because the leader of the 1606 colonisation attempt boarded the transatlantic ship in Blackwall. A second ship brought 16 additional settlers in 1608, of which 8 were Germans. As most settlers died of famine in 1609 because they hesitated in cultivating unknown American crops, all the Germans defected to the local Indian tribe. In addition, the settlers could not get supplies from the Indians because one of their first actions had been to exterminate the local tribe. I find it interesting that the Germans were so enterprising and culturally open-minded compared to the Englishmen. The settlement was abandoned in 1610 for a few months until the settlers had recovered from the famine and came back. The monument shows a navigation instrument, of which you can see many examples in the Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Cross the East India Dock Basin lock and walk around the basin towards an iron gate on the eastern side

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East India Dock

The East India Dock opened in 1803 when Parliament was impressed by the success of the West India Dock that had just been opened. The dock was smaller because trade with Asia was considered secondary compared to the extremely profitable plantation trade with the Caribbean. As a result, the dock was too small by the end of the 19th century. It was used later as the quay for a power station. The dock is now a nature reserve with a reed bed and there are a number of panels explaining the features.

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Tidal bank in East India Dock

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Reed bed in East India Dock

Detour R along the narrow road to the lighthouse (there are signs for “Trinity Buoy Wharf”)

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Leamouth seen from North Greenwich

This is a very isolated area at the end of a long, narrow road. It stands at the mouth of the river Lea into the Thames on the old border of Middlesex. Because of this location, it was long the downstream limit for London docks and this justified building a lighthouse, an unusual amenity so far inland. The main use of the lighthouse was to train technicians and to trial new technology. The present version is a rather modest structure from 1862.

 

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Leamouth lighthouse

There is an impressively red lightship moored along the quay. Lightvessels were never as popular as normal buildings, but they are useful when the position is to be temporary.

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Lightship in Leamouth

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Studios for artists in Leamouth

Since 1998, the area is used as an arts centre. Some of the studios are in the old buildings, but the most popular ones are in brightly painted, converted sea containers. As many artists are desperately looking for cheap studio space, using otherwise abandoned locations and smaller structures makes much sense. On the atlantic coast of France, artists use converted oyster sheds. In line with the atmosphere of innovation and inventiveness in such locations, one of the building houses an experimental primary school.

 

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Sculpture in Trinity Buoy Wharf

Exit the small industrial area following Orchard Place as this is the only road out

Cross under the motorway

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Lower River Lea

The road in front of you crosses a new development built after the 2008 financial crisis. In order to be less dependant on the uncertain future of the luxury flat market for Canary Wharf bankers, the speculators got permission to built much denser housing. The area is less isolated since the developers built a footbridge giving direct access to Canning Town station. My route goes on a detour in order to see more of the tidal reach of the river Lea.

 

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Vegetation wall in Orchard Place

My picture is historical as it shows an empty building in 2009. The façade incorporated a wall garden, something still unusual in Britain because it is considered an unnecessary expense by developers. It is becoming popular in some European cities because it can have significant impact on pollution caused locally by traffic. I am not sure whether the wall garden will survive the full development as the other buildings are plain steel and glass cubes.

 

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Lea River with DLR viaduct and O2

L Motorway ramp, soon leads along and above a riverside walkway

Routing note: Due to construction works, you have to walk a few hundred yards along the motorway ramp at present. Once the development will be finished, you will be able to join the riverside path more conveniently

Switch to the riverside path as soon as it is practicable and follow the river as it turns north

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Lea River with nature reserve

The river Lea is tidal in this area. As it is a very convenient river for barges delivering grain from Essex, it was converted to a canal very early, but the tidal reach was obviously very inconvenient and barges were rerouted in the 18th century through a shortcut canal to Limehouse. Locks were added in order to keep the water level stable above the locks and the tidal reach became wilder. Because it is enclosed in walls against flooding, it is not a natural area of much interest.

The footpath comes near the motorway and crosses the river on a footbridge (“The Blue Bridge”)

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Gates for Bow Creek Ecology Park

After this bridge, you can detour R into Bow Creek Ecology Park. You need to be aware that the other exit of the park is often closed and that you may well have to come back to the same location. If open, just follow the riverside path.

The ecology park is not spectacular. There were derelict industrial premises on the peninsula until the DLR viaduct was built. After the demolition, the contaminated soil and inconvenient access made it sensible to leave the area to return to wilderness. After 20 years, it has become reasonably natural and is of particular interest to school classes, ornithologists and insect specialists. I went a few times to the park around 2010, but I did not like it because the isolated location made it attractive for illegal nightly activities. I hear police has cracked down on antisocial behaviour here.

If you do not take the risk with the park, cross the DLR tracks on the footbridge and continue along the river

Near a bright red footbridge L for

CANNING TOWN

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Canning Town station

The station was originally a normal train station called Barking Road and was renamed Canning Town in 1873. It opened in 1847 on a railway linking Stratford with the Woolwich ferry. The railway closed at the end of 2006 and was partly converted to a DLR line that opened in 2011 (my DLR walks 7 and 8).

In 1999, London Underground opened services on the Jubilee line through Canning Town. Finally, the DLR line to Royal Victoria and Beckton opened in 1995 and an additional DLR line between Canning Town and London City Airport opened in 2005.

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Structure of Canning Town DLR station

These many lines imply a complex set of platforms. The lower level includes the former train platforms, now used by the DLR line from Stratford, and the Jubilee Line platforms. They need to be kept strictly apart due to the different power systems. An upper level was built in 1995 for the DLR line from Poplar.

There is no real station building but there is a half subterranean concourse for the Underground platforms. The unusual layout of one platform above an other one, but both being open-air, was solved by the architect with rather elegant, unobtrusive shapes. The roof above the upper platform reminds of an airplane wing. Unfortunately, it was fashionable in the 1990s to use undecorated concrete and this material turns grey and dirty over time.

Walk to the traffic lights at the end of the bus station

Cross Silvertown Way at the lights

Walk around the large parking lot using Wouldham Road

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Pink and green combination

I suppose the parking lot will disappear in due course. It gave me an opportunity for a decorative picture as the colours of the vegetation in the foreground fit with the bright colours of the container structure in the background. This is not the case now that a big development has replaced the containers.

at the end R Rathbone Street

L Ruscoe Road

R Rogers Road

L Radland Road

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Keir Hardie Park

The road runs along Keir Hardie Park, named after a Labour MP elected in 1892 at a time when this party was considered dangerously revolutionary by the affluent classes. The area was marshland and then tenements for harbour workers, but widespread destruction by bombs in 1940 enabled the council to plan a rather successful garden city in the 1950s. This gives me an opportunity to point out that this particular walk is particularly interesting in contrasting urban planning from the 18th century (Poplar), from the garden city movement, from the late 20th century (around East India station) and from the 2010s (Leamouth).

Keir Hardie Park is a bit bare and has no spectacular amenities. This is due to the fact that the area threatened to become very poor following the closure of many industries in the 1970s, so that it was uncertain whether the population might fall. In the end, the really poor population concentrated in cheaper Victorian terraces rather than in modest garden suburb houses, encouraging the borough to do some improvement work.

R Munday Road

ROYAL VICTORIA

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Royal Victoria DLR station

The station opened together with the new DLR line in 1994.

As usual on the DLR, there is no station building and there are not even awnings. The staircases are standard prefabricated versions and the red footbridge pillars with the broken tops are standard for this DLR line.

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Walk 4: Stratford walk to West India Quay

Walk 4

STRATFORD walk to WEST INDIA QUAY

2 3/4 hours

The DLR light railway was originally built in the late 1980s in order to link the redeveloped area of the Docklands with the City and it was built as a lightweight, automatic system in order to save infrastructure and staff costs. The line from Stratford to the Docklands was part of the initial concept in 1987.

The tracks use two different, unconnected train lines. They follow the main line from Stratford into Liverpool Street at the start and this remained a single track section for a long time, limiting capacity. Between Bow and Poplar, the tracks use the cutting of a former train line that connected the docks with the northern suburbs via Hackney between 1850 and 1944, stopping at stations called Bow, South Bromley and Poplar. As the two lines were not connected, a junction was built for the DLR via a steep, awkward bend.

Routing note: This walk connects in Stratford with DLR walk 7 and with Liverpool Street network walks 9, 13 and 14. It will also connect in Stratford with Underground Central Line walk 8 and with Jubilee Line walk 10. The route then connects in Poplar with DLR walk 5 and in West India Quay with DLR walk 2.

I am aware that engineering works have been going on for years in the Stratford area and that part of my route may be temporarily inaccessible. Potential detours are mentioned in the text and usually signposted locally. Also, developments mushroom very quickly in Poplar and I do not comment on all housing blocks, but it might worth your while to take your time and look at the present trends in the luxury flat market.

STRATFORD

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Stratford interchange station

This very important interchange is one of the oldest train stations in London as it was opened as early as 1839. The first line to pass through the station ran from London Devonshire Street (a temporary terminal in Mile End) to Romford. The station has a very complex layout on two levels. The low level includes the terminal of London Underground Jubilee line and two platforms used by the DLR line from Canning Town to Stratford International.

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Inside Stratford station

 

The high level includes the terminal of the DLR line to Canary Wharf, two platforms used by the London Underground Central line, two platforms used by London Overground trains towards Richmond and four platforms used by trains from London Liverpool Street towards East Anglia. There is an isolated platform at the rear of the station used as the terminal for train services towards Tottenham Hale. Interestingly, there are even two platforms that are unused as plans to run trains from London Fenchurch Street to Barking via Stratford in the 1940s were abandoned despite finishing construction.

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Sculpture in front of Stratford station

The station was rebuilt several times due to the considerable extension of interchange possibilities. The current building is an imposing contemporary construction meant as a gateway for the 2012 Olympics visitors. There is a nice clock sculpture on the station forecourt. It is a twisted steel column that was installed for the 2012 Olympic Games. I know some steel sculptures set up for the occasion were organised by Arcelor Mittal as a corporate branding exercise, but I don’t know if this applies also to the sculpture.

Cross the station forecourt and enter the shopping mall called Stratford Centre.

Walk across the mall to the exit on Broadway

The shopping mall is an oddity as it is open day and night although most shops are closed at night. This is because it is a public right of way. The mall was built in 1974 and had to go downmarket because of the competition of the new giant mall on the other side of the train tracks. The owner would like to built a 26-level tower above the mall in order to take advantage of the convenient location, but this might be a little more than the permitted height in this part of London.

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Former Stratford town hall

The name Stratford is obviously linked to a ford on a “street” (this word was used for roads in old English and the Roman road to Colchester crossed the Lea River here). You can see the magnificent old town hall for Stratford at the corner opposite the mall exit. It was built in 1869 and is now a conference centre. It is a listed building because of the excellent proportions. The rustico ground level and the first floor loggia are inspired by Italian renaissance while the roof landscape reminds more of French châteaux. I feel reminded of a theatre rather than of a town hall because of the loggia.

R Broadway

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Railway tree sculpture in Stratford

The town centre of Stratford is a mix of modern buildings, some in a neo-something style, some decidedly modern. Some of them are nice individually, but the result lacks unity. The borough paid more attention to alignment and height, which is a good thing, but the architects should try to integrate their creations better in the overall landscape. There is a large traffic island at the end of Broadway with a few thin palm trees and a very large abstract steel sculpture. The work by Malcolm Robertson is called “Railway tree” and refers to the 19th century growth of Stratford fueled by its location as an important railway junction.

Ahead High Street crossing a train line

L Cam Road

When the road turns R, continue ahead into the strip of greenery on Channelsea Path

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Channelsea Path

The path has its name from Channelsea River, but the section of path you walk along does not show any river because it was put into a culvert. The river exists in the lower reach but you do not walk this far on my route. It was one of several tidal channels that drained the lower Lea marshes and was probably “channeled” in the early Middle Ages to improve the difficult ford on the main road to Barking Abbey. Because you walk above a river, the area is unsuitable for development and is actually a small nature reserve.

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Channelsea Nature Reserve

Just after crossing a road, the path climbs an embankment

Routing note: There have been long-standing engineering works here. If the path is blocked beyond the road, you need to turn R into Abbey Lane and then L (this is also Abbey Lane while the main road changes names) until you can climb on the embankment.

R on the embankment (called The Greenway)

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Old Abbey Road pumping station

From the embankment, you get a very good view of a spectacular 19th century building combining Victorian colour patterns with roofs in the French late 17th century style and a somewhat neo-gothic domed tower. This structure is actually an industrial building housing pumps that raised the effluent from smaller sewers into the main sewer. The work is now done by modern pumps in a less impressive annex. The old building is not normally open to the public but is used occasionally to film scenes in a Victorian industrial setting. There is an other spectacular Victorian pumping station in London, located in Streatham.

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New Abbey Road pumping station

The paved path and cycle route uses the embankment created by a major 19th century engineering feat, the Northern Outfall Sewer. This is still the main effluent for the northern inner suburbs and there are a few locations along the Greenway with suspicious smells in hot weather. The sewer was built in the 1860s after scientists realised that the cholera epidemics of 1853 might have been worsened by contamination of the drinking water wells. Parliament was moved to act when the hot summer of 1858 caused such unpleasant smells that the Chambers had to ajourn away from Westminster. The sewer runs in a straight line for several miles from a Lea river bridge to Beckton and is an important link in the Capital Ring long-distance footpath around London.

The Greenway crosses a major road, a tidal creek and finally a small river

Just before the train tracks L along the tracks

Routing note: There have been long-standing engineering works here as well. At times, the Greenway itself was blocked beyond the main highway. If this is the case, just follow the clear detour signs for the DLR station.

PUDDING MILL LANE

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Pudding Mill Lane DLR station

The station was planned from the onset in 1987 but was not built in order to save funds as the area was mostly derelict industrial land at the time. It was finally opened in 1996 and rebuilt in 2014.

My picture shows the original station, a very simple prefabricated steel awning. There is no station building as usual on the DLR. The 2014 station is more substantial, with the awnings being linked by steel bars over the tracks, possibly because of stability issues with wind on the top of the embankment.

Go back to the road passing under the train line, not taking the subway

R Marshgate Road (away from the train line)

Just after the bridge over the river L on the riverside walkway

The river is one of a number of tidal channels draining the former Stratford marshes. This one is called St Thomas’ Creek. When the many developments along the main highway will be finished, there will be longer sections of path along the rivers providing opportunities for residents to walk their dogs.

At the end R to the main highway

L using the bridge of the main highway over a river, cross the highway at the next traffic lights and come back to the bridge, you are now on the south side of the highway

L (South)  on the riverside walkway, called Three Mills Wall River Path

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Three Mills Wall River

Three Mills Wall River is one of the larger tidal channels. They are actually not tidal any more because of locks, the idea being that barges should be able to reach the many smaller factories located in the area. I expect most of the area will switch to housing over time, but the priority has been along the main highway as it is better connected and there is some uncertainty about the strength of the housing market for such a huge area, particularly as most developers are only interested in luxury flats for Canary Wharf bankers.

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Development on Three Mills Wall River

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Three Mills Island Open Space

Cross a river to enter Three Mills Island (there is a clear sign), the path is now called Shortwall

The open space is actually an island between the natural tidal channel and a shortcut feeding a mill, one of many in this area in the pre-industrial area. Three Mills Green is now a park with a large playground called ambitiously the “Wild Kingdom”. There are neither lions nor zebras there but children can “go wild” on rides, swings and ropes.

On reaching the former mill R across the mill courtyard and over the river Lea

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House Mill on a tidal creek

Despite the name “Three Mills”, there were actually up to 9 mills on the tidal channels at a time and there are references to mills as early as the 13th century. The long building with many windows is the House Mill, used primarily to grind grain (originally for bakery, later for breweries). It is a listed building from 1802, actually a copy of the 1776 original destroyed by a fire. It worked until 1940 and may be the largest tidal mill in existence. It can be visited occasionally on summer Sundays.

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House Mill at low tide

 

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Clock Mill

The delightful Clock Mill with the two conical towers was used for the same purposes from 1817 until 1952. It has been converted into offices and is therefore only interesting from outside. The towers remind me of hop kilns and there was indeed alcohol production on the premises in the 19th century.

At the back of the mill courtyard, there is an access to film studios. These are modern, private premises. They were used for many television productions, i.a. for a Big Brother series back in 2001.

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Georgian offices in Three Mills complex

R on the riverside walkway along the river Lea

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River Lea near Three Mills

The river looks rather modest if you consider that it is supposed to drain a large part of Essex and was considered a major obstacle for travelers from Barking. It is actually only the channeled part of the river, used for barges, while a large part of the water flow goes through Three Mills River in order to operate the mills. The environment is still in part derelict industrial, partly because the location between a motorway and the canal is not too attractive for luxury flats.

The walkway ends near a major motorway interchange. Cross the A12 at the traffic lights

The busy crossroads lies underneath the so-called Bow Flyover, built in the 1960s in order to give easier access into London from the eastern suburbs. The road crosses here an urban motorway linking Canary Wharf with the Cambridge motorway and this causes complex traffic patterns. You need to be careful when crossing the roads as two cyclists were killed by a motorist here in 2011.

L along the A12, then next R on Bromley High Street

R again on High Street (the main road turns L and is called St Leonard’s Street)

High Street turns later R

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Churchyard of St Mary’s Bow

At the end of the street, you see to your right the greenery of the parish churchyard for Bow. It is a very pleasant shady patch after walking for a long time along rivers with no trees. The church itself was rebuilt in the 1950s after bomb damage but there are some nice monuments both inside and in the churchyard if you wish to take the time.

At the end L Bow Road

There is an imposing office building at 159 Bow Road on the corner with Fairfield Road. It is interesting for being a typical Art Déco structure. The horizontal lines are stressed through unbroken concrete bands running below unbroken rows of windows, something very innovative at a time when offices seldom enabled a view outside out of fear that this might distract the clerks. The horizontal lines are counterbalanced by one vertical feature, here a brick block on the corner.

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Former Poplar town hall

The building was actually built as the town hall for Poplar, explaining the size and also the sculptures at the corner. They show among others an architect and a mason. I am bit surprised at the posturing of the workers, as if they were squeezed into a space too small for them. The mason to the right looks downright effeminate. This is a little unusual for London Art Déco, where sculptures of people normally show very upright, austere figures.

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Bromley Public Hall

Nearly opposite the former Poplar town hall, you see the more modest structure of Bromley Public Hall, built in 1880 as a parish office.It is an essence a neo-classical pavilion as you would expect in the annex of an 18th century palace. Typical for the style is the very strict symmetry. The building is now used by the borough as a registry office.

BOW CHURCH

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Bow Church DLR station

The station opened together with the DLR line in 1987.

The platforms are standard DLR issue with the rounded awning version but the entrance portico on Bow Road is more imposing. Using extremely thin columns was fashionable in the 1980s and enabled higher, airier construction for nearly the same cost.

L Campbell Road passing under a train line

The road passes Rounton Park

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Rounton Park

The small neighbourhood park is called officially Rounton Road Open Space. It is quite pleasant in terms of trees, shade and banks, but it has no exciting amenities. There is a long bed with interesting grasses along the road if you are interested. There is also a handsome library building at the corner of the park with a sign saying it was built in 1930 and a coat of arms.

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Rounton Park library

At the end of the road L on Devons Road

DEVONS ROAD

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Devons Road DLR station

The station opened together with the DLR line in 1987.

The platforms are standard DLR issue with the rounded awning version. There is no entrance portico or any attractive feature at road level.

Turn around on Devons Road, going now southwest away from the DLR line and without having crossed it

L Brock Place

Ahead across the gardens. Keep along the edge of the gardens to the exit ahead in Glaucus Street

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Brock Place Gardens

This is an interesting landscaped courtyard with a choice of trees and grasses that differs from the typical neighbourhood park. Pines in particular are very unusual. As it is also the case in Paris and Brussels, I imagine they might be prone to diseases or easily weakened by traffic pollution, so that they would only make sense in sheltered locations.

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Brock Place Gardens

At the end L Yeo Street

R Violet Road crossing a canal

Go down the stairs to the canalside walkway and walk towards the bright blue DLR bridge

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Limehouse Cut

The canal is Limehouse Cut, built in 1772 in order to offer barges from Essex a direct access to the Thames in central London without having to navigate the unreliable tidal Lea river mouth and without the long detour via Greenwich. The canal was very successful, carrying in particular grain. It also attracted industry but this is derelict by now and is being converted quickly to luxury flats.

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DLR bridge over Limehouse Cut

Shortly after the DLR bridge R up stairs

R Uamvar Street (walking away from the canal)

Ahead St Leonard’s Road

R across Langdon Park aiming for the DLR station

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Langdon Park

The park is a larger open space primarily used for informal sports. It has no amenities but is important because it is the only sizeable green space in vicinity of the DLR line and of the mushrooming developments attracted by the good connections.

LANGDON PARK

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Langdon Park DLR station

 

 

 

The station opened in 2007 on the existing DLR line. There had been plans for a station here in the 1980s (to be called Carmen Street) but it was considered too expensive. In the end, the distance between the neighbouring stations was sufficient to warrant a new station.

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Langdon Park footbridge

 

 

The platforms are standard DLR issue (the flat awning version). But the footbridge is an impressive architectural statement, one of the most beautiful footbridges over train stations in London. The swinging shape reminds a little of a skateboard from the side, which is fitting as the station has its name from a nearby school. The lift shafts are very plain in technical terms but the vertical shapes interplay well with the elongated roof of the footbridge. The architects were Consarc, by now a major firm.

Cross the DLR line using the station footbridge

L Crisp Street

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Chrisp Street Market

The street leads past a covered plaza with a street market called Chrisp Street Market (no idea why there is an H in the name). It does not look remarkable but it is a conservation area because it was the first pedestrianised street market in Britain back in 1951. By now, street markets have changed a lot and you are more likely to find vegan sushi and second-hand branded handbags than turnips and farm butter. When I could find a farmers’ market in London, which is not in many places, I was actually surprised that prices were nearly always lower and products better than in supermarkets. In most of Europe, it is a rather a matter of finding different or local products supermarkets are not interested in, but prices are often higher.

ALL SAINTS

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All Saints DLR station

The station opened in 1987 together with the DLR line on the location of the old Poplar train station. Announcements in the trains say “All Saints for Chrisp Street Market”, but this is not the official name.

The platform awnings are the standard DLR issue, but there is an entrance portico like in Bow Church. The construction principle is the same but it appears to be lower.

The parish church for Poplar, All Saints, is located just beyond the station. The tower is from the 1823 church but the nave had to be rebuilt in the 1950s after bomb damages. I did not bother with the building but the tower spire is unusual for late Georgian architecture, reminding more of early 18th century churches in the late baroque style. At the time, Poplar was an affluent suburb attracting ship owners, this changing in the 1860s with the increasing dock activity.

R East India Dock Road (without having crossed the DLR line)

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Former Poplar public baths

The road passes a recreation centre and a swimming pool converted from the borough public baths. The building is an austere Art Déco structure from 1933 reminiscent of a fortress. The style was fashionable until it became the style of choice for dictators. The conversion was paid for by allowing the developer to built 100 luxury flats in the back of the building. My picture shows the building in 2010 while the conversion plants were still being discussed; it looks better now.

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Former college in Poplar

The very conspicuous building at 155 East India Dock Road is a former college and has been converted into offices. It is a striking mix. The red-and-white colour scheme is Edwardian, as is the oriel window above the central door. But the ground floor arches are neo-gothic and the clock tower with buttresses and a flat roof is good quality Art Déco.

L across Poplar Recreation Ground aiming for the bowling green

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Poplar Recreation Ground

The recreation ground was landscaped on an interesting site. This was originally the location chosen by the East India Company in 1628 to house seamen disabled through accidents on its ships. When the company was forcefully nationalised in 1858 for mismanagement of its empire in India, Parliament had no use for publicly-owned almshouses and had them demolished in 1866.

The borough opened a park with all the appropriate 19th century amenities such as formal flower beds, fountains, seats and elaborate railings. A bowling green was added in 1910. Over time, cost issues forced the borough to convert the park to a normal plain green space with a small playground. But the old plane trees from the 1860s are still standing and have become rather impressive. There is also a nice circular flower bed with formal planting.

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Flower bed in Poplar Recreation Ground

R Poplar High Street

L DLR station access, nearly opposite Hale Street

POPLAR

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Poplar DLR station

The station opened in 1987 together with the DLR line from Stratford to Canary Wharf. It was a normal, small station, except for having a junction to the DLR depot. The station was rebuilt in 1994 when the DLR opened a new line between Poplar and Canning Town in order to provide a proper junction. It is one of the very few stations on the network with four platforms.

 

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Poplar DLR station access

 

The junction concourse is a jumble of shapes that do not seem to obey an overall concept. You have bright red columns with weird oblique tops, a half-dome with aggressively pointy endings, a rather elegant, bright white staircase access tower and a relaxing, round footbridge. The view from the footbridge towards the snaking tracks on a variety of viaducts is interesting.

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Poplar station seen from a train

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DLR tracks just west of Poplar

Cross the tracks and the motorway using the station footbridge

R along the motorway, there are now signs for the DLR station

Next L under the DLR tracks

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Walking under the DLR viaduct

WEST INDIA QUAY

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West India Quay DLR station

 

The station opened in 1987 as the junction between the two DLR lines from Tower Gateway and from Stratford but is now often bypassed by the trains from Westferry. It had to be rebuilt in 2009 because the designers had not accounted for the strong wind funnel effects caused by the tall towers in Canary Wharf. The station is located at the top of a steel viaduct cantilevered above an ornamental basin.

The awnings and staircase are the standardised DLR design.

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Walk 3: Island Gardens walk to Lewisham

Walk 3

ISLAND GARDENS to LEWISHAM

1 1/4 hour

The DLR light railway was originally built in the late 1980s in order to link the redeveloped area of the Docklands with the City and it was built as a lightweight, automatic system in order to save infrastructure and staff costs. The borough of Lewisham was worried that potential jobs in the new office centre would be difficult to reach for commuters from the other bank of the Thames, a problem that had already been important in the 19th century and that had led to the construction of a foot tunnel under the Thames to make commuters less dependant on unreliable and expensive ferries.

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Typical DLR platfoms

 

The light railway was extended as required by the borough in 1999. It was expensive to build with a tunnel under the river and a long concrete viaduct over the course of the river Ravensbourne as there was no other route available in this densely populated suburb. The borough proved right in predicting strong commuting traffic and the line is very profitable. The borough was also very thoughtful in convincing the TfL zoning experts that all stations on the line within Lewisham and Greenwich be both in zones 2 and 3, saving costs for local commuters. Dual-zone stations are nothing unusual, but it is unusual for a whole line to be considered dual-zone.

The whole DLR system was operated by a private company for 25 years and is now operated by a 70% subsidiary of the French government-owned railway SNCF.

You need to be aware that Oyster pay-as-you-go cards are accepted as if you were on a bus but that they malfunction frequently depending on where you change to the DLR. You might be charged unexpected amounts.

Routing note: This route connects in Island Gardens with DLR walk 2. It does not connect officially with Underground Jubilee line walks 7 and 8, but both routes also use the Greenwich tunnel and are therefore easy to combine with the present walk. The route does connect in Greenwich with London Bridge network walk 5. Finally, it connects in Lewisham with London Bridge networks walks 6, 15 and 24A as well as with Victoria train networks walk 3.

The route is kept short because it passes close to many attractions in Greenwich. I suggest you choose the one or other and combine it with the walk. Particular convenient visits would be the craft market, the Maritime Museum or the Hospital. I commented on some of those in my London Bridge network walk 5 and will comment on others in my Jubilee line walk 8.

ISLAND GARDENS

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Island Gardens DLR station

 

The station was originally a simple platform for the DLR terminal on an old train viaduct when it opened in 1987. This changed to an underground station when the tunnel under the Thames was built for the DLR extension towards Greenwich in 1999. Original plans called for a simple platform in a cutting but local residents managed to get a proper station built. I actually often used this station as an introduction when bringing foreign visitors to Greenwich so that the residents were right in pointing to the special location justifying an effort.

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Elegant shapes of Island Gardens station

 

The new station has an interesting design as there was room to make an architectural statement. Seen from the park, it has a double set of rounded roofs on steel pillars, the interesting point being that the two sets are inverted in opposing directions. It is just a geometrical game but quite harmonious. Seen from the road, the entrance is an airy hall between strange towers with rounded ends, those being the aeration shafts for the tunnel under the Thames.

Exit the station and cross the street into a passage along a green space and sports ground. This leads quickly to Island Gardens park

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Pavilion in Island Gardens

 

The first mention of the location is a remark by the architect of Greenwich Hospital in 1680 about the nice view but the land remained idle until the first terraces were built in Millwall in the 1860s. The borough was aware of the location and started negociations in 1849 although the purchase only went through in 1894. Flower beds and a small bandstand were provided. This has changed only modestly to flower beds and a café with an unusually elaborate brick pattern.

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Island Gardens Park

 

 

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Historical Greenwich seen from Island Gardens

 

Obviously, what has not changed is the magnificent view towards the main Greenwich monuments. Panels give you many explanations. My picture documents primarily the remarkable alignment of the observatory obelisk with the royal pavilion, the two wings of the Royal Hospital building perfectly symmetrical counterpoints as an excellent example of baroque landscaping. The fact that the view is strictly framed and controlled, showing nothing outside of the planned landscape, is typically European (and very alien to Japanese garden architects for example).

Cross the Thames using the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, the access is inside the small park

 

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North entrance of Greenwich Tunnel

 

I comment on the tunnel more in detail in my Jubilee line walk 7. The tunnel was opened in 1902 and the lift cabins are copies of the original ones, explaining the luxurious wood paneling. Actually, the tunnel was mostly meant for the dock workers. It is customary for dock staff to be taken “off the street” in the early morning for the day and labourers from Greenwich often came too late to get a job if fog or traffic delayed the ferry.

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The Thames in Greenwich

The tunnel was a remarkable technical achievement and was extremely expensive, also because the borough had to buy the ferry business first in order to compensate the owners. The tunnel is quite long for a pedestrian and cyclists are often tempted to ride through it although it is strictly forbidden. What cyclists like even less is that the lifts are quite regularly out of order for maintenance or staff shortage reasons. You might want to count the steps on the Greenwich staircase, the result is interesting.

Cross the open space past the ship replica towards the corner pubs

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Original Cutty Sark in 2007

 

The ship is a copy of the “Cutty Sark”, a cargo ship from 1869 built to carry tea from China. After the opening of the Suez Canal, it was rerouted and carried wool from Australia. It was later a training ship for the Royal Navy and is now a museum. A significant part of the original ship burnt down by accident in 2007 and what you visit is therefore a reconstruction.

 

 

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Cutty Sark figurehead

 

The hull of the ship is enclosed in a glass bubble in order to provide sufficient room for hospitality and shopping, which has been criticised as giving the attraction a very artificial look. I have never visited the ship due to the extortionate entry fee of 13.50 £ (2017). The name “Cutty Sark” refers to a fairytale and the figurehead depicts the corresponding lass.

On reaching the main road, you can detour R to the next station into a pedestrianised passage, initially under a building. There is a large sign overhead with the station name in DLR blue.

CUTTY SARK for Maritime Greenwich

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Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich DLR station

 

The station opened in 1999 together with the DLR extension. As opposed to most DLR stations, it was not rebuilt in the 2000s and some train doors do not open because it was impossible to lengthen the platforms without rebuilding the Thames tunnel.

The subterranean platforms are of no particular interest. The front to the street is modest and squeezed in the middle of a shopping street. This makes no sense in terms of accommodating the heavy passenger traffic on weekends but enabled juicy profits by developing the shopping street. The winding staircase to the platforms is unique for the DLR and gives the station a special atmosphere.

Turn around to exit the passage at the place you entered. Coming from the riverside, you now turn L into College Approach

R King William Walk (you do not enter the enclosed grounds)

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Devonport House

 

At the corner with Nelson Road, there is a small green space in front of a large Georgian brick building that contrasts strikingly with the baroque premises of Greenwich Hospital. The building was originally an annex of the Hospital and was built in 1784 as a school for boys. It was converted later into a nurses’ home and in 1993 into a luxury hotel. The architecture is restrained as it was primarily a utilitarian building, with typically Georgian symmetry based on the central neo-classical portico. In my opinion, the actual entrance under the portico is badly proportioned, looking like the entrance to a cellar.

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Greenwich Hospital Mausoleum

 

The green space in front of the building is actually the former cemetery for Greenwich Hospital. Some of the monuments are listed and you can have a look around, the most conspicuous memorial being the neo-classical Mausoleum for hospital officers. It is a listed early Georgian structure from 1714 built by major architect Nicholas Hawksmoor and had open arches until grave robbers defiled the site in 1806. They were probably looking for swords to resell.

R Nelson Road

Ahead past the church into St. Alfege Churchyard. Where the churchyard turns into a public park, turn L into St Alfege Passage to exit the park

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St. Alfege Churchyard

 

For St Alfege church itself, please refer to my Jubilee line walk 8. Both green spaces were a single large churchyard in the 19th century but had reached capacity and were given to the borough in 1899. The section directly around the church had the more interesting monuments and still has the atmosphere of a churchyard while the more recent section was converted into a public park with a few flower beds and a choice of interestingly varied trees.

 

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St. Alfege Park

Ahead Roan Street

L Churchfields (a street)

Ahead Straightsmouth (a street)

Ahead along the tracks to the station subway, cross under the tracks

GREENWICH (DLR)

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Greenwich DLR station

 

The Greenwich train station is one of the most venerable and most beautiful stations in London, dating back to 1840, but this applies only to the train station. When the DLR extension opened in 1999, a new platform was built parallel to the existing train platforms. It can be considered a completely separate station.

 

As such, it has only the standard DLR steel canopy and no ticket office.

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Greenwich DLR platform

Continue along the tracks, now on the south side, and cross the river

Routing note: due to construction works in this area, the exact route has been moved occasionally to the one or other side of the tracks between the station and the river footbridge. If in doubt, follow the marked cycle route for Deptford

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DLR viaduct over Deptford Creek

 

From the footbridge over Deptford Creek, you get a good view of the DLR concrete viaduct. It appears surprisingly thin, which is made possible by the fact that DLR carriages are lightweight and run on tram-like tracks, not on a heavy gravel bed like trains. Deptford Creek is the tidal mouth of Ravensbourne River, a small but important water course because the valley was very useful for train lines and now for a cycle route towards the Channel coast. The creek became a major industrial site in the 17th century after the Tudor kings had opened a Navy yard in Deptford, attracting many subcontractors.

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Old Deptford lifting bridge

 

The train line crosses Deptford Creek on an imposing, historical bridge. The original drawbridge caused a number of mechanical problems and was replaced in 1963 by the present lifting bridge. For about 15 years, a section of track could be lifted vertically in order to let vessels with masts go through to the warehouses upstream. This has become redundant in the 1970s and the bridge has been welded shut. There are discussions about listing the structure as vertical lifting bridges are extremely rare nowadays.

L after the bridge over the river into Creekside (a road)

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Gate of Creekside nature centre

 

The first building you pass is set back in a large gravel space. It is mainly worth noticing for the very nice entrance gate in galvanised steel showing reeds, crabs, fish and water birds. This refers to the purpose of the building as an information centre on the ecology of tidal marshes. I do not know whether it is open to the general public and whether it charges an entry fee.

 

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Creekside gate

The following building is an ugly converted factory but is worth mentioning because it houses a number of art and craft studios. They have an open day twice a year when artists sell their production. I am always a little disappointed at having to pay a small entrance fee to be allowed to buy items, but this is customary in London for such events. If you feel suspicious that the stands on Greenwich or Shoreditch handicraft markets are only resellers, you might indeed want to meet the artists in their studios.

At the end L Deptford Church Street

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Lewisham college façade

 

On the corner, you walk along the tall brick façade of a local college. My picture shows green pillars while more recent pictures show red pillars. I don’t know what prompted the change; the green reminded me a lot of several modern buildings in Peckham and Brent and might have been a fashionable colour in the 2000s.

L on the main road for

DEPTFORD BRIDGE

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Deptford Bridge DLR station

 

The station opened together with the DLR extension in 1999.

As usual with the DLR, there is no station building and only the standardised platform canopy. Unusually, the station is on top of a viaduct crossing a road and the platforms are therefore supported by a concrete structure.

Take the marked cycle path under the DLR viaduct along the river.

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Cycling route marker in Deptford Bridge

 

You might notice a colourful sign underneath the viaduct. It looks like it might have been a school project to mark the cycle route. There are other similar markers further upstream but they are not as colourful. You will certainly notice that most depicted animals are dead. Either this is meant to remind you of ecological issues or it is the typical fascination of teenagers for death, skeletons, dystopia and Halloween.

The path crosses the river again, leads around a warehouse and crosses the whole length of Ravensbourne / Brookmill Park.

 

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North end of Brookmill Park

The park is part of a long string of green spaces built along the course of the Ravensbourne River. Taken together, they build one of only two good cycling / walking routes for people travelling from central London towards Sussex. The walking route is called the Waterlink Way and you would follow the markings for national cycle route 21.

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Brookmill Park rose garden

 

Brookmill Park was built on former industrial premises together with the Dockland Light Railway and care was taken to make the river flow more natural whenever enough room was available. The northern end of the riverside park has a nice fountain with a circular pergola nearly all around it. The borough invests in nice flower beds and there are lots of seats with unusually shaped, bright red legs and armrests. It is usually a rather quiet and pleasant place. As the park is located between identikit flashy studios for young bankers on the east side and a conservation area on the west side, it does not normally attract the street gangs some people might expect in Deptford.

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Renatured section of Brookmill Park

 

Continuing upstream along the “natural” section of the river valley, you lose the flower beds but you might see a heron or a fox. You will also need to pay attention to cyclists as they tend to go fast despite the lack of visibility on the winding path. At one spot where the cyclists are routed away from the pedestrians, you can have a look at a pond fully covered in green algae. It actually reminds me of frothy green tea as made in Japanese ceremonies but I did not try to drink the water from the pond.

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Green tea pond

After the park, the cycle path crosses the river

ELVERSON ROAD

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Elverson Road DLR station

 

The station opened together with the DLR extension in 1999.

As usual with the DLR, there is no station building and only the standardised platform canopy. The really conspicuous element is the access ramp more than the station furniture.

The path crosses the river again just after the station and continues along the river

Follow the marked route R away from the river shortly before the DLR bridge over the river

The marked route crosses under a train line

L Thurston Road

At the end L Loampit Vale passing under the train line again

LEWISHAM (DLR)

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Lewisham DLR terminal

 

The DLR station opened in 1999 as the terminal of the new extension. It is not linked directly to the neighbouring train station and sits in the forecourt of the station between the diverging tracks of two train lines.

The terminal building is sizeable compared to most DLR stations and includes a spacious hall. The architecture is very plain and in line with late 20th century office buildings, all sleek glass and no colours except for branding purposes.

 

Posted in DLR Docklands Light Railway | Leave a comment

Walk 2: Limehouse walk to Island Gardens

Walk 2

LIMEHOUSE walk to ISLAND GARDENS

2 hours

The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) opened in 1987 in order to connect the office and housing developments in the reconverted Docklands with the City. The docks were served originally by a railway running between terminals at Minories and North Greenwich on a viaduct. Passenger services on this railway stopped in 1926 but the DLR uses the 1840 viaduct between Limehouse and Westferry.

There had been plans to build a London Underground extension instead of the DLR, but the government was short of funds in the 1980s and preferred a cheaper solution. Because the old train line ran on a re-usable viaduct, a tram concept (the solution used in Croydon) was considered inappropriate. The original line was a very cheap system: standardised, short platforms, automatic driving with just a service agent to control door closure. The system was operated by a private company for 25 years and is now operated by a 70% subsidiary of the French government-owned railway SNCF.

You need to be aware that Oyster pay-as-you-go cards are accepted as if you were on a bus but that they malfunction frequently depending on where you change to the DLR. You might be charged unexpected amounts.

Routing note:

This route connects in Limehouse with DLR walk 1 and with Fenchurch Street network walk 1. It connects in Westferry with DLR walk 5, in West India Quay with DLR walk 4 and in Island Gardens with DLR walk 3. It will also connect in Canary Wharf with Underground Jubilee line walks 7 and 8.

This route does not visit all of Canary Wharf because I decided to do part of this on the Jubilee line walks.

LIMEHOUSE

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Limehouse DLR station

 

The old train station opened in 1840 under the name Stepney and was renamed Stepney East in 1923. It was then replaced by the neighbouring train station located on the Fenchurch Street line in 1926. When the DLR opened in 1987, both the suburban train station and the new DLR stop were renamed Limehouse.

The picture shows the DLR part of the complex with the two lift shafts and the access staircases in drab grey. There is no DLR building or ticket office. There is a station for the suburban trains but it is integrated in the viaduct arch and of no architectural interest.

Exit the station and walk East along the DLR viaduct towards the Basin

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DLR viaduct over Regent’s Canal

 

The viaduct is a particularly old railway viaduct as it was completed in 1840 for the new dock railway to North Greenwich. You can see that railways were still a technological novelty because Parliament chose a specific width for the rails that was not used anywhere else in Britain. The importance of a standard gauge was only understood about 30 years later when competing companies realised that it made sense to offer services combining two networks. An other exotic peculiarity of the dock railway is that it was hauled by a rope, considered as efficient at the time as coupling carriages to a steam engine.

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Limehouse Basin

 

The viaduct arches have a very long radius, but this was not difficult to build as long as you did not need to carry very heavy loads. The arches are lined for safety reasons by iron fencing and this was interestingly an important selling proposition because it made the train ride more confortable than brick wall fencing as it was less prone to causing wind funnelling and reverberating noise.

Walk around Limehouse Basin crossing two canals

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Footbridge over Regent’s Canal

 

Limehouse Basin was a dock used primarily to transfer goods from seagoing vessels to canal barges. One of the canals was Regent’s Canal, opened in 1810 in order to bypass the river Thames and the congested inner London harbour for goods carried from the Midlands to the export docks. The canal is bridged for pedestrians and cyclists by an interesting suspension bridge, one of several in the area. You will note that the shape is not a straight line, possibly for fun and aesthetics, possibly in order to avoid resonance effects.

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Limehouse Basin developments

 

The walkway then passes at the foot of a large development from 2003. This was one of the first luxury flat developments to opt for a shape reminiscent of ships’s prows. This proved to sell well due to the spacious balconies and inspired a series of later developments, for example in Wandsworth. With seven levels, the buildings are a little lower than those built later on in the Canary Wharf area.

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Footbridge over Limehouse Cut

 

The second canal is the Limehouse Cut, first opened in 1770. It was a very useful shortcut for canal barges bringing cargo from East Anglia into London as it made it possible to avoid the winding, tidal lower Lea river and the long detour past Greenwich. The canal carried primarily grain from Essex and Suffolk. Like most infrastructure in the 18th and 19th century, it was a private venture, quite profitable in this case.

After crossing the second canal L along the canal

R into the park, cross the length of the park

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Kiosque in Ropemakers’ Fields

 

The small park is called Ropemakers Fields as this was an open space near the dock where ropes were repaired. There are references to this location both in Samuel Pepys in 1664 and in accounts of a visit by the tsar of Russia in 1871. The park has a small sculpture referring to ropes. It is a nice green space because it is unusually hilly, making good use of ground excavated for the construction of a road tunnel under Limehouse.

 

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Ropemakers Field

Cross Narrow Street and take the path under Duke Shore Wharf towards the Thames (it is marked as the Thames Path).

When you reach the river, you can pause for a view because this is a very good location at the apex of a river bend, offering good views both towards Wapping and towards Deptford.

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View upstream towards Wapping

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View downstream towards Deptford

 

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Limekiln Dock seen from the footbridge

The path leads to an inlet of the Thames called Limekiln Dock. It was actually the mouth of a small creek and served a number of warehouses now converted to the ubiquitous luxury flats. Because some people own mooring rights in the dock, urban planners had to plan a footbridge that would lift when necessary. I don’t think this happens at all, but tracing and compensating the owners would probably have cost more than the bridge features.

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Footbridge over Limekiln Dock

 

There is an interesting technical comment on this suspension bridge on Internet http://happypontist.blogspot.lu/2011/08/london-bridges-11-limekiln-dock.html. I am less shocked than this gentleman and find the bridge quite convenient and not that ugly.

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Limekiln Dock at low tide

If you have the time, you can walk a short distance on the walkway along the inlet to enjoy a different view. I was surprised that you lose very quickly the feeling of wide open spaces you might get along the river. At the back of the dock, you actually feel much more like in a courtyard.

Cross the basin on the footbridge, continue along the Thames around a development

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Development in Westferry

 

The development is one of the most striking designs along the Thames Path. The spindly steel tower set off the building can apparently be used as a set of balconies, but I suppose they are way too windy to be enjoyable most of the time. In addition, the tower has pointy spikes at the top that remind me much of either a crown of thorns or Sauron’s stronghold in the “Lord of the Rings”. I suppose it is not meant as an allegory of the behaviour of rapacious investment bankers, rogue traders and self-serving consultants, but who knows ?

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Crown of Thorns development

L into the cycle path merging into Three Colt Street

R Milligan Street

R Limehouse Causeway for

WESTFERRY

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Westferry DLR station

The station opened in 1987. The name comes from Westferry Road, a road running west of the docks to the ferry for Greenwich.

The station is a plain glass awning with a covered staircase up to the platforms. The lift shaft has a decorative panel but it is not really an artistic achievement.

R Westferry Road (the main highway into Canary Wharf)

Shortly before the tunnel portal L into Ontario Way

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Luxury hotel on Westferry Road

 

Just before turning left, you can have a short look at the bulky building opposite. It is actually a large hotel between apartment blocks. The hotel is the most luxurious in the area and has a rather weird roof. The curve may remind you of Egyptian temples and was apparently inspired by celebrity designer Philippe Starck. This kind of reference was popular in Art Déco buildings in the 1930s, usually on a somewhat smaller scale. When it stands at the top of an otherwise boring huge building, it feels a little like an artificial gimmick. The temple effect is more convincing when you see the building from the other bank of the Thames, hence my second picture.

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Egypt-on-Thames

Ahead to the walkway along the basin

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Former dock entrance gate

 

The basin is a small section of the original West India Dock as most of the basins were filled in in order to enable construction of the Canary Wharf towers. The neo-classical gate with a ship at the top, called the Hibbert Gate, was the main entrance to the dock and was built in 1803; what you see is a copy as the original was damaged by bombs and later by vandalism. The ship at the top is an interesting wrought iron decoration and is a typical cross-Atlantic ship from the 1800s, when the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants built the dock for its trade in sugar, tobacco, slaves and spices with the colonies in the Caribbean.

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West India ship in the 1800s

L around the basin, soon turning R and passing in front of the former warehouses

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Former West India Dock offices

 

The first building, now a restaurant called The Ledger Building, was not a warehouse as you can guess looking at the neo-classical portico. As the name says, the building from about 1803 was the accounting office of the West India company. Most of the former warehouses have been converted into restaurants as well, a sensible use considering the huge potential of hungry office workers. In Europe, this would be more limited as it would be just lunch trade, but the London cultural incline to go out with your office colleagues after work as well is very helpful for pubs and restaurants in business districts.

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Converted warehouses around West India Dock

A few of the warehouses have been converted into a small shopping centre and I took advantage of this opportunity to take pictures of the structure inside with a grid of wooden posts.

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Inside a warehouse conversion

 

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North Basin of West India Docks

 

The docks were allowed by an Act of Parliament in 1799, which was unusual as it was normally cities that planned harbours. This was both an attempt by the West India company to show strength against anti-slavery campaigners and a necessity because Parliament gave the new dock a monopoly for goods from West India over 20 years. The expected profit from this monopoly was necessary to convince investors at a time when wars against France made people wary of investing in maritime trade. The dock was sold to the Port of London Authority in 1909, became unused in the 1960s and derelict by 1980.

 

 

WEST INDIA QUAY

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West India Quay DLR station

 

The station opened in 1987 as the junction between the two DLR lines from Tower Gateway and from Stratford but is now often bypassed by the trains from Westferry. It had to be rebuilt in 2009 because the designers had not accounted for the strong wind funnel effects caused by the tall towers in Canary Wharf. The station is located at the top of a steel viaduct cantilevered above an ornamental basin.

The awnings and staircase are the standardised DLR design.

Turn around on the quay along the basin towards the footbridge

L across the footbridge over the basin

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Footbridge across the North Basin

 

The footbridge is not really necessary as the detour around the basin would not be considerable, but it shortens the way between offices and pubs. The bridge is 94 meters long and can be opened in the middle. It looks like a floating bridge because the original planning was to tow it away in case of developments in the area, but it is now fixed to the ground. I find that the shape and colour do not fit well with the warehouses although other people like it. For a very good technical discussion of the bridge, see http://happypontist.blogspot.lu/2010/12/london-bridges-6-west-india-quay.html.

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Footbridge for office workers

 

L Fisherman’s Walk (the walkway along the waterside)

R underneath the DLR viaduct

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Station and shopping centre entrance

 

The entrance to the shopping centre in which the DLR station is integrated is somewhat strange. On the one hand, the low ceiling caused by the DLR tracks gives you the feeling of an undignified entrance into a subterranean parking lot. On the other hand, the flight of stairs and the symmetrical aluminium lift shafts point to an important activity inside, a convention centre possibly.

CANARY WHARF

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Canary Wharf DLR station

 

The station opened in 1991 and has an interesting design as trains stop between two platforms, enabling you to alight on either side, and do open doors on both sides. I know very few places where this is the case, probably because it makes checking on the doors before departure more complex. The station is often used as a terminal.

The station is squeezed between two office buildings and is accessed through a shopping centre but it has a striking elliptical canopy. It is best seen from a train, standing at the front. This is usually possible as most trains don’t have drivers.

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Canary Wharf station canopy

Continue underneath the DLR tracks to the waterside

L on the walkway along the Basin, continue along the water turning R twice

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Canary Wharf station seen from the Middle Basin

 

From the other side of the basin, you see the station a little better. This basin was the middle dock (originally the Export Dock) and is much smaller than its original size. It is little more than a water-filled courtyard for the tall towers around it. My picture shows the stock exchange ticker on one of the façades. I am not sure why you would wish to do that as a decoration. It is not exactly relaxing.

L underneath the DLR tracks

HERON QUAYS

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Heron Quays DLR station

 

The station opened in 1987 but was relocated in 2002 in order to fit below an office building. It is extremely close to the neighbouring stations, showing the concept of a light railway. Were it not for the viaducts and basins, it would actually work equally well as a tram line.

The station is distinctive, the tracks being embedded into a large cylindrical tube. The tube does not stand on normal pillars, it is suspended from oblique steel pylons. I have no idea why this was deemed necessary or appropriate.

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DLR tracks suspended on oblique pylons

Continue underneath the DLR tracks to the next basin

L on the walkway along the basin to the footbridge

 

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South Basin of West India Docks

 

The South Dock was built much later than the two other ones, namely in 1860. It is wider and longer in order to accommodate the larger ships that had become usual. For this reason, it is also the only dock that is still connected with the Thames and it is used very occasionally by visiting ships, in particular for official visits by foreign navies, the dock being wide enough to enable turning.

R across the footbridge over the basin

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Footbridge over South Basin

 

The South Quay footbridge is very useful considering the size of the basin. It is again a suspension bridge, held by an oblique steel pillar. This is considered more elegant and original than plain vertical pillars but I was not too impressed. You may wonder why one end of the bridge is unnecessarily higher than the other one, making inconvenient stairs necessary. This is because the bridge was longer and symmetrical until part of the basin was filled in to provide more room for office towers and shopping centres. Again, here is a link to a technical discussion of the bridge: http://happypontist.blogspot.lu/2010/11/london-bridges-5-south-quay-footbridge.html.

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Detail of the footbridge

 

L South Quay Walk (the walkway along the basin), turns R and ends at the DLR station

While walking here, I noticed unusual walkway lighting. The elaborate light metal shining silvery reminds of Art Déco and the shape is somehow reminiscent of a lighthouse. I wonder who managed to convince the local developer to pay for such lamps and why lighting at other Canary Wharf location is so different.

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South Basin walkway lighting

 

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At the back of office buildings

 

 

 

The view from the walkway towards the towers is not uninteresting. It is so to speak the back side of the business district, where tower owners did not need to invest in any decoration or beautification of their massive, utilitarian, profit-maximising schemes. The view north contrasts with the view east towards the Thames. In this direction, open spaces and the large water expanse give a very different feeling.

SOUTH QUAY

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South Quay DLR station

 

The original station opened in 1987 between sharp curves and had to be relocated in 2009 because platforms could not be lengthened at the original location.

The new station is a glass rectangle enclosing the line where it crosses a basin. This led engineers to cantilever the access staircases over the side of the basin and is an elegant, one-off solution.

Cross under the DLR tracks to the following basin

R on the walkway along the water, soon turning L towards the South

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Fountain near South Quay station

 

In the corner of the basin, I found an enjoyable fountain, one of several water features in the Canary Wharf area. This is striking as water features are not much in favour with boroughs normally, being more expensive to maintain and to keep clean. What strikes me clearly is how popular this fountain would be in a suburban park and how forlorn and ignored it is in a business district.

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Plantation architecture on Millwall Inner Dock

 

The area behind the fountain on the west side of the basin is being developed and will include two smaller urban parks, but you will have to explore on your own once this is all finished. Following the basin walkway, you will be more attracted currently to the view over the water. The low building along the water is a set of restaurants but it does not try to imitate warehouse architecture. The many balconies look more like shopping centres in tropical countries and the central pavilion might remind you of plantation houses. I don’t know if the planners tried to think of West India.

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Sleek and blocky office building in Millwall

 

There is a huge block of offices in the background. The façades are fully covered in reflective glass, which has been trendy in the 2000s. You can compare with the towers from the 1990s you passed before, where steel girding was more conspicuous. Also, the block does not have a single tenant, so that it is not branded and remains a huge mineral element. Not ugly, just a little cold and foreign. Looking at the picture, I am reminded a little of a power station. The power of money and greed ?

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Many windows on Millwall Inner Dock

 

The next building along the yonder side of the basin is a strong contrast to the previous one. It might be an interesting idea on paper to have all these white window surroundings poking through the brick background, but it is tiresome on such a scale and the upper level looks like a cheap factory hall, not like a posh penthouse. In addition, the slick blue front of the previous building does not harmonise at all with the overloaded window game.

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Pepper Street drawbridge and fortress

 

Further along, when you approach the drawbridge that you will be using, you cannot help but notice the playful architecture halfway between a warehouse and a medieval castle. Very artificial but fun to look at. The path across the small development is a bit sad, I think it would have been nicer to spread more neighbourhood shops at ground level rather than to concentrate them into a small shopping centre at one end.

L Pepper Street, a pedestrianised road crossing the basin

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Pepper Street

 

The road crosses the basin on a drawbridge called Glengall Bridge. It is inspired by Dutch drawbridges and might remind you of a well-known painting by Van Gogh of a similar bridge located in the Provence. Some opening bridge was necessary because there is a marina in one corner of the basin that can be accessed from the Thames only through this opening. The design is as artificially playful as the rest of the development.

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Data centre overlooking Millwall Dock

 

The view south from the drawbridge shows much lower buildings except for one. The large glass building with a somewhat strange triangular feature facing the water is not a hotel or an office building. The modern shapes hide the largest data centre serving Canary Wharf. There is a long tradition in London of hiding technical facilities behind reasonably impressive façades and you pass very imposing telephone exchanges from the 1930s in several London suburbs.

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Millwall Dock looking towards Canary Wharf

Detour ahead if you want to go to the next station

CROSSHARBOUR

t33-crossharbour-station_bThe station opened in 1987 and was renamed “Crossharbour & London Arena” in 1994 in order to advertise for a nearby sports and exhibition centre. The centre was a commercial failure and the station name was shortened again in 2006. The station is occasionally used as a terminal, using sidings.

The awnings and staircase are the standardised DLR design.

Go back to the basin and continue walking south as before, but now on the other (eastern) side of the basin

Continue all the way to a small footbridge. Do not cross the footbridge, continue south along a narrow basin called Clippers Quay

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Clippers Quay marina

 

This is officially a marina, but I saw no boats moored and pictures taken more recently don’t show boats either. It might be a private marina linked to the local development, the lack of demand for moorings being then linked to the demography of the residents. On pictures taken in sunny weather, you get a feeling of Auckland or San Francisco Bay, but pictures taken in the usual cloudy weather help understand why the sailing lifestyle does not catch in Canary Wharf.

At the end of the basin L on Spindrift Avenue

Soon L on a footpath for

MUDCHUTE

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Mudchute DLR station

 

The station opened in 1987 on an old train viaduct and was relocated at the entrance of the tunnel when the DLR was rerouted in 1999 in order to cross the Thames towards Greenwich. The station was to be called Millwall Park after the nearby green space, but there was a notorious Millwall Football Club at the time with serious hooliganism problems so that local residents feared to be associated with the club. The name Mudchute comes from the mud dredged from the basins and deposited on wasteland in this area.

The platforms awnings are standard DLR issue and are not very visible as the station is in a cutting.

Cross the DLR tracks above the tunnel portal

Ahead along Millwall Park on a partly paved path called The Globe Rope Walk

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Mudchute Farm

 

The name of the path comes from a rope factory located here until 1971. Ropes were made by twisting the strands with a machine that was moved along the needed length, so that a long straight path was needed.

The path marks the limit between two parks, Mudchute Park and Millwall Park. Mudchute Park to your left was wasteland where dredging rubbish accumulated for about 150 years.

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Mudchute Park

 

Local authorities were tempted to use the ground for a council estate in the 1970s as this location within the derelict docklands was of no interest to private developers. Local residents feared the disruption and successfully pointed to the lack of public means of transportation. In the end, the open space was converted by a local association into an urban farm. You can walk around for free and girls will like it as there are many horse paddocks. Judicious planting also led to the park becoming a protected natural area, thwarting development.

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Millwall Park

 

Millwall Park to your right was supposed to be used for developments in the 1860s, but the plan fell through due to a financial crisis and the ground became the neighbourhood park, including typical amenities like a bathing pool. The park was damaged by bombs in 1940 and was kept afterwards as the somewhat plain open space it is now. The borough also agreed to the park being used to dump the construction debris from the DLR tunnel as raising the ground made sense in order to help limit flooding risk from the Thames. The result was that the soil is bad quality and cannot be used for much more than informal sports grounds or open air fairs.

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Woman and Fish in Millwall Park

 

You might be surprised to find a sculpture in the park. The “woman and fish” is a recent replica of a vandalised drinking water fountain that was originally in Stepney. The original was by Frank Dobson, one of the leading 20th century British sculptors, and compares easily with works by other artists of that period like Maillol. I thought the present sculpture is marble but it is actually bronze.

At the end of the paved path R in order to keep within the park

You can now see the conspicuous shapes of the DLR station

ISLAND GARDEN

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Island Gardens DLR station

 

The station was originally a simple platform for the DLR terminal on the old train viaduct when it opened in 1987. This changed to an underground station when the tunnel under the Thames was built for the DLR extension towards Greenwich in 1999. Original plans called for a simple platform in a cutting like in Mudchute, but local residents managed to get a proper station built. I actually often used this station as an introduction when bringing foreign visitors to Greenwich so that the residents were right in pointing to the special location justifying an effort.

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Elegant shapes of Island Gardens station

 

The new station has an interesting design as there was room to make an architectural statement. Seen from the park, it has a double set of rounded roofs on steel pillars, the interesting point being that the two sets are inverted in opposing directions. It is just a geometrical game but quite harmonious. Seen from the road, the entrance is an airy hall between strange towers with rounded ends, those being the aeration shafts for the tunnel under the Thames.

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Walk 1: Bank & Tower Gateway walk to Limehouse

Walk 1

BANK and TOWER GATEWAY to LIMEHOUSE

2 1/2 hours

This section of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is primarily a conversion of an old railway serving the London docks that had been closed in 1966 when the docks in this area were abandoned. This railway opened in 1840 and used the exact alignment of the present DLR but the stations were different: Minories (now Tower Gateway), Leman Street (between 1877 and 1941), Cannon Street Road (between 1842 and 1848, replaced by Leman Street station), Shadwell & St George’s East (between 1840 and 1941, now Shadwell) and Stepney East (between 1840 and 1926, now Limehouse).

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DLR train in Tower Gateway terminal

 

There had been plans to build a London Underground extension instead, but the government was short of funds in the 1980s and preferred a cheaper solution. Because the available train line ran on a viaduct, a tram concept (the solution used in Croydon) was considered inappropriate. The original line between Tower Gateway and Limehouse opened in 1987 and was a very cheap system: standardised platforms, automatic driving with just a service agent to control door closure.

Considerable traffic growth due to many banks relocating staff to the former Docklands combined with bad connections at Tower Gateway led to the construction of a spur to Bank through a very deep tunnel connected with London Underground. To sit at the front of the train when it enters the tunnel is an interesting feeling.

The system was operated by a private company for 25 years and is now operated by a 70% subsidiary of the French government-owned railway SNCF.

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DLR tracks near Tower Gateway terminal

 

The differences between suburban trains and light railways are obvious in terms of optics. The DLR has advantages compared to a train line:

– services can be more frequent due to much shorter braking distances

– the trains can turn at tight corners as they are articulated

– the infrastructure is much cheaper to build as the weight of the carriages is much lower

– operating costs are lower as there are no unionised drivers, just service staff that needs little education and can be paid the minimum wage

There are also disadvantages:

– Capacity per train is lower even though platforms have been extended later, causing potential overcrowding at rush hour

– Services are slow due to the many stops and smaller electrical motors

You need to be aware that Oyster pay-as-you-go cards are accepted as if you were on a bus but that they malfunction frequently depending on where you change to the DLR. You might be charged unexpected amounts.

Routing note: There are frequent large construction sites in the City of London and some of the passages I suggest might be blocked for the duration of the works. It is easy to find parallel passages and you do not really need a map to find them.

This route will connect in Bank with London Underground Central line walk 7, with Northern line walks 10 and 11, and with the Waterloo & City walk. You can connect to London Overground walk 3 in Shadwell but the stations are clearly apart. Finally, this route connects in Limehouse with DLR walk 2 and with Fenchurch Street network walk 1.

BANK

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Bank station entrance

 

The DLR platforms at Bank opened in 1991 underneath the existing London Underground stations and the way to the exit appears impressively long and convoluted with a number of stairs and elevators. Surprisingly for a railway connecting the City with an airport, the first step away from the platforms is an uncomfortably long flight of stairs.

A station building had originally been intended in 1900, but this would have forced the demolition of a church and the railway company was only allowed to use the crypt as an entrance. As a result, the station is entirely underground with no building above.

Take the exit towards Bank of England and turn into Prince’s Street (leads North from the crossroads)

This street runs between the Bank of England and the head office of a large commercial bank. The main hall of the commercial bank is a seriously imposing covered courtyard and is worth a look. You may not take pictures for obvious security reasons but you can enter the premises as it is a normal retail branch.

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Bank of England (rear view)

 

The Bank of England building is an entirely different story. The institution itself dates back to 1694 but the present building is from the 1920s. It is by a leading architect of the period who was actually working mostly in the Colonies (South Africa and India), and it is a typical example of imperial bombast with oversized neo-classical elements. The best view is from the corner of Prince’s Street with Lothbury.

 

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Curtain wall of the Bank of England

 

You do not see much of the building from the streets as it is hidden behind a curtain wall broken only by armoured steel gates. The walls were built after a riot had managed to vandalise offices of the bank in 1780. This is somewhat ironical as the Bank of England prides itself on having a particularly transparent monetary and supervisory policy.

 

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Set of doors of the Bank of England

The head offices of central banks in other large countries are much more representative buildings, be it the Banque de France, the Bundesbank, the European Central Bank, the Banca d’Italia or the Nationale Bank van België. There are no security problems as central banks don’t normally keep valuable reserves in the headquarters – except in London.

Ahead Moorgate

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Basildon House on Moorgate

 

Basildon House at 7 Moorgate is a late 19th century office building. It is a good example of Victorian neo-baroque with Palladian triangles above the windows and a very conspicuous optical grid through a heavy horizontal cornice in the William Kent style and heavy columns to stress the vertical. In the 1930s, architects were to reject this grid appearance in favour of stressing either the horizontal or the vertical but not both.

 

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Medieval style on Moorgate

The building used by the Europe Arab Bank at the next street corner is a striking contrast. It is neo-medieval in a manner seldom seen on so large buildings. It stresses horizontal lines (which is not very gothic) with the only vertical accent being the corner tower. Because decoration is concentrated on the tower and smaller scale, it is much more balanced than Basildon House. It feels solid rather than bombastic.

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Lighthouse on Moorgate

 

The last interesting historical building on Moorgate is a neo-Renaissance palace used now by the Habib Bank. There is a delightful corner sculpture showing a lighthouse. This is linked to the fact that the building was erected in 1914 for the account of a maritime insurance company.

Turn R into a narrow passage at the foot of the lighthouse (Moorgate Place). The passage turns R

 

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Institute of Chartered Accountants

 

The impressive neo-Renaissance building along the second part of the passage houses the Institute of Chartered Accountants, an association founded in 1870 to improve standards in a profession that was seen at the time as not very competent and prone to manipulations. Accounting fraud is very well alive and extremely dangerous nowadays, but most critics agree that it is seldom due to incompetence of accountants, rather to the criminal intent of top managers.

 

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Neo-baroque façade on Great Swan Alley

 

The building from 1890 is considered one of the finest late Victorian neo-baroque structures. There is a little too much decoration, but there is a clear division between the levels with the vertical being only stressed at the top level where it counts more. The elaborate frieze is also well integrated. The architect is John Belcher and the statues and friezes are by leading sculptors of the period.

at the end L Great Swan Alley

R Copthall Avenue, turns L

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Drapers’ Hall

 

Looking R to the end of Throgmorton Avenue (actually more a quiet dead end private street controlled with gates), you see the late 19th century brick building of the Drapers’ Guild with a front reminiscent of Jacobean palaces. The livery company is officially called simply “The Master and Wardens and Brethren and Sisters of the Guild or Fraternity of the Blessed Mary the Virgin of the Mystery of Drapers of the City of London”. Drapers were among the most influential traders in medieval England and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a member of the company, as are a number of Royals both British and foreign. Pictures on Internet show the reception rooms as being among the grandest in London, but it is very difficult to visit them.

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Drapers’ Garde,

 

The small garden at the corner of Copthall Avenue with Throgmorton Avenue belongs also to the Drapers’ Guild. Considering land values in the City, the small patch of greenery indeed proves considerable wealth. It was originally the garden of a mansion bought by the guild in 1543 as their new seat. When it is open, it provides pleasant sitting with no noisy traffic in sight. There are several mulberry trees in the garden; this has been a tradition since the drapers followed the lead of the king in encouraging the local silk industry around 1600, mulberry trees being essential for providing the necessary raw material.

L Throgmorton Avenue

Directly R Austin Friars (initially a pedestrian passage)

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Dutch Church in Austin Friars

 

The church in this passage is the Nederlandse Kerk Londen, built for the Dutch calvinists after World War II to replace their old chapel also located here but destroyed by bombs. The present building dates back to 1954 and is a simple combination of concrete blocks as there was not much money available for reconstruction at the time. The church is very important in the Protestant tradition as it the oldest Protestant church in Dutch language, being recognised in 1550 at a time when the Low Countries themselves were still officially Spanish and catholic. The building is not normally open outside of services and is very plain according to pictures, as you can expect from a strictly calvinist Church.

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Garden of the Nederlandse Kerk Londen

There is a small garden at the side of the church with a statue of a monk. This refers to the former owner of the area, a convent of Augustinian friars who settled here around 1269. The order put a strong emphasis on a modest way of life and spiritual exercise; it developed a very strong tradition of teaching and scientific work.

(Ahead) Pinner’s Passage (under a building)

R Old Broad Steeet

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Typical City labyrinth

You are clearly in the core of the business area of central London with a very intricate maze of passages under and around modern glass buildings of all sizes. This is a specialty of London as most contemporary business areas like Canary Wharf and La Défense tend to have skyscrapers isolated in the middle of wide, bleak, empty spaces. Some of those passages appear unused and don’t lead anywhere useful. This is the case of the network of staircases at the back of tower 42.

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Tower 42

 

Tower 42 was not named after the street number (it is at number 25) but after the number of levels as there is an expensive bar at level 42. It is one of the highest skyscrapers in London (183 m) and was built originally in 1980 for a bank. When the tower was built, there were many discussions about allowing such tall buildings in the City but greed won, also because developers promised in exchange to keep some of the traditional buildings around. The tower is a good example of the rather uninteresting design of office buildings in the 1970s, attention being paid at the time only to the technical challenges of the height and not much to the external appearance.

L Adams Close / Adams Court (a pedestrian passage under a building snaking first L then R passing a courtyard)

I could not take a picture because this is a private property, but this is one of the passages I found particularly enjoyable in the City due to the internal courtyard. There are many somewhat overpriced restaurants for City bankers inside.

L Threadneedle Street

L Bishopsgate

Follow Bishopsgate until you reach St Ethelburga church

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St Ethelburga on Bishopsgate

 

This is one of the few medieval parish churches still standing in the City of London, but only the tower dates back to the 15th century because the rest of the church was destroyed by a terrorist attack in 1993. Interestingly, the terrorists (the IRA) warned the police and detonated the bomb on a quiet Saturday, trying to avoid casualties. This is a striking contrast with terrorism connected to the wars in Irak and Syria.

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Intercultural pillar in St Ethelburga

 

The church was rebuilt as a “Centre for Reconciliation and Peace”, managed by a charity encouraging intercultural and interfaith dialogue. The courtyard garden is definitely worth sitting for a few minutes. It is full of very intricate symbolic details combining in a subtle way European and Islamic motives. The walls of the garden are broken by windows in a gothic shape but with wrought iron designs like in Northern Africa. The mosaics on the ground have centered designs as usual in Europe, but use geometrical patterns like in Morocco. The ornamental pillar combines scrolls reminiscent of Irish crosses with lions from Islamic al-Andalus.

 

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Courtyard of St. Ethelburga’s

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Mosaic pavement of St Ethelburga’s

Turn around on Bishopsgate, going back south

L Great St Helen’s, a passage for cars and pedestrians under a building

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Great St. Helen’s

 

The church is one of the largest and most venerable parish churches in the City of London. It was also destroyed in the terrorist attack of 1993 and was rebuilt in a very austere, calvinist style. The street front shows the peculiar structure of the church, made of two parallel, equal naves. This is due to the fact that the church was part of a nunnery and that the nuns used one nave, closed off from the second nave used as the parish Church.

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Glimpse of Great St. Helen’s Inside

 

The church has a lively series of activities but they are meant for specific groups and it is difficult to visit the church itself. This is possibly due to the fact that the church has only weak links with Anglicanism and defines itself as “Conservative Evangelical”. My picture is taken through a window and hints at the large number of burial monuments for which the church is well known.

Cross the square in front of the church and walk along the right side of the church into Undershaft

Detour R along St Mary Axe to St Andrew Undershaft church

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St Andrew Undershaft

 

The church is very interesting because it is one of the very few medieval churches in the City of London that were not rebuilt. It dates back to 1532 and is an authentic example of the perpendicular gothic style, inspiring many Victorian architects. The name of the church comes from a maypole that was traditionally set up every year opposite the church. The tradition stopped in 1547 after a riot cut down the maypole shaft for being a “pagan idol”.

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Lloyd’s Building from St Andrew Undershaft

 

The street corner is useful to get views of several of the surrounding skyscrapers as they are usually difficult to see properly from directly beneath. My pictures show Tower 42, the Lloyds tower, the Willis building and of course the iconic “Gherkin” (officially plain 30 St Mary Axe).

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Swiss Re tower with St Andrew Undershaft

otherwise cross St Mary Axe and walk to the right of the round tower (the passage is called Brown’s Buildings)

 

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Gherkin tower

The tower was known originally as the Swiss Re tower after its main tenant (like Tower 42 as NatWest tower). It is 180 meter high and was built in 2003 on a plot that became available after a terrorist attack in 1992 destroyed the previous building.

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Curving shapes

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Top of Gherkin tower

 

Speculators tried to get permission for a 386-meter high tower, but this was considered really excessive and also slightly problematic in view of commercial aircraft flying relatively low over London. The tower was designed by a leading architect, Sir Norman Foster, and ushered the era of conspicuous skyscraper designs in London. The design remains iconic as very few towers use rounded shapes for fear of losing valuable space at the upper levels and the tower won the Stirling Prize in 2004. In recent years, specialists have started to criticise the all-glass hull of the building as being out of fashion and more difficult to maintain than a steel-and-glass structure.

(Ahead) Bury Street

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Holland House on Bury Street

At the corner of the street, Holland House is an exquisite Art Déco office building designed in 1916 for a Dutch shipping company. It is an extremely rare example of Dutch Art Déco in London, stressing vertical lines and playing with strong colour contrasts. The very tall windows were unusual at the time in Britain for offices as they were difficult to clean from soot caused by coal heating.

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Prow of Holland House

The corner of the building is marked by a very appropriate sculpture showing the prow of a ship plowing through the waves. It is the work of a Dutch artist. The building is also listed for its interior decoration, a supposedly magnificent work by leading designer Van de Velde, but the building is strictly private and the owner does not even post pictures of the inside on their website.

R Creechurch Lane

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St Katherine Cree

 

The church at the end of the street is St Katherine Cree, a guild church (rather than a parish church). The tower is a late gothic structure from 1504, the nave is the only Jacobean church in London and was built in 1630. This is reflected in the rectangular shape of the windows, a reference to Renaissance custom. You stand a good chance of finding the church open and it is definitely worth a visit.

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Stained glass rose in St Katherine Cree

 

The first striking element is the magnificent rose over the altar, kept in the Tudor gothic style. The rose is supposedly a smaller scale copy of that of old St Paul’s Cathedral as it was before the 1666 fire. The stained glass is an extremely rare original version from 1630. In line with protestant tradition, the design is mostly geometrical.

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Guild coats of arms

 

The ceiling appears surprisingly flat to our eyes but we are influenced by the many neo-medieval churches from the Victorian era. In medieval times, most churches were covered by flat wooden ceilings and the shape in St Katherine’s is therefore perfectly in line with tradition. It is just unusual for a stone ceiling as it demands a lot of experience from the masons. When the ceiling was renovated in 1962, the coats of arms of the guilds were added and provide colourful designs.

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Font in St Katherine Cree

 

The font is also an original Jacobean work with rather heavy neo-classical shapes. The shaft looks more like a guide to Roman architecture with designs piled according to size. There are a few monuments in the church, in particular the conspicuous memorial to Sir Nicholas Throgmorton, who navigated the very difficult politics between Henry VIII and Elizabeth I brilliantly and had a adventurous career as an Ambassador to France and Scotland, ending up in prison a few times.

 

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Monument to Sir Throgmorton

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Hartshorn Alley

L Leadenhall Street

R Hartshorn Alley (a very inconspicuous pedestrian passage through building no. 65)

Cross Fenchurch Street and continue ahead into the next passage

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Neo-Renaissance on Fenchurch Street

 

On Fenchurch Street, my picture shows a late Victorian building that is interesting to compare to two buildings you saw at the start of the walk because all three are neo-baroque. The Fenchurch Street building has a ground floor similar to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, but the first floor is less well designed as the many columns and the Palladian window surroundings overload the design. The top floor is neo-Renaissance with curiously recessed windows and small balconies reminiscent of France.

Ahead Northumberland Alley

R Crutched Friars

soon L Crosswall

R America Square passing underneath train tracks

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No.1 America Square

 

There is a conspicuous building at 1 America Square. It is primarily a conference centre and this justifies an entrance that draws visitors in. The architect clearly intended to refer to US Art Deco and the entrance is duly impressive. Looking from further away to the building, you see better how vertical lines are stressed. The protruding shape is meant to bring associations of speed, of steamships through the ocean or of fast cars, Art Deco being also about being modern and fascinated by the “age of machines”.

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Inspired by American Art Deco

L Hammett Street

Cross the road for

TOWER GATEWAY

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Tower Gateway terminal

 

The station was the original DLR terminal in 1987. It has become a secondary terminal since the more convenient terminal at Bank opened in 1991.

The platform is a lightweight shelter in cheapest steel and glass; the principle was to achieve the lowest construction cost possible back in the 1980s. The access to the station is simple but quite pretty with a rotunda bearing flags – you can notice that the choice of countries is very 1990s, ignoring Asia except for Japan and also ignoring Russia. The curved roof over the elevator is equally pleasant to look at and the overall scale is human-sized, a contrast to the surrounding office towers.

R Minories

(Ahead) Cross the busy main road towards the Tower of London, turn L and go down steps to the pedestrian walkway at the lower level along the moat.

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Tower of London seen from Minories

 

This is an unusual perspective on the Tower as you get the feeling that the buildings inside the compound are not much higher than the wall around them. The outer wall dates back to about 1285, some two centuries after the construction of the original keep. By then, the Tower was seldom used as a royal palace, more as a prison and as a threat to potentially unruly London residents. The use of the moat as a tennis club was very surprising to me as this feels like a slightly undignified use of a national monument.

L Subway under Tower Bridge Approach

Follow the signs for St Katherine Docks, turning R after the subway and very soon L again

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St Katherine Docks

 

St. Katherine’s docks were built in the 1820s on the site of a medieval hospital. The docks were very modern in that warehouses had direct access to the ships, avoiding traffic on a cluttered quayside. But they had little success as they accommodated only rather small ships. Nearly all buildings were demolished around 1970 and replaced by office and luxury residential buildings of limited interest.

 

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Historical ships in S Katherine’s Docks

 

The most interesting items in the present docks are the flotilla of boats and ships including a few historical coastal navigation ships moored alongside the hotel on the west side of the dock. Unfortunately, you can only see them from far away as the quay along which they are moored is part of the hotel grounds. Apart from the working boats, you will see a huge number of colourful pleasure craft. I think most of them are visiting boats but some appear to moor all year long, which must be a rather expensive option in this marina. The boats are at their best during the annual Thames Festival weekend.

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Development in St Katherine Docks

 

The apartment buildings along the north and east side of the basin were among the first reconversion projects in the London dock areas and they set the guidelines for many later projects in terms of height and sprawl. Whereas it was popular in the 1970s to have separate towers spread over an open space, urban planners advocated in the 1990s a feeling of courtyard and therefore long buildings on three or four sides. The concept proved very popular with affluent bankers worried about their personal safety as this made gated estates easy to organise. The council authorities who reviewed the St Katherine Docks application must be commended for their foresight in the 1990s, imposing rights of way and waterside walkways.

Follow the N edge of the two basins (called first Commodity Quay and later Sun Walk), then R along the eastern edge of the second basin

L away from the basin using the only available passage

R Thomas More Street, the road turns R at a crossroads

At the end L Wapping High Street

Soon L Redmead Lane

immediately L to the edge of the basin

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Hermitage Basin

 

This is Hermitage Basin, the upstream entrance of the Shadwell / Wapping dock complex. There were warehouses along the basin but they accommodated only smaller ships and closed as early as 1909. The end of the basin is marked by a nice sculpture in the shape of a looping rope. Apparently, the artist meant the part inside the loop to be illuminated in a specific way, but I have never seen this as it uses too much electricity.

 

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Rope sculpture in Wapping

Continue into the cycle route and footpath along Hermitage Basin

Follow the cycle route as it crosses the canal and passes under a road

Continue along the canal, turning L with the canal when it branches off

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Wapping Ornamental Canal

 

Wapping Ornamental Canal is not an actual canal from the Docklands era. When the Wapping docks were demolished in the late 1970s, they were completely filled in and built over. As the estates are all gated and as there were no roads across the area due to the past as basins filled with water, the planners found it sensible to plan for a path across the area. This was beautified through the ornamental canal. In order to keep the water not too dirty, the water is aerated by pumps and flows naturally down low steps from east to west.

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Side arm of Wapping canal

 

The canal divides into two arms in the middle of Wapping, the side arm being a dead end. The houses along the side arm have some walls covered in slate, an expensive and unusual covering for London. You would expect this rather in areas heavily exposed to snow and rain driven by high wind, like in Wales and Cornwall. The railings along the canal are quite expensive but necessary because of the size of the canal; similar schemes in Rotherhithe were built later with a much narrower and shallower canal in order to save on railing costs.

The canal turns R again, continue on the cycle route passing under a footbridge and later under a road bridge

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Estate facing Tobacco Dock

 

The canal passes between an estate and a derelict shopping centre called Tobacco Dock. The estate is an interesting example of a modern terrace imitating the alignment and the height of late Victorian terraces but without front gardens. The houses are oversize cottages with steep roofs, which is not done since about 2000 as it is more profitable to plan the top level as a penthouse apartment. The façade is broken by protrusions ornamented with coloured panels in cheap plastic covering, a style that was popular in the 1980s.

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Tobacco Dock fancy ship

 

Tobacco Dock is a failed shopping centre. Planners had hoped for customers from further afield but it attracted only local shoppers because of the suboptimal connection with London Underground. The main structure is a listed warehouse from 1811, one of the oldest in London, and belongs to a Kuwaiti investor. No convincing plans have been brought forward to make sensible use of the premises. The large ship moored in front of the abandoned area, the Three Sisters, is a fancy decoration item where developers had thought of putting a “piracy museum” in order to attract families to the shopping centre. An other, smaller ship folly was planned as a children’s playground. It is a pity that the ships are fake as they would indeed be popular with children if they could be relocated to somewhere more accessible.

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Eastern end of Wapping canal

After Tobacco Dock, the ornamental canal soon comes to an end with stepped ponds that enable the oxygenation of the canal water and help prevent algae growth.

At the end of the canal L along the edge of Wapping Woods, continues as a paved access way

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Wapping Woods

 

Wapping Woods is a strange name for an open space with isolated clumps of trees. When the docks were demolished, planners had more trees planted but the ground was rubbish from the docks. It was probably polluted and drained too fast so that only the hardiest trees were able to grow. Lessons were learned from this half-failure when a similar scheme in Rotherhithe led to the much more successful creation of Russia Dock woodland. This being said, the open space is a valuable patch of greenery in an area of London where this is scarce.

Ahead Dellow Street (you might have to detour to traffic lights R or L in order to cross the main highway)

R Cable Street

L Watney Street

SHADWELL

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Shadwell DLR station

 

The station opened in 1987 together with the DLR line and did not use the site of the old train station (located a few yards further east). The station is also clearly separated from London Overground Shadwell station, located a few hundred yards away.

As usual on the DLR, there is no station building or ticket office, just a sign under the appropriate arch of the viaduct. The access hall is sheltered by an interesting set of coloured glass panels that makes you feel like fish in an aquarium.

 

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Shadwell station aquarium

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Shadwell DLR Platform

 

The platform is protected by a standard steel-and-glass awning.

Turn around on Watney Street

L Cable Street (following the same direction as before)

R King David Lane

R The Highway, cross the road at the next traffic light and continue in the same direction

L Garnet Street (there is also a pedestrian sign for “Shadwell Basin”)

Very soon L Newlands Quay (the road is unmarked but there is again a pedestrian sign for the basin)

Go to the edge of the basin and continue walking East (away from Garnet Street)

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St Paul’s Shadwell

 

The tall wall to your left is the buttressing wall of the parish churchyard. St Paul’s Shadwell was built in 1821 in order to replace the 17th century church that was too small considering the strong growth in population in the East End. Parliament paid for the construction because it was very worried that residents left without supervision from clergymen could become unruly. The nave is in neo-classical style, the tower refers to the previous church and is baroque. I have not read details about interesting monuments Inside.

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Shadwell Basin

 

Shadwell Basin at the foot of the church is the only part of the old Wapping dock complex that was kept as a basin. It is therefore very useful to sportsmen like rowers for whom the Thames is not always appropriate, but the water is not clean enough to swim in it. The basin was opened in 1832 and the present lock is from 1858. The basin became too small for standard ships by the end of the 19th century although warehouses continued to be used to some extent.

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Development on Shadwell Basin

 

The Shadwell docks were closed in 1969 and houses were built on three sides in 1989. The strong colours were popular at the time, as were the conspicuous arches at the ground level. The houses are not very tall compared to most riverside developments because the architects were asked to respect the scale of the derelict warehouses in order to keep a feeling for the actual size of harbour basins.

Follow the basin walkway turning R then L again to a road

L on the road and directly R on the footpath marked as Thames Path

The footpath leads along King Edward Memorial Park. The core of the park directly along the riverside is an elegant cylindrical structure in typically Edwardian white and red bricks. I noticed very nice cast iron grills. The structure is the ventilation shaft for the road tunnel linking Limehouse and Rotherhithe (not to be confused with the older train tunnel in Wapping).

I crossed it once by car and it is a somewhat frightening experience as the road is very narrow with sharp bends. The pavements on either side are nearly as wide as the road, the reason being that the tunnel was planned primarily for harbour traffic, i.e. horse-drawn carriages on the road and goods carried on wheelbarrows on the pavement. Because of the wide pavement, the tunnel can be used by pedestrians and cyclists, but it is very unpleasant to do so.

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King Edward VII Park

 

King Edward VII Park uses ground where a fish market had been built in the 1880s but had become derelict. Their Majesties opened the park themselves in 1922, which is a testimony to the importance it had in the very poor and very industrial East End. Apart from the obviously very pleasant views over the river, the park offers the usual number of sports grounds but also a particularly well planned green area that reminds more of an orchard than of a football ground.

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Flowers in King Edward VII Park

 

On a terrace overlooking the rest of the park, you can also find a few flower beds. The terrace is an interesting feature at the transition between Edwardian parks (pergolas with square brick columns overlooking formal flower beds) and Art Déco (making use of the natural ground features by underlining them in geometrical shapes such as terraces and round ponds).

 

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Ziggurat development

 

Continue on the riverside walkway. The first development after the park is a very massive building but has an interesting, unusual pyramidal shape. This is called a ziggurat after the antique pyramids of Iraq and was a popular shape for a short period in the 1960s, the idea being that it enabled a large number of flats to enjoy balconies and sunlight. The development is much newer (I guess 1990s) and this is a rare design nowadays because it is less profitable than a shoebox-style tower where you can pack more luxury flats for Canary Wharf bankers per valuable square foot of ground. The view from the river is particularly interesting as you can see that the riverside walkway stands on the old wharf – wooden, not concrete and steel.

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The Listed Building development

 

The next development along the riverside was built by the same developer at the same time. The scale and style are very different because this was a listed monument, a 19th century warehouse. I think it was not really worth listing considering how much it was changed and how little it reminds of an actual warehouse (as opposed to Shad Thames for example). The development has one of the stupidest names in London as it is called “The Listed Building” and the access road is called “The Highway”.

You are forced temporarily off the riverside into Narrow Street.

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Limehouse tunnel portal

 

Looking into a side street called Spert Street, you can see a towering white and pink structure with four green chimneys and a large sculpture on the side. This is just the portal for a road tunnel that runs for a little more than a mile under Limehouse in order to improve access into Canary Wharf from Central London. The chimneys are the exhaust vents. The sculpture is called “Restless Dream” and is by a celebrated Israeli artist who lives in London, Zadok Ben-David.

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Limehouse Lock

 

Continue following the Thames Path signs as they point to a riverside access a few buildings further

When reaching the lock for Limehouse Basin, turn L along the lock, then L again on the walkway along the basin

 

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Limehouse Basin

 

Limehouse Basin was opened in 1820 at the place where Regent’s Canal meets the river Thames. This made it extremely busy as seagoing ships would transfer goods here onto canal barges. The main cargo was coal for the North London factories and it declined slowly in due course due to competition from railways. Because it is the entrance to the canal network, it remained open to traffic throughout the 20th century. It is now used primarily as a marina.

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Limehouse Basin development

 

Several towers with luxury flats were built on the north side of the basin around the year 2000. They are supposed to have the shape of ship prows. The style sells well and has been reproduced on a much larger scale in other locations like in Wandsworth.

The walkway leads around the basin until it comes near the train viaduct

L along the viaduct for

LIMEHOUSE

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Limehouse DLR station

 

The old train station opened in 1840 under the name Stepney and was renamed Stepney East in 1923. It was then replaced by the neighbouring train station located on the Fenchurch Street line in 1926. When the DLR opened in 1987, both the suburban train station and the new DLR stop were renamed Limehouse.

The picture shows the DLR part of the complex with the two lift shafts and the access staircases in drab grey. There is no DLR building or ticket office while there is a station for the suburban trains, but it is integrated in the viaduct arch and of no architectural interest.

 

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