WEST HAM to BARKING 2 hours
The train line was opened in 1858 between London Fenchurch Street and Barking via Plaistow while West Ham station opened in 1901. West Ham closed in 1962 and trains ran non-stop, but was reopened in 1999.
The train tracks are actually alongside the London Underground District Line tracks between West Ham and Barking and trains called at Plaistow, Upton Park and East Ham until 1962. The present route ignores these former train stations and therefore offers an alternative to tube walks.
Routing note: This walk connects with walk 1 in West Ham. It will also connect there with a District Line walk 13, with Jubilee line walk 10 and with DLR walk 7.
It connects with walk 3 in Barking and will also connect there to District Line walks 14 and 15 and to London Overground walk 17. There are also trains running from Barking to Upminster, but I have not written a separate route for this section as these trains run on tracks along those used by the District Line while the area is not interesting enough to warrant two different walks.
In Barking itself, this route does not visit all the interesting buildings; some are left on purpose for the other walks mentioned above.
The station was opened in 1901 by the railway company 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 construction from 1999 with the walkway between the two London Overground line set on spidery brick pillars. There is a very tall and wide concourse serving both the train station and the Underground lines. It has no decoration to speak of and this gives it a rather imposing appearance reminding a little of Art Déco. Unfortunately, I could not take pictures inside for obvious security reasons.
Turn L in front of the station into
Enter 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, but there is a nice mural at the back end along the Greenway embankment.
Aim for flight of stairs near the bridge over the train tracks.
Climb the stairs, then
R on raised embankment called “The Greenway”.
The actual use of this embankment is not particularly glorified and you might have an inkling if you walk here on a hot day. The embankment carries the “Northern Outfall Sewer” that carries the sewage from most of North London to the treatment works at Beckton.
In the 1840s, most London houses used cesspits and this became a very serious issue because the invention of flush toilets led to frequent overflowing and to smells. Regular cholera epidemics occurring in London where thought to be due to irritants contained in these smells. But the costs were so huge that nothing was undertaken until a very hot summer in 1858 nearly forced the House of Commons and the High Courts to evacuate London because of the smells.
A body managing London, the Metropolitan Board of Works, had been created in 1855 and took ten years to discuss numerous schemes before accepting the hugely expensive plan of its chief engineer Joseph Bazalgette. This involved building about 1,000 miles of sewers in streets and 75 miles of main sewage collectors, of which the Northern Outfall Sewer was a core part.
About 7 km of the sewer embankment, between Victoria Park and Beckton, have been landscaped into a pedestrian and cycling path. It is not really enjoyable because it is a very straight route with little greenery; in addition, it is occasionally affected by vandalism and rubbish around the few banks. But it is a very convenient route through densely populated and not overly interesting parts of East London. And it does give you interesting views as it is raised above the surrounding area.
Shortly after leaving the Recreation Grounds, you pass on the south side the large wooded expanse of East London Cemetery. It was opened by a private company in 1872 and must be a good business as it is still in operation and profitable today.
The next attraction is a church directly along the Greenway. It dates back to 1870 and is of course closed outside of services. A reader pointed out to me that the squat tower replacing the more usual steeple is due to a lack of funds. The result makes the Church look rather similar to a real medieval church with the belfry-type tower and lots of stone pinnacles (the “Early English” style).
Continue on the Greenway until after the 3rd road (Boundary Lane)
About 200 yards further, L down flight of steps into Brampton Park
This is a pretty normal neighbourhood park opened in 1915 with playgrounds, lots of grass and a few trees (not many).
Cross Brampton Park to the N exit near the school building
R Masterman Road
L Burford Road
Note in this street St George Church squeezed among the houses. Although it is built in a somewhat medieval style, you can easily recognise that it was built in 1936: it is in brick, not in stone. If you build in brick, you cannot open large windows as bricks above would not hold. But you can have very tall windows as bricks distribute weight downwards and are lighter than stone.
15th century architects created masterpieces in this so-called “Backsteingotik” style in North-East Germany and Poland, rows of thin, tall windows being quite typical. St George is directly in this tradition. It is an unusual style in Britain.
When the church opened, it was very popular with four services on Sundays where people had to sit on the floor due to overcrowding. In the 1980s, the parish nearly closed as it had less than 100 members, but it was rejuvenated as it opened itself more to immigrant communities.
R Haldane Road
L Geoffrey Gardens
R Central Park Road
R into Central Park
This is the largest park in the area. It was opened in 1898 as a planned feature in the development of East Ham and this explains the number of old trees. Near the middle of the park, I noticed nine impressive plane trees forming a circle; it nearly reminded me a bit of Tolkien’s ent conferences. I am not sure why the number nine was chosen: similar features often have twelve trees for obvious symbolic reasons.
The park also has in the north-west corner where you enter an enclosure that was recently landscaped into a “nature area” with a brook. It will need a few years to be attractive.
The more enjoyable part at present is the north-east corner with the formal garden around a large fountain. It was renovated in 2010. The choice of plants reflects the latest fashion in grasses and generous greenery with a few rows of flowers in between. The impression is very formal with accurate beds, which is even more striking in winter and compared to other parks in the borough of Newham.
The War Memorial at the south-east corner is one of the best in London. It is suitably dignified, being large, built of Portland stone and given lots of room to stand in. It was designed by a local architect, not by an artist, and it reminds a bit of Lutyens’ imperial buildings. Of course, if you are a disrespectful person, the crowning of the monument might remind you of one these rubber things used to disgorge clogged drains. If you are more philosophically oriented, the same crowning might remind you of a buddhist stupa as seen in Nepal.
Exit the park at the SE corner near the War Memorial
Cross the main road into
Continue to the end of the avenue, then ahead on public footpath between school playing fields and industrial premises (actually sewage and refuse works). The path is paved but can be a little crowded by plants in summer at the east end. It also often has a bit of rubbish due to the neighbouring works.
The footpath ends at a T-junction at the foot of a motorway embankment
L public footpath to pedestrian bridge over the North Circular Road
L along the motorway exit ramp, then directly
R Highbridge Road
The road crosses the River Roding.
The bridge you are crossing marks the spot where the river Roding becomes tidal. From the bridge downwards, it is therefore called Barking Creek. The harbour still has a few commercial seaworthy boats, which is a very unusual sight nowadays within the M25. Barking was a major fishing port for centuries, starting in 1320 when documents show City of London began controlling the nets used by Barking fishermen (too fine nets were banned to prevent overfishing).
It became a big industry with the growth of London in the 16th century. Around 1850, fishing industry developed modern methods of preserving freshly caught fish on ice (the ice being taken from meadows around Barking in winter, a useful job for East End slum dwellers). Ships would stay for months out in the North Sea with shuttle ships bringing fish to London. A core figure in this industry had the delightfully Scottish first name Scrymgeour (Mr Hewett).
Because the first arrivals got better prices, dramatic competition resulted with rowers refusing to carry life vests as that might slow them down. 60 fishermen drowned in a single storm in 1863. This shows why health and safety regulations can be sensible, although I have doubts that the UK authorities need to issue such a huge number of all-catching health and safety regulations.
While Barking harbour was teeming with ships in the 1850s, it had all but emptied by 1900 as fishing companies moved to harbours directly on the North Sea and used trains to carry fish more quickly to London than shuttle ships could do. Barking Creek was still used by small ships working for the industrial companies along the river. The harbour itself was abandoned along with the tidal mill.
The area was redeveloped sometime during the 1990s and there are interesting explanations on panels along the quay.
The road then turns R as Town Quay, then L to the main road.
Cross the road into the green space, then cross the green space eastwards leaving the church on yout left. As I visited the site when walking the District Line, I bypassed it on the present route, but it is well worth a look.
Cross the next main road into
You are passing Barking Town Hall, a rather peculiar mix of Art Déco with a few baroque window frames. The third level of windows above a cornice is quite out of scale with the rest of the building and may be an afterthought. The building was finished in 1958 and is honestly not the best design in London.
There is a very intriguing ruin opposite the town hall building with sculptures and a coat of arms. Thanks to a reader, I found out later that it is actually a work of art combining bricks reclaimed from Barking Abbey and Eastbury Manor House. I find it interesting to note that I thought originally it might be a remnant of a historical structure – using old materials to create a new structure looking a bit like an old structure is probably an artistic statement.
Continue ahead through the pedestrianised area, passing along the public library and crossing a square called The Arboretum.
As Barking had long been a particularly poor area of London, considerable effort was invested in improving the town centre in the years 2000 to 2006. The arboretum is full of cherry trees and this might be very beautiful in spring. The buildings around the square are very tall and make it quite dark and a bit oppressing, but they are enlivened by an intelligent use of strong colours. The library at the ground floor of one of the main buildings is intelligently recessed behind a long row of thin V-shaped pillars.
The final result is quite convincing: a friendly, quiet place with opportunities to sit down. Hoodies, louts and jobless youths (who are said to be quite numerous in Barking) don’t loiter here as there are no shops directly on the square. There are a few places in London where similar developments may make sense – Tottenham and Peckham come to my mind. The scheme was commended at an architecture festival.
At the end of the square after passing a hotel, cross Ripple Road into Vicarage Shopping Center.
Turn L within the shopping centre to reach Station Road.
(if you do not fancy walking through the shopping centre, turn L along Ripple Road and then R into Station Road).
The station first opened in 1854 on the train line from Fenchurch Street to Dagenham and Tilbury. The direct line via Plaistow was added in 1858 and a train line to Upminster opened in 1888. The present London Overground line to Tottenham and Hampstead opened in 1894, the London Underground District Line trains arrived in 1902. All these lines continue to be available to travellers.
Because the station was such an important interchange, it was deemed sensible to rebuild it in 1960. I am not very enthusiastic about architecture from that period, but it was considered a masterpiece at the time: it is a listed building and it was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1961. Its main title to fame is probably the protruding concrete roof that needs no pillars due to intelligent steel frames and an inclined roof. Despite the kiosks, you do get the feeling of a large, open, airy space inside.