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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
R on the riverside walkway along the river Lea
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
At the end of the road L on Devons Road
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
R Poplar High Street
L DLR station access, nearly opposite Hale Street
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.
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.
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
WEST INDIA QUAY
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.