WESTFERRY to ROYAL VICTORIA
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 !
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Detour R along the narrow road to the lighthouse (there are signs for “Trinity Buoy Wharf”)
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.
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.
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.
Exit the small industrial area following Orchard Place as this is the only road out
Cross under the motorway
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.
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.
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
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”)
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
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.
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
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
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
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.