ROYAL VICTORIA walk to BECKTON
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.
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.
Then, there is the boring, high-density development compensating the lower purchasing power of the buyers through maximisation of the space available.
Then, you have the derelict surviving building that developers hesitate about because they fear pollution issues.
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.
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
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
There 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
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
L along the building for
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Just before the road bridge, turn L towards the DLR viaduct
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
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
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
At the end of the school fence L along the DLR tracks on a minor road called Stonewall
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.