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.
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
The station opened in 2011 together with DLR line.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.