A Walk Around Canning Town

What links Gandhi, Charlie Chaplin, Danny Dyer, Sylvia Pankhurst and Kier Hardie? Yes, Canning Town – the too often overlooked quarter of East London.

Back in early March I set off from Star Lane DLR and headed towards Rathbone Market. It was impossible to ignore the late-Victorian Italianate splendour of Canning Town Public Hall, built by the Borough of West Ham in 1892. This was the scene of many significant political meetings addressed by the likes of Keir Hardie (MP for West Ham South), Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, and Bertrand Russell.

I then went in search of the scene of one of the most intriguing meetings of the early 20th Century, when Charlie Chaplin met Gandhi in a house in Cannng Town in 1931, today marked by the Gandhi Chaplin Memorial Park.

Canning Town Newham
Canning Town near the Royal Docks

From there I crossed the A13 to Keir Hardie Recreation Ground and then along Victoria Dock Road, Freemasons Road to Canning Town Recreation Park where the walk ends at the beautiful Carnegie Library at Custom House, the birthplace of legendary East London actor Danny Dyer.

Walking the River Lea from Hackney to the Thames

Reflecting on a cold cold January walk on an Easter weekend as we look forward to Spring despite forecasts of April snow. If you want a snapshot of how London is changing you could do no worse than take this stroll from the edge of the Olympic Park and hug the banks of the River Lea to its confluence with the Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

You see the towers of new Stratford and hug the contours of the Stadium. Across the Navigation the old wharfs and industrial heart of Hackney Wick is being remodelled. Passing beneath the Bow Flyover the Navigation once again provides a slideshow of change, here to the East the developments around Sugar House Lane that have been rising sluggishly from the factories and warehouses on the south side of Stratford High Street. A similar vista greets us through Bow as well till we hit the huge distribution centres of Sainsburys and Amazon beside the riverbank as we approach Cody Dock.

River Lea Walk

River Lea at West Ham

Forced away from the Riverbank at Cody Dock we wander into a slice of living history – the old industrial Lea Valley landscape around Bidder Road and Stephenson Street. Pylons rise over car and scrap yards, paint shops, and other staples that were once essential to the functioning city. These spaces keep being pushed further East till eventually they’ll end up in the sea. Someone first urged me to come down here some 7 or 8 years ago, just after the Olympics, ‘Go and see it while you can,’ Chris said.

A path beneath the A13 takes us into Bow Ecology Park where once Shipworks straddled the Lea. On the other side of the water one of the many simulacra produced by New London rises on what they call City Island or ‘mini Manhattan’ in the marketing literature. A tight cluster of colourful tower blocks tethered to the reality of Canning Town by an iron bridge. In lockdown it appears like a fever colony, no one permitted to leave the isolation blocks save for supply runs to Sainsburys Local.

Bidder Road, Lower Lea Valley
Bidder Road
City Island on the River Lea
City Island
City Island on the River Lea
City Island and Canning Town

Once you find a way off City Island through yet more new building developments around the mouth of the Lea that borrow names from the recorded past, we find our way to Trinity Buoy Wharf. Jim Finer’s Long Player installation continues to mark time in the lighthouse, and the River Lea slides into the Thames and heads off along Bugsby’s Reach bound for the sea.