Back to Beckton

What drew me back to Beckton the other weekend? Lured me out to the windswept marshy Thames level at Gallions Reach. When I think of the places I explored for my book This Other London – there were a few that cast a strange enchantment over my psyche that I still haven’t been able to escape. Beckton was one of those locations. From remote marshland where Neolithic people laid down a trackway across its waterlogged ground, to the enormous gas works that became the location for Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket. And there was the Alp – Beckton Alps that I still hadn’t climbed.

“Ah, but there was a fondly remembered mountain down here, the Beckton Alp, with a fully functional ski lift and a log cabin coffee shop – until, when they were considering, in advance of the Olympics, an iconic Antony Gormley piece to dress the A13 corridor, they discovered that the conical manmade hillock was largely composed of arsenic from the demolished Beckton Gas Works.” Iain Sinclair, London Review of Books

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.

A Walk through the ancient borough of East Ham

It was two months ago now, on the 11th June, that I set off across Wanstead Flats for a long planned walk through the ancient Borough of East Ham. The regrowth from last year’s fire was evident (as noted before on this blog) and I exited the flats near Manor Park Station. I passed the Earl of Essex pub on Romford Road, now closed and waiting for a new life, hopefully as a pub. The old Coronation Cinema is now The Royal Regency banquetting venue, opened in 1911 as the Coronation Electric Theatre, the last film flickered onto its screen in 1968.

I was thinking of Dr. Pagenstecher’s History of East and West Ham published in 1908 as I made my way along High Street North;

“East Ham is perhaps the most remarkable example of rapid transformation from a rural to an urban community. Its marvellous growth and development is absolutely without parallel in the history of the United Kingdom.”

St. Mary Magdelene East Ham

It was sad to see The Ruskin Arms boarded up. Jimmy Winston, one of the founder members of Small Faces told me the band used to rehearse in the pub when his Dad was the landlord. It’s a pub with a lot of history.

I stopped for a cracking £4.95 veg buffet at Annpoorna Indian Restaurant on the High Street before pushing on past the opulent Town Hall to search in vain for the grave of Druid and antiquarian, William Stukeley in the churchyard of St. Mary Magdalene. Stukeley had been buried at St. Mary’s in 1765 at his request after visiting Rev. Joseph Simms the vicar. Perhaps it was the antiquity of the site that caught Stukeley’s imagination, with Roman burials being excavated by workman. Or the maybe the New Age theoritsts and neo-psychogeographers were correct about St. Mary’s being a nodal point in the London earth grid, a plum location on a ley line. It’s a beautiful peaceful location in any case and the perfect place to end a walk through the ancient borough of East Ham.


Through Old West Ham to Cody Dock & River Lea

A few years ago some friends, Stuart and Rayna (who made the brilliant A13 road movie), asked if I’d ever been to Cody Dock. I’d not only never been there but I’d never even heard of it. So a couple of weeks ago at the end of February, I plotted out a route from Stratford Broadway down through Old West Ham to Cody Dock.

My path took me past the site of Stratford Langthorne Abbey, and from Cody Dock I doubled back along the Lea Valley Path to Bow Locks.

The video features some wonderful music by Emily A. Sprague from the YouTube Audio Library

Walk of Revelations – Gallions Point, Albert Island & North Woolwich

A tour of Gallions Point and Albert Island

After my summer walk around the Royal Docks and subsequent video, a local resident got in touch to say they could show me around Gallions Point and Albert Island. We met one sultry midweek morning by Gallions Reach DLR Station to begin the circuit around ‘the island’.

‘Moving East’

A slogan on one of the developments reads, ‘London is Moving East’, as if this wasn’t part of London and were terra nullius waiting to be claimed. We see the Gallions Point Marina about to be evicted and demolished to make way for the new Albert Island development by the GLA. The planes from City Airport continuously fly overhead and the building of the new runway will increase the number of flights. We also walk through Royal Albert Wharf and see the Riverside development. Two beautiful hidden beaches were visited with incredible views across the Thames. Finally we see the remains of the Royal Pavilion (or Royal Victoria) Pleasure Gardens and the majestic old North Woolwich Station.

Many thanks to my local guide.

Gallions Point Gallions Point Gallions Point Gallions Point

Old West Ham to Stanley Kubrick’s Beckton

Here’s some footage from the walk I did for Chapter 2 of my book This Other London in the summer of 2012, just before the London Olympics – starting in Leytonstone then going past West Ham Church and the site of Stratford Langthorne Abbey onwards to the site of Beckton Gas Works where Stanley Kubrick shot much of his Vietnam War movie Full Metal Jacket.

Beckton Gas Works

I’ve been sitting on over 4 hours of footage shot on the 10 This Other London walks slowly filtering out a few short videos but much of it remains unseen. The video footage, photos and notes took on an almost entirely different form once processed into a book, they’ve served their purpose and can stay in the bottom drawer. But every now and again I’ll dip back into that archive and release some of those raw video notes back out into the world.

You can download the audiobook of This Other London here