The Royal Docks - a short history

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What's on this Page?

A brief history of the Trust's area

Early History
  - Early Industrial Ventures
  - New Settlements
  - Beckton
The Docks
   - The Docks Decline
   - Closure
The Docklands Joint Committee
   -  LDSP sets the ball rolling in Beckton
Enter the LDDC
   -  First fruits
   -  Development Frameworks
   -  Land
   -  Infrastructure - road, rail and services
   -  Environmental Improvements
   -  Memorandum of Agreement  
   -  Beckton
   -  The1987 consortia scheme
   -  West Silvertown Urban Village

   -  ExCel
   -  Thames Barrier Park
   -   Royals Business Park
   -   Conserving the Past
   -   Bow Creek Ecology Park
   -   River Crossings - unfinished business
Exit the LDDC
   -    English Partnerships
   -    LBN Package Deal
   -   The Royal Docks Trust (London)
   -   RODMA
Enter the London Development Agency
   -   Royals Business Park - relaunched
   -   Silvertown Quays
More Information

Related pages:
About the Area
Royal Docks - development update
Regeneration - links and contacts
New Urban Development Corporation


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THE early inhabitants of this marshy fen-land were probably Bronze or Iron Age fisherfolk. From the remains of a substantial timber track uncovered in the early 1990s, archaeologists believe the area sustained a number of settlements. In 1997 the remains of a Bronze age settlement was discovered on the site of what is now the Royal Docks Community School at Custom House. Among the remains were pieces of pottery, arrowheads , flints a substantial wooden support post and parts of a yew tree.

Royal Albert and King George VLater the Romans had a burial ground nearby. And evidence suggests there could have been a Roman road and ferry point and perhaps a look-out post at Gallions Reach.

During medieval times the area was known as Hamme, a name meaning ‘flat, low-lying pasture’. For a while it belonged to Guthrum the Dane who won it in a battle in 878 against Alfred the Great. By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) Hamme consisted of three separate manors; the eastern one, later to become East Ham, held by Robert Gernon, and the western one, the nucleus of West Ham, held jointly by Gernon and Ranulf Peverel. Little Ilford was a separate manor, held by Joscelin Lorimer. There was also a small estate at North Woolwich owned by Westminster Abbey, though North Woolwich belonged to Kent from the Norman Conquest - a curious arrangement which survived until 1965.

Very little is known about the area pre-1700, although cattle were grazed on what had come to be known as the Plaistow Marshes. By 1800 there was just one house (Devil's House owned by the Ismay French family) between Bow and Barking Creeks and only one road stretching from East Ham village to the river.

During the excavation of the Royal Victoria Dock hazel, oak and yew trees were found in a bog as well as British and Roman coins, a 27 foot canoe, a millstone, a Roman urn, a circular tin shield and many animal bones including those of a whale.

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It was in the mid-1800s that the came to life. In 1847 the well known Victorian engineer George P.Bidder completed his railway from Stratford to North Woolwich.  This new line, which south of Canning Town followed the line of what is now Silvertown Way and North Woolwich Road, was called "Bidders Folly" because it passed through completely undeveloped marshland.  But George Bidder sensed the potential of the area and soon he'd bought up the whole of the marshes between Bow Creek and Galleons Reach.  He called the area "Lands End" and soon his investment was showing a handsome return as the land was sold for the docks and for a belt of factories along the River.

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Early Industrial Ventures

The demand for land for factories here was encouraged, perhaps, by the Metropolitan Building Act 1844 which prohibited "harmful trades" within London. One of the first to arrive, in 1852, was Samuel Silver's waterproof clothing works which gave its name to the Silvertown district. In 1867 this factory, which had become a major local employer, was renamed the India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Cable Works - but Silvertown kept its name. Another early arrival was C.J.Mare who built an iron works and ship-building facility at Orchard Yard. Before long his Thames Ironworks became very well known throughout the world.

Important among the industrialists were Henry Tate and Abram Lyle who brought their refineries to the area. They merged in 1921 to form Tate & Lyle which still operates the Silvertown Refinery to the east.  Their contribution to the history of the area, and its local life, has been significant. [More on Tate and Lyle]

By the 1880s the area had become a major centre of industry attracting people from all over Britain to work in the factories, docks and the Beckton Gasworks. Follow this link to see a list of the companies operating in West ham in the early 1900s.

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NOrth Woolwich Road 1884New Settlements

All this, and the Royal Victoria Dock which opened in 1855, created employment and very soon there was a huge demand for housing to accommodate the workers and their families. Thus originated new settlements such as those at Hallsville, Canning Town and North Woolwich and before long there  was housing in much of what is now Custom House, Silvertown and West Silvertown.

The new housing settlements lacked a proper water supply and sewerage system and the housing lacked basic amenities. Soon they became centres of disease such as cholera and smallpox. The hardships faced by people gave rise to action through trade union and political activities and the area became the focus of a number of new movements and several of those involved, including Will Thorne and James Keir Hardie, became leading figures in the Labour Party.

Much of the industry was also unhealthy or dangerous.  This was highlighted on 19th January 1917 when 50 tons of TNT blew up in the Brunner Mond & Co works in Silvertown which, contrary to the judgement of the reluctant owners, had been given over to making munitions.   This caused the greatest explosion in London's history. The noise of the blast could be heard as far as Southampton and Norwich. Upwards of 70,000 buildings were damaged and 73 people were killed.

Between the wars the Council sought to alleviate some of the worst aspects of housing and poverty through a programme of slum clearance and health promotion. New houses with modern facilities were built and new services including clinics, nurseries and the lido were opened. The long delays faced by traffic were reduced by the construction of new approach roads to the Docks - including Silvertown Way which was Britain's first flyover and the Silvertown ByPass. [More on the Flyover]

The area suffered very badly from bombing during the Second World War. Even before the War ended plans for re-development were being drawn up by West Ham Council. The aim was to reduce the population, transfer industry and provide new housing such as that on the Keir Hardie Estate which included also schools and welfare services.

Housing schemes in the early post war years followed a ‘garden city’ pattern with low density housing. But supply could not keep up with demand and in 1961 the first high-rise units appeared in Canning Town followed by Cranbrook Point and Dunlop Point in Silvertown (1967) and others which took their names from firms that had been in the areas where they now stood, such as Albion and Brocklebank tower blocks in North Woolwich. The collapse of one of the blocks - Ronan Point - in 1968 led to a rethink on high density housing and most of the tall blocks have since been demolished or cut down in size.

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Beckton Gas WorksBeckton

The areas in the south and west of what is now Beckton largely escaped this process of urbanisation and in due course they were earmarked for a fourth great dock, should the three massive Royal Docks prove inadequate. However, in the mid-1960s the Port of London Authority faced facts and abandoned its plans to build the dock.

Elsewhere the Gas Light and Coke Company in 1870 opened Europe's largest gas works, serving the whole of London. In honour of the event, the whole district was named after Simon Adams Beck, the Governor of the Company. What became today's GMB Trade Union was founded at these works, which stopped making gas only in 1969 after the introduction of natural gas.

Cyprus Estate around 1920Beckton's other historic service to London was in drainage. In 1875, Joseph Bazalgette's monumental drainage system for the metropolitan area was completed. It ended cholera in London. and led to the development of the modern flush toilet. It also gave Beckton the distinction of being the destination for all of the sewage of London north of the Thames, and of having the largest sewage treatment works in Europe.

Meanwhile, the fact that the PLA owned much of the land stood in the way of would be developers. The main exception was Cyprus, an estate built in 1881 after the opening of the Royal Albert Dock, and so named because of the raising of the Union Jack over the Mediterranean island three years earlier in 1878.

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The Roylal Docks 1950The Royal Victoria Dock, which was opened in 1855, was the first dock built expressly for steam ships and the first to be planned with direct rail links onto the quay - [More Details]. The Royal Albert Dock was opened in 1880 by the Duke of Connaught after whom the modern swing bridge is named. The Albert was equipped with hydraulic cranes and steam winches to handle vessels up to 12,000 tons and was served by the Great Eastern Railway.  The two docks were linked by the Connaught Passage

By 1886 there were 7 enclosed dock systems within the Port of London, namely the London and St Katherine's Docks, the Surrey Docks, the West India Docks, the Millwall Docks, the East India Docks, the Royal Victoria Dock, the Royal Albert Dock and Tilbury Docks. By this time there was over-provision of dock facilities and this gave rise to financial difficulties for the dock companies, and the East and West India Docks Company went into receivership in 1886. Low financial returns led to a lack of investment in new facilities and, at a time of rapid advances in technology, the ports' facilities became increasingly obsolescent and inefficient.

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A Royal Commission was appointed in 1900 to look into these problems and as a result the Port of London Act was passed in 1908. The Port of London Authority (PLA) came into being the following year and took over the powers of all the existing companies. The PLA began an immediate programme of modernisation, including the construction of a new dock able to take ships of up to 30,000 tons. Following a considerable debate on the merits of enclosed docks as opposed to deep water berths the PLA decided to build an enclosed dock south of the Royal Albert Dock. The King George V Dock was opened in 1921, completing the Royal group of docks which, as a whole, formed the largest area of impounded water in the world - [More Details]. Marsh land to the north, which is now Beckton, was earmarked for further expansion of the dock system but this was not to be. Royal Victoria and Royal Albert Docks handled bulk grain. The great mills on the south side of the Royal Victoria Dock - some now demolished – remain as a reminder of this.

As refrigeration methods improved, they started handling frozen meat as well as fruit and vegetables. During the 1926 General Strike, the threat was posed of some 750,000 frozen carcasses in the Royals rotting when electrical power was cut off, but two Royal Navy submarines sailed in to save the Royals' bacon by connecting up their generators to keep the freezers going. The Royal Docks - early 1950s

Passenger cargoes also became big business. King George V Dock could berth the biggest liners of the time. Passengers could travel from mainline London stations by rail, some staying overnight in the now Grade II listed Gallions Hotel.

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The Docks Decline

Over the period 1910-1950 the Royal Docks were relatively prosperous. The docks' layout permitted trans-shipment of break bulk cargos from ship to rail, to road and lighter transport or into warehouses for storage. Most of the cargo passing through the dock group was from deep sea trades, particularly with the British Commonwealth.

Traffic through the Royal Docks reached its peak in the 1950s and early 1960s. After that containerisation and other technological changes, and a switch in Britain's trade following EEC membership, led to a rapid decline. By 1978 the financial losses incurred by the upper docks, and the Royals in particular, had brought the PLA to the brink of insolvency. On consulting the Government the PLA were told to prepare restructuring proposals with a view to achieving commercial viability. The PLA's initial solution, known as the Radical Approach, was to close the upstream docks which were losing £9m a year without any prospect of paying their way.

However, in view of the severe impact of implementing the Radical Approach, a modified plan was put forward which involved further manpower reductions, changing working practices to improve productivity, and transferring the PLA cargo handling operations from the Royal Docks to the West India and Millwall Docks and Tilbury Docks. This recommended strategy was agreed by the Government except for the transfer of cargo handling away from the Royals, and £35m was granted to the PLA to implement the rest of the strategy. Further financial assistance was made conditional on keeping the upper docks operational.

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The Royal Docks 1982


It soon became clear that the funds provided by the Government were draining away. Losses in the Royal Docks, excluding interest and central overheads, increased from £4.6m per annum in 1978 to £6.7m per annum in 1981, and in consequence the decision was taken to close the West India and Millwall Docks in 1980. One of the conditions of further Government support was that the PLA operations had to be self-supporting by 1983. The Royal Docks were closed for general cargo handling at the end of 1981.  The last vessel to be loaded in the Royals left the King George V Dock on 7th October 1981 and the last to be unloaded there discharged its cargo three weeks later.

A number of activities remained in the Royal Docks after cargo handling operations were transferred to Tilbury. One of these was the 'laying up' of vessels not in use which involved considerable costs in impounding, lock operation and maintenance including dredging. Since the revenues received did not cover these costs, the PLA decided to cease providing water access to the Royal Docks by the end of 1982. It was decided to keep the lock entrance at the east end of the King George V Dock in good condition so that it could be opened again in future if necessary. However, a willingness by the users to pay higher charges and a reduction in personnel costs by the PLA enabled them to keep the water access open until the end of 1983 for 'laying up' and ship repairs. The PLA received about £0.25m per annum from the laying up of ships.

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The economic and social impact of the progressive decline and closure of the docks was a matter of increasing concern to the Dockland Boroughs and the GLC.  During 1973 there were discussions with the Government leading to agreement on the setting up of a statutory joint committee for the area thus ensuring that the future of Docklands was firmly placed in their control.

The resulting Docklands Joint Committee (DJC) was established by the Government in January 1974 to prepare a strategic plan for the redevelopment of the Docklands area and to co-ordinate the implementation of that plan. The DJC was made up of members of the GLC and the five Docklands boroughs, including two from Newham, and there were co-opted members drawn from the world of business and finance. The Docklands boroughs and the GLC agreed to delegate to the Committee most of their development control functions though the DJC was not intended to be an executive agent.

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London Docklands Strategic Plan sets the ball rolling in Beckton

In April 1976 the DJC published a consultation draft of the London Docklands Strategic Plan (LDSP) which was finally adopted in July that year. From the outset problems of land assembly and inadequate funding hindered the early and speedy implementation of the Plan and it was not a success.

In Beckton the LDSP did help to set the ball rolling by confirming its development as a residential area with a population increase to 28,000 mostly in local authority housing. By 1981 Newham Council had drained the rnarshes and put in a foul drainage system. It had also laid out distributor roads, provided a large part of the eventual district park and started a council house building programme. One new school had been built and another was about to start. Two private residential schemes had also been put forward and progress was being made on Phase 1 of East Beckton District Centre, including the ASDA Superstore. The development of the London Industrial Park had started on former gas works land, providing a range of industrial and warehousing units as well as sites for larger users such as R. Whites, the drinks manufacturer. Some unpleasant "bad neighbour" industries on Tollgate Road and in Cyprus were in the process of being relocated.  In spite of these foundations for the future, it was the dereliction of the past which dominated much of Beckton. The closed gas works were decaying and in parts dangerous. Employment was thin. Even before the Port of London Authority formally closed the Royal Docks in November 1981, employment in them had mostly been reduced to non-dock temporary work which only survived because of the low rents.

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Such was the situation when in mid 1981 the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was established to secure the regeneration of the area.

The LDDC was an urban development corporation, the second to be established by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine, under s.136 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. Its object was to secure the regeneration of the London Docklands Urban Development Area (UDA) comprising 8½ square miles of East London in the Boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Southwark . This was a response to a huge decline in the economy of the area brought about by the progressive closure of the docks from the 1960s onwards. [More on LDDC]

The attempts by the local authorities to deal with this were perceived by the new Thatcher Government to be much too slow and there was a need for resources on a scale which it would only make available through a focused agency of its own [more information] . LDDC was wholly financed by grant from the Government and the income generated by the disposal of land for housing, industrial and commercial development.

When the Corporation's boundaries were drawn it was considered that both Custom House and Canning Town were fully developed and well established residential areas which did not need the special attention and funding which the LDDC would bring.  So while generally in Newham the LDDC's boundary ran along the A13 here it dipped so that the area bounded by Silvertown Way, Victoria Dock Road and Prince Regent Lane was excluded  (In fact these areas had many needs and their exclusion caused the LDDC many problems over the years.  But when finally the Corporation left the area in 1998 it was agreed that the whole area to the south of A13 could be included in the area of the Royal Docks Trust (London) and so now these areas benefit from the grants programme which the Trust runs jointly with the LBN.)

There was much to do - in the LDDC’s own words………

“In 1981 the Royal Docks and the surrounding areas of North Woolwich and Silvertown were areas of economic and social deprivation, characterised by inadequate and poor social and community facilities. The area was physically isolated with few and poor public transport links, whether to elsewhere in Newham or to the City and West End.

"It is hard today to realise how much industry was once based in East London, a good deal of it near the Royals. Some industry continued after the closure, but much of it was there for reasons such as low rents in poor quality property. Transport, storage and industrial processes were among their number. There were, of course, notable exceptions such as sugar refiners, Tate & Lyle, with a long term commitment and long term loyalty to the area. The area has benefited considerably from their presence of more than one hundred years. But for the rest, it is hard to convey the sheer desolation of the area in the period after the closure of the Royal Docks: so close to the City and West End, yet so remote. Most Londoners remained ignorant of this huge blighted area of their city.”London City Airport

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First fruits

Among the projects on the new Corporation's early Agenda was the proposal to build London City Airport. This was put to the Corporation in November 1981. It was pursued with great determination and following a public inquiry in 1983 work started on building the new facility in 1986. The Airport opened in 1987. There is detailed information on the history of the Airport on the website of the Airport’s Consultative Committee.

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Development Frameworks

With work in Beckton under way the Corporation began to think about the rest of the area. Its first development framework for the Royal Docks was published in 1985. It had taken longer to work through than the equivalent frameworks for more compact, more central, less problematical areas of Docklands. “However”, said the LDDC, “the time had been well spent”. The framework, and its successor published in 1992, “sought to respond to the challenges presented in the Royal Docks by securing development equivalent in stature to the position the docks had held in the British economy. It was also important to encourage buildings of a similar scale to the vast expanses in the area and to find employment generating uses that could benefit local people, as well as the capital as a whole.”

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The scale of work needed in the Royals meant that the Corporation had to acquire land and the docks themselves before it could swing into action. The Royal Victoria Dock was acquired from the Port of London Authority in 1983, followed by Royal Albert and King George V Docks in 1986. That same year, the Corporation took over a large British Gas holding in the Royal Docks and in Beckton - a hundred years earlier the Beckton Gasworks had been the largest in the world, and their condition a century later added considerably to the regeneration task. Finally, between 1990 and 1994, the Thames Barrier construction site was acquired.

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Infrastructure - road, rail and services

Meanwhile, the Government had agreed to provide the resources needed for a comprehensive infrastructure, environmental and transport programme.

Roads: Most of the new main roads to open up the Royal Docks were in place by the end of 1990:

The new Connaught CrossingThese were linked by the Lower Lea Crossing (which opened in December 1991) with the Limehouse Link, Aspen Way, the East India Dock Link and the Prestons Road flyover in May 1993. These Docklands Highways soon attracted through commuters and for years they have suffered heavy congestion, especially in the peak periods   With the completion of the A13 improvements things may now improve. [LDDC Road Programme Details] [LDDC Road Construction Details]

Docklands Light Railway: The Beckton Extension of the DLR was authorised by Act Parliament.  The Bill was deposited in November 1986 and there were Committee hearings on the question of whether the railway should be routed direct to the Royals or through Canning Town. The Act finally received Royal Assent in July 1989 with construction starting in January 1990. The railway began carrying passengers in March 1994 initially on a shuttle service between Poplar and Beckton - [More on DLR Beckton Extension].

Jubilee Line Extension: After many years of study and debate about an underground connection into Docklands an agreed plan emerged the 1989 East London Rail Study. This involved an extension of the Jubilee Line from Green Park via Westminster, Waterloo, London Bridge, Surrey Docks, Canary Wharf, North Greenwich and Canning Town to Stratford. A Parliamentary Bill to authorise the line was submitted in November 1989 and Royal Assent was received in 1992. However, It was not until the Autumn of 1993 that the financing package was agreed allowing the Government to give the project the go-ahead. Construction started late that year. The new line, costing £3.5 billion, was due to open in the spring of 1998 but there was slippage in the programme and the line was opened in stages during 1999. The Jubilee Line links with the DLR and the North London Line at Canning Town which is now an important rail hub for the Royal Docks. It also incorporates a major bus interchange, including a shuttle bus to London City Airport. [More on Jubilee Line 1] [More on Jubilee Line 2]

Services: The provision of sewerage and other services, and the decontamination of land, was a major undertaking for the LDDC - for full details see their engineering monograph.

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Environmental Improvements

There was a comprehensive programme of environmental improvements throughout the Royal Docks and the impact of this is readily visible.  An early scheme was to turn the historic Silvertown Tramway into a landscaped footpath/cycleway. [More on Tramway]

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The Newham Memorandum of Agreement

In the late summer of 1987, following the re-election of the Thatcher government for a third term, the London Borough of Newham signed-up to a compact with the LDDC to support the land use proposals proposed by the Corporation for the Royals and to co-operate in securing the various developments and the infrastructure needed to support them. In return the LDDC promised to work towards a target of 1,500 homes for fair rent and a major package of social and community benefits including schemes for education and training.

Earlier that year the LDDC detailed staff to set up the Royal Docks Area Team in a new office on the north side of the Royal Victoria Dock near the Connaught Crossing.

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Beckton Leads the Way

Beckton's place in the history of the LDDC lies to a large extent in being the area which led the way in private house building. In 1981 the LDDC scaled down the LDSP population target for Beckton of 28,000 to 20,000 - see above - as it wished to give new impetus to lower density private housing schemes to achieve a more balanced population mix. Even before the Corporation had been established its prospective officials, working then within the Department of the Environment, approached a number of leading house builders with the result that, somewhat against their better judgment, Barratt, Wimpey, Broseley and Comben began the first phase of private house building in Beckton in November that year. Much to their surprise, all 601 houses and flats were quickly sold. This early success set the tone, not just for Beckton but for the whole of London Docklands.

As elsewhere in the Royal Docks area, the Corporation began with a meticulous emphasis on infrastructure. Services, drainage, roads, footpaths and cycleways took priority as well as reclamation including the Beckton Alp, which was formed into a dry ski slope, and 22 hectares at Winsor Park for housing and associated facilities. LDDC also supported a range of community facilities including five primary schools, three health centres, a children’s centre and a church centre as well as the community and resource centres at Winsor Park.

Beckton District ParkBy December 1995, when LDDC left the area, the population of Beckton had more than trebled from 5,106 to 17,860 with some 4,600 homes built: 60% for owner occupation, 27% shared equity, self build and housing association, and 12% built by the Council. Shopping had been improved with the development of Beckton Retail Park, next to the London Industrial Park and the 135,000 sq.ft. Savacentre next to the A13. Among the leisure facilities the LDDC provided funds for the Beckton District Park which includes a lake, sports centre, sports pitches and exercise trail. The LDDC also helped with the cost of the extension of Newham City Farm, the livery stables at Stansfeld Road and the Docklands Equestrian Centre.

The 1995 exit package agreed with Newham Council included an LDDC contribution of £3.98 million towards the £5 million Beckton Forum which houses a library, technology suite, youth house, community education facility, drop-in centre and crèche.  A further £1.2 million was paid to the newly established Royal Docks Trust (London) [see below] to secure continuation of the LBN/LDDC voluntary sector grants programme in Beckton.  Under the deal the Council agreed to take ownership of Beckton Alps in exchange for an LDDC grant of £456,000 which allowed the Council to acquire the land for the new primary school at Winsor Park.

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The 1987 consortia schemes

Against the background of the Memorandum of Agreement discussions started during 1987 on a number of consortia schemes for the Royal Docks and at the end of the year details of 5 schemes were published in a special edition of the Corporation’s house newspaper Docklands News. These included:

The proposed Londondome

Royal Victoria Dock (north side):

A 23,000 seater multi-purpose indoor stadium – the Londondome – together with 20,000 sq m exhibition hall and a major conference centre linked to a 500 room hotel, 1950 homes, 246,000 sq metres of business premises, a Covent Garden style Town Square and parking for 13,000 cars.

Royal Albert Dock and Basin:

Developers Rosehaugh Stanhope drew up plans for a two level regional shopping centre on the north side of the Basin of similar size to the Brent Cross shopping Centre, a 2.5million sq ft business park on the north side of the Royal Albert Dock, 1000 homes and a marine centre around the Basin similar to St Katherine’s Dock. The LDDC also looked at a rival scheme submitted by the London Edinburgh Trust and Tarmac for 2000 homes and 1.25 million sq ft of shops and 800,000 sq ft of leisure space including a sports stadium and an exhibition/conference centre. But the Rosehaugh Stanhope scheme was the one chosen.

Royal Victoria Dock (south side)

The Roche/Heron/Mowlem consortium put forward plans for 4000 homes, 430,500 sq ft of light industrial and hi-tech floorspace, a Futurescience Centre, an American style Festival Market, a 10 acre park south of North Woolwich Road, a hotel, supermarket, cinema, primary school, community water-sports centre and a 1.6 mile monorail linking to the DLR and British Rail stations. A rival scheme submitted by the Royal Docks Housing Group for 3900 homes, a heritage park and training facilities did not proceed.

A lot of time, effort and money was put into the development of these grand schemes. However, the property recession at the end of 1980s and early 1990s meant that none of them went ahead. They did, however, set the scene for a number of the schemes which emerged later in the 1990s involving uses very similar to these consortia schemes.

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West Silvertown Urban Village (Britannia Village)

It was not until 1994 that enough confidence had returned to the property market for the LDDC to resume the regeneration of the area. Royal Victoria Dock - south side 1993

During that year bids were invited for phase one of “urban village” at West Silvertown. The village concept broke from conventional town planning trends of segmenting business, residential and leisure areas. Instead, there would be a balanced community, where people could live, work and enjoy recreation in close proximity. In December 1993 Prince Charles attended an early planning meeting to provide local people and businesses a chance to air their views on the project. He described the idea as: ”A way to reintroduce human scale, intimacy and a vibrant street life to help restore to people their sense of belonging and pride in their own surroundings.” As originally planned the urban village would eventually house more than 5,000 people in 1,700 homes and provide them with shops, recreational facilities and workplaces.

After a sustained period of consultation local people voted for the demolition of Cranbrook and Dunlop Points in Barnwood Court. These tower blocks, built by Newham Council in the 70s, were considered be an eyesore and not worth refurbishing. Those living in the 264 flats were re-housed.  The 60 privately owned homes in the area were left and most are still there today.

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In 1994 Peabody Homes took the first steps towards what would later be called Britannia Village by starting 85 homes for rent on the four-acre site off Fort Street. The following year the Corporation sold 28 acres of land to Wimpey Homes to build 777 private dwellings and six shops in what was billed at the time as the largest housing development by a single private developer anywhere in Docklands. As part of the deal Wimpey agreed to provide the Village Hall and contribute £30,000 towards providing a GP surgery at the centre. Meanwhile land was allocated by LDDC and Newham Council for 140 social homes to be built by the Peabody Trust and East Thames Housing Group at six integrated locations throughout the site.

The village plans included the £3.9 million Royal Victoria Dock Footbridge built by the LDDC to provide a direct link from the village to the DLR station at Custom House on the north side of the dock.

The first residents of the Village moved in during 1996 and a charitable trust, the West Silvertown Village Community Foundation, was set up to support community activities in the village with funding of more than £400,000 from the LDDC, Peabody Trust, East Thames Housing Group and Wimpey Homes. [Foundation website]

The award winning development commissioned by LDDC is now substantially complete. Phase II of the project was left to the LDDC’s successor, English Partnerships. This was a development around the Pontoon Dock to include a village centre with mixed development of business, retail and leisure facilities and up to 700 new homes. The plans included proposals to refurbish the remaining mills along the waterfront for new uses. However the site is still vacant - see below[More on Pontoon Dock and the Mills ]

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ExCeLExCel 2004

It was in July 1994 that the LDDC short-listed four firms to put in bids for a large-scale exhibition Centre on the north side of the Royal Victoria Dock. In January the following year they announced that London International Exhibition Centre Ltd (LIECL) had been chosen to work up the scheme.

The scheme took time to develop and finance and it was not until January 1998 that the scheme finally got the green light. By this time a development Company, Highpine Ltd, had been set up to build the Centre. This was owned 68 per cent by Malaysian financial interests and 24.5 per cent by LIECL’s shareholders. The balance of 7.5 per cent was held by LDDC which contributed the land in 85 acre site and associated infrastructure including the four-lane junction linking the site with Royal Albert Way, site services and landscaping, particularly around the dock edge and listed warehouses. In March 1998 the LDDC’s share was transferred to its successor English Partnerships.

ExCel opened in November 2000. It represents London’s largest single site exhibition centre, with 65,000 square metres of column-free exhibition space. The listed warehouses at ExCeL west were completed at the turn of 2002/03. They provide a themed pub/restaurant, a nightclub, offices and apartments. The Sunborn Yacht Hotel, the world’s first custom built luxury Yacht Hotel offering 104 luxury suites, is now berthed in Royal Victoria Dock alongside the venue’s eastern entrance. And the development has acted as a magnet for other hotels including those provided by Holiday Inn, Travel Inn Capital, Howard Johnson, Ramada, Ibis and Novotel as well as the Custom House & Quality Hotel and the Fox Apartments.

In December 2002 there was a restructuring of the organisation and the following month details were announced of a refinancing package under which ExCeL's majority shareholder, Visionary Properties, provided £25m of equity in return for a 75.1% voting stake.

[More on ExCeL project] [ExCel website]

TOPThames Barrier Park 2004

Thames Barrier Park

It was in April 1995 that the LDDC invited leading architects to submit designs from for this 22 acre riverside park on what was once Prince Regents Wharf (a petroleum and chemical works). The chosen designer was French landscape architect Alain Provost, in an Anglo-French collaboration of urban designers Group Signes and Patel Taylor. The contract for the park was well underway when the LDDC left the scene in 1998 and the scheme was taken over by co-funder English Partnerships. The park was officially opened by the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone in November 2000. Key features are a sunken landscaped garden (called the Green Dock), a riverside promenade and a children’s play area. The park is now managed by the London Development Agency who so far have chosen not to implement a 1998 agreement between Newham Council and the LDDC involving the transfer of the park, when completed, to the Council. [Park website]

The sites fringing the park were allocated for residential development. On the 4.8 acre site to the west the LDDC selected Barratt as its preferred developer and the resulting homes at Barrier Point are now completed and occupied.  Further to the east is the new Tradewinds development.The Regatta Centre

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Royals Business Park

It was in March 1997 that the LDDC launched its marketing drive for developments along the north side of the Royal Albert Dock and the Albert Basin. Already much of the land had been allocated for:

  • a Regatta Centre at the western end of the dock linked to a major project to create an Olympic standard 2000 metre rowing course by widening the Royal Albert Dock into the Albert Basin involving the realignment of Woolwich Manor Way and replacing the old bascule bridge. The Regatta Centre and rowing course attracted a Lottery grant of £8.9m with the LDDC committing a further £7.2 million for the dock widening, road re-alignment and bridge works. Work started in March 1998 and the Centre started operating in October 1999. The facilities at the Centre now include a popular Chinese restaurant and a fitness studio. [More on Regatta Centre] [Regatta Centre website]
  • the Docklands Campus of the University of East London (UEL) comprising 25 acres at the eastern end of the dock. LDDC invited design concepts for this project as early as July 1995 and in January 1997 outline planning permission for the project was granted. Work started in March 1998 with funding committed by UEL (£20 million), UEL’s Docklands CampusLDDC (£8.1) and the Single Regeneration Challenge Fund which awarded £8.1m for the Thames Gateway Technology Centre which forms part of the campus. This is a one-stop training facility for new and existing companies in the east of London which also provides business start-up space and advice, and a technology resource centre. The new campus admitted its first students at the start of the academic year 1999. It features accommodation for 400 students and facilities for 5,000 students studying design, technology, engineering, arts, humanities and social sciences. [More on UEL project] [UEL website]
  • Norton Healthcare (a subsidiary of the IVAX Corporation) who in April 1997 signed a deal with LDDC for a site for their European Headquarters, laboratories and other facilities on the side of the Albert Basin. The new facility opened in January 1999.

At the winding up of the LDDC the remaining land was transferred to English Partnerships for them to carry on the Corporation’s development remit.  The site was subsequently transferred to the London Development Agency and development has resumed - see below

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Conserving the Past

An important part of the LDDC's work was the safeguarding the heritage buildings of Docklands. In the Royal Docks, the Corporation's contribution to preserving the past included:

  • St Mark's Church, Silvertown. (£464,000): designed by Samuel Saunders Teulon this church was built in 1861/63 - [More Details].
  • Dock Manager's Office and the Central Buffet (£1.86 million): these Grade II listed buildings stand together on the north side of the Royal Albert Dock.
  • Victorian cast iron urinal (£47,000): officially known as The Rotunda, but locally nicknamed the “Iron Lung” - [More Details]
  • Gallions HotelThe Gallions Hotel at North Woolwich: built in 1881 the hotel served passengers travelling on the P&O Line from the Royal Albert Dock. It featured underground stables and an underground passage to the dock.
  • Cold Store Compressor House, Royal Albert Dock: built in 1914 as a refrigeration plant to service surrounding warehouses storing beef shipments from Argentina. Now the local office of the London Development Agency
  • D Silo, Royal Victoria Dock South (£350,000): this building was reinstated to its original condition. It will find a new role in the Silvertown Quays development
  • K-R warehouses, Royal Victoria Dock North: the LDDC spent £3.547 million on the refurbishment of these buildings which were built in 1855. They were then used for entertainment and events until they were incorporated into the ExCel development.
  • W Warehouse, Royal Victoria Dock North: this building, also now part of ExCel, was refurbished in the 1980s at a cost of £358,000. It was used for a time for the storage of artefacts collected for the Museum in Docklands which was finally established on the North Quay on the Isle of Dogs in 2003.

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Bow Creek Ecology Park

Bow Creek Ecology ParkWork on this £1.2 million project started in November 1994. It followed a survey carried out for LDDC by the Trust For Urban Ecology. This identified a number of rare plants and grasses on the site including exotic “stow-away” species which had self-seeded after being carried into the area aboard cargo boats, and a number of national rarities such as the Hairy Buttercup, Walthamstow Cress and Unreel’s Wormwood found nowhere else but Docklands. The project included the construction of sluices, a waterwheel and lifting gates, all of which can be operated by schoolchildren, together with a variety of habitats such as reed beds, a flood meadow, willow coppice and a fresh water pond.

When LDDC was wound-up in 1998 this project was transferred to the Lee Valley Regional Park along with the East India Dock Basin Bird Sanctuary to which it is linked by a riverside walkway. The seven acre site was landscaped by LDDC at a cost of over £2 millions to provide a haven for wildfowl.

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River Crossings - unfinished business

River Crossings were a source of continuing concern to the LDDC but at its demise in 1998 nothing concrete had been achieved.

The eastern boundary of the LDDC's area, set in 1981, was in fact the centre-line of the proposed East London River Crossing which was to link the A13/A406 junction in Newham with the A2/M2 in Kent. This scheme, a trunk road project of the Department for Transport, was never built and the plans for it were finally abandoned in 1997 when the Highways Act orders were revoked - [More Details].  Meanwhile a package of  three other schemes was being examined and these finally made their way into the new Mayor of London's 2001 Transport Strategy:

  • Artists impression of the Thames Gateway BridgeThe Thames Gateway Bridge: A new local road bridge on the northern part of the alignment of the former ELRC. This scheme is proceeding only slowly. In July 2007 it was announced that the public inquiry into the scheme was to be reopened
  • The Woolwich Rail Tunnel which, said the Strategy, could be an extension of either the North London Line or the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).  In fact it will be the DLR.   In February 2004 the Government approved a Transport & Works Act order for the further extension of the City Airport Extension of the Docklands Light Railway from North Woolwich to Woolwich Arsenal.  The scheme now under construction will be completed in 2008.  This extension of the DLR will then run from Canning Town via City Airport to Woolwich Arsenal.
  • The Silvertown Link - a crossing between North Greenwich and Silvertown to relieve congestion in the Blackwall Tunnels.  Not much is happening on this scheme pending a decision on the Thames Gateway Bridge project.

There is more information about these projects on the website of Transport for London and that of the DLR



LDDC withdrew from its area by stages. The first area to go was Bermondsey Riverside in Southwark which was de-designated in October 1994, then Beckton in December 1995, the Surrey Docks Peninsula in December 1996, Wapping and Limehouse in January 1997and the Isle of Dogs in October 1997. By 31st March 1998 - the date set for the demise of the Corporation –– the only area left was the Royal Docks.

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English PartnershipsThe Sunborn Yacht Hotel at ExCel

The key criterion for the LDDC's withdrawal was that its regenerative role had substantially come to an end and that regeneration would continue without the single-minded spur provided by the Corporation. In the Royal Docks there was a development programme which would take the Royals through to completion but plainly the momentum gained by 1998 was not yet self-sustaining. So it was arranged that the LDDC’s role would be carried forward by English Partnerships who took over a “balanced package” made up of the LDDC’s development lands together with many of the financial commitments associated with key projects.

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LBN Package Deal

Most of the rest of the LDDC’s Estate - including its expensive-to-maintain roads and landscaped zones - was transferred to the London Borough of Newham (LBN) in another “balanced package” which included some revenue producing assets and funding for ongoing programmes and projects which both the LDDC and the LBN wished to see completed.

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RDT Logo

The Royal Docks Trust (London)

One of the vehicles used in the Royals completion package agreed with the LBN was the Royal Docks Trust (London). This charitable body, operating in that part of Newham to the south of the A13, had been established as a joint venture in 1995. At that time it had been endowed by the LDDC with £1.2 million. This was part of the package agreed with the LBN when LDDC pulled out of Beckton in December 1995 [see above] and was to sustain into the future the joint community grants programme in that area.

As part of the 1998 package the Trust received :

  • another £1.5m million (making its endowment £2.7 million in all) so that the joint community grants programme could be carried on across the whole of the Trust’s area -
  • the freehold of lands used held or used for community purposes
  • the LDDC’s "special share" in the Winsor Park Management Company Limited which holds the possibility of more funds for the Trust in the future
  • more than £8 million for the LDDC’s outstanding community projects including £5,200,000 for community facilities at the new Royal Docks Community School and funds for new watersports centres at the western end of the Royal Victoria Dock (£900,000) and the south side of the King George V Dock (£812,000)

The annual joint grants programme continues and most of the projects are either completed or well on the way. But for reasons largely beyond its control the Trust is still struggling with the watersports centres for the Royal Victoria and King George V Docks.Royal Victoria Dock footbridge - looking

There is more information about the Trust elsewhere on this site.

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West Silvertown Primary School

The 1998 completion deal with the LBN also included £700,000 toward the cost of faciities in the Britannia Village primary school for use by the community out of school hours.  These funds were held until required by the West Silvertown Village Community Foundation.

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Royal Docks Management Authority

In preparation for its demise the LDDC in 1990 established the Royal Docks Management Authority (RODMA) to provide for the maintenance and long term management of the dock estate. The company is financed by a service charge levied on a the owners of land around the docks who participate in the company through shares in proportion to their landholdings in the service charge area.  LDDC's share in RODMA - payable in respect of development sites not yet sold - passed in 1998 to English Partnerships who in turn transferred it to the London Development Agency in July 2000 when they took over those lands.

In its own words RODMA's core responsibility is to "maintain the dock water areas, to impound and maintain water quality, dredge, maintain the marine infrastructure, including the two locks and gates, a large pumping station, the Bascule Bridge on the Woolwich Manor Way, the Connaught road and footbridges and plaza area, the Royal Victoria Dock footbridge, the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge, to maintain necessary security, emergency and safety systems, enforce harbour regulations, and operate all equipment." They also have a remit to protect permanent public access to quaysides and water areas.  For more information visit RODMA's website

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English Partnerships lasted until July 2000 when the lands and other responsibilities where transferred to the new London Development Agency . In its short period in the Royals EP carried through the projects left by LDDC but not much else was achieved.

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Royals Business Park - Building 1000Royals Business Park - relaunched

Likewise it took the LDA a while to pick up the reins and not much happened until February 2001 when it re-launched the Royals Business Park on the north side of the Royal Albert Dock. In doing so it announced that property developer Development Securities PLC had been selected as its partner for the development. The first phase of the development is Building 1000 which was topped out in November 2003. Building 1000 was billed as the first major speculative office building in the Royal Docks. In 2007 it was announced that the building had been acquired by the London Brough of Newham who would use most of it to unite their back office staff in one place. Subsequent phases of the project will include retail and leisure as well as office space. [More on Royals Business Park]

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Silvertwon Quays LogoSilvertown Quays

After a competition the LDA in October 2001 entered into exclusive negotiations with Silvertown Quays Ltd (SQL) for the development of the land earmarked by the LDDC for Phase II of the West Silvertown Urban Village. On 2nd May 2007 it was announced that this £1.5 billion development had finally received the green light from the London Borough of Newham following the confirmation of planning approval and the completion of legal and funding agreements by the developer. The development, on which work has yet to start, includes approximately 5,000 new homes, together with some 400,000 sq ft of entertainment, retail, restaurant and community floor-space. The development includes an aquarium - to be known as Biota. The aquarium is not a new idea. The LDDC was in discussion in the 1990s with the Zoological Society for a similar project on the site of the former CWS mill but sadly funding for it was difficult to find and the idea was eventually shelved. [More on Silvertown Quays]

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There is more information on the current developments in the Royal Docks on our Royal Docks Today page.

For more history visit:

The LDDC History Pages
The Airport History Page of the London City Airport Consultative Committee
West Silvertown Online
The Museum in Docklands
London Borough of Newham - Local History
Docklands Past and Present
History of Stratford, West Ham, Canning Town, Silvertown etc & lots of historical London Pubs

A good account of life in the Docklands in their hey-dey is to be found in Silvertown - An East End Family Memoir by Melanie McGrath published in 2002 by Harper Collins ISBN 1-84115-143-2 [McGrath website] 

You will find links to other sites about Docklands on our Regeneration Page

The Royal Docks Trust (London)
Registered in England and Wales as a company limited by guarantee: Registration No: 3032232
Registered as a charity: Registration No: 1045057
Registered office: 37 Rushey Green, Catford, London SE6 4AF