Royal Victoria Dock

RVD Western Entrance 1963The Royal Victoria Dock (RVD), which opened in 1855, was the first dock built expressly for steam ships. One and a quarter miles long the dock was directly connected to the railway system and hydraulic power was installed from the start. Originally known as the Victoria Dock the prefix ‘Royal’ was bestowed in 1880. Unlike the earlier docks in London, which were built in stone for sailing ships, the sides of the RVD were originally earthen banks. Five finger jetties were constructed on the north quay to increase capacity.

Off the main RVD to the south was the Pontoon Dock where ships were raised out of the water by what was then a new and innovative system of hydraulic jacks and placed on pontoons which could be shunted to the fingers of the Pontoon Dock for repair work to be carried out.

The original entrance to the RVD was via a lock at the western end of the dock reached via a Tidal Basin. The Basin was closed in the 1930s but the lock continued in use until 1957 when it had to be closed pending repairs. The lock was reconstructed in 1963-67 but was closed permanently and filled-in a few years later.

The RVD was extensively rebuilt 1935-1944 including the construction in 1937 of the new North Quay. This replaced the five finger-jetties of the original Victoria Dock. The new quay was south of the original dock edge and in the space reclaimed new transit sheds were erected during the early 1940s.

The RVD was much used by ships bringing in grain.  The derelict Millennium Mill on the south side of the dock - now awaiting conversion to flats - is one of a number built in the 1930s to replace earlier granaries and mills. The others - including the huge Rank and CWS mills - were demolished by the LDDC. Also remaining is the Grade II listed “D” Silo to the south. 



Silvertown Way

This was Britain’s first flyover. It was built in 1933-34 to help deal with the problems of access to the Royal Docks. Built of reinforced concrete the flyover carried the road over the original entrance to Royal Victoria Dock. It is just over a mile long and 80 feet wide. The new road was opened on 13 September 1934 by Leslie Hore-Belisha, a pre-war Minister of Transport well known for the first pedestrian crossings. The road proved insufficient to cope with the post-was growth in road transport.



Pontoon Dock

Here ships were raised out of the water by what was then a new and innovative system of hydraulic jacks and placed on pontoons which could be shunted to the fingers of the Pontoon Dock for repair work to be carried out. The fingers were concreted over many years ago

Most of the granaries built in the 1930s to replace earlier granaries and mills on the south side of the Royal Victoria Dock have now gone. The huge Rank and CWS mills were demolished by the LDDC leaving only the Millennium Mill which is scheduled for conversion into “loft-style” apartments as part of the Silvertown Quays development. Also remaining is the Grade II “D” Silo to the south.



St Mark’s Church, Silvertown

When LDDC arrived on the scene this fine redundant Grade II listed Anglican church, built in 1861/62 by Samuel Saunders Teulon, was heavily fire damaged. The LDDC contributed £464,000 towards the cost of the restoration and conversion of the building to house the Victorian collections of the Passmore Edwards Museum. However, for various reasons the collections were not moved and the building remained disused for many years. Only recently has it become the home of the Brick Lane music hall project.



Listed Pissoir

In the grounds of what is now the The Fox @ Connaught bar and restaurant was once a Grade II listed cast iron gentleman’s urinal or pissoir officially known as The Rotunda, but locally nicknamed the Iron Lung. This piece of ornate late Victorian cast-iron street furniture was among the last of its kind in London. The structure was taken away to be refurbished by the LDDC (at a cost of £47,000) and then stored pending its installation in its permanent home.  Its present whereabouts is not known. The Fox @ Connaught occupies what was once known as the Connaught Tavern. This Grade II listed building was built in Queen Anne style by Vigers and Wagstaffe in1881.



Connaught Passage

This water link connecting the Royal Victoria and Royal Albert Docks was built in 1880. At the same time the dock company rerouted the Canning Town to North Woolwich railway line (now part of the North London Line) so that it passed under the passage in a tunnel and so avoid delay to trains when ships were passing. This tunnel has rather steep gradients (I in 50) and some freight trains continued to cross at ground level using the old Connaught Road swing bridge.  In 1937 the depth of the Passage was increased from 28 to 31 feet without interrupting shipping traffic. Later in 1958 the width was increased from 84 to 100 feet, again without interrupting the passage of ships.



Connaught Crossing

This new four lane north-south road, about 900 metres long, links North Woolwich Road in the south with Royal Albert Way in the north, with roundabouts at both junctions. A third roundabout provides a link to North Woolwich and London City Airport. The road crosses the dock cutting linking the Royal Victoria and Royal Albert Docks (the Connaught Passage) on an elegant new swing bridge which replaces a hydraulically operated bridge built in 1879 which was used by both road and rail traffic.   The new road, which was built in several stages starting August 1987, cost £24 million and opened to traffic in February 1990.



Royal Albert Dock

This dock, opened in 1880 by the Duke of Connaught, was built pursuant to an Act of Parliament obtained in 1875. It featured single storey transit sheds rather than warehouses to allow a faster turn round. It was the first dock, in London to be lit by electricity.

At the western end of the dock, near the Connaught Crossing, was a pair of dry docks thought to date from the 1880s. During the construction of London City Airport these were filled with 90,000 cubic metres of imported material - some of which came from the demolition of the infamous Ronan Point tower block which was less than a mile away from the site.



King George V Dock

The last dock but one to be built in the Port of London, opened in 1921. It could accommodate ships of over 30,000 tons.

On the south side are a series of dolphins which allowed lighters to pass freely between ships and the quay, permitting simultaneous loading/unloading over both sides of the ship. The dolphins were connected to the south quay by footbridges.

At the western end of the dock was a dry dock which at the time was the largest in Greater London – it was able, for example, comfortably to accommodate HMS Belfast which was among the last ships to use its facilities. It posed a special challenge during the construction of London City Airport as it stood immediately adjacent to the proposed terminal building and formed part of area set aside for the airport’s aircraft parking apron. Because of its sheer size, it was decided not to fill the dock but rather temporarily to drain it and construct a series of concrete columns on which to place a reinforced concrete slab which now forms part of the apron. The slab contains a number of remote vents to allow air circulation between the underside of the apron and the dock waters which were allowed back into the old dry dock following completion.



Lower Lea Crossing

This four lane road, approximately 1 km long, connects the Isle of Dogs with the Royal Docks, linking the roundabout at Leamouth Road with a roundabout underneath Silvertown Way Viaduct. The road includes a bridge over the River Lea. Construction started in February 1990 and the road was opened in December 1991.



North Woolwich Road

The two lane section of North Woolwich Road, south of the Pontoon Dock, was widened over a length of approximately 500 metres, with landscaping on the north side to complement the established Silvertown Tramway scheme to the south. Work started in May 1988 and was completed in May 1990.



Royal Albert Way

The 1.8 km Royal Albert Way is the major east-west link between the Connaught Crossing and Royal Docks Road. The dual two lane road runs south of and parallel to Strait Road along the full length of Royal Albert Dock. Intermediate roundabouts serve the development sites along the north side of the Royal Albert Dock. In two cases the roundabouts include integral stations on the DLR Beckton Extension which over a long section of the road runs in a cutting between the two carriageways. Construction started in March 1988 and the road opened in April 1990.



Royal Docks Road

About 2km long this road extends from the A13/A406 (South Woodford to Barking Relief Road) junction to a new roundabout with Royal Albert Way and Woolwich Manor Way at the Gallions Pumping Station. It is partly four-lane single carriageway and partly two-lane dual-carriageway.  An extension from this roundabout serves the Beckton Gas Works site and the DLR depot. Work started in June 1986 and the road opened in October 1989.



East London River Crossing (ELRC)

This scheme was a trunk road project of the Department of Transport to link the A13/A406 junction in Newham with the A2/M2 in Kent. Following an extremely long gestation period, the scheme finally went through a Public Inquiry of record length in 1985/86 and was approved by the Secretary of State for Transport in 1988. However, changes to the bridge design to accommodate City Airport constraints necessitated another Public Inquiry in 1990 and the go ahead for the full scheme with a revised bridge was finally given by the Secretary of State in 1991.

Throughout this time concern was being expressed by opposition groups about the impact of the ELRC proposals on Oxleas Wood and on large areas of housing in Plumstead, and at this stage the scheme was subjected to two further challenges:

Although the Greenwich challenge was rejected, the prognosis for the EC challenge was that it was likely to take a long time to settle.

In the midst of all this uncertainty the Department announced in July 1993 it had decided not to proceed with the approved scheme but instead to examine alternative solutions which 'meet the same strategic objectives, but which will have less impact on the local environment'. Following a consultation by the Government Office for London (GOL,) and the publication of A Transport Strategy for London, the revocation of the ELRC Orders was finally advertised in July 1996, and the process completed in March 1997. The section between the A13 and A2016 in Thamesmead is now likely to be replaced by a crossing with a local function, the Thames Gateway Bridge.



West Ham Companies 1910

All operated in Silvertown except as stated

The India Rubber, Gutta Percha, and Telegraph Construction Co. Ltd
Manufacturers of Rubber Goods, Submarine and all kinds of Electric Cable, Electrical Machinery and other apparatus of every description
Messrs. Henry Tate & Sons Ltd
Sugar Refiners.
Messrs. James Keiller & Sons Ltd
Jam, Marmalade, and Confectionery Manufacturers.
The Co-operative Wholesale Society Ltd
Flour Millers, Soap Makers. Manufacturers and Packers of various Food Products
Messrs. Joseph Rank & Co. Ltd
Flour Millers.
The Thames Iron Works Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd
Tidal Basin, Canning Town. Shipbuilders. Mechanical, Electrical, and Constructional Engineers
Messrs. Spencer, Chapman & Messel Ltd
Chemical Manufacturers.

Messrs. Burt, Bolton & Haywood
Timber Importers, Cutters, and Creosoters; Manufacturers of Residuals from Gas Production.
Messrs. Brunner, Mond & Co. Ltd
Chemical Manufacturers.
Messrs. Venesta & Co. Ltd
Manufacturers of Three-ply Wood Work, Packing Cases
Messrs. R. Moreland & Son Ltd
Iron Constructional and Mechanical Engineers.
Messrs. John Knight Ltd
Soap Manufacturers.
Messrs. Abram Lyle & Sons Ltd
Sugar Refiners.
The Anglo-Continental Guano Co. Ltd
Manufacturers of Artificial Manures and Fertilizers.
Messrs. Pinchin, Johnson & Co. Ltd
Paint and Varnish Manufacturers.
The United Alkali Co. Ltd
Soda Manufacturers





Tate and LylePlaistow Wharf

Tate and Lyle is a well known national company which still operates locally at the Silvertown Refinery.  Originally there were two companies. Henry Tate & Sons from Liverpool established themselves at Silvertown in 1877 to make cube sugar while Abram Lyle & Sons from Greenock set up in 1881 to make sugar and golden syrup. The two companies merged in 1921. 

The profits were sweet and both companies spread them around. Henry Tate built a social club (the Tate Institute, Silvertown, 1887) and put up the money for the Tate Gallery in Central London. The Lyles, who operated for many decades from Plaistow Wharf in West Silvertown, financed the Margaret Lyle Maternity Wing at the Queen Mary's Hospital at Stratford - now closed - and Lyle Park which remains as a very nice local riverside facility accessed from Bradfield Road. Cared for now by the London Brough of Newham, it includes a very nice facility with seats which has the feel of a walled garden. It has been used to provide summer sporting activities for children funded by the West Silvertown Village Commuinity Foundation.  The combined company for many years operated a 6th form scholarship scheme to help the children of poorer families to carry on at school.

Pictured is the main building at Plaistow Wharf built in 1947-50.  It was an imposing and impressive building built to grand effect in Portland stone but, sadly, it was demolished when the company moved its Golden Syrup operations to Silvertown Refinery.



Silvertown Way

Although the docks were built to be served primarily by rail and lighterage transport, the volume of road traffic nonetheless grew and before long there were serious problems of traffic congestion.  The road from Canning Town was crossed in two places by the London and North Eastern Railway via level crossings and rail movements took priority over road traffic.  A swing bridge carried the road over the western lock entrance to the Royal Victoria Dock - now closed - and the bridge carried also a rail goods line.  This bottleneck could interrupt road traffic for anything up to 9 hours a day  

To deal with this Parliament in 1929 approved a package of improvements including the construction of the Silvertown Way - Britain's first flyover.  This involved the demolition of hundreds of homes and 599 new ones were built at Prince Regent Lane to re-house the displaced people.  The new road was opened by the then Minister of Transport, Leslie Hore Belisha (well known for his work on pedestrian crossings), on 13th September 1934. Built of reinforced concrete the flyover is just over a mile long and 80 feet wide.

The final element of the package, the Silvertown By-pass, opened in 1935.  This used a 'bowstring' bridge to carry people and traffic over the Connaught Road and North Woolwich railway line. In modern times new road systems made the by-pass redundant and it was demolished not long ago.







The A13 Improvements

THE Docklands Highways were built principally to serve new developments south of the A13. However, plans to improve the A13 to cope better with through traffic, especially in the peak hours, did not keep pace and many drivers find it more convenient to use the Docklands Highways even though the journey may be longer. This gives rise to congestion which affects journey times to and from the area at peak times. The A13 improvements are now proceeding as a Design Build Finance Operate (DBFO) scheme using private finance. The £200 million contract for this was awarded to RMS (A13) plc on 12th April 2000 and work will be finished in mid 2004. The 30 year contract provides for the operation and maintenance of 13 miles of of the A13 stretching from the City to Wennington and includes £146 million to be spent on improvements as follows:



Silvertown Tramway

In 1847 the well known Victorian engineer George P.Bidder completed his railway from Stratford to North Woolwich.  South of Canning Town the new line followed the line of what is now Silvertown Way and North Woolwich Road.  The construction of the Victoria Dock, which opened in 1855, created a problem because the railway line crossed what was then the main entrance to the dock at its western end, close to Bow Creek. There would have been continual conflict between the needs of the dock and the railway.  So the line was re-routed to the north of the dock via Custom House, rejoining the old route at Silvertown. This left the old line on the south side as a spur to serve the factories along the River. The spur, which linked to the main immediately west of Silvertown station, became known as the Silvertown Tramway or the Woolwich Abandoned Line.

With the decline of the docks the Silvertown Tramway fell into disuse and in 1985/86 the LDDC spent £650,000 to convert the remains of it along North Woolwich Road into a landscaped footpath/cycleway.  Ironically the new City Airport extension of the Docklands Light Railway runs on a viaduct along the same alignment as the old Silvertown Tramway.