Custom House

Custom House, Newham

A redeveloping dockland locality squeezed between Canning Town and Beckton

Aloft_hotel_Docklands_and_Excel

The locality takes its name from a Port of London building that was properly called the Dock Directors’ Access Centre, which stood next to the station beside the Royal Victoria Dock.

Following the estab­lishment of the Royal Docks, the need for accom­pa­nying housing encouraged the brisk growth of Custom House in the 1880s.

The area became notorious for its poverty and slum condi­tions and its housing was almost entirely replaced by council flats after the Second World War, notably in the form of the Freemasons estate. Among the estate’s nine tower blocks was Ronan Point, which partially collapsed after a gas explosion in 1968, killing four people.

The Ronan Point disaster has been called ‘modern architecture’s Titanic’ and it had a pivotal influence on subsequent designs for tall buildings. It has even been suggested that the effects of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre’s twin towers might have been less catastrophic had lessons from Ronan Point been incor­porated into their construction.

Custom House was the home of West Ham stadium, a speedway and greyhound track with a capacity of over 100,000, replaced by a maze of curling cul-de-sacs after its demolition in the 1970s. This part of Custom House is also known as West Beckton and many of its streets are named after former speedway champions.

The Admiral’s Reach devel­opment, completed in 1993 by Barratt, now occupies the site of the Freemasons estate.

The ExCel exhibition and conference centre, seen at night
The ExCel exhib­ition and conference centre

The Dock Directors’ Access Centre was refur­bished in 1995 – and then demol­ished soon after­wards. (That was the kind of thing the London Docklands Development Corporation did in those days.) The LDDC’s destructive change of mind was the consequence a desire to create space for the ExCel exhib­ition and conference centre, which opened in 2000. The centre has 90,000 square metres of event space on a 100-acre site north of the Royal Victoria Dock. The £250 million construction project was the largest in east London since Canary Wharf. Three DLR stations serve the site: Prince Regent and Custom House for ExCel’s eastern and western entrances and Royal Victoria for the peripheral facil­ities further west.

The ward of Custom House has a signi­ficant black African community, mainly speaking Yoruba, Twi and Swahili. Fifteen per cent of homes in the ward are lone parent house­holds with dependent children.

The actor Danny Dyer grew up in Custom House and his ancestors were East Londoners as far back as it is possible to trace.

Postal district: E16
Population: 13,411 (2011 census)
Station: Docklands Light Railway, Beckton branch (zone 3)

 

* The picture of the Aloft hotel, Docklands, and Excel to the left at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph by Johan Jönsson (Julle) at Wikimedia Commons, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.