Pontoon Dock, Newham
A Docklands Light Railway station located in a derelict part of West Silvertown where promises of a transformation have repeatedly been made – and broken
This was the site of a repair facility originally called the Victoria Graving Dock, built in the late 1850s on the south side of the Royal Victoria Dock, as it was later called.
Using an innovative system of hydraulic jacks, vessels were raised out of the water on pontoons, which were then drained of their ballast water and shunted into a finger dock for repair or overhaul. There were four of these splayed fingers at each end of the dock but most have now been filled with concrete.
By the end of the 19th century ships had become too big for the equipment to lift and the dock switched to handling grain imports. Massive silos were built on the quayside, into which grain was pumped by suction. Several of the granaries and flour mills were damaged in the Silvertown explosion of 1917 and replaced in the years before the Second World War, notably by Spiller’s Millennium Mills (shown in the photograph above*) and the CWS Mill.
Most of the dockside buildings were demolished in the early 1990s during preparation for the creation of Silvertown Quays, an ambitious commercial and residential project that repeatedly failed to materialise. Just to the south, Pontoon Dock DLR station opened in December 2005.
In June 2013 the Mayor of London at last signed a development agreement for Silvertown Quays – with Chelsfield Properties and First Base, who were subsequently joined by infrastructure group Macquarie Capital. Their idea was to create “a 24/7 community of forward-looking brands, businesses and the people who create them.” The proposed scheme cleared its final planning hurdle in December 2015 – but just over two years later the consortium was reported to be in discussions to sell the development rights. Whether they had run into problems or were simply aiming to make a quick return on the planning approval Hidden London does not know.
Given its protected status, the ‘D’ Silo will of course be retained, whatever happens to the rest of the site. The Millennium Mills will also survive, possibly as the centrepiece of an Indian-themed cultural destination if the latest plan comes to fruition – unlike its many failed predecsessors.
Postcode area: E16
Station: Docklands Light Railway, Woolwich Arsenal branch (zone 3)