The former home of the world’s biggest gasworks and subsequently a docklands development area, situated west of Barking Creek and north of the Royal Albert Dock
The first intrusion into the hitherto empty East Ham Levels was the construction of the Northern Outfall Sewer in 1864, pouring raw waste into the Thames until the building of a treatment works 25 years later. The sewage works subsequently became the largest in the country and today serve a population of three million, treating over 200 million gallons a day. In 1870 the Gas, Light and Coke Company established its London base here. Housing was built for the workers and the whole 400-acre site was named Beckton after the governor of the company, Simon Adams Beck.
At its peak, Beckton supplied gas to over four million Londoners, as well as manufacturing by-products such as creosote, fertilisers, inks and dyes. It was not until the switch to natural gas in the 1960s that the works were scaled down. The neighbouring marshland was formerly occupied by hundreds of garden allotments and was also the site of a prisoner of war camp during the Second World War.
From 1981, docklands regeneration in Beckton created a cluster of industrial and commercial ‘parks’ and thousands of new homes.
Beckton absorbed the localities of Cyprus (which has its own page on Hidden London) and Winsor Park, which was built in the 1870s to house gasworks employees. Frederic Winsor was the anglicised name of Friedrich Albrecht Winzler, the Bavarian founder of the Gas, Light and Coke Company. Several original properties survive on Winsor Terrace, with two-up-two-downs for the workers and generously proportioned end-of-terrace houses for foremen.
A former industrial waste tip was landscaped as ‘the Beckton Alps’ when the new town was built. Most of the waste was slag from Beckton gasworks but it also included debris from the basement of the new British Library, while a railway locomotive is said to be buried at the base. A dry ski slope was constructed on the hillside but this closed in 2001 and the site has since evolved into a nature reserve.
North Beckton, bordering the northern end of Woolwich Manor Way, was mostly built up in the late 1980s with a network of short streets, even shorter cul-de-sacs and dinky homes, many built as part of social housing schemes. A handful of more imaginatively designed properties reveal that this was one of the later stages of Beckton’s redevelopment, when the earlier insistence on uniformity was relaxed.
Commercial enterprises like retail parks and leisure venues pressed eastwards across the former gasworks site from the 1990s onwards, into the territory known as Gallions Reach.
Beckton is ethnically diverse, with large numbers of single people, lone parents and students.