Beckton, Newham

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

Hidden London: Beckton gasholders <em/>c.2004

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.

Postal district: E6
Population: 15,141 (2011 census)
Stations: Docklands Light Railway (Beckton and Beckton Park, both zone 3)
Web page: LDDC history: Beckton