Canning Town

Canning Town, Newham

A hitherto solidly working-class district – now an ‘emerging area of east London’ – situated north of the Royal Victoria Dock and east of the River Lea

The new face of Canning Town,* with the 21-storey Vermilion building, completed in 2012

This settle­ment was orig­i­nally called Hallsville and probably took its modern name from George Canning, briefly prime minister in 1827 – or from his son Charles Canning, first viceroy of India from 1858 until his death in 1862. Others have suggested that the name came from a mid-19th-century factory, possibly a cannery, but histo­rians have failed to identify the relevant establishment.

The opening of a railway station (initially called Barking Road) in 1847 stim­u­lated early jerry-built devel­op­ment, mostly without proper drainage, leaving the popu­la­tion prone to outbreaks of disease.

The fastest phase of growth came after the 1880s, in the heyday of the Royal Docks. The area’s greatest employer was the Thames Iron Works, Victorian ship­builders to the world and the original home of West Ham football club. Thirty-eight spec­ta­tors died at the ironworks when the slipway collapsed at the launch of the warship HMS Albion in 1898.

The last major warship built by the yard was HMS Thunderer in 1911. The following year Thames Ironworks declared bank­ruptcy and closed down.

The Royal Docks brought signif­i­cant immi­gra­tion to the neigh­bour­hood and Canning Town had the largest black popu­la­tion in London by 1920. This was the year that comedy writer Johnny Speight was born here: he went on to create the bigoted tele­vi­sion character Alf Garnett.

The area was heavily damaged in the Blitz, leading to the construc­tion of numerous council tower blocks after the war. The partial collapse of the Ronan Point tower block, in the Custom House area, prompted a temporary with­drawal from high-rise solutions to accom­mo­da­tion needs throughout the UK, and beyond. Late-20th-century rede­vel­op­ment typically took the form of smaller units in a never-ending series of cul-de-sacs, built by housing associations.

Canning Town’s popu­la­tion exhibits a very diverse mix of ethnicities/nationalities. The main groups at the 2011 census are listed in the table below:

Ethnicity/Nationality Popu­la­tion Share of total
White British 8,615 28.0%
Black or Black British: African 6,043 19.6%
Asian or Asian British: Bangladeshi 2,307 7.5%
White Eastern European (inc. Russian) 2,098 6.8%
Mixed ethnicity 1,747 5.7%
Black or Black British: Caribbean 1,437 4.7%
Asian or Asian British: Indian 1,282 4.2%
Asian or Asian British: Pakistani 840 2.7%
Asian or Asian British: Chinese 742 2.4%
Asian or Asian British: Filipino 526 1.7%
Arab 381 1.2%
All others 4,788 15.5%

Poverty and unem­ploy­ment are high in Canning Town. At Hallsville primary school over three-quarters of the pupils were eligible for free meals at Ofsted’s last inspec­tion – when the school was rated ‘outstanding’.

Aurelia at Vermilion [developers' CGI image]
Aurelia at Vermilion [devel­opers’ CGI image]

In response to the area’s diffi­cul­ties (and oppor­tu­ni­ties), a £3.7 billion regen­er­a­tion scheme is presently under way, promoted by the London Borough of Newham and encom­passing the whole Canning Town and Custom House district.

Some of the older housing stock – including the 23-storey Ferrier Point, has been refur­bished, while the most prominent new scheme is the mixed-use devel­op­ment at Rathbone market.

Opposite Canning Town station the rede­vel­op­ment of what is now being called the Hallsville Quarter will create a new town square with shops, a cinema and hotel and 340 new homes.

In the Fife Road area the Keir Hardie primary school has been rebuilt in conjunc­tion with the construc­tion of new homes at East City Point. Further north, on Hermit Road, Genesis housing asso­ci­a­tion’s Rawalpindi project deserves a mention – if only for its distinc­tive name.

The comic actors Reg Varney, Windsor Davies and Marty Feldman were all born in Canning Town.

Postal district: E16
Population: 30,806 (Canning Town North and Canning Town South wards, 2011 census)
Station: Jubilee line and Docklands Light Railway (zones 2 and 3)
Further reading: Howard Bloch and Nick Harris, Canning Town, Nonsuch, 2005


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* The picture of Canning Town at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Sludge G, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.