Custom House

Custom House, Newham

A redeveloping dockland locality squeezed between Canning Town and Beckton

Sebastian Kettley - 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 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.)

Aloft_hotel_Docklands_and_Excel

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.

Cus­tom House sta­tion was closed for almost the whole of 2017 to increase its capac­i­ty by 50 per cent and make oth­er improve­ments in advance of the arrival of the Eliz­a­beth line (Cross­rail), which is present­ly sched­uled for autumn 2019 – though that’s begin­ning to seem opti­mistic.

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 Excel London at ComiCon 2017 at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Sebastian Kettley, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. 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 freely permitted under the terms of those licences.