Stratford, Newham

An up-and-coming commercial and residential centre situated north-west of West Ham, of which it was once a part

Hidden London: Stratford bus station, by Ian Capper

Cis­ter­cian monks found­ed Langth­orne Abbey in the marsh­es near the Riv­er Lea in 1135 and it became one of the rich­est reli­gious hous­es in Eng­land. The vil­lage that grew up east of a ford across the Lea was known as Strat­ford Abbei or Strat­ford Langth­orne to dis­tin­guish it from Strat­ford atte Bow, on the oth­er side of the riv­er. It was also called Strat­ford Hamme – a ref­er­ence to its inclu­sion with­in what became the parish of West Ham.

The con­struc­tion of Bow Bridge attract­ed ear­ly agri­cul­tur­al indus­try. The vil­lage became a cen­tre for the slaugh­ter of live­stock brought from East Anglia and for bak­ing bread, using corn ground at the river­side mills on Strat­ford Marsh – such as the one that gave its name to Pud­ding Mill Lane.

From the 18th cen­tu­ry efforts were made to unite some of the chan­nels of the Riv­er Lea that criss-crossed the marsh, notably via the cre­ation of the Lee Nav­i­ga­tion.* This reduced the num­ber of cross­ing points required along Strat­ford Cause­way, now the south-west­ern end of the High Street.

In 1844 (the year the poet Ger­ard Man­ley Hop­kins was born here) the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Build­ing Act forced nox­ious indus­tries to move out­side Lon­don – and Strat­ford was the first place across the bor­der in Essex, with good road and water con­nec­tions into the city. Exist­ing mills, dis­til­leries and brew­eries were joined by engi­neer­ing works, print­ers, ink and dye works and every kind of proces­sor of coal, oil, manure and ani­mal bones.

George Hud­son estab­lished the East­ern Coun­ties Railway’s loco­mo­tive works here in 1847 and rail­way work­ers’ hous­ing was built at what became known as Strat­ford New Town. From 1867 the Car­pen­ters’ Com­pa­ny began to devel­op the land it held around present-day Car­pen­ters Road with a mix of fac­to­ries and hous­ing.

The town cen­tre was built up with shops, pub­lic hous­es, places of enter­tain­ment and munic­i­pal insti­tu­tions in the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies. The best sur­viv­ing exam­ples from this peri­od are on the south side of the Broad­way.

Hidden London: Icona flats

Over the course of the 20th cen­tu­ry a mish-mash of util­i­ties, ware­hous­es, yards and scrapheaps filled most of Strat­ford Marsh, while diverse nat­ur­al habi­tats flour­ished by the waters’ edges.

In 1965 Strat­ford became the seat of gov­ern­ment for the new­ly cre­at­ed bor­ough of Newham, and the coun­cil soon set about demol­ish­ing much of the old town and replac­ing it with a lack­lus­tre shop­ping cen­tre and munic­i­pal tow­er blocks.

More sym­pa­thet­ic regen­er­a­tion around the turn of the 21st cen­tu­ry brought an almost met­ro­pol­i­tan style to parts of the town cen­tre, espe­cial­ly around the com­pact cul­tur­al quar­ter, which has the The­atre Roy­al Strat­ford East and the Strat­ford East Pic­ture­house.

Else­where in the dis­trict, signs of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion were already evi­dent when Lon­don’s suc­cess­ful bid to host the Olympic Games her­ald­ed the com­plete trans­for­ma­tion of the Low­er Lea Val­ley.

Among the most dis­tinc­tive new res­i­den­tial devel­op­ments are Strat­ford Halo (if only for its 43-storey height) and Telford Homes’ Icona (shown above), with ele­va­tions inspired by the work of Don­ald Judd. Even the down-at-heel Mary­land local­i­ty has gained a sprin­kling of upmar­ket apart­ment blocks.

The first trains arrived at Strat­ford Inter­na­tion­al sta­tion in 2009 and the neigh­bour­ing West­field Strat­ford City became Lon­don’s largest shop­ping mall when it opened in 2011. Strat­ford is now one of the ten busiest main­line sta­tions in Britain, with more pas­sen­ger exits and entries than the ter­mi­ni at Fenchurch Street, Maryle­bone or even St Pan­cras. It’s also one of the ten busiest tube sta­tions.

Stratford’s prop­er­ty val­ues saw some of the biggest increas­es in Lon­don in the ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry and its appeal has con­tin­ued to grow with the open­ing of the Queen Eliz­a­beth Olympic Park, the launch of East Vil­lage and the pro­posed rede­vel­op­ment of the Car­pen­ters’ Estate.

Postal district: E15
Population: 12,278 (Stratford and New Town ward)
Stations: Stratford (Central and Jubilee lines, DLR, London Overground, Greater Anglia, TfL Rail), Stratford International (Southeastern high-speed services, DLR and potentially Eurostar) and Stratford High Street (DLR) (all zones 2 and 3)
Further reading: Eddie Johnson, Tales from the Two Puddings: Stratford, London’s Olympic City, in the 1960s, Fifty First State, 2012
and Stephen Pewsey, Stratford: A Pictorial History, Phillimore, 1993
* The Lee Navigation is named by acts of Parliament and is so marked on Ordnance Survey maps. Constructed elements and human features are spelt ‘Lee’, such as the canal system and Lee Valley Park. The un-canalised river is spelt ‘Lea’, along with other natural features such as the Lower Lea Valley.
The picture of Stratford bus station at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Ian Capper at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.