Situated two miles east of Canary Wharf are the Royal Docks. Comprised of Royal Albert, Royal Victoria, and King George V, they were built between 1880 and 1921 and were constructed to accommodate larger vessels unable to travel further up river.
During medieval times the area was known as "Hamme", a name meaning 'flat, low-lying pasture'. Cattle were grazed on what had come to be known as the Plaistow Marshes. By 1800 there was just one house (Devil's House) between Bow and Barking Creeks and only one road stretching from East Ham village to the river.
George Bidder sensed the potential of the area and soon he'd bought up the whole of the marshes between Bow Creek and Galleons Reach. He called the area "Lands End" and soon his investment was showing a handsome return as the land was sold for the docks and for a belt of factories along the River.
Important among the industrialists were Henry Tate and Abram Lyle who brought their refineries to the area. They merged in 1921 to form Tate & Lyle which still operates the Silvertown Refinery to the east. Their contribution to the history of the area, and its local life, has been significant.
The Royal Victoria Dock, which was opened in 1855, was the first dock built expressly for steam ships and the first to be planned with direct rail links onto the quay. The Royal Albert Dock was opened in 1880 by the Duke of Connaught after whom the modern swing bridge is named. The Albert was equipped with hydraulic cranes and steam winches to handle vessels up to 12,000 tons and was served by the Great Eastern Railway.
Over the period 1910-1950 the Royal Docks were relatively prosperous. The docks' layout permitted trans-shipment of break bulk cargos from ship to rail, to road and lighter transport or into warehouses for storage. Most of the cargo passing through the dock group was from deep sea trades, particularly with the British Commonwealth.
Traffic through the Royal Docks reached its peak in the 1950s and early 1960s. After that containerisation and other technological changes, and a switch in Britain's trade following EEC membership, led to a rapid decline
Finally in 1981 all were closed and Silvertown, Canning Town & North Woolwich were left with large numbers of jobless, with little prospect of new industry arriving.
It was at this difficult time that the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was formed to oversee the regeneration of the 8.5 square miles of East London land & waterways. The construction of London City Airport commenced at a similar time and the transformation of this devastated area was underway.
The development of the Royal Docks gained real momentum with the building of Britannia Village. The savvy investors bought in this and similar developments with a five year investment perspective. This quickly started to pay off and in some cases, 100% capital growth returns were achieved.
Buyers are still looking at the area with investment in mind. The extension of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) has brought journey times into Canary Wharf & Bank down dramatically, and that has meant prices have started to increase once more. The plans for the docks, which include an amazing 156,000 sq ft Aquarium, surpass any other current regeneration project in London. The buzz now present in the area is reminiscent to that existing Limehouse & the Isle of Dogs 10 years ago and we all know what happened to property prices there.
The Olympics of 2012 are gentrifying Newham and the surrounding areas and as such are becoming an overspill of the Docklands. The new infrastructure brought about by the successful Olympic bid will bring reduced and simplified traveling times to Canary Wharf and the City.
City AirportThe City Airport has gone from strength the strength in recent years and now hosts 15 airlines carrying an average of 1.5m passengers a year. Many say that the great success of Canary Wharf can be attributed the fast efficient service the airport provides.
The various bars and eateries around the Royal Docks are mostly cavernous due to the Excel exhibition centre. On popular exhibition days they are full to the brim and when the centre is empty, the bars are slightly sparse. This will change as the area grows and the population develops.
Beckton was redeveloped in 1980 and at that time the supermarket chain, ASDA moved in to the area. It appears that this supermarket is the hub of the community, with most of the convenience stores built into the complex. In 2003, the construction of the Galleons Reach retail park grew in velocity and has now become one of the main shopping centres of East London. This complex now includes a huge Tesco Extra, so the weekly shop is convenient to say the least.
The whole of the Royal Docks and Beckton are going to benefit enormously from the 2012 Olympics. The development and infrastructure this will introduce to the area is going to create the ideal suburb to Canary Wharf.
There is still so much land to be built upon in many prime sites in the area, that the future is looking bright for the Royal Docks.