The Changing Tides in Docklands
Few parts of London can have changed so much in the last half-century as the dockland communities described in Rising Tide of Canning Town, Custom House and Beckton. In 1949 the Victoria and Albert docks wholly dominated this part of the East End, its economy and sociology, its landscape and politics.
With the expansion of the Essex container ports of Thurrock, Tilbury and Canvey Island, both the Albert Dock and the Victoria Dock closed to commercial traffic in the 1980s. Albert Dock is now the home of the London Regatta Centre. These days Victoria Dock hosts the annual London Boat Show.
The Custom House Fields and the wasteland where Phyl and Jeff squat in Rising Tide were built on long ago. The Seamen's Hospital was demolished in 1993.
You can still buy a drink in The White Hart in Stepney, where the unofficial Lockout committee meet in the novel, but The Ferndale on Cyprus Place where Jeff drinks with the Canadian seamen is now boarded-up. HMP Pentonville still exists; notable recent prisoners there have included Pete Doherty, Boy George and George Michael.
London City Airport is located at Albert Dock, as is the Docklands Campus of the University of East London. The ExCel Exhibition Centre is on the northern side of the Victoria Dock. Owned by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company, in recent years the Centre has hosted the Motor Show, the 2009 G20 Summit, the UK arms fair as well as auditions for Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor. In 2012 it was one of the venues for the London Olympics.
It is fair to say that Phyl and Jeff would not recognise London dockland today. But they would also be disappointed to know that, sixty years later, this part of Newham should still be among the most economically deprived areas of the UK.
ANDY CROFT, 2013