Bow Creek - 35 Years of Change

Whilst there was still quite a lot of industrial activity in London in the early 1980s, it was clear that much of it was soon to disappear. This was particularly evident in docklands following the closure of the docks and the establishment, in 1981, of the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC). 

In the early 1980s I photographed exclusively along the tidal Lea from Bow Creek to Stratford. This is where many of the most significant changes have since occurred and I have revisited the area on numerous accasions over the intervening 35 years to record the changing landscape.

Following the creation of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, this section of the River Lea, which links together a number of public open spaces between the Olympic Park and the River Thames, has been designated 'The Leaway' and made more accessible by foot and bicycle. Several artworks have been installed along the route.

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1990. Mouth of the River Lea, looking across to Trinity Buoy Wharf.

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2017. Trinity Buoy Wharf today. The former lightship is used as a sound recording studio.

2015. Orchard Place, Leamouth.

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1982. Orchard Wharf, situated on the western loop of the Lea at Bow Creek, with the bulk of Brunswick Wharf (Blackwall) Power Station looming in the background. The power station was demolished in 1988-9 and Orchard Wharf was compulsorily purchased in 1990 by the LDDC to construct the western approach to the Lower Lea Crossing.

2016. The same view today.

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1982The railway bridge over the River Lea that once connected the Stratford - North Woolwich line with the East India Dock.

2016. Amazingly, the old railway bridge still survives!

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2005. Orchard Place, located on the isthmus formed by the eastern loop of the Lea at Bow Creek. Until 2006 this was the site of Pura                          Foods Ltd, a manufacturer of edible oils and fats. The site has since been redeveloped for housing and is now called London City Island.  


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2015. London City Island under construction on the site of Pura Foods Ltd. The isthmus formed by the western river loop (centre) now contains the Bow Creek Ecology Park and carries the Docklands Light Railway flyover towards Canning Town Station.

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2005. Canning Town Flyover (A13).

The Lea to the north of the A13 (Canning Town Flyover) still retains some of its industrial character, though this is rapidly changing, particularly on the west bank where new housing is being built. On the east side new businesses have moved in where once there were, amongst other things, a power station and a gas and chemical works.

1982. The tidal Lea, looking north from the Canning Town flyover (A13). The power station, West Ham ‘B’, closed in 1983.

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2017. The view north from Canning Town flyover today.

To the north of the power station site there is still a small dock where barges used to bring coal for the nearby gasworks. This is Gasworks Dock - also known as Cody Dock - and after many years of dereliction it is now undergoing rehabilitation by the Gasworks Dock Partnership to turn it into a quarter for creative industries and a place to celebrate the diverse ecology and industrial heritage of the River Lea. 

2005. Cody Dock (left), formerly used by boats delivering coal to the Imperial Gas and Chemical Works. 

2017. Cody Dock rejuvenated. ‘Corlea’, a tug built in North Woolwich in 1933, used to haul coal barges up the Lea to Hackney                               Power Station. It is now a houseboat.

2015. Cody Dock

2017. The river north of Cody Dock at low tide.

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2017. Demolition of Poplar No.1 gas holder, constructed in1878, together with its associated meter house (right).                                                            An unsuccessful local campaign was mounted to try and save these industrial relics and incorporate them into the                                                            new housing development, as has been done elsewhere, notably at Kings Cross.


2015. DNA DL90, a sculpture made of shopping trolleys in the shape of a                                                                                                                  double helix by Abigail Fallis, east bank of the Lea south of Bow Lock.

At Bow Locks the tidal river meets the River Lee Navigation and the Limehouse Cut canal. To the north of the locks the old river divides into several channels known as the Bow Back Rivers. These wind their way through Stratford and what is now the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The present Bow Locks were installed in the early 1930s together with a slender footbridge made of reinforced concrete.


1983. View from the footbridge at Bow Lock, looking southwest along the Limehouse Cut.

2015. View of the River Lea from Bow Lock, looking south towards Canary Wharf.

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2017. 1930s footbridge at Bow Lock, looking north. 

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    © Mike Seaborne 2017