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The DLR and London Docklands (before anyone took them seriously…)

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Steve White_25Oct88_2I love the internet, you can find so much amazing stuff, things you never even knew existed, just tucked away waiting to be found…

Take the photos that accompany this post for example. They are all borrowed from Steve White’s amazing Flickr site here, where he’s gathered over 1100 images. I can’t begin to imagine how long it must have taken to scan in all those original prints…

I came to London at the end of the 1980’s to do my year out and take my Architectural Diploma and by the early 1990’s was working for a Greenwich based architectural practice. Then, as now (apart from buses of course) there were really only two ways to get to Greenwich from north of the river:  overground from London Bridge or via the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).

In the early 90’s the DLR (much like the Docklands themselves) still had something of the novel about it: driverless trains, elevated trackways, unfinished stations, continuous weekend and evening closures, an abundance of blue powder coated steel structures and a track that stopped north of the Thames at Island Gardens.

Steve White_Canarywharf_17Oct89

What Steve obviously did and what I regret not doing, was documenting these early days with his camera, and for someone like me who regularly used the fledgling service to commute to work, his images are a treasure trove of visual clues and reminders of what a different world it was back then, covering everything from Tower Gateway to Beckton and Stratford and all points in between.

Admittedly these images won’t mean much if you’ve never been to the Docklands or had the opportunity to ride on the DLR, but trust me when I tell you that NOTHING looks like this anymore: not the buildings, the landscape, the trains, the stations… its all now super shiny, super busy, super dense and super expensive…

Steve White_WestIndiaQuay_21Aug89

Even having lived here over the last 12 years and experienced it all first hand, it’s still staggering the rate and amount of change the Isle of Dogs has been through. The huge empty spaces around West India Quay (above) and Limehouse (below) are particularly impressive especially when you think that these photos were all taken less then 30 years ago…

Steve White_Limehouse_13May88

I’ve taken the liberty of stitching a few of Steve’s photos together to give them a more panoramic feel, but even without doing that, the amount of space that the developers had to work with must have been simultaneously exciting and intimidating…

So a huge thanks to Steve for taking the time to document it all, I for one am very appreciative of his efforts.

Steve White_13May88_1

Steve White_15May88_1

Steve White_DLR1990s_1

Steve White_Island Gardenss_1988

Steve White_19Jul89_1

Steve White_DLR1990s_2

The above four photos are especially poignant for me as they show the old Island Gardens station as it was before the extension below the Thames made it all redundant and it was demolished.

Being the end of the line, the tracks split into a V either side of the central steps so that one train could wait for the other before it ran along the single track that ran most of the way to the next station, Mudchute. Reliability was not the DLR’s strong point in the early days, and I used to spend seemingly endless hours on these two platforms waiting to get back to civilisation in North London. Steve White_17Oct89_4

Steve White_14May88_1

Steve White_17Oct89_2

Steve White_07Jun88_2

It’s incredible to think that when Steve took this photo in June 1988, looking north from Heron Quays, nothing of the Canary Wharf existed… at all. One day I should go and take the same view as it its today and put it up here for comparison…

Steve White_19Oct88_1

  1. SteveWhite2008
    January 15, 2013 at 10:11

    Some of the views are so changed, you probably need captions so people can orientate themselves to what they’re looking at.
    Amongst the most surreal are the FMJ fotos at Beckton where Stanley Kubrick fought the Vietnam war again & that is no great distance from where Clockwork Orange was done.
    But I’ve never visited Thamesmead.

    • January 17, 2013 at 12:49

      Hi Steve.
      I may get around to captioning them, but I also think it’s quite fun to work them out for yourself, and get the oh wow factor when you do…

  2. January 17, 2013 at 10:58

    I remember the days when I lived at Island gardens and could fall asleep on the last DLR home without ending up accidentally in Lewisham. I do love the old railway arches – glad they kept some of them.

    • January 17, 2013 at 12:52

      hi ramblingminstrel
      the arches are pretty smart aren’t they. Its a shame in some ways that the bridge over Manchester Road had to go, but that obviously would have made development of that site very challenging…
      thanks for taking the time to comment

    • SteveWhite2008
      January 17, 2013 at 12:55

      Yes the listed arches have been kept, maybe to be awoken from their slumber again in the future.
      The fake ones were demolished.

      • January 17, 2013 at 15:57

        I admit I didn’t realise some of them were fake. Not an architecture expert!

      • January 17, 2013 at 17:34

        Neither did I…

      • SteveWhite2008
        January 18, 2013 at 11:18

        The ones shown in the Island Gardens Station fotos were reinforced concrete with a brick skin.

  3. Valdemar Dallagnol
    November 13, 2016 at 22:38

    Amazing photos! Thanks for sharing!

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