K♦ West Ham The borough now known as Newham was formerly two old boroughs, namely West Ham and East Ham, but in 1965 they were combined and the historicdelineation was lost. For today's post I thought I'd go and walk the boundary, because I had no idea where it used to be, and I wanted to see if any evidence remained. Spoiler: The line's now pretty much invisible, but still mostly followable, and a stroll of extreme contrasts.
Walking the boundary between West Ham and East Ham[map]
My cross-Newham journey began on Capel Road, where the road gently bends, adjacent to the broad open space of Wanstead Flats. It's a pleasantly verdant place to start. The spot where West Ham and East Ham split was once marked by a boundary stone somewhere in the treeline, but all I could find was a lone wooden post of post-1965 vintage (Spoiler: I never found any of the dozen former boundary posts I was looking out for either). The boundary then ran behind the Victorian terraces down the eastern side of Ridley Road, which can only mean that the houses used to be in West Ham while their back gardens were in East Ham. Near enough, anyway. West Ham: The Forest Gate Hotel. East Ham: Manor Park Cemetery and Crematorium.
The leafy avenues pause briefly near the cemetery gates so that the Overground can cross what will be Crossrail, and some children's painting can brighten up the bridge. Up next is the Woodgrange Conservation Area, a further expanse of attractive Victorian streets, where even the mini-roundabouts at sequential junctions can't blunt the charm. What follows is the only part of the West/East boundary that runs west/east, along a 250m block of the Romford Road, where a small cluster of late Georgian agricultural cottages lurks among the takeaways and terraces. I also spotted actual confirmatory evidence, with a County Borough of West Ham street sign on one side and a semi-legible County Borough of East Ham on the other. The owner of the Al-Rehman Food Store eyed me suspiciously as I snapped a photo of the former. West Ham: Million Hair, Vapeelicious, mosque. East Ham: Cartridge World, LDF Chicken, post office.
And now the easiest bit of the boundary to follow, which is Green Street. This famed shopping street marked the precise dividing line between West Ham and East Ham, all the way down from the police station to the football ground. This used to be an East End stronghold of pie and mash and pubs, but the local population has irrevocably changed and Green Street is now the premier South Asian shopping destination on this side of London. Mostly this means clothing, jewellery and food stores, and even the very first retail offering at the top of the street is called Patels Corner Shop, I kid you not. West Ham: Pakhtoonkhwa, Barclay Hall. East Ham: Al Hamrah Hajj tours, London Fish Bazaar.
Repeatedly the front door of a store stands open with a glittering display of saris laid out beyond, perhaps for everyday wear, more likely for a special occasion. Elsewhere are smart shoes and puffed up suits for men, plus necklaces dripping with gold (or something like it), hinting that Green Street kits out the crowd at many an Indian wedding. The most unexpected facility is the the East Shopping Centre, a proper high-vaulted mall of two dozen modern units, not one of which is occupied by a well-known UK brand. Instead you'll find Asian Bridal, Jilbabs R Us and Fatima's womenswear, plus a sign at the far end alerting visitors that the "second cash machine is located at the rear of the souk". West Ham: Bombay Fashion, Gallery of Glamour. East Ham: Bawa Shoes, Puja Silk House.
Closer to the tube station a brief cluster of Greggs, Tesco and betting shops keeps the wider community ticking over, while cheaper staples continue to be available in Queen's Market, whose deeper recesses resemble a gloomy multi-storey car park bedecked with non-label garments, bowls of veg and appropriately slaughtered meat. But the biggest agent of change hereabouts is West Ham's former stadium, currently undergoing demolition so that a mountain of new flats can arise, perhaps enticing a completely different demographic to move in. One of the iconic castles out front is midway through being dismantled, revealing the shell of a multi-storey stairwell within, and it won't be long before the Boleyn is merely history. West Ham: Upton Park station, Queen's Market. East Ham: Green Street Library, former Boleyn Ground.
At the fiveways junction with Barking Road, by the World Cup '66 statue, one thoroughfare retains the obvious name to follow. That'll be the quietest of the five, Boundary Road, a residential street of close-packed Victorian treasures, plus the odd rebuild where a wartime bomb hit. A lot of mainstream Newham looks like this. But the edge of the built-up area is nigh - 60 years ago there was nothing on the other side of the North London Outfall Sewer but a couple of schools and an expanse of empty marsh. The footpath that once ran this way is now Boundary Lane, an access road round the back of the hospital, and beyond that somehow still an actual footpath. A grim path too, in the shadow of a surgical centre beside flytipped verges and defensive railings, that's the former boundary today. West Ham: New City Primary, Newham University Hospital. East Ham: Deep Blue Sea chippie, Brampton Academy.
The A13 now presents an impenetrable barrier, requiring a lengthy diversion to find a footbridge. On the opposite side is Beckton Park, a much fairer prospect than the name suggests, at least in its northern quarter around the lake. Come feed the geese, or follow the tree trail, or ponder the destiny of the long-locked cafe. You'll have followed a good half mile of the boundary if you've ever walked the penultimate section of the Capital Ring, and it's interesting to see how this non-existent line still marks the approximate western edge of the Beckton housing estate. Enjoy the greenery, there'll be no more of that. West Ham: Stansfield Road, pylon, Newham City Farm. East Ham: lake, Indian bean tree, Will Thorne Pavilion.
The West/East Ham boundary predates the Royal Docks, so cuts seemingly randomly across the Royal Albert Dock. It does this at what's now a significant location, between Newham council's enormous gleaming dockside hub and a derelict zone currently fenced off for major redevelopment. Chinese investors are pumping a billion pounds into ABP, destined to become "London's third great business area", although it's hard to imagine the intended wall of office towers on this waterside wasteland at present. Unless you can swim or row, or have a pilot's licence, a long detour is required to reach City Airport on the other side of the dock. West Ham: Dockside, Royal Albert DLR. East Ham: Advanced Business Park, Beckton Park DLR.
The vast majority of the airport's terminal building is on the West Ham side of the line, while most of the runway and car park extend into the east. The dividing line then cut through former dockers terraces between Tate Road and Kennard Street, before making an administrative beeline for the ancient inlet of Ham Creek. This is where Samuel Winkworth Silver built an India Rubber works in 1852, after which Silvertown is named, and is now the site of the Tate & Lyle Refinery. That means there's no chance of ending this walk on the banks of the Thames, so it terminates instead on a grimy access road entrenched behind the railway, this varied cross-section of Newham finally complete. West Ham: London City Airport DLR, Tate & Lyle. East Ham: Albert Road Surgery, Silvertown bus depot.