I originally had doubts about the content of my little ‘culture’ gig for this week – as I wasn’t too sure what I would actually find when I got to the designated location, as I had never been there before – However, I was pleasantly surprised to have stumbled upon a place that I believe is a little ‘jewel in the crown’ in terms of a specific aspect of London’s history – and a great place to spend a few hours, especially when the weather is good.
The topic for this week’s venture out was “Trinity Buoy Wharf’ – just a 10min walk from Canning Town tube station.
The wharf can be found in what was an industrial area known as Leamouth close to East India Dock Basin in London’s Docklands. This is where the River Lea joins the Thames and was once known as Bow Creek. The land lies directly opposite the O2 arena.
Trinity Buoy Wharf, has close links to the UK’s nautical industry, because for nearly two centuries the Corporation of Trinity House occupied this site from 1803 to 1988 – but even before then it had ‘history’.
The Corporation of Trinity House was originally granted a charter by Henry VIII in way back in 1514 – It received its coat of arms in 1573 and with that came the authority to build and maintain beacons, marks and signs for the sea and the shipping trading companies at a time when Britannia really did ‘rule the waves’. From then on it was a famous company responsible for buoys, lighthouses and lightships and the pioneering the new techniques involved.
During Victorian times, a number of new buildings were constructed at the Wharf to house numerous industries; all associated with the sea, the river Thames and all its trade. The Electrician’s Building was built in 1836. It was designed by the then Chief Engineer of Trinity House, James Walker, originally for the storage of oil. He rebuilt the remainder of the river wall in 1852, and a “lighthouse” in 1854. On his death in 1862 he was succeeded by a James Douglass who designed a new lighthouse that still stands on the site today – and this landmark has the unique claim to fame as being London’s only Lighthouse.
This iconic Lighthouse, and the Chain and Buoy Store right next to it, were built in 1864 and were in constant use to test maritime lighting equipment and train lighthouse keepers.
The roof space next to the present lighthouse housed the workshop for the famous scientist Michael Faraday who used the site to carry out experiments in electric lighting throughout the mid 1800’s. Outside the warehouse in memory of the work of Michael Faraday, is a small shed called the “Faraday Effect”.
In 1869, Trinity House set up an engineering unit at Trinity Buoy Wharf to repair and test the new iron buoys then coming into use, replacing the previous wooden ones.
By 1910 Trinity Buoy Wharf was a major local employer, with some 150 engineers, platers, riveters, pattern makers, blacksmith, tinsmiths, carpenters, painters, chain testers and labourers all working there – and this continued in one form or another right up until 1988, when the site was purchased by the London Docklands Development Corporation – and was then left derelict for a number of years.
Apart from being the location of London’s only Lighthouse – Trinity Buoy Wharf also boasts the following interesting landmarks/ activities:-
- The Trinity Lighthouse Ship – that has been turned into a Music Recording Studio.
- Container City – old shipping containers that have been painted and made into office blocks and residential apartments.
- Fat Boy’s Diner – a genuine 1940s American Diner from New Jersey that was bought over from the USA. The Diner is a bit of a celebrity in itself, featuring in the film Sliding Doors, and numerous music videos.
- The ‘Cab Tree’ – artist Andrew Baldwin’s Cab Tree sculpture is located on top of the Bow Creek Cafe by the main entrance to Trinity Buoy Wharf
- The ‘Knocker White’ Tug Boat – a boat that is particularly pertinent to me personally, as it used to be moored in Canary Wharf, right outside the now demolished ‘Hertsmere House’ – a building in which I worked for a few years, whilst with Barclays – and a boat that I used to walk past and see every day.
- ‘Ghost Signs’ – advertising on the sides of buildings, from a time when Trinity Buoy Wharf was a hive of engineering activity.
- A ‘Nature Reserve’ – in the ‘East India Dock Basin’, right next door to the Wharf.
Trinity Wharf also offers amenities such as a studio, art galleries, a pier, a boat club, a school and music and opera rehearsal rooms – and clearly, a lot of work (and money) has gone into ensuring that Trinity Buoy Wharf keeps its original character.
All in all – Trinity Buoy Wharf is well worth a visit as it is really cheap, interesting and enjoyable place to pass away a couple of hours – and I hope my photos do it justice