West India dock Pier , last year (Photo copyright Anita Gerzsenyi)
Last year I was lamenting the state of West India Dock Pier which had been derelict for 20 years and was slowly getting worse.
Pier – last year
Imagine my surprise in the last few weeks when there were signs that the old pier was getting a bit of a facelift. It was at this stage when I began to grow a little bit curious of what was happening.
Pier – now
If you look at the pier now, you may find it hard to believe that there has been a pier on this site since the 1870s. The original pier was built-in 1874–5 to allow access for merchants to the East and West India Dock Company’s new wool warehouses at the South Dock of the West India Docks.
Since then it has been used in many schemes to provide a comprehensive transport service on the river. In 1905 – 1908 it was part of the Penny Steamer Service, then it was used by private steamboat operators before being transferred to the new Port of London Authority (PLA) in 1909.
West India Dock Pier 1936 Photo A.G. Linney (Museum of London)
It was in use up to the Second World War, then the pier was destroyed from German bombing in 1941.
The pier was rebuilt in 1949–50, it was one of the stopping points for the river buses in the Festival of Britain.
It was used by Docklands River Bus service in 1987–91 which was subsidised by Olympia and York, builders of Canary Wharf. When they had financial troubles the River service was stopped.
One of the 1980s River Buses
But what of the present ? I was fortunate enough to come across the pier’s new owner who kindly showed me around the pier and gave me some indications of his plans.
Unfortunately twenty years of neglect has led to some damage to the pier, so the first priority for the new owner is to repair the damage and give the pier a bit of a makeover in a way sympathetic to its surroundings.
He is fully aware of the pier’s history and is keen to restore the pier to reflect this, he also has another historical project in mind.
Tied next to the pier’s pontoon is a large barge which has quite a history of its own. The barge is a Humber Keel barge which was once owned by Victor Waddington who was known as the “King of the Canals”.
Born in Yorkshire, he inherited a small family boatyard, EV Waddington of Swinton and Mexborough, and turned it into a multi-million pound inland canal fleet.
Whilst others left the canals to leisure craft, he carried on hauling freight around the Humber estuary, the South Yorkshire mines and steel foundries.
In the 1980s, he was estimated to have been worth 40 million pounds and run a fleet of 80 large barges. His particular favourite barge was the Northern King which now stands attached to the West India Dock pier pontoon.
Built in 1928 by well-known barge builders J Scarr of Howden, the Northern King was still a working boat at Waddington’s up till a few years ago.
When you get close to the barge it seems enormous and it is not hard to imagine it winding its way through the Yorkshire canals full of steel.
However like the pier it has seen better days and needs considerable restoration to bring it back to its former glory.
With a large number of historic parts of the Isle of Dogs under threat from modern development it is nice to report that one old tumbledown Isle of Dogs pier may be getting a new lease of life.