Thursday, 28 May 2009

The changing face of London City Airport

London's airports are much maligned. Over priced, over capacity and often overshadowed by sleeker hubs overseas. But that's because most passengers overlook (that enough over prefixes - ed) London City Airport, the modest European terminal situated in the City's regenerated former docklands. The recent extension to the Dockland's Light Railway, however, is helping revive the airport's fortunes.

Hidden Europe, a bi-monthly magazine with a sideways look at the art of travel, has published this thoughful short article on the changing face of Silvertown, the location of London City Airport.

Last time I went to Silvertown, about ten years ago, I travelled on a train that creaked and screeched on ancient tracks, skirting derelict docks and gaunt shells of long abandoned factories to reach a single railway platform just by the Albert Road post office. hidden europe returned to Silvertown yesterday, to find the nineteenth-century railway tracks replaced by a sleek modern light railway. The relentless redevelopment of London's docklands marches on to the east, engulfing the remnants of old working class communities with adventurous new office blocks, warehousing and chic riverfront apartments.

On my first visit to Silvertown, an old man on Albert Road who had worked for years as a yard gang foreman in the nearby Tate and Lyle factory, told me how, until he was twenty years old, he had never once travelled out of the docklands. The factory still stands, but most of the buildings around have been levelled in recent years, including the old Tate and Lyle front office which was embellished with a verse from the Old Testament: "Out of the strong came forth sweetness." A decent enough motto for a factory that produced golden syrup from sugar cane.

Rathbone Street market in Canning Town, just two stops up the train line from Silvertown, was the furthest most Silvertowners ever ventured. A Saturday special. Pie and mash at Mrs Olley's café followed by ice cream at Murkoff's were Canning Town treats before Silvertowners hopped back on the train for the short ride home. Silvertown catered to all everyday needs. It had a barber, a cinema, a Congregationalist chapel, Herringshaw's grocery store, and even - for those wanting to splash out - a place to take lunch in style: the Beehive Dining Rooms run by Michael Heaslip.

And Silvertown today? Barred and shuttered, a tiny community that lives on its memories and waits for the bulldozers. The post office has closed and no ships from the tropics ever arrive at the lifeless Tate and Lyle pier. Silvertown has new horizons - and no longer are they limited to a Saturday train ride to Canning Town. For nowadays Silvertown is home to London City Airport, which offers flights to some three dozen destinations across Europe. You can fly to Nice or Madrid but no longer can you buy a stamp and have a natter at the Albert Road post office.

1 comment:

Fight the Flights - Not Anti Aviation - But Anti Expansion. said...

It's neighbors are so fed up with it's expansion plans. LCY go on about what they've brought to the area, walk around and see, boarded up businesses, homes now in a Public Safety Zone, the increase of noise and pollution with it's expansion plans.
They money drives into LCY & flies out. It then flies back into LCY and drives out of the area. Tell me if this is truly a benefit to the community.