The view from the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge

21 Jan 2024

Continuing my series of blog posts about Newham - this time we’ve gone east, right to the very edge of the borough…

The sign on the bridge, that reads "The Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge"

London is huge. I mean really big… I mean, just thinking in terms of London travel card zones, the borough of Newham is in zones 2 / 3 (a fudge so that Westfield Stratford City could be zone 2) - zone 3 and zone 4. There are still two zones to go here in the east… although London becomes more and more Essex as you go east and as the two blur into each other…

Big cities tend to be known for skyscrapers, historic buildings and rows and rows of streets and houses. You’re not supposed to have great big chunks of empty space just sitting there, it’s just not how a city works. Which is why I think the Royal Docks are quite as impressive as they are. Enough space to pop a small runway for a whole airport in between the docks themselves. Enough space for a GIANT exhibition centre that still isn’t quite as long as the Royal Victoria dock it sits next to.

The scale of the royal docks is just something else. They’re just huge. And empty. And it’s at the very end, on the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge that you can see all the way across them as far as Canary Wharf.

And whilst you’re enjoying the view, you can planespot too, if you like.

I always tend to think of the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf as proper “docklands” - they get a museum of London Docklands for a start - plus I think the term “Docklands” is linked (in my mind at least) with city boys and girls in the 1980s - wearing red braces, driving red Porsches and generally making a lot of money. But of course it covers the older docks like St Katharine’s nearer Tower Bridge - and it covers the Royal Docks out in Newham too.

So - finding myself in a library, I did some actual research…

  • Victoria Dock (later the Royal Victoria Dock) opened in 1855 by Prince Albert and the first to have a direct link to the railway network

  • Royal Albert Dock opened in 1880 (opened by the Duke of Connaught - which explains the name of the bridge between the Victoria and Albert Docks… and probably the name of the tunnel too… ) and had a length of almost two miles!

  • Then the Albert Dock extension, not quite as big as the Albert dock - but still huuuuge - opened by King George V on the 8th of July 1921 (and named after him…) this is the one I didn’t quite realise existed when I walked Capital Ring section 15 back in 2018

A photo of a book about London's Docks and Ports


West India Dock traffic was moved the “The Royals” in 1980

This also means there’s plenty of empty London docklands for the Daleks to invade back in 1984. I remember that episode vividly. It was terrifying. And not just for the deep seated urban decay…

The last ship to discharge cargo in the Royal Docks was Xingfeng in October 1981 - with the last ship movement the shifting of former liner Queen Mary out of the King George V lock in 1985.

In 1986 the whole site was leased to the London Dockland Development corporation… and London City Airport followed not long afterwards…

On Monday I wandered across the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge to take a photo or two and despite it being blue Monday (apparently) it was gloriously sunny - which made the whole thing even better. Cold though! There’s the Connaught bridge in the middle - which also has a great view… but it’s cars only… and just not as impressive as the view across the whole lot.

that wonderful view - across City Airport and towards Canary Wharf

I don’t know why I love this view as much as I do. But whenever I need to do a run to the tip I’ll always go the long way back - over this bridge, past the giant Tate and Lyle factory and back towards civilisation. Or Canning Town at least.

Anyway, I’m not alone. Whilst I was wandering over the bridge to take a photo or two - a bloke on a scooter rode over, phone in hand, filming the few towards the city - and I also spied a dad telling his kids to look at the view over towards the airport as they drove across the bridge in their car. At least, I’m going to assume that’s what he was telling them to do.

But WHY is it called the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge?

It’s a good question. As best I can tell, it’s because the Royal Docks Watersports Centre can be found here in the Royal Albert Dock… they have a 2000 metre long course, made possible by removing an old bridge and building a new one. - the new bridge was finished and opened in 1999 - Sir Steve retired from rowing in 2000 - and who wouldn’t want a career like that commemorated on a lonely bridge in the back of beyond in Newham…

Published on 21 Jan 2024 Find me on Twitter and Mastodon.