History of Canning Town East London

Like large parts of the East End, Canning Town once had a strong industrial heritage, but the area was originally marshland. As such, for many centuries, the only way to reach Canning Town was to boat or by paying to use a toll bridge. The area opened up in the early 19th century when the Barking Road was built.

This brought with it a larger bridge and more opportunities for connections with the rest of East London.

Before the reign of Queen Victoria, Canning Town had no real significance and it did not even get its name until the Victorian period. It is probably named after Charles Canning. He was a relatively famous and popular character at the time as he had successfully managed the Indian Mutiny in his role as Viceroy of India. Once the area started to be developed, however, it turned into a busy industrial and commercial hub.

Visit Canning Town in East London.

Royal Victoria Docks
Royal Victoria Docks

For example, in 1846, the North London train line brought higher levels of industrialisation to this area of the East End. Originally built to transport supplies from the local docks, the opening of the Barking Road passenger station, together with more housing construction, attracted more workers to the area’s chemical, shipbuilding and sugar refining factories. The football team that started in the local ironworks famously went on to become West Ham FC.

By 1855, Canning Town also had a new dock, the Royal Victoria Dock. However, the local water supply and sewage system was not designed to cope with the increasing number of local residents and businesses, and Canning Town became infamous for its slum living conditions, high poverty levels and outbreaks of smallpox and cholera due to its inadequate sanitary conditions.

History of Canning Town’s New Docks

London Docklands and Canary Wharf
London Docklands and Canary Wharf

The increased docklands and shipping activities brought in a new influx of local and overseas workers who needed housing, including a significant community of West African, Caribbean and Asian immigrants. At one point, Canning Town was home to the largest black community in London with over 100 families living in the area.

Many of the capital’s more dangerous industries were historically located in the East End, safely out of the way of the city of London and its more upmarket central areas. Charles Dickens described some of these industries as “offensive”.

This probably relates to the smells they created, as local businesses worked in gut spinning, varnish production and oil boiling at the time. Operating outside of the regulations of the city itself also made it easier for businesses to ignore housing and business regulations, sometimes leading to accidents.

Canning Town was no exception to this rule and the area was affected by a significant accidental explosion at an ammunition factory in nearby Silvertown. Although this accident resulted in a relatively low loss of life, it damaged tens of thousands of local buildings around the East End.

Housing in Canning Town

By the 1930s, housing conditions in Canning Town were so dire that the local council started a program to clear the slums and to provide better social conditions for local residents. Many slum properties were torn down, and new houses, nurseries, medical clinics and even a lido opened in the area.

The Second World War also badly affected the area and led to further redevelopment initiatives after the war. Much of the East End was a prime target for German bombers and it is estimated that over 85% of local housing stock was destroyed.

redevelopment initiatives after the war. Much of the East End was a prime target for German bombers and it is estimated that over 85% of local housing stock was destroyed.

Canning Town was also the scene of one of the worst bombing events in the war, although a government cover up at the time hid the full extent of the incident. In September 1940, local residents were sheltering in the basement of South Hallsville School during an air raid. They were staying in the school because they had been evacuated from their homes.

The school suffered from a direct hit burying all of the sheltering locals under piles of rubble. Reports at the time indicated that around 70 people died in the incident, but it is now believed that close to 600 people died on the site making this the worst civilian casualty rate in a bombing raid during the war.

Modern History: Canning Town Redevelopment

Due to redevelopment programs and damage sustained in the war, much of the housing in and around Canning Town is relatively modern; most rebuilding took the form of new council estates, including a number of high-rise tower blocks, which were popular at the time.

One high-rise block became well-known in the 1960s for all the wrong reasons when a gas explosion caused an entire corner of the block to collapse. It and its surrounding high-rises were demolished to make way for safer, and smaller, houses and the lessons learned from this accident changed the way that high-rises were built. Canning Town still remains a relatively deprived area and is undergoing continuing redevelopment.

517 thoughts on “History of Canning Town East London”

  1. Seeking further knowledge of the William Hewett family, 62 Lock Street, Canning Town, in 1901 census.. Children: William, Ellen, Henry, Frederick, Elizabeth Ann, Annie, Doris Selina, Walter, George Frederick, Alice, John. Spouses include Hegarty, Griffin. My Grandfather (William’s brother) Frederick emigrated to New Zealand c.1888 from Limehouse Causeway. Further info. appreciated.

  2. Just stumbled across this site so though Id see if anyone has a connection to the Clout/Boys family who were originally from Kent. The period i’m looking into though has them in Canning Town. Henry John Clout was married to Rose Payne in 1900. Trying to go forward with this rather than back so hopefully to learn why they all seemed to change their surnames from Clout to Boys. I think this may have occured from around 1899 after Henry’s mother married George Boys after she was widowed. Henry John was my grt grandfather. His children would have gone to Star Lane and Hilda Road Schools as I believe my father did. Would love to hear from any members from this family who could help out with this.

  3. Kenneth P. Baker
    I was born in Charford Rd E16, in a terraced house destroyed by a German bomb in Sept. 1940. Close to Beckton Road now Newham way. I have clear memories of the district in the 1930s, and of living in London throughout WW2. I particularly recall the excellent Govt.advice on nutrition and heath. I was educated in Plaistow Grammar school and subsequently became a professor of Veterinary medicine. I am writing a family history, we were relocated to Plaistow after the destruction of 23 Charford Rd. and our house in Upperton Rd. was badly damaged and condemned after a V2 rocket landed in Upperton Rd. in March 1945, 2 months before the end of the war. I left West ham in 1951 after entering college. I remember the name Alfred Drake and I was a fellow of a boy called Moody at Plaistow Grammar school 1941-1946, this may be of interest Anthony Drake above .

  4. Hello All.
    Only just found this site, and probably left it a bit late now, but it’s worth a try.
    My dad (Freddy Hines) was born in Canning Town in 1915, and lived 27 (I think) Mayfield Road.
    Dad went to Hilda Road school. Later on, lived in Hermit Road and Tyas Road.
    He boxed as a junior at Fairbairn House and also senior at West Ham Boxing Club based at the Black Lion Plaistow.
    Both his brother Henry and cousin Alfie were boxers too.
    Any info or connections would be great to see and read.
    Thank you.

    P.S. Our surname can be spelt Hines, Heins, Hinds…

    1. Hi Fred I had a friend whose name was Michael Hines. He lived with his mother and father in Exning Road Canning Town, which is close to Hermit Road, Star Lane and Hilda Road School, He was roughly the same age as me, so born around 1947. Sorry, I cannot recall his Dad’s name (I called him Mr Hines!)

      1. PS I attended Hilda Road School for just a year (1957 to 58 I think) but my mother and her brothers all went there – the Porter family from Desford Road (moving there from Dale Road)

  5. Looking for some help with an address/location in Canning Town. I have a letter written by I think my GG Grandfather’s brother titled “The First White Women In Alaska” a small account of his times there. It was signed G.J.Howes (George, not sure the middle initial is correct, should be Laughton Howes). His address is listed as Fire Station, Barking Road, Canning Town. Seems the account may have been written after his return. Would anybody know of this location, does the building still exist? Thanks for the help.

  6. I am trying to trace my late fathers family. I believe he was born in the Canning Town area in Aug 1924, I believe he was born William Arthur Wallis but at some point became William Arthur Maslen and lived in Lewisham. Does this ring any bells with anyone? Thanks for any information

  7. Hi I’m new to this site and may be able to give information about Malmesbury Road, Canning Town from the early 1900’s to about 1930’s. My Grandfather Leonard Stroud lived at 56 Malmesbury Road. He fortunately wrote down all his childhood memories! He mentions names of nearby shops and who were in them. Names of neighbours and a whole lot more. I have a few photos of the area from around that time.

    1. Hi Anthony. I was looking through some old papers today and my grandparents lived at number 58. They were the Down family. I wonder if they are mentioned.?
      Kind regards

      1. Antony Springate

        Hi Jennifer,
        Sorry don’t recognise the surname. Do you have any first names?
        Our house was on the same side as the debris and about 10 houses up towards Star Lane. I do remember some surnames; House, Human, Mills and Whitmore.
        All the best,
        Antony

      2. Hi Jennifer,
        I’ve had a look through his text and unfortunately there is no mention of your family. What I can do is tell you some of the information that may help to visualise the area in his words. This I’m guessing would be from about 1915 onwards as he was born in 1909. He was asked to describe Malmesbury Road. ‘ It was a fairly straight Road with a slight bend at the beginning, this lead to a big playing field with a fence around it. The road was cobblestoned. On the corner of Avondale Road was a bakers ( Wolseys). There was a sweet shop called Maynes on the corner of Clarence Road and a dairy called Thomas’s. There was also a Greengrocers called Savages. At the back of the house was a Railway where the steam trains used to go, between the railway and the houses was a 6 foot wide ditch and you’d always see loads of rats! A Mrs Weller lived about 8 doors up and I used to run errands for her and eventually ended up being a lodger there. My father Elias Stroud was a Stevedore on the docks and liked his drink too much, he was a tough character and was quite intimidating to the area. One example was he tripped over someone’s bin out the front and did no more than pick it up and throw it back through their window shouting ‘take the bloody thing in’!
        He went to Star Lane school and Hermit Road play centre. At the end of the road was ‘ Peggy Leggy steps’ with a lamp and an archway this was the start of ‘our’ territory from other gangs in the area. Street fights were quite common. He said that, Malmesbury Road were fairly respectable, Clarence Road were a bit dodgy, Percy Road and Liverpool Road were a toffee nosed lot, Clifton, Baron and Ordinance Roads were right ruffians. There was an old ship’s Captain that lived opposite called Moody who used to sell Sarsaparilla down Rathbone Street. Lastly, he used to go to Cumberland Road School to get the ‘slips’ from the R O ( relieving office) in order to get food. I’m wondering id this is something like the ration books from later on during WW2?
        Hope that was of some use? He does mention other things at the time such as horse drawn sellers that used to ply their wares, gas lamp wardens etc.
        All the best.
        Tony.

        1. Hi Anthony, I would dearly love to read more of your Grandfather’s memoirs. I have been studying the area in-depth for some years now. My uncle has written his memoirs too but he was born a bit later in 1929. My family paternal family (Fitzgerald & Sawyers) come from Old Canning Town (Tucker Street, Star Lane and surrounding areas). My maternal family are O’Shea/Shea from Poplar (1830).

          1. Hi Julie, there is rather a lot of information. Rather than me typing it all out on here is there a preferred way of getting it to you/ All the best. Tony.

      3. I remember the Down family they lived upstairs in 58 Malmesbury Rd. They had two sons if I remember rightly one was called Reg the other one was Bill.Mrs Downs brother lived downstairs. Bob Edmonds with his wife Edith they had four children Derrick. Robert. Grace and Jean (twins) they were my friend I was always in 58 we grew up together Grace and Jean emergrated to Canada when they grew up.I used to live in Clarence Rd when I got married I lived in Malmesbuy until it was demolished in the seventys .
        My name is Helen..

    2. My mum, Ada Helena Iris Reynolds as she then was(became Mrs Mellish in 1937) taught at Malmesbury Road School in the late twenties and thirties. She was evacuated to taunton (not sure if it was with the school) in September 1939. She returned to London but was caught in one of the raids,South Hallsville School disaster I believe. She survived but had both legs badly broken in multiple places.

    3. hi my grandfather family all lived in Canning does it mention anybody with the surname Cherry.
      regards Lee

  8. Hi all. Im looking into my family history. Does anyone remember the Doyles, Kings, Staffords or Fitzgeralds? Lived there since late 1800s until WW2

      1. Hi June! Lovely to see your reply. My relatives lived on Watford Road, Leslie Road and Liverpool Road between 1901-1940. In tracing their ancestors I have found that they were merchant seamen by trade. Does that ring any bells for you? All the best

  9. Hi all,
    My Grandparents are Sidney and Esther Graham, My granddad (97) sadly passed away in 2017 & My nan (98) sadly passed away 2020.
    I have heard so many stories and they’ve shared a lot of history with me.. Although now they’ve passed I wished I had sat and listened for longer, I was researching for my university course when I stumbled across this page and I’ve gotten a little carried away with reading everything and It got me thinking If anyone remembers my grandparents and/or family?
    My dad is the youngest of his siblings – Henry (also known as Harry).
    My Nan’s surname was Rampley and they owned fruit and veg stalls
    My Grandfather was a Seamen, In the merchant navy..with family from Barbados once he left the merchant navy he worked on the docks – My granddad also had an allotment
    They lived and raised their family on Kerry Close, Custom House where my Nan continued to live until she passed

    I would love to hear if anyone knows or remembers them and if not thank you for still taking the time to read my post.
    Dulcie

  10. Does anybody remember the Semon family who lived at number 7 Malmesbury Road, Canning Town in the 1930s. the family were my Grandparents Amelia and Frederick, they had a daughter also Amelia and a son Eddie, they also had Triplets which was a rare thing back then they were born in January 1932 Mary, Margaret and Frances with Margaret being my mother. If anyone has any information regarding any members of the family I would love to hear from you.

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