Custom House, London
The area is named after the custom house of Royal Victoria Dock. This dock is today in recreational use but it dominated the industry and commerce of the area from 1855 until the 1940s and closed in 1980. The main economic building of the area is the ExCeL Exhibition Centre and thus the district is connected to the City of London directly by two stations on the Docklands Light Railway. Nearby offices, factories and storage premises form the bulk of the rest of the workplaces of the area in the south of the district, close to the DLR route. Schools, a college, a care home, council offices and a parade of shops also support the local economy, which has parks to north and south-east. The district is contiguous with Canning Town, its forebear which was widely disparaged by the upper middle classes in Victorian England as a location heavily associated with rubber, packaging and miscellaneous manufacturing and dockyards, Custom House by not having such connotations is sometimes used for most of the south of the ancient parish of West Ham. A widely varying mapped overlap of the two areas relies on various interpretations including ward names and proximity to four DLR stations on the same line.
Historically Newham was in the extreme west of Essex, and formed along with Canning Town the south of the parish of West Ham, a largely rural parish until the early 19th century. As trade expanded in the British Empire the royal docks were built connected to the wide River Thames in this district — the demand for trade brought rapid population expansion: chiefly the families of dockworkers, warehousemen, carters (distributors), packaging and semi-skilled manufacturing hands, building and utilities workmen and workers in London's street and general distribution markets.
About 1740 the number of householders was estimated at 570. In the first national census of 1801 the population of West Ham was 6,485. It rose steadily to 12,738 in 1841 and then began a growth, which was especially rapid between 1871 and 1901, when over 204,000 were added. By 1911, with 289,030 inhabitants, West Ham was seventh in size among English county boroughs, a status newly acquired. The new population were crowded within the boundaries of the ancient parish being in limited height of homes then affordable to most people. Unlike in the various wealthy streets of other London districts almost the whole population of this part of what was Canning Town consisted of low-paid workers who lived in cheap, unadorned brick and mortar low rise terraces. There was a chronic shortage of open land which only became available once again when the cost of sound mid-rise and high-rise buildings became lower. High rise was first adopted in the country as social housing, attaching a stigma to tower blocks, many of which have since been demolished, including the few in this district of what was West Ham or Canning Town.
A slight population decline to 1931 paled into insignificance by the devastation wrought on this area in World War II, when bombing destroyed in many cases entire streets and forced large-scale evacuation.
The area is marked in early 20th century maps as the eastern half of Canning Town. The first Custom House in London was built in 1275 next to Old Billingsgate Market in the City of London. Royal Victoria Dock which was the economic hub of the settlement is today in recreational use but it dominated the industry and commerce of the area from its 1855 opening until the 1940s and closed in 1980 due to containerisation of freight.
- Speedway motorcycling
Custom House was home to the West Ham Hammers speedway team at the 120,000 capacity West Ham Stadium. Many roads built on the stadium site following its demolition are named after the stars of the team - including Aub Lawson, Jack Young and promoter Johnnie Hoskins.
The Custom House Hotel (on the corner of Freemasons Road), was opened in 2001 to service visitors to the ExCeL centre in the district.
With a large park, Newham City Farm, a King George V Park, vegetable allotments and arguably the north side of Royal Albert Dock, approximately half of Custom House's land use is for housing. The two main roads which serve Custom House are Freemasons Road near the Custom House DLR station and Prince Regent Lane. Buses serving Freemasons Road are the 241, 325 and 678 (school journeys only). The Custom House Surgery is also located on this road. The Royal Docks Community School and The Shipman Youth Centre are both on Prince Regent Lane, in addition to local stores which serve the residents. Bus routes passing through Prince Regent Lane are the 147, 300 and 473.
Sport and recreation
Founder members of the punk band The Cockney Rejects, brothers Mick and Jeff Geggus, were born in Custom House.
The district's roads feed into the London radial route the A11 to the north. In the east of the district a single carriageway, the A112, links Stratford via West Ham to the north to the Excel Exhibition Centre by Custom House railway station where it terminates in the south.
Docklands Light Railway
- Power, A. (1997). Estates on the edge. Great Britain: MacMillan.