West Ham: Transport and postal services

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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'West Ham: Transport and postal services', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, ed. W R Powell( London, 1973), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol6/pp61-63 [accessed 22 July 2024].

'West Ham: Transport and postal services', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Edited by W R Powell( London, 1973), British History Online, accessed July 22, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol6/pp61-63.

"West Ham: Transport and postal services". A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Ed. W R Powell(London, 1973), , British History Online. Web. 22 July 2024. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol6/pp61-63.


Even before the coming of the railways Stratford was well served by public transport. In 1839 omnibuses and coaches ran to London four times an hour during the day, and coaches to and from Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk passed through about once an hour. (fn. 1) Plaistow at that period was served by three coaches, each making three journeys a day. (fn. 2) During the 1830s steam coaches ran for varying periods on the road between Stratford and London, and on other local routes, but the experiment proved unprofitable, and was abandoned about 1840. (fn. 3)

The first railway through the parish was the Eastern Counties (later Great Eastern) line from London to Romford, opened in 1839, extended to Brentwood in 1840 and Colchester in 1843. (fn. 4) Stratford was one of the original stations, (fn. 5) and by 1841 there was also a small station at Forest Gate. (fn. 6) Maryland station was opened by 1874. (fn. 7) The line was electrified in 1949. The Northern and Eastern line was opened from Stratford to Broxbourne (Herts.) in 1840, extended to Hertford in 1843 and Cambridge in 1845. It was taken over by the Eastern Counties in 1844. The Eastern Counties branch from Stratford to Woodford and Loughton was opened in 1856 and extended to Epping and Ongar in 1865. The railway works at Stratford is described elsewhere. (fn. 8)

The North Woolwich branch originated in 1846, when the Eastern Counties and Thames Junction railway, originally intended for coal traffic only, was opened from Stratford via Stratford Bridge (later Stratford Market) station to Barking Road, Canning Town. In 1847 it was extended to North Woolwich and opened for passengers. (fn. 9) A pier was built opposite North Woolwich station from which there was a steam ferry to Woolwich. The North Woolwich branch was taken over by the Eastern Counties railway in 1847. When the Victoria Dock was built, its entrance cut across the line, and a new line was therefore built round the north side of the dock to Silvertown, where it rejoined the original line. The old line south of the dock, locally known as the Silvertown tramway, was retained to serve the local factories, and a swing bridge was built to carry it over the dock entrance. (fn. 10) On the new line Custom House station was opened in 1855 and Tidal Basin station in 1858. Silvertown station was opened in 1863. When the Royal Albert Dock was built in 1880 the railway was diverted through a tunnel under the cut between the two docks. The original highlevel line, carried over the cut by another swing bridge, was retained as the property of the dock company, and later passed to the Port of London authority.

Several other lines were built to link with the North Woolwich branch. A line between Hackney Wick (Victoria Park) and Stratford was opened by the Eastern Counties railway in 1854, connecting the North Woolwich line with the North London railway. A service between Hackney Wick and Stratford Bridge was worked by the North London until 1866, and jointly by that company and the Great Eastern from 1866 to 1874. From 1874 the Great Eastern alone operated the service. The Victoria Park trains were extended to Canning Town in 1895. A branch from Custom House to Beckton was opened in 1874 by the Gas Light & Coke Co., which leased it to the Great Eastern; one from Custom House to Gallions, opened in 1880 by the dock company, was worked by the Great Eastern from 1896. Both were closed, after bombing, in 1940. The completion of the new lines in Middlesex made it possible, from 1880, to run trains from Palace Gates to Stratford and North Woolwich. The line between Palace Gates and Stratford was closed in 1963. (fn. 11)

The London, Tilbury & Southend railway was opened in 1854 from Forest Gate to Tilbury, and extended to Southend in 1856. A cut-off between Bow and Barking, with stations at Plaistow and East Ham, was completed in 1858. Additional stations were built at Upton Park in 1877 and West Ham (Manor Road) in 1901. (fn. 12) The line was electrified in 1961–2. The railway works at Plaistow is described elsewhere. (fn. 13)

The Tottenham & Forest Gate railway, opened in 1894, with a station at Wanstead Park, provided a new route from Barking to St. Pancras and Moorgate. The line, promoted jointly by the Midland railway and the London, Tilbury & Southend, was carried through the built-up area of Forest Gate on a long brick viaduct. It aroused considerable local opposition, which might have been more effective if West Ham council and Leyton local board had been able to agree upon a joint course of action in the matter. (fn. 14) In 1970 the line was worked by diesel electric trains. (fn. 15)

West Ham's first link with London's underground system was made in 1902, when the District line was extended from Whitechapel to join the London, Tilbury & Southend at Bow, and its trains began to work through to East Ham. The line was electrified to East Ham in 1905 and to Barking in 1908. The Central line extension was opened from Liverpool Street to Stratford in 1946, from Stratford to Leytonstone and Woodford in 1947, and to Hainault, Loughton, and Epping in 1948–9.

Many of the railway stations in West Ham were enlarged or rebuilt from time to time to deal with increasing traffic. Tidal Basin station, which had been damaged by bombing, was closed in 1943. Stratford Market station was closed in 1957. The railway works at Stratford and Plaistow have also been closed, but in 1967 an international freightliner terminal was opened at Stratford station.

The North Metropolitan Tramways Co. opened a horse tramway from Aldgate to Leytonstone Road, via Broadway, Stratford, in 1870–1, and in 1886 extended it to Leytonstone, with another branch along Romford Road to Forest Gate and Manor Park. (fn. 16) In 1886 also the company opened a line from Canning Town along Barking Road to the Greengate, Plaistow, with an extension to a depot in Tunmarsh Lane. In 1877 it experimented briefly, in Leytonstone Road, with a Merryweather steam tram locomotive. A further experiment, with a Beaumont compressed air locomotive, was made on the same line in 1881. (fn. 17) Battery-powered electric trams were used on regular services between Stratford and Manor Park in 1886–8, and on the Canning Town line in 1889–92, but they were not a success. In 1903–5 the West Ham corporation took over all the company's lines within the borough, extended and electrified them. As part of the process a new road, Tramway Avenue, was cut through from Stratford Broadway to West Ham Lane. In 1937–40 the trams were replaced by trolley buses, which remained in use until 1960.

The local horse bus services were not harmed, and in some cases were even stimulated by the coming of the railways. In the 1850s and 1860s buses ran every 10 minutes from Stratford to London, and there was also a service from Stratford station to Leyton and Walthamstow. (fn. 18) With the arrival of the tramways the horse buses declined, but motor bus services started in West Ham by 1906 and were rapidly extended. (fn. 19) In 1933 West Ham's trams and buses were taken over by the London Passenger Transport Board. (fn. 20)

A Thames ferry was established in 1811 between Charlton (Kent) and Plaistow Level (the present Silvertown), from which Prince Regent Lane was built across the marshes to Barking Road. (fn. 21) It survived until 1847, when the steam ferry was opened from North Woolwich.

Letters were being delivered and collected twice daily at Stratford and West Ham village in 1692, and once daily at Upton, Plaistow, and Green Street. (fn. 22) In 1794 there was a receiving and sorting office at Stratford, and a receiving house at Plaistow. (fn. 23) There were 4 post offices in the parish in 1848, and 9 by 1856. (fn. 24) When the London postal area was divided into districts in 1856, West Ham parish was included in the eastern district (Stratford and Canning Town sub-districts). (fn. 25) There were various changes in the sub-districts in the later 19th century. Of the numbered sub-districts formed in 1917 four lay wholly or mainly in West Ham: Stratford (E. 15), Plaistow (E. 13), Forest Gate (E. 7), and Victoria Docks and North Woolwich (E. 16). (fn. 26)

By 1829 Stratford had a main post office and two other offices. (fn. 27) In 1856 Stratford was constituted a sub-district. (fn. 28) The main office was in Broadway c. 1848–80 and in Martin Street 1880–97; it became a branch office in 1880. (fn. 29) The present branch office, at no. 413 High Street, was opened in 1897. (fn. 30) Telegraph services were available at Stratford railway station by 1868 and at three of the post offices by 1870. (fn. 31) The National Telephone Co. opened an exchange at Stratford in 1896. (fn. 32) The area is now served by the Maryland exchange, opened in 1922. (fn. 33)

The Plaistow office, then in Balaam Street, was in 1856 included in the Stratford sub-district; the Plaistow sub-district was formed in 1872. (fn. 34) From 1857 until the Second World War the main office was in High Street. (fn. 35) The present branch office, so designated about 1949, is on the corner of Balaam Street and Barking Road. (fn. 36) Telegraph services were available by 1872. (fn. 37) The telephone had been extended to Plaistow by 1905. (fn. 38) The area is now served by the Grangewood, Clocktower, and Albert Dock exchanges.

Forest Gate was in Stratford sub-district from 1856 until 1880, when it became a separate subdistrict. (fn. 39) Since the 1880s the main office has occupied various sites in Woodgrange Road. (fn. 40) It became a branch office in 1921. (fn. 41) The present branch was built in 1958 as part of Telephone House, Woodgrange Road, which is the headquarters of the eastern area of the London telecommunications region. (fn. 42) Telegraph services were available to the public at Forest Gate railway station by 1868, and at the post office by 1879. (fn. 43) The telephone was available by 1905. (fn. 44)

The Victoria Docks and North Woolwich subdistrict (E. 16) is larger than its name suggests, since it includes most of Canning Town. In 1856 the Canning Town sub-district comprised offices at Canning Town, Victoria Docks, and North Woolwich. (fn. 45) In 1872 the Victoria Docks sub-district was formed, with a branch office at Tidal Basin, and an office at Canning Town, while North Woolwich became a separate sub-district. (fn. 46) The two subdistricts came together again in 1917. In the Victoria Docks sub-district a second branch office was opened in 1881 at the Royal Albert Dock. (fn. 47) The North Woolwich sub-district included Silvertown, where the first office was opened in 1878. (fn. 48) A branch office in Barking Road, Canning Town, was designated about 1949. (fn. 49) There were telegraph services at Canning Town by 1870. (fn. 50) The Albert Dock telephone exchange was opened by the National Telephone Co. in 1897. (fn. 51)


  • 1. Pigot's Dir. Essex (1839).
  • 2. Curwen, Old Plaistow, 67.
  • 3. See p. 85.
  • 4. Unless otherwise stated the following account of the railways is based on: C. J. Allen, The Great Eastern Rly.; H. D. Welch, London, Tilbury & Southend Rly.; W.H.L., Vert. File E/WES/385, 'Railways in the London Borough of Newham' [Typescript]; E.R. lix. 57–61. See also V.C.H. Essex, v. 23–6, 72–3. For the viaduct at Stratford in 1837 see above, frontispiece.
  • 5. Stratford Expr. W. Ham Jubilee Suppl. 4 July 1936, p. 7. Eastn. Co. Rly. Guide (1838) has a picture of the original station.
  • 6. Rly. Mag. x. 440; Forest Gate Wkly. News, 24 July 1896, 18 Aug. 1899.
  • 7. Kelly's Dir. Essex. (1874).
  • 8. See p. 85.
  • 9. J. Morss, 'The Palace Gates to North Woolwich Line', Rly. Mag. Sept. 1962.
  • 10. See also p. 50.
  • 11. Daily Telegraph, 2 Jan. 1963.
  • 12. Sainsbury, W. Ham, Eight Hundred Years, 63.
  • 13. See p. 85.
  • 14. W.H.L., W. Ham C.B.C. Mins. Legal and Genl. Ctee., 27 Jan. and 12 July 1890.
  • 15. Inf. from Brit. Rlys. Eastern Region.
  • 16. For the tramways see: V. E. Burrows, Tramways in Metropolitan Essex; 'Rodinglea', Tramways of East London; V.C.H. Essex, v. 27–8.
  • 17. Cf. W. Ham L.B. Mins. 8 Mar., 10 May, 25 Oct. 1881; Sainsbury, Eight Hundred Years, 64.
  • 18. White's Dir. Essex (1848), 247; (1863), 634; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1870).
  • 19. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1878, 1882, 1906); V.C.H. Essex, v. 27–8.
  • 20. London Passenger Transport Act, 1933, 23 Geo. V, c. 14.
  • 21. A. P. Crouch, Silvertown, 55–6. Prince Regent Lane followed part of the older Marsh Lane.
  • 22. T. de Laune, Present State of London (1692).
  • 23. G. Brumell, Local Posts of London, 1680–1840, 89.
  • 24. White's Dir. Essex (1848), 241; Brit. Postal Guide (1856).
  • 25. Brit. Postal Guide (1856).
  • 26. Post Office Guide (1917).
  • 27. Brumell, op. cit. 87.
  • 28. Brit. Postal Guide (1856).
  • 29. White's Dir. Essex (1848), 241; Brit. Postal Guide (1856 sqq.); Post Office Guide (1880 sqq.).
  • 30. P.O. Guide (1897).
  • 31. G.P.O. Rec. Off., Great Eastern Rly., List of stations with telegraph (1868); Kelly's Dir. Essex (1870).
  • 32. Nat. Telephone Jnl. Oct. 1907, 135.
  • 33. Stratford Expr. 8 Apr. 1922.
  • 34. Brit. Post. Guide (1856 sqq.).
  • 35. Ibid.; P.O. Guide (1880 sqq.); London Post Offices and Streets (1937, 1940).
  • 36. London Post Offices and Streets (1948, cf. 1950).
  • 37. Brit. Post. Guide (1872).
  • 38. P.O. Guide (1905).
  • 39. Brit. Post Guide (1856 sqq.).
  • 40. P.O. Guide (1880 sqq.).
  • 41. Ibid. (1921).
  • 42. Inf. from Mr. L. Johnson.
  • 43. G.E.R., List of stations with telegraph (1868); Brit. Post Guide (1879).
  • 44. P.O. Guide (1905).
  • 45. Brit. Post. Guide (1856).
  • 46. Ibid. (1872).
  • 47. P.O. Guide (1882).
  • 48. Brit. Post. Guide (1879).
  • 49. London Post Offices (1948, cf. 1950).
  • 50. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1870).
  • 51. Nat. Telephone Jnl. Oct. 1907, 135.