West India Dock Pier: Festival of Britain, Murder and Nico

West India Dock Pier (sometimes named West India Docks Pier) has had its ups and downs; recently it has been closed or derelict as much as it has been open, and has disappeared completely on occasion. The name originally misled me as to its location. It is not in the West India Docks. Close by, admittedly, but on the Island everything is close by. It is at the river end of Cuba Street – a dead-end street when I lived on the Island, which you didn’t enter unless you had business there (or you’d had one too many in the Blacksmith’s Arms).

Circa 1890

According to the Survey of London, the original pier was built for the convenience of merchants who were visiting from their usual place of work in the City:

The original pier was constructed in 1874–5 to facilitate access for merchants to the East and West India Dock Company’s new wool warehouses at the South Dock of the West India Docks.

In 1905, the pier was taken over by the ‘Penny Steamer’ service, an initiative from the LCC which lasted just a few years, named as such due to the flat price of one penny for all journeys. From 1909, on the ending of the service, the pier was run by the newly-formed Port of London Authority (PLA).

1920s (Photo: Richard Milton)

West India Dock Pier, with Lenanton’s on the right. The warehouse on the left belonged to Morton’s. 1936

19th March 1941 (later known as ‘The Wednesday’) was a particularly bad night for those living and working in the East End, including on the Island. In clear weather, more than 500 Luftwaffe aircraft dropped thousands of incendiary and high explosive bombs along the banks of the Thames from London Bridge to Beckton.

A later German radio communiqué described the attack on London as “a heavy one carried out with shattering effect by very strong bomber formations over a period of hours.” Harbour and dock facilities and other military objectives were attacked with bombs of every calibre it stated. It was claimed that “widespread destruction was caused in the main docks as well as to harbour installations.” Other targets included factories north of the Isle of Dogs and merchant shipping in the Thames. It was during this action that West India Docks Pier was destroyed.

A pier-less Cuba Street in 1949

After the war the pier was rebuilt in time to serve visitors to the newly-opened Lansbury Estate (a ‘Live Architecture’ exhibition, part of the Festival of Britain in 1951).

1951

Painting of Morton’s, with West India Dock Pier at the top. Date unkown, but probably the 1950s.

In 1965, the pier was the backdrop for a promo film by Nico for her song “I’m Not Sayin”, which can be found on YouTube. Or you can click here……

If that video doesn’t work for you, here are a couple of screenshots:

In the same year, the pier featured in the film, ‘Four in the Morning’, starring a very young Judi Dench.  The plot revolves around the lives of two couples living in London – who are unknown to each other – and how they are connected to the body of a young woman found drowned in the Thames.

Film Poster

The body was brought ashore at West India Dock Pier.

From 1987, the pier was used by the Docklands River Bus service.

River Bus

West India Dock Pier (left) during the construction at Canary Wharf. Circa 1989.

Another use of the pier that didn’t last too long – in 1991 the service was discontinued, which meant a period of decay and dereliction for the pier.

 

Today, the pier has been somewhat fixed-up, including the addition of a pontoon to which a residential vessel has been moored. At least the pier is being used for a change.

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4 Responses to West India Dock Pier: Festival of Britain, Murder and Nico

  1. Harold Batten says:

    Thanks Mick

    My father used to take me there to see the river and the ships on a Sunday morning
    when I was a small boy during the 1950’s, we lived at 147 West Ferry Road, so it was not far.
    Tha last time I was there was with my father and my then two small sons when we went back
    to have a look sometime around 1992. Good to reminded of happy memories.

    Harold Batten

  2. What can I say Mick
    Your research as usual has been meticulously carried out.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post.
    Brilliant
    regards
    Rich

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