When the first section of the DLR was finished (between Greenwich and Bank) a friend who didn’t know my part of London very well said “Oh, I expect you’ll be coming to work on that Docklands Light Railway, then.” Of course that section started miles away from where I live, so there was no point. Then the Olympics came along, infrastructure had to be beefed up, and suddenly I had my own DLR, from Woolwich to Bank, and since a combination of this and the Central line gets me where I need to be in under an hour, I use it a lot. It is also remarkably handy for getting to and from sites which we study in the Foreshore Recording and Observ ation Group (FROG) and there is much of interest to the foreshore archaeologist and local historian to be seen from the windows of the train.
This journey actually starts not far from the Cannon Street FROG site, although of course, underground you are hardly aware of this. The train goes uphill to emerge at Shadwell, where you can catch the Overground to Wapping. The FROG have a site here between the “Old Town of Ramsgate” pub and the River Police station with its excellent museum. Next comes Limehouse, where I alighted to join the Crossrail dig at Stepney City farm this year. Only for one afternoon, but it was great fun. After a couple of years of careful cleaning on the foreshore, I’d forgotten what a mole I can be when confronted with actual digging! At Limehouse basin you get your first glimpse of water when you are going in this direction, usually there’s a Thames barge moored up, and maybe a narrow boat or two and perhaps a converted lifeboat.
Further along at Poplar you are confronted with an amazing view of the Canary Wharf towers. None of this has anything to do with FROGs or archaeology, but the sheer size and power of the towers lit up to reveal that the people who work there went home several hours ago just seems worth a mention. ‘Hey, we’re doing this because we can’ seems to be the statement. Between Blackwall and East India there is the first of several views of the O2, squatting on the Greenwich peninsula, like a big glowing mushroom, its pylons lit up, with the walk over the top bisecting it as a blue line. Exclusive to this view and this time of night is the sight of a thin green beam of light emanating out of somewhere in the dark and passing behind the O2. This is the light signifying the Prime Meridian, and it is coming from the Observatory at Greenwich. On towards Canning Town, and you become aware of the presence of Crossrail, the giant arches which will support the line striding across the peninsular, floodlit for security which adds to the dramatic effect.
Canning Town has a place in my FROG saga, as from here I can change for the Tower Gateway leg of the DLR which takes me to our site at the Tower of London. I can also catch the Jubilee line to Canada Water and the Surrey Docks City Farm where the FROG are helping out on a community history and archaeology project. Both of these are favourites of mine, The Tower because it is such an icon of the history of London and the Thames, Surrey Docks City Farm because it is such a friendly, tranquil little place. Another FROG connexion at Canning Town: Bow Creek runs alongside the line, and gives you an early indication of where the tide in the Thames is, as does the foreshore outside the O2.
Then it’s on past Pontoon Dock where there is a pleasure garden and sometimes in the summer, fireworks. West Silvertown where the Tate & Lyle factory has been for as long as I can remember. Then to the City Airport with its runway reaching out into Prince Albert dock. Thames side, although you cannot see it in the dark,is the ‘Anchor and Hope’ pub, ‘local'(and sometimes refuge from the weather!) to the Charlton FROG. In the daylight, its whitewashed front gleams across the Thames, and at low tide you can see the Charlton foreshore, though not in my case, clearly enough to see if any more of the ‘Wellington’has washed away.
After this comes the Thames Barrier, part of the view downstream from the Charlton foreshore, by day it is impressive, its silver towers marching across the Thames. At night it is just discernable from the DLR as a large structure with lights on,
though from a boat on the river it is more impressive.
So past King George V, where warships used to moor up (occasionally, they still do) and on to Woolwich, once home to a Royal Dockyard and for longer, a Royal Arsenal whose remains are sensitively preserved amongst a modern housing development,including the Royal Artillery Museum, a monument not only to brave soldiers, but also the workers at the Arsenal, who carried on sometimes equally under fire.