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Canning Town

A deprived residential area with plans for regeneration

Background information

Historically, Canning Town was situated outside the London border. This meant that under the Metropolitan Building Act of 1844, noxious industries were allowed to locate in this area. The types of industries that were present in Canning Town in the early 20th Century reflected the success of the ports and docks. They included manufacturers of rubber goods, sugar refiners, flour millers and chemical manufacturers.

The majority of terraced houses built during the last half of the nineteenth century were slums. In 1930s the council began a programme of slum clearances, replacing the terraces with the first ‘high rise' blocks. Almost 85% of Canning Town's housing stock was later to be destroyed in the Blitz.

When the war ended in 1945 the residents of Canning Town were left with the task of rebuilding. There was a massive housing shortage due to the extensive bombing suffered in the area. In West Ham as a whole, over 27% of the houses had been destroyed. In the south of the borough, near the docks - a major target - the figure was as high as 85% of houses destroyed. However, the destruction of some of Canning Town's worst slum areas meant an opportunity for the rebuilding of better housing, such as the Keir Hardie Estate. Between 1945 and 1965 the council built around 8,000 new homes in the borough. The disaster at Ronan Point in May 1968 also showed how fragile this sort of construction was, when a gas explosion lead to the collapse of one whole corner of the building, and the deaths of three people.

Today, the residential areas of Canning Town and Custom House, located in the London Borough of Newham, are both in the top five per cent most deprived areas in the UK. They are characterised by poor health, low levels of education and poverty amongst the population. 17% of the area's working population has a limiting long term illness, 17.5% claim income support, and 49.7% of 16 to 74 year olds have no formal qualifications.

The Canning Town and Custom House Regeneration Project aims to transform the area socially and economically, improving the social, educational and health environment for all residents. The plans include 8,000 new homes and 500,000 m2 of retail, leisure and service space in the town centre. According to the London Borough of Newham website, the full list of benefits to the area will be:

  • More and better new homes for families

  • The replacement of poor quality housing

  • Homes for sale, shared ownership and rent at affordable levels

  • The creation of more jobs with access and training for local people

  • New shops and a supermarket

  • New office space

  • Improved links between the bus and rail station and the surrounding area

  • New or improved schools, health, leisure and other community facilities

  • Improved connections across the A13

  • Better quality streets and open spaces

  • A new, integrated safer street network and townscape

  • Work space for local small and emerging enterprises

There are also plans to create training opportunities for local people in the construction industry to attempt to address the high unemployment in the area. The £2.5 billion project has been included in the Government's Mixed Communities Initiative.

Visiting this area of East London enables students to investigate an area in need of regeneration, prior to the plans being put in place. The activities encourage them to use their fieldwork, an analysis of local census data and their knowledge of past projects to consider the priorities for regeneration in the area.

Canning Town can be accessed on foot from Canning Town or Custom House DLR stations. However, it may be advisable for students to complete the tasks either from the coach as it drives through the area (Bob Digby's fieldtrip on this site includes a map of the best route through the area) or from the DLR train between Poplar and Custom House.

Fieldwork tasks

The list below shows the range of fieldwork tasks that can be completed at the Canning Town site.

  • Environmental quality survey of the area

  • Notes on the type of housing and the need for regeneration

  • Study of census data for Canning Town and a social survey of the residents of the area carried out by students at QMUL

  • Photo task

Find out more about the Canning Town and Custom House regeneration project

You can also download the draft supplementary planning document for the project from the Newham website.

Census data

  • The Neighbourhood Statistics website has a searchable database of statistics and census data at local authority and ward level

  • Download a copy of the 2001 Census data for Canning Town South 

Downloadable resources for Canning Town

There are four activities that can be carried out in the Canning Town area, either as students walk through the site, or from the coach or DLR. The aim of the activities is to investigate the current status of the area, both physically and socially, and to consider the priorities of a regeneration scheme for Canning Town. Again, some of the activities are the same as those included within the Canary Wharf and ExCeL sections for purposes of comparison.

Environmental quality survey

As at the Canary Wharf and ExCeL sites, students carry out an environmental quality survey of Canning Town. Completing these surveys at each site enables them to make a comparison of the different locations and to consider the potential benefits of regeneration to this area.

Notes from Canning Town

In this activity, students note down their observations about the Canning Town area, focusing on the types of housing, the facilities, and any existing evidence of regeneration. Their observations contribute to the investigation into social aspects of the area.

Photo task

The photo task provides a focus for students' digital photography of the area. They are asked to think carefully about the photos they take, taking three photos to sum up the area socially, economically and environmentally. Completing this task at each site visited enables a useful visual comparison to be made.

Analysis of social data

Students are provided with two sets of secondary data for this activity: a summary of the Canning Town South 2001 Census data, and a summary of a social survey undertaken in 2002 by students at Queen Mary College, University of London (QMUL). They are asked to compare social data for Canning Town with the UK as a whole, and to consider from the survey the quality of life of local residents. The task enables students to start to think about what the priorities for regeneration in this area might be

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Canning Town 2001 Census Data for Canning Town South


27 KB

Canning Town Environmental Quality Survey


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Canning Town Environmental Quality Survey (1)


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Canning Town Notes from Canning Town Worksheet


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Canning Town Notes from Canning Town Worksheet (1)


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Canning Town Photo Task


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Canning Town Photo Task (1)


27 KB

Canning Town Analysis of Social Data


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Canning Town Analysis of Social Data (1)


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Canning Town QMUL Social Survey Summary


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Canning Town QMUL Social Survey Summary (1)


105 KB

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