See London's Longest Artwork Near The Royal Docks

M@
By M@ Last edited 15 months ago

Last Updated 08 March 2023

See London's Longest Artwork Near The Royal Docks
A red panel on a wall saying it wants to see a deep history of the docks

A mile-long artwork in Newham informs and entertains.

"There was a small part of North Woolwich that was owned by Westminster Abbey, although much of North Woolwich belonged to Kent, an arrangement that lasted from the Norman Conquest of 1066 until 1965."

So begins the longest piece of artwork in London*. It tracks the Elizabeth Line on its route through the Royal Docks, turning an otherwise unremarkable fence into something both attractive and enlightening.

A long stretch of illustrated wall
Panorama showing the wall disappear into the distance

Sonia Boyce's Newham Trackside Wall offers an ever-shifting panorama of flowers and silhouettes, drawing inspiration from the local area. This is broken up with regular commentary panels. These might include an historical tidbit like the one at the top of this post. Or it might capture the opinions or memories of a local resident, many of whom were canvassed during preparations for the wall. Over 170 stories made the cut.

A huge tate and lyle sugar factory with the art in the foreground
The panels pass in front of the Tate and Lyle sugar factory (and have plenty to say about it)

Such displays run the risk of achieving banality. We're reminded of the adjective-heavy panels ("iconic, vibrant, dynamic, sustainable, luxury apartments!") that developers put around their sites. But this is good, informative stuff. You'll want to keep reading.

You're in for a long walk (map). The Newham Trackside Wall is so protracted that it passes through multiple neighbourhoods. An epic stretch runs from North Woolwich through Silvertown and up to the City Airport roundabout. After sensibly taking a break when the rail line ducks under the Royal Docks it continues again for another horizon-bothering stretch past Custom House. Altogether, Boyce's creation extends almost 2km through the former docklands.

A train goes past a sign about red kite sightings
An Elizabeth line train rumbles past a nature note about local red kites

You might assume that the lengthy artwork is entirely celebratory of the local area, and most of it is. Here and there, though, the artist has included comments that paint a less rosy picture. One panel, for example, recalls an awkward and intimidating scramble for a council house. Another, mentioning local crime, has since been removed. But the artwork is all the stronger for weaving in some of the more challenging aspects of Newham life.

Danger of death sign, next to someone's thoughts on a rainbow
An interesting juxtaposition

Newham Trackside Wall is easy enough to find. The northern section runs directly past Custom House station (Elizabeth line and DLR). If you want to walk the whole thing, we'd suggest getting off at King George V DLR stop, then walking south to Albert Road. The artwork follows this road, starting a little west of Store Road. When it eventually ends, cross over the docks at the Connaught crossing, and pick up the fence again a short walk to the west on Victoria Dock Road.

If you can't follow the artwork on the streets, then the work can be viewed on a dedicated website.

An imposing gothic church with art in front
The artwork passes the Brick Lane Music Hall (not on the actual Brick Lane), with a note about Mark Knopfler.

*As always with these superlatives, a debate could be had. The Illuminated River project, which lights up the Thames bridges, runs over an even longer distance, but one that is mostly gaps.