When Londoners Went Skiing On A Toxic Spoil-Heap

When Londoners Went Skiing On A Toxic Spoil-Heap
The view from Beckton Alps in 2012. Photo: World of Tim

Beckton Alps. Bit of a juxtaposition isn't it, the fresh air of the Swiss or French Alps meeting the choking fumes of Beckton's A13?

Yet Beckton Alps does exists. It's the name given — albeit ironically — to the toxic spoil heap left over from the now-defunct Beckton Gas Works. Occasionally, it's known simply as 'Beckton Alp', the use of the singular far more deprecating than any joke could be.

The Alp, as pictured from St Mary Magdalene Church.

Beckton Gas Works opened in 1870, operating under various names and in various industries until 1969. East London History has a photo of the gas works in their prime. The toxic ash it produced was piled in heaps around the area, which was mainly scrubland (at its peak, the gas works site covered 500 acres). Much of this waste was removed when the area was redeveloped in the 1980s, but one heap of waste remained, and someone had an idea...

A viewing platform, left over from the ski slope, and photographed in 2008. Photo: Fin Fahey

Like any self-respecting Alp, skiing became an option at Beckton Alps. A dry ski-slope opened on the toxic spoil-heap in the late 1980s. Princess Diana visited in 1989, and champion skier Franz Klammer also dropped by to show London kids how it's done:

The ski slope ran until 2001, when it was closed down. A Norwegian firm submitted plans to build an indoor, real-snow ski slope at a cost of between £20m and £35m, but plans fell through, Snow World never happened, and the site was left abandoned.

Today, the former site of the gas works houses Gallions Reach Shopping Park and the DLR depot on the A1020. Other parts are disused wasteland, cited as an area of special conservation interest for wildlife. An abandoned gas holder remains, but the site is off-limits to the public.

The remains of the ski slope in 2008. Photo: Fin Fahey

The toxic spoil-heap which was used as the ski slope still remains. A clay cap has been placed on top to hold its toxic contents in, but this has apparently been pierced. We've heard rumours of a (clandestine) way in via a hole in the fence, but given that the ground is too contaminated to allow for development, it's not something we'd fancy investigating ourselves.

We are, however, intrigued by Hidden London's claim that debris from the British Library, and a railway locomotive are buried somewhere in the heap. If you can shed any light on that one, please do let us know in the comments.

As an interesting aside, the whole area of Beckton takes its name from Simon Beck, governor of the Gas Light and Coke Company, which opened the gas plant in 1870.

Do you have any memories of skiing at Beckton Alps? Let us know in the comments.

Last Updated 05 February 2024

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