When Londoners Went Skiing On A Toxic Spoil-Heap

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 11 months ago
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.

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 09 June 2017

Kerri Prince

I used to do race training at beckton once a week. Im sure i did some race camps there too as a kid. Made some great friends who i am still in touch with all these years later

At least I stay on topic

I raced at Becton once, the last race held there I think :(

Sylvie McCaughren

I had a course of beginners ski lessons some 25+ years ago here as a 21st birthday present. There was a club there that was the 'in' place to go. I had a fantastic time there and was sad to see it close down. I still drive past there regularly to go to the shops nearby.

Trueiron

I remember this place actually being very popular, the ski slope was busy and it had a pub/bar done out alpine style, all bare wood and red geraniums! Pre-ski slope it was literally just a great big black slag heap, so anything was an improvement.

Rowena

Aaah! I had a great time on the dry ski slopes of Beckton back in the day. A group of us went there and managed to ski AND watch Australia beat England in the 1991 World Cup Final. I feel almost sure there was drinking involved, seems quite irresponsible now doesn't it. I do remember we all came away with some great bruises and grazes as trophies, and for sure it's a treasured memory from my youth. Another brilliant East London jolly disappeared.