Cody Dock, a long forgotten gasworks dock on Bow Creek, is experiencing a revival as moorings and a creative arts and community centre hold an open day for the public.
Around 1870, when the Imperial Gas Company were building their works at Bromley by Bow they built a dock on Bow Creek to bring in the coal to the works and take out coke and possibly other products. The location of the works was perhaps not particularly well-chosen, as coal could only be brought up the tidal creek for a few hours on each high tide. The original dock was around 1000 ft long and 100 ft wide, and the large-scale OS maps show a rather narrower entrance of roughly 20-25 ft with a single dock gate and a swing bridge across it.
The gas works ceased production in the early 1960s, and the site is now a business park, but perhaps surprisingly the dock - or at least part of it is still there. Maps have gone metric, but the dock is still around the same width of 30m, but the dock was reduced to around a third of its original length at 110m, still a sizeable body of water. It appears to have been retained as part of a drainage scheme for the area, although it probably no longer operates as such, and was given a solid barrier across the entrance in place of a gate, with a fixed walkway across. There is also a substantial high cable bridge across near the mouth of the entrance.
A few years ago Simon Myers came up Bow Creek in a boat, saw the entrance and decided to find out more about the disused dock. As I found a little later, there were plans for a path from the Olympic area to the Thames and the dock was an obstacle, in particular because of problems of ownership. The planners of the so-called 'Fatwalk' had decided to avoid it with a million pound footbridge across Bow Creek just above the site, but the money ran out before much of the Fatwalk could be completed, its premature end at a fence around the dock.
Myers set up the Gasworks Dock Partnership as a social enterprise in November 2009 and it was registered as a charity in 2001 to "act as a vehicle for community led regeneration and nurtures public engagement in the revitalisation of our waterways." Based at Cody Dock it has already set up a Docklands Community Boat and is busy developing the 2.5 acre site, and has now more or less cleared the many tons of rubbish and rubble. The GDP hopes to open up the dock to provide mooring for a number of barges, both for living in and visitor moorings and to provide a wooden bascule bridge across the dock entrance to carry the Fatwalk across, which would join the existing section from beside Twelvetrees Bridge to a isolated section only currently accessible to those working on the neighbouring industrial estate. A short section along currently unused riverbank next to a recycling area could then extend the path to join up with the existing path and bridge south of the East India Dock Road (where there is also a riverside path completed around 20 years ago but never opened to the public with an entrance from Canning Town station) and allow walkers to reach the Thames at East India Dock and Trinity Buoy Wharf.
The dock itself is brick lined and was presumably dredged before it was isolated from the river as there is only a few inches of mud on its bottom. The plan is to remove the current barrier and to have a low sill across the entrance which would retain water in it at low tide but allow boats to come in and out around high tides, the only times when navigation is possible in Bow Creek. It has a small reedbed at one end and is a haven for wild life, with many bird species living there or visiting. I didn't see a kingfisher, but they are there most days.
Other developments planned for the Cody Dock site include Visitor centre & café, an exhibition space, an industrial heritage archive and museum, affordable studio and workshop space and dry dock facilities.
This is an exciting community development that aims to give the public access to more of the Lower Lea and to see its varied wildlife as well as celebrating its industrial heritage. It will also set up a lively community based arts and creative industries quarter which will stimulate creative enterprise in the area, and will support a wide range of arts, cultural and educational programs. It is a great example of a project that has arisen out of the heritage and potential of the area rather than something essentially alien imposed by outside bodies, one that will enrich and grow the area rather than distort its priorities. It comes at a time when a new DLR station, Star Lane, just a few minutes walk away has greatly increased the ease of access to the area.
Cody Dock has come a long way - particularly since Myers was warned it would be impossible to do anything there when he started, and the site should be open to the public this summer. But it needs money and volunteers to realise its plans.