London's Only Lighthouse
Trinity Buoy Wharf is one of the most atmospheric and fascinating parts of London’s riverside. Perched at the end of the Lea Valley where that river flows into the Thames after a series of meanders as tight as hairpin bends on a mountain road, with isolated fingers of land in between, it became the site in 1803 of the riverside workshop of Trinity House, the organisation which provides and maintains buoys, lighthouses and lightships around our coast. It is the home of London’s only remaining lighthouse – one of two that were built on the site
During the 19th and for most of the 20th century, the wharf was used to store and repair buoys, to test new equipment, to dock and repair lightships and to train prospective lighthouse keepers. It was even used by the scientist Michael Faraday to carry out experiments. A wonderful reminder of this past activity can be seen today in the bright red lightship moored alongside the wharf.
But today the activities going on beside the lightship are very different. Trinity House closed the wharf in 1988 and ten years later it was purchased by the London Docklands Development Corporation and developed as a centre for the arts and cultural activities. The centrepiece, with a spectacular view across one of the Thames’ sharp bends to the O2, is the Grade II listed Chainstore building, adjoining the lighthouse, which is now an events venue. It will be used for one of Spitalfields Music’s concerts in their 2018 Festival this December. You can also hire it for weddings!
The wharf is also now home to Container City, a studio and office complex made from recycled sea shipping containers – an amazingly colourful and clever way to house today’s creative businesses in the equipment of maritime trade with which this site has historically been so closely associated.
The University of East London has opened fine art and dance studios at the site. Artworks can be found among the industrial relics -- there is a “listening post” for the installation Longplayer: the sounds of Tibetan “singing bowls” programmed to play in a sequence that will not repeat itself for 1000 years. And artistic talent has been brought to bear in the design of the local cafes.
As you walk back to the DLR you will pass other reminders of past industries in the shape of buildings once used for heavy shipbuilding. The area still has a slightly isolated feel about it. But the respect shown to the industrial past in its repurposing make this a very rewarding place to visit (check opening times).