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Traditionally ships had docked at wharves on the River Thames, but by the start of the 19th century, more capacity was needed. Also see Port of London.
1799-1815 The London Docks were constructed in Wapping downstream of the City of London at a cost exceeding £5.5 million. They were the closest docks to the City of London, until St. Katharine's Dock was built two decades later.
1794 After William Vaughan had proposed introduction of "wet" docks to improve the capacity of London, Daniel Asher Alexander began working for the prospective London Dock Co, by which time he had already designed warehouses.
For the London Docks, Alexander planned 2 linked docks with area of 35 acres, with entrances at Wapping and Blackwall or Shadwell.
1796 Both Alexander and Rennie gave evidence to Parliament in support of the bill for the proposal.
1800 A modified version of Alexander's proposal formed the basis for the Act that received Parliamentary approval. The company appointed him as surveyor.
1801 John Rennie (the elder) was appointed engineer. Rennie seems to have led on the design of the docks whilst Alexander handled the warehouses.
1805 The London Dock itself was opened. The Company had a twenty-one years monopoly to receive all vessels entering the Port with tobacco, rice, wine and brandy (except from the East and West Indies).
1826 Henry Robinson Palmer was appointed resident engineer. Over the next nine years, he designed and executed the Eastern Dock, with the associated warehousing, entrance locks, bridges, and other works.
The London Docks occupied a total area of about 30 acres, consisting of Western and Eastern docks linked by the short Tobacco Dock. The Western Dock was connected to the Thames by Hermitage Basin to the south west and Wapping Basin to the south. The Eastern Dock connected to the Thames via the Shadwell Basin to the east.
The docks specialised in high-value luxury commodities such as ivory, spices, coffee and cocoa as well as wine and wool, for which elegant warehouses and wine cellars were constructed.