Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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London Docks

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The London Docks were one of several sets of docks in the historic Port of London.

1799-1815 These docks were constructed in Wapping, downstream of the City of London at a cost exceeding £5.5 million. Traditionally ships had docked at wharves on the River Thames, but by this time, more capacity was needed. They were the closest docks to the City of London, until St. Katharine's Dock was built two decades later.

1805 The London Dock itself was opened

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 principal designers were the architects and engineers Daniel Asher Alexander and John Rennie (the elder).

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.

1864 The London, St. Katharine and Victoria Docks were amalgamated as London and St. Katharine Docks Co. The system was never connected to the railway network.

1909 Together with the rest of the enclosed docks, the London Docks were taken over by the Port of London Authority

1969 The docks were finally closed to shipping and sold to the borough of Tower Hamlets, which filled in the western portion of the London Docks with the (unrealised) intention of turning them into public housing estates.

1981 The land was still largely derelict when it was acquired by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC). It was subsequently redeveloped with over 1,000 individual properties centred around the old Tobacco Dock and Shadwell Basin.

The Wapping printing works of Rupert Murdoch's News International corporation was constructed on the northern half of the in-filled Western Dock. Hermitage Basin and Shadwell Basin survive, but Wapping Basin is now a sports pitch and some of the Eastern Dock site is open space.

A small canal runs across the southern part of the Western Dock site from Hermitage Basin to Tobacco Dock.

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