A monopoly granted to the London Dock Company meant that for 21 years, all vessels entering the Port of London with cargoes of tobacco, rice, wine and brandy (except vessels from the East and West Indies) had to unload at London Docks. The London Docks stored liquor, tobacco and other precious goods in bond in the vaults. The merchandise was guarded by the police and opened for inspection, sampling and trading by Customs and Excise and merchants holding 'tasting permits'.
Two of the most important commodities for the London Docks were tobacco and wool. The 'Tobacco Warehouse', covered five acres of land and was rented by the government for around £15,600 per year. The 'Great Wool-Floor' at the London Dock was famous for its weekly public sales of wool. Up to 25,000 bales were sold every week, employing 200 men and making £2.6 million per annum.
The London Docks system was initially built solely for the use of sailing vessels. The shape and size of the dock enabled a relatively easy transition from sail to steam in the late 19th century. However, as vessels increased in size into the 20th century, the docks struggled to cope. By the 1930s, up to 30 vessels could dock at any one time, with a gross tonnage of 25,000 tons. As container ships became more popular, the London Docks became unable to cope with their size.
Rubble and soil was shipped up the river in barges and laid as the foundations for Pimlico.
The dock system consisted of two main basins, the Western Dock and the Eastern Dock, with a small basin known as the Tobacco Dock linking the two.
The docks were accessed from the river by three small basins, the Wapping Basin (12.19 metres in width) and the Hermitage Basin (12.19 metres in width) linking the Western Dock and the Shadwell Basin (13.72 metres in width) linking the Eastern Dock.
There were 6 quays in the docks, able to berth 302 sailing vessels.
There was 50 acres of warehouse space, containing 20 warehouses, 18 sheds and 17 vaults. The vaults covered around 20 acres of cellarage, built with ventilated vaulting.
A small permanent workforce was formed within 3 months of opening, including a Superintendent of the Dock and a Dockmaster. However, this was supplemented by a large casual workforce, which could number as many as 3000 labourers.
The London Dock Company have a Parliamentary Act passed to enable the construction of a dock system at Wapping
26 June 1802
The foundation stone is laid by the Prime Minister, Henry Addington
Joseph Boulderson is appointed as Superintendent of the Dock and Captain Francis Walton is appointed as Dockmaster
31 January 1805
London Docks are opened to shipping
The warehouses are completed
A central jetty is built
Two new locks are built, both 18.29 metres wide
4 May 1926
London Docks are brought to a standstill by the General Strike
12 May 1926
The General Strike ends
The PLA builds bulk wine installations, with a capacity of 800,000 gallons
Many of the warehouses are closed, and only the carpet trade continues in No.10 warehouse