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East India Docks (1806-1967)

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The Tea and Spice Docks
Main trade

Plan of East India Docks at Blackwall.
View full size imagePlan of East India Docks at Blackwall. © NMM
The Honourable East India Company (HEIC) was the driving force behind the formation of the East India Dock Company in 1803. A parliamentary act of that year created the East India Dock Company and granted it a 21 year monopoly for trading with the far east. The HEIC's existing facilities at Blackwall (the old Brunswick Dock which was used for fitting out and repairing ships) were enlarged and became part of the new East India Docks.

Original entrance to the East India Docks.
View full size imageOriginal entrance to the East India Docks. © NMM
It was a profitable dock, with the tea trade alone worth £30 million per year. Other goods traded through the dock included spices, indigo, silk and Persian carpets. Spice merchants and pepper grinders were situated in the general vicinity of the dock, ready to receive the goods to process and sell.

Types of vessel used

A view of the East India Docks.
View full size imageA view of the East India Docks. © NMM
The East India Docks were initially designed to handle large East Indiamen of up to 1000 tons. The basin, import and export docks could berth up to 250 sailing ships at a time. However, as the 19th century progressed, steamships also began to use the docks. Although they could not accommodate the larger vessles that used the Royal Docks or Tilbury, the East India Docks were frequented by the smaller steamers of the Union Castle and other shipping lines throughout the late 19th century and well into the 20th century.

Damaged buildings at the East India Docks, Blackwall.
View full size imageDamaged buildings during the Blitz at the East India Docks, Blackwall. © NMM
East India Dock continued to be used during World War II by small coastal vessels trading with the Channel Islands. It was also used for the storage and service of dredgers and marine equipment.

Statistics
  • Ralph Walker was appointed as engineer for the project. John Rennie was retained as special consultant.
  • Joseph and William Trimmer were contracted to make 18 million bricks for the project.
  • The dock system consisted of two parallel docks, the 18 acre Import Dock and the 9 acre Export Dock. Both docks were 7.9 metres deep.
  • The East India Dock Basin connected the dock system to the river, via the East India Dock Entrance, which had two locks.
  • The docks could berth up to 250 vessels at any time.
  • Each dock had four quays, named North, South, East and West Quay. Each quay was 73 metres long.
  • East India Dock had no warehouses on the quays. 15 acres of warehouse space was available at Cutler Street.
  • The whole dock system was surrounded by a boundary wall 6.4 metres high.
  • The Export Dock housed the Brunswick Wharf Power Station.
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Life Story
1803Construction of the East India Dock begins
4 August 1806The East India Dock opens at Blackwall
1838The East India and the West India Dock Company amalgamate
1930The Brunswick Hotel, built by the East India Company for wealthy merchants, is demolished
1943The Import Dock is pumped dry to be used in the construction of Phoenix breakwaters used for the 'Mulberry' artificial harbours.
February 1944Winston Churchill visits the dock to inspect construction
1946Cargo handling using forklift trucks is adopted
1967The East India Dock is the first to close in London
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Find out more
StoriesTea trade and the East India Docks
The East India Dock Company constructs a dock at Blackwall to accommodate the vast shipping needs of the East India Company.
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GalleriesWhat is left of the old port: the East India Docks
London's third great dock complex has now been mostly filled in
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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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