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Royal Albert Dock (1880-1980)

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London's 'Great Eastern' Dock
Main trade

Map of the Royal Victoria, Royal Albert and King George V Docks.
View full size imageThe Royal Docks. © NMM
When the Royal Albert Dock opened to shipping in 1880, it was considered to be the finest dock system in the world. It was originally planned as an extension of the Royal Victoria Dock, to cope with the successful meat and tobacco trade.

Frozen meat from New Zealand being discharged at the Royal Albert Dock, 1949.
View full size imageFrozen meat being discharged at the Royal Albert Dock, 1949. © NMM
The modern dock equipment installed at the Royal Albert Dock proved to be a success in the handling of large hogsheads (55 gallons) of tobacco from America. There were always coopers on hand to repair damaged casks and help with tobacco sampling. With the arrival of adequate refrigeration, the Royal Albert Dock began regularly to handle meat, fruit and vegetables from Spain and Italy.

Types of vessel used

Unloading barrels at the Royal Albert Dock
View full size imageThe Royal Albert Dock. © NMM
Built as a modern dock, the Royal Albert Dock was designed to accommodate the largest vessels afloat in 1880. This was increased after a second entrance was constructed, and the dock was able to handle vessels of up to 12,000 tons. Although the dock was built to berth sailing vessels, the presence of hydraulic cranes and steam winches enabled a smooth transition to the large steam vessels used to transport goods.

The Royal Albert Dock was also used as a terminus by passenger vessels. The Great Eastern railway ran a passenger service from Fenchurch Street to Gallions, adjacent to the dock basin.

  • The site covered 87 acres, the largest purpose built dock in Britain at this time.
  • Lucas & Aird undertook the contract and the engineer for the project was Sir Alexander Rendel.
  • Around 500,000 cubic yards (382,277 cubic metres) of concrete and 20 million bricks were used to construct the dock system.
    3000 men worked on the project, assisted by a steam land dredger, steam grabs, 70 steam cranes and 3 steam navvies.
  • It cost £2.2 million and was one of the cheapest docks constructed in London.
  • The dock was 1.75 miles (2.8 kiliometres) long and 9 metres deep. It had 3.125 (5 kilometres) miles of new quays. The dock was deepened to 10.36 metres in 1935.
  • Two entrance locks connected the dock system to the river through a basin east of Manor Way. The Gallions Entrance Lock was 168 metres long by 24.4 metres across.
  • The Royal Albert Dock had 2 small dry docks and 33 quayside transit sheds and warehouses. This included a large cold storage area.
  • The Great Eastern Railway was taken across the dock, and an 860-ton swing bridge crossed the Gallions Entrance.
  • The dock was served on both sides by extensions of the Great Eastern Railway. The dock had its own goods terminus in a warehouse on the north side of London Dock.
  • The company built the Gallions Hotel for first-class steamer passengers. There were two subways, which gave direct access from the hotel to the quay of the Basin.
  • The Royal Albert Dock was the first dock in London to be lit by electricity.

Life Story
1874The London Dock Company begins construction of the Royal Albert Dock
June 1880The Duke of Connaught officially opens the dock
1935The North Quay is deepened and widened
1936West India Dock trade is transferred to Royal Docks
6 September 1940The Royal Albert Dock is one of the first targets for large scale bombing during the Second World War
25 September 1951The contract for the reconstruction of the Gallions Entrance Lock is awarded to John Mowlem & Co. Ltd
1 January 1952The Gallions Entrance Lock is closed to traffic
1956The Gallions Entrance Lock is reopened to shipping
1981The Royal Docks are closed
1982Planning Application for City Airport is filed. It is to be housed on a disused quay between the King George V Dock and the Royal Albert Dock.
5 November 1987The Queen officially opens City Airport.
1997The Royal Business Park is opened on the north side of the dock
1998University of East London’s Dockland Campus opens on the north side of the Albert Dock
2000Docklands Regatta Centre is officially opened

Find out more
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The dock building programme continues as new docks are opened at Millwall and North Woolwich.
Hot spotLondon's Docks
Click on the labels to find out more about London's Docks
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