PortCities London

Surrey Commercial Docks (1807-1970)
The only docks in South London

Main trade

Surrey Commercial Docks.
View full size imageSurrey Commercial Docks. © NMM
The Surrey Docks were originally occupied by many different companies, trading in commodities such as timber, hemp, flax, tar, grain, salt, fruit, cheese, bacon and coal.  After the formation of the Surrey Commercial Dock Company, timber and grain became the staple produce traded at the docks.

Greenland Dock from the air.
View full size imageGreenland Dock from the air. © NMM
Timber deals, boards and staves came from North America and the Baltic and softwood was imported from Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. The Deal Porters were a specialist group of dockers who dealt solely with timber, and were based at Surrey Docks. There were also a number of small independent timber wharves established along the banks of the Grand Surrey Canal.

Types of vessel used

Unloading timber at the Surrey Docks.
View full size imageUnloading timber at the Surrey Docks. © NMM
Like so many of the docks in London, the Surrey Commercial Docks were designed for sailing vessels, but were able to accommodate steam ships as they grew in popularity and size. After the Greenland Dock was enlarged, it was able to handle large passenger liners, of up to 14000 tons.

The Surrey Commercial Docks had to cope with a lot of barge traffic, as there was no railway access to the site. Timber was transported by barge to wharves along the Surrey Canal or on the Thames.


Life Story

c.1700Howland Great Wet Dock is built on 10 acres of land
1725Howland Great Wet Dock is leased to the South Sea Company
1760sHowland Great Wet Dock is sold and renamed Greenland Dock
1801The Grand Surrey Canal Company is formed and construction of the Grand Surrey Canal begins
1807Opening of the Grand Surrey Canal Basin. The Commercial Dock Company and The East Country Dock Company are formed.
1808The docks are closed for improvement. Greenland Dock is bought, refurbished and renamed Commercial Dock.
1812Baltic Dock and Norway Dock are opened.
1850East Country Dock is enlarged and renamed South Dock
1863Lavender Lock is built
1864All the companies amalgamate under the name, Surrey Commercial Dock Company
1876Canada Dock is opened. Grain and timber warehouses are built.
1895Construction work to widen Greenland Dock begins
1904The new Greenland Dock is complete
1908The Port of London Authority is formed
1926Quebec Dock opens
7 September 1940350,000 tons of timber is burnt due to enemy bombing
5 January 1944Construction of the Phoenix breakwaters begins in Quebec and Russia Yard
17 March 1944The 'Phoenix' units are floated out of the docks
December 1970Surrey Commercial Docks close
1971Many of the timber yards are filled in
1977Surrey Commercial Docks are sold to Southwark Borough Council
January 1979Construction of a new housing development begins
1994South Dock is used as London's largest marina, with over 200 berths
17 September 1999The Jubilee Line extension opens at Canada Water

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