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Images of protest

Ordinary people in the port areas often felt helpless in the face of employers, governments or other powerful bodies. Those in work had to put up with appalling pay and conditions, while those without work faced total destitution. In recent times, people of the former port districts felt left behind as others took advantage of 'regeneration'. 

Dockers' procession in East India Dock Road.

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Dockers' procession in East India Dock Road.
A scene from the Dock Strike of 1889. To increase awareness of their struggle and to gain popular support, the strike leaders organised daily marches to Tower Hill. Here, the dockers are assembled in the East India Dock Road before setting out for Tower Hill. Their disciplined marches earned the respect of onlookers.

A meeting outside the West India Dock gates.

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A meeting outside the West India Dock gates.
'A meeting outside the West India Dock gates' from the 'Illustrated London News' of 7 September 1889. This was a monster gathering of striking dock workers in the last few days of the strike. Just over a week later, they returned to work having gained a substantial pay rise - the 'Dockers' Tanner' - and the recognition of their union.
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Plaistow Triangle Camp.

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Plaistow Triangle Camp.
West Ham always had high levels of unemployment, partly because of the presence of so many casual labourers working in the Royal Docks. In July 1906, a local Labour councillor Benjamin Cunningham seized a vacant plot of council-owned land in Plaistow, and set up the Triangle Camp, a farm colony for the unemployed.

Plaistow Triangle Camp.

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Plaistow Triangle Camp.
A photograph of men who took part in the Triangle Camp at Plaistow in July 1906. Labour councillor Benjamin Cunningham, who organised the camp, is on the left in the foreground. By August, the men were evicted, and Cunningham was later gaoled for contempt of court.
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Mounted police during the docks strike of July 1912.

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Mounted police during the docks strike of July 1912.
After the victory of 1889, there was relative peace in the port until the unsuccessful strike of 1911. In 1912, a year of increasingly bitter labour disputes throughout Britain, London dockers were again unsuccessful, having to return to work defeated after ten weeks on strike. In this photo, mounted police wait outside a building near the Royal Docks during the 1912 strike.

Dockers' march during the strike of July 1923.

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Dockers' march during the strike of July 1923.
During the slump of 1923, London dockers struck in protest at threatened pay cuts. The strike collapsed after eight weeks. In this picture, dockers are entering the East India Dock Road from Cotton Street. They are marching under the banner of the Transport and General Workers' Union, formed in 1921 after the merger of 32 separate unions.
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A banner unfurled at Poplar in July 1921.

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A banner unfurled at Poplar in July 1921.
On 8 July 1921, King George V journeyed by boat to Silvertown, where he opened the dock that bore his name. At Northumberland Wharf in Poplar, demonstrators displayed a banner 'Work or maintenance for the unemployed'. Poplar had been hit hard by the depression of that year, and the borough's local councillors staged a 'rates rebellion'. They withheld a portion of the rates (local taxes) due to the London County Council in order to increase local welfare payments. The councillors, including the future Labour minister George Lansbury, spent a time in prison.

Anti-LDDC graffiti at the former London Docks.

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Anti-LDDC graffiti at the former London Docks.
After the closure of the docks and wharves, the redevelopment of London's former port districts was handed over to the unelected London Docklands Development Corporation. While businesses and young professionals prospered in the new conditions, many local people felt the LDDC was ignoring their needs. The slogans 'LDDC OUT - JOBS NOT SNOBS' sum up these twin sources of resentment. These examples from the 1980s still survive on the wall of the former London Docks on Pennington Road.
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Anti-LDDC graffiti at the Surrey Docks.

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Anti-LDDC graffiti at the Surrey Docks.
Anti-LDDC (London Docklands Development Corporation) graffiti outside the Surrey Docks. The caption reads 'What about our playground?' Many local residents saw the regeneration of the port districts as favouring businesses and young professionals but offering little of real substance for local communities.
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Glossary
Port

Find out more
StoriesThe Great Dock Strike of 1889
The story of the labour movement's first great victory
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Related Resources
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