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The 20th-century port

Introduction
Edwardian port in crisis
Port of London Authority (PLA)
Boom and bust: the port, 1914-80
Regenerating Docklands for the 21st century
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Port of London Authority (PLA)

Charge fixing

Loading a Japanese army hydroplane at London Docks.
View full size imageLoading a hydroplane on to a steamer at the London Docks.
The Port of London Authority (PLA) took over the docks from the private companies. It was run by a board representing the private and public users of the port.

An important step taken by the Authority was the reduction and fixing of docking charges. This was a great help to merchants and ship-owners.

Control of the river

Aerial view of Tilbury Docks.
View full size imageCruise liner berthed at Tilbury Docks.
As well as running the docks, the PLA had overall control of the river from Teddington to the sea. It was responsible for managing the river, river traffic and pollution.

However, the PLA did not take over the wharves, which were left in private hands. The 'free water clause' remained, but lighters had to pay a registration fee to the PLA.

Another Royal dock

Map of the Royal Victoria, Albert and King George V Docks.
View full size imagePLA map of the Royal Victoria, Royal Albert and King George V Docks, 1934.  
The PLA began to improve the docks and port facilities. The river was dredged to a depth that modern ships of deep draught could navigate.

The most important change was the construction of a new dock, south of the Royal Albert Dock, which could take very large ships. The new King George V Dock was completed in 1921. The Royal group of docks together formed the largest area of enclosed water in the world.

The Royal Group of Docks.
View full size imageThe Royal Group of Docks, c. 1930. 
The new dock was well over a kilometre long (4000 feet). It averaged about 200 metres (650 feet) wide and had some 5 kilometres (3 miles) of quays. Its entrance lock from the river was about 250 metres (800 feet) long and 30 metres (100 feet) wide.

The maximum loaded draught of vessels using the dock was 10 metres (nearly 33 feet). This photograph of the George V Dock was taken from the air. It also shows the Royal Albert Dock.

Vital statistics

The Surat in the King George V Dock.
View full size imageThe Surat in King George V Dock, 1955.
Ships of up to 30,000 tons could be accommodated in the King George V Dock. The largest to use it was the 35,000 ton RMS Mauretania in 1939.

The dry dock was the largest in London and on the Thames only Tilbury had a larger one.

Loading the Corfu (1913) at the King George V Dock.
View full size imageLoading cargo on to the Corfu (1931) at the King George V Dock.

This is the King George V Dock in October 1955. At the quayside is the P&O cargo/passenger liner Corfu, built in 1931 for the far east service.

The quay at which the ship is lying is now part of the site of the London City Airport.


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Glossary
Cargo
Dock
Lighter
Port
Port of London Authority (PLA)
Quay

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StoriesTrinity House
Showing the way
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GalleriesLondon's docks: Past and Present
London's docks: Past and Present
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GalleriesVideoThe River Thames video gallery
A 1930s journey down the Thames from Tower Bridge to Tilbury.
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GalleriesVideoThe 20th-century port video gallery
From 1914 to the present day
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GalleriesGrowing up in the Blitz
Children in London during the second world war
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Fact fileWill Thorne
One of the first trade union activists
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Fact fileWinston Churchill
Wartime Prime Minister
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TrailGreenwich foot tunnel trail
Become a port explorer
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Related Resources
Related Images3 Images
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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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