The traditional ways
|Landing tapioca at Butler's Wharf. © NMM|
Until well into the 20th century, most merchant ships were general cargo vessels, able to carry anything and everything. They had to be prepared to move any goods that needed moving, and usually sailed with mixed cargoes.
Goods came in different shapes and sizes and needed to be handled in different ways. Loading and unloading at ports was time-consuming (it was very slow) and labour-intensive (it required many workers). This added to the cost of shipping and made all goods more expensive.
|Unloading port wine from Oporto at London Docks. © NMM|
The quest for efficiency
Economic changes in the 20th century meant changes in sea-borne trade. Mass production of industrial goods increased international trade, as manufactured goods and the raw materials needed to make them were shipped overseas in ever-larger quantities.
|The container ship Ville de Jupiter. © NMM|
After the Second World War, specialist vessels designed for specific cargoes - bulk carriers and container ships - largely replaced the old general ships.
Opportunities and challenges
New ships meant new challenges for ports: larger berths and specialist facilities for handling goods.
|The former Lady Dock (Surrey Commercial Docks) in 1970. © NMM|
Many port jobs disappeared, as efficiency meant that fewer workers were needed. Those who remained had to learn new skills. Some ports adapted very well, but others declined or closed completely.