Many hands: Trades of the Port of London, 1850-1980
|Deal porters unloading a lighter. © NMM|
The work of the casual dock labourer relied on raw strength. Whether lifting, carrying or pushing, the work was physically demanding but involved little skill. Some dockers, often the men with permanent employment, did however specialize in particular jobs that required certain skills.
|Sculpture commemorating the deal porters at the Surrey Docks. © NMM|
The deal porters were one such group. These were men who carried timber planks that had been unloaded from a ship to special piles where the wood was stored.
Deal porters were the main workers at the Surrey Commercial Docks. They were amongst the fittest and most skilled of dockworkers, jealously guarding their jobs, which were passed down from father to son.
|Deal porters at the Surrey Docks. © NMM|
A. G. Linney's view
A. G. Linney visited the Surrey Docks in the 1930s and watched the deal porters at work. ‘They wear leather “backing” hats with a protecting flap which covers the neck, and the skill with which they balance a load of several lengthy planks on their lower neck and walk with their load often a considerable distance to the storage piles is astonishing.'
|Discharging deals and timber products at Russia Dock. © NMM|
'The more astonishing as they often have to travel along an avenue between piles, at a height of ten or twelve feet from the ground, where there is but a single plank-width for their feet to rest upon….Backward and forward for eight hours a day these men plod at their arduous task, and have rightly earned the reputation of being the steadiest of dock workers’.
|Wood unloaded from the Pacific Reliance (1951) awaiting removal at the Surrey Docks, c. 1952. © NMM|
A. G. Linney, Peepshow of the Port of London, (Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd., London).