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Many hands: Trades of the Port of London, 1850-1980

The call-on
Dock labourers
Deal Porters
Coopers, truckers and warehousemen
Transport workers
Wages and working conditions
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Transport workers

Moving goods

Tea being delivered from Hay's Wharf bonded warehouse.
View full size imageTea being delivered from Hay's Wharf bonded warehouse. © NMM

The movement and delivery of goods from and to the wharves, docks and warehouses of London also necessitated a large workforce.

At first the transportation of goods was carried out by horse and cart and canal barge. Later the development of railways and lorries accelerated the process.


Railways and motor vehicles

Union Castle lorry by the Kenya Castle in King George V Dock
View full size imageUnion Castle lorry by the Kenya Castle in King George V Dock. © NMM
The Royal Victoria Dock was the first in London to be directly connected with the national railway system. This meant that imported goods could be moved around the country faster than before.

Lorries also became a regular feature of the port. Many of the larger shipping companies had their own fleet of vehicles.

Shown here is a Union Castle lorry parked alongside the Kenya Castle at the King George V Dock.


Traditional methods remain

Station Yard at the Surrey Commercial Docks.
View full size imageStation Yard at the Surrey Commercial Docks. © NMM
Although motor vehicles gradually took over, horse-drawn wagons loaded with goods from the docks were a regular sight in the streets of maritime London well into the 20th century.

Workers loading paper onto horse-drawn wagons at the Surrey Commercial Docks.
View full size imageLoading paper at the Surrey Commercial Docks, c. 1922. © NMM

This image shows paper being loaded onto wagons at the Surrey Commercial Docks in 1922.

One of the main British sources of paper was Scandinavia, which was also a vital supplier of timber.


Find out more
StoriesThe Great Dock Strike of 1889
The labour movement's first great victory
StoriesThe 20th-century port
The changing fortunes of Docklands and the port
StoriesLabour unrest in the port after 1889
Industrial relations in the Port of London were strained throughout the 20th century
Related Resources
Related Images12 Images
Related Video1 Video
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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