During his days as Korzeniowski the seaman, Conrad saw all the major docks in London. Always superbly perceptive, he was sensitive to the very different atmosphere in each one.
It cannot be denied that each dock or group of docks along the north side of the river has its own individual attractiveness. Beginning with the cosy little St Katherine's Dock, lying overshadowed and black like a quiet pool amongst rocky crags, through the venerable and sympathetic London Docks, with not a single line of rails in the whole of their area and the aroma of spices lingering between its warehouses, with their far-famed winecellars - down through the interesting group of West India Docks,
|Unloading port wine from Oporto at London Docks. © NMM|
the fine docks at Blackwall, on past the Galleons Reach entrance of the Victoria and Albert Docks, right down to the vast gloom of the great basins in Tilbury, each of those places of restraint for ships has its own peculiar physiognomy, its own expression. And what makes them unique and attractive is their common trait of being romantic in their usefulness.
|Union-Castle liners in the East India Docks. © NMM|
In their way they are as romantic as the river they serve is unlike all the other commercial streams of the world. The cosiness of the St Katherine's Dock, the old-world air of the London Docks, remain impressed upon the memory.
|Unloading barrels at the Royal Albert Dock. © NMM|
The docks down the river, abreast of Woolwich, are imposing by their proportions and the vast scale of the ugliness that forms their surroundings - ugliness so picturesque as to become a delight to the eye. When one talks of the Thames docks, "beauty" is a vain word, but romance has lived too long upon this river not to have thrown a mantle of glamour upon its banks.
|General view of the Royal Victoria Dock. © NMM|
It is an historical river; it is a romantic stream flowing through the centre of great affairs, and for all the criticism of the river's administration, my contention is that its development has been worthy of its dignity. For a long time the stream itself could accommodate quite easily the oversea and coasting traffic.
|A model of the Pool of London in the 18th century. © NMM|
That was in the days when, in the part called the Pool, just below London Bridge, the vessels moored stem and stern in the very strength of the tide formed one solid mass like an island covered with a forest of gaunt, leafless trees; and when the trade had grown too big for the river there came the St Katherine's Docks and the London Docks, magnificent undertakings answering to the need of their time.
|London Docks, looking west, by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. © NMM|
|The labour of the imperial waterway goes on from generation to generation, goes on day and night. Nothing ever arrests its sleepless industry but the coming of a heavy fog, which clothes the teeming stream in a mantle of
|The Lower Pool, c. 1914. © NMM|