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The early port

Introduction
Roman London
Anglo-Saxon London
Medieval London
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Anglo-Saxon London

Alfred the Great constructing the first English Fleet.
View full size imageAlfred the Great (871-99) built a fleet of ships to resist the Vikings. © NMM

End of the Empire

In AD 410 the Roman legions left Britain as the Empire collapsed. The population of Londinium probably dwindled when the Anglo-Saxons arrived soon afterwards.

There followed a long period in which most of Londinium was abandoned. However, the Saxons did establish settlements outside the old Roman wall.

Saxon trading centre

The settlements grew and by the 8th century the historian Bede called Lundenwic (the Anglo-Saxon name for London) 'a trading centre for many nations who visit it by land and sea'.

Foreign trade was also stimulated by the seafaring and enterprise of the Anglo-Saxons, who were skilled boat-builders. 

Vikings at sea.
View full size imageA Viking long-ship in a heavy sea. © NMM

Viking raiders

The Viking raids between the end of the 8th century and the early years of the 11th threatened foreign trade.

London was the biggest prize on the east coast. However, it was a safe and well-fortified place and far enough inland to cause problems for invaders. It therefore remained the safest store place and market and resisted many attacks.

The Viking menace encouraged the building of ships for defence. These vessels would also have been used for trade in times of peace.

Queenhithe Dock
View full size imageQueenhithe Dock, the Upper Pool, in 1923. © NMM

King Alfred's dock

During King Alfred's reign (871-99) London's harbour facilities were extended along the river by Archbishop Ethelred.

The Archbishop built a dock known as Ethelredshithe. 'Hithe' was the Anglo-Saxon word for a landing place.

It was later re-named Queenhithe when it was owned by Queen Matilda, wife of Henry I. It remained one of the principal quays in the port for centuries. Even in the 20th century, cargoes were still unloaded at Queenhithe.

Alfred's policy to develop London and encourage trade began a process of building, settlement and commercial expansion that made the city a busy port.

King Canute.
View full size imageThe Viking ruler of England, King Canute. © NMM

Wealthiest city

By King Canute's reign (1016-35), London was Britain's largest commercial centre.

London was so wealthy that when Canute became king it was taxed one-eighth of the total for the whole of England. That amounted to 5 tons of solid silver.

From the late 11th century London was also the home of the Navy and the chief centre for building both merchant ships and warships.

Useful links

 

Introduction
Roman London
Anglo-Saxon London
Medieval London
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View this story in pictures View this story in pictures

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Find out more
Port profileRichard (Dick) Whittington
Medieval mercer and Mayor of London
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Port profileKing Canute
The king who could stop the sea?
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GalleriesVideoMaritime London video gallery
From Roman settlement to today's Docklands, explore the history of maritime London
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Glossary
Dock
Port

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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory Greenwich New Opportunities Fund  
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