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The Howland Great Dock

The Howland Great Dock

The Howland Great Wet Dock, built in 1696, was the first wet dock on the south side of the Thames. It was originally planned as a drydock and shipbuilding ground. However, it was decided to construct a wet dock instead. On completion the dock served as a shelter for ships waiting to unload their goods upstream at the legal quays. The trees surrounding the docks provided extra protection for the ships.
In the 19th century, Greenland Dock was built on the site, which was later incorporated into the Surrey Commercial Docks.



J. Badslade (artist): J. Kip (engraver), 18th Century
© National Maritime Museum, London


West India Docks

West India Docks

The West India Docks were the first enclosed docks of the 19th century. The docks were established by an act of Parliament in 1799 and opened in 1802. They relieved congestion on the River Thames. Extensive warehousing was needed to accommodate thousands of tons of cargo, which included sugar, rum, molasses, coffee, spices and hardwood. Ships could discharge cargoes in four days instead of four weeks. The docks closed in 1980. In recent years, the West India Docks have been transformed with new offices and leisure facilities. The area is now dominated by the huge Canary Wharf Tower, the tallest building in Britain.

William Daniell, 15 October 1802
© National Maritime Museum, London


St Katharine's Docks

St Katharine's Docks

The St Katharine Docks, situated slightly to the east of Tower Bridge, were the closest to the City of London. Opened in 1828, St Katharine's docks were linked to the river through an entrance lock fitted with three pairs of gates. When the docks were designed, the lock could handle either one large or two small ships. Warehouses, six storeys high, were built on the quayside so that cargo could be unloaded directly from ships into the storerooms. St Katharine's Docks primarily handled valuable cargoes such as ivory, shells, sugar, marble, rubber, carpets, spices and perfumes. Many of these cargoes were brought in by barge from the lower docks. The dock closed in 1969, and has now been redeveloped for leisure and residential use.

Thomas H. Shepherd (artist): H. Jorden (engraver), 19th Century
© National Maritime Museum, London, Green Blackwall collection


The Royal Victoria Dock

The Royal Victoria Dock

The Royal Victoria Dock was opened by Prince Albert in 1855. It was built because the upstream docks were too small for the newer and larger steamships. Situated slightly to the east of the mouth of the Lea, the dock covered almost 100 acres (45 hectares) of water with a total length of 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometres). Royal Victoria Dock was the first in London to be directly connected with the national railway system. This allowed imported goods to be moved around the country faster than before. The dock was also the first to be equipped with hydraulic machinery and lifts to raise ships. The dock was extensively rebuilt in the late 1930s but was closed in 1983.

'Illustrated London News', 16 February 1856
© National Maritime Museum, London


Tilbury Docks

Tilbury Docks

Tilbury Docks opened in 1886 and, although considerably redeveloped, is still open today. The East and West India Docks Company (the two had amalgamated in 1833) built the new dock. It was 26 miles (42 kilometres) downstream from London Bridge in the hope that ships would dock there rather than make the long journey up river to London. By 1909 Tilbury Dock was under the control of the Port of London Authority. The post-war period witnessed considerable investment in Tilbury, which is now a major container and RO-RO port, with several berths still handling significant volumes of general cargoes. The Port of London Authority no longer owns the site, having sold its interests to Forth Ports Ltd.

Unknown, pre 1939
© National Maritime Museum, London



National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund