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The 18th-century port

Too many ships? Problems of the trade boom
Going for growth: The West India and the Greenland Docks
Ship broking and the Baltic Exchange
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Dramatic growth

Launch of the HMS Alexander at Deptford in 1778.
View full size imageThe launch of HMS Alexander at Deptford in 1778. © NMM
During the 18th century the volume of London's trade grew dramatically.

Imports and exports increased because of the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the expansion of Britain's overseas interests.

London also became a major centre for shipbuilding and the making of scientific and navigational instruments.

By the end of the century the Thames could not cope with the huge numbers of vessels trying to use the port.

Maritime London timeline

  • 1740s - Origins of what was to become the Baltic Exchange – the world's foremost ship brokers
  • 1750s-90s - As trade expanded, the Pool of London became increasingly congested, with huge delays to shipping and severe losses because of theft
  • 1799 - West India Dock authorised; the first of the major enclosed dock schemes promoted by merchants and ship owners 

Britain and the world timeline

  • 1760-1820 - Reign of King George III
  • 1700s - Sugar from plantations in the West Indian colonies became a major commodity in international trade
  • 1700s - Britain founded or captured several colonies, mainly at the expense of France
  • 1783 - End of the American War of Independence; 13 of Britain's North American colonies form the United States
  • 1793 - French Revolutionary War begins 

Science and technology

  • 1731 - Hadley's quadrant allows more accurate calculation of latitude at sea
  • 1757 - Campbell's sextant allows the calculation of longitude at sea
  • 1759 - Harrison's third timekeeper
  • 1760s-80s - James Watt's steam engines and the textile machines of Arkwright and Crompton become key symbols of the technological changes associated with the 'Industrial Revolution'
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