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The 19th-century port

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Millwall Docks and the Royal Albert Dock

Millwall Docks

General view of the new docks at Millwall.
View full size imageOpening of the Millwall Docks. © NMM

The increase in trade in the late 19th century led to more improvements to the port. The Millwall Docks on the Isle of Dogs opened in 1868.

The owners hoped to rent the quayside sites to industrial firms.

View full size imageThe Ponape at Millwall Docks. © NMM
But eventually they were forced to rely on the traditional business of importing produce, chiefly grain and timber, from the Baltic.

The Finnish barque Ponape (1903) was typical of the hundreds of sailing ships carrying Baltic grain and timber to the Millwall Docks.  



Air-powered transfer

L'Avenir moored at Millwall Dock with the McDougall's flour mill in the background
View full size imageL'Avenir moored at Millwall Docks with the McDougall's flour mill in the background. © NMM
The Millwall Dock Company's resident engineer, Frederick Duckham, invented the first pneumatic system for moving grain from ship to shore.

At first he used a barge and then a gigantic granary that could hold 24,000 tons. The McDougall's flour mill was built on the site of the original granary, which burnt down.

The need to expand

Unloading barrels at the Royal Albert Dock
View full size imageUnloading barrels at the Royal Albert Dock in 1914. © NMM
Meanwhile, the London and St Katharine Dock Companies had combined and bought the Royal Victoria Dock. In 1874 the new company decided to build the Royal Albert Dock in North Woolwich as an extension of the Victoria.

This was mainly because the Victoria dock was not deep enough and had too narrow an entrance for the largest steamships.

World's biggest

The Duke and Duchess of Connaught opening the Royal Albert Dock.
View full size imageThe Duke and Duchess of Connaught opening the Royal Albert Dock. © NMM

The Albert Dock was opened in 1880 and at the time was the largest dock in the world. It was designed to take vessels of up to 12,000 tons.

Three kilometres (1.75 miles) long, it contained more than 5000 metres (16,500 feet) of deep-water quays.

Loading under arc light.
View full size imageLoading coal lighters under arc lights in the Royal Albert Dock. © NMM
It was connected to the Royal Victoria Dock, to the east, by a lock and was entered from the Thames via a basin at Gallions Reach. The main cargoes handled at the Royal Albert Dock were tobacco, chilled and frozen meat, grain and general cargo.

Merchant ships in the Royal Albert Dock
View full size imageModel of the Royal Albert Dock. © NMM
There were single storey transit sheds rather than warehouses, to emphasise the fast turn around for ships. It was also the first London dock to be lit by electricity.

Tilbury Dock

View from Gravesend side of Thames, showing a ship dressed overall, entering the Lock during the opening of the docks.
View full size imageThe view from the Gravesend side of the Thames, showing a ship entering the lock during the opening of Tilbury in 1886. © NMM

The Royal Albert Dock was at first used at the expense of the other docks in the port. This provoked the East and West India Docks Company (the two amalgamated in 1833) to build the Tilbury Dock.

It was situated more than 40 kilometres (25 miles) downriver from London.

View full size imageTilbury Dock, c. 1890. © NMM
The company hoped that ship-owners would prefer to dock their vessels close to Gravesend, the well-established point of arrival for ships, as it would save them the time and expense of taking the ships further up the river.

The dock opened in 1886 but shipping was slow to transfer from the older docks. This was largely because of a boycott by London merchants, lightermen and wharfingers (wharf owners).

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