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London Docklands



Docklands is the semi-official name for an area in the east of London, England, comprising parts of several boroughs (Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Greenwich) in Greater London. The eponymous docks are part of the Port of London, the world's largest port.


East End Politics

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Neutral: Underground, Brick Lane

Hostile: Shoreditch, Whitechapel, West End


Dockland areas



London's Docklands comprise a number of dockyard complexes along the Thames, which are (from west to east):


  • St Katharine Docks (Wapping)
  • London Docks (Wapping)
  • Regent's Canal Dock (Limehouse)
  • Surrey Commercial Docks (Surrey Quays)
  • West India Docks and Millwall Dock (Isle of Dogs, location of East India House, headquarters of the East India Company)
  • East India Docks (Canning Town, main dock and warehouse facilities for the East India Company)
  • Royal Docks (Royal Victoria Dock and Royal Albert Dock)


Another dockyard exists much further downstream at Tilbury, but this is not generally regarded as part of the Docklands.


The area referred to as the Docklands, which mostly lies on the north bank of the Thames, comprises chiefly of the former properties of the Port of London. It does not comprise the whole of the former riverside port. Many other wharves and quays are located along the lower Thames, though these are not generally regarded as being part of the Docklands.



Click here for a larger map of the Docklands circa 1882



Development of the docks


In Roman and medieval times, ships tended either to dock at small quays in the present-day city of London or Southwark, an area known as the Pool of London. However, this gave no protection against the elements, was vulnerable to thieves and suffered from a lack of space at the quayside. The Howland Great Dock in Rotherhithe (built 1696 and later forming the core of the Surrey Commercial Docks) was designed to address these problems, providing a large, secure and sheltered anchorage with room for 120 large vessels. It was a major commercial success and provided a template for two phases of expansion during the Georgian and Victorian eras.


The first of the Georgian docks was the West India (opened 1802), followed by the London (1805), the East India (also 1805), the Surrey (1807), St Katharine (1828) and the West India South (1829). The Victorian docks were mostly further east, comprising the Royal Victoria (1855), Millwall (1868) and Royal Albert (1880).



Docks and dockers


Three principal kinds of docks existed. Raj docks were where ships were laid up at anchor and loaded or unloaded. Dry docks, which were far smaller, took individual ships for repairing. Ships were built at shipyards along the riverside. In addition, the river was lined with innumerable warehouses, pieres, jetties and dolphins (mooring points). The various docks tended to specialise in different forms of produce. The Surrey Docks concentrated on timber, for instance; Millwall took grain; St Katharine took wool, sugar and rubber; and so on.


The docks required an army of workers, chiefly lightermen (who carried loads between ships and quays aboard small barges called lighters) and quayside workers, who dealt with the goods once they were ashore. Some of the workers were highly skilled - the lightermen had their own livery company or guild, while the deal porters (workers who carried timber) were famous for their acrobatic skills. Most, however, were unskilled and worked as casual labourers. They had to assemble at certain points, such as pubs, each morning, from where they would be selected more or less at random by foremen. For these workers, it was effectively a lottery as to whether they would get work - and pay, and food - on any particular day.


The main dockland areas were originally low-lying marshes, mostly unsuitable for agriculture and only lightly populated. With the establishment of the docks, the dockyard workers formed a number of tight-knit local communities with their own distinctive cultures and slang. Poor communications meant that they were quite remote from other parts of London and so tended to develop in some isolation. The Isle of Dogs, for instance, had only two roads in and out.


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "London Docklands".

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