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The Port of London


SOURCE: New Picture of London, Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand; by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819

As actually occupied by shipping, extends from London Bridge to Deptford, being a distance of nearly four miles, and from four to five hundred yards, average in breadth. It may be described as consisting of four divisions, called the upper, middle, and lower pools, and the space between Limehouse and Deptford. The upper pool extends front London Bridge to Union Hole, about 1,600 yards :—the middle pool, from thence to Wapping New Stairs, 700 yards : —the lower pool, from the latter place to the Horse Ferry Tier, near Limehouse, 1,800 yards: —and space below to Deptford, about 2,700 yards.— When the House of Commons commenced an investigation respecting the port of London, the land accommodations were found to consist of only the legal quays, and the sufferance wharfs. The former were appointed in the year 1558. They occupy the north bank of the river, with some interruption, from London Bridge to the western extremity of Tower Ditch, including a frontage of about 1,464 feet. This, with the aid of the sufferance wharfs, was totally inadequate to the purposes of commercial accommodation. It was not, however, till the year 1793, that a plan was first projected for making wet docks for the port of London in Wapping, the Isle of Dogs, and at Rotherhithe.

The Docks of London,

Constituting, as they do, such grand and truly national works, and forming a sort of era in the history of our commerce, merit some particular notice. Owing to the crowded state of the river, and the confined extent of the legal quays, a committee was appointed to consider of the best mode of relief; and, in consequence Mr. Daniel Alexander was named to make a survey and prepare plans and estimates for forming docks at Wapping, with the addition of a canal leading to them from that part of Blackwall where the present East India docks have been made, and along a line where the West India docks have been since formed. The plan and estimates were laid before a general meeting of merchants on the 22d of December, 1795, when they were unanimously approved and a subscription of 800,000l. was filled in a few hours, for carrying the same into execution! The application of the merchants experienced opposition from the corporation of London, and from private interests. Ultimately, however, the merchants triumphed, as will be perceived by the succeeding notices of the several docks, the new Commercial Road, &c.

West India Docks.

The fund for executing these docks, as already stated, was raised by the subscription of private individuals. The proprietors are repaid an interest not to exceed 10 per cent., by a rate or charge upon all the shipping and merchandise entering the dock, and the trade of the company has hitherto enabled them to pay that dividend. By the act passed in July, 1799, all West-India produce coming to the port of London must be unloaded in these docks. The present capital of the company is 1,100,000l. The plan comprehends two docks; one for unloading the ships arrived from the West Indies, containing thirty acres, and capable of accommodating three hundred West-Indiamen, and the other for loading outward bound ships, containing twenty-four acres, and capable of containing upwards of two hundred West-Indiamen. The former was begun February 3d, 1800, and opened the 27th of August, 1802, being only two years and a half; and it is surrounded by extensive ranges of warehouses, capable of accommodating the whole of the West-India trade, in which warehouses the goods are lodged until the duly is paid. The dock of twenty-four acres was completed and opened in 1805.

These docks are formed across the narrowest part of the Isle of Dogs, which is formed by a circuitous course the river takes, leaving this almost a peninsula; so that the docks communicate with the river at both extremities of the island. The soil was, besides, very favourable for the purpose of making docks, for the whole of the ground that had been gained by embanking from the river and the marsh, before it was begun to be cut, was from six to seven feet under the level of high water, so that the ground which was cut out from the docks was all wanted for making up the quays.

The canal to the southward of the West-India docks is intended to enable ships to avoid the circuitous navigation of the Isle of Dogs, by which a distance of several miles will be saved. The expense of making it is paid from the consolidated fund of the nation, and will be repaid by a small tax upon all shipping coining to the port; 180,000l. have already been granted for making it. The management of it is committed to a committee of the corporation of the city of London.

The London Docks.

The fund by which these docks were executed was raised in the same way as that of the West-India docks, and its proprietors will be repaid in a similar manner. The first stone of the works was laid June 26th, 1802, and the dock of twenty acres was opened January 31st, 1805. Another large dock of fourteen acres is proposed to be made in Shadwell to communicate with that already finished. Extensive warehouses are completed upon the north quay of the dock, and also a large tobacco warehouse. The immense number of houses which were taken down for the purpose of making this dock, have much increased the expense of the execution. The capital of the company at present is 2,200,000l. The great trade of the company consists in the general traffic of the port; the tobacco warehouse alone covers four acres of ground, and government pay the company 15,600l. annually as rent for it. The business is conducted by twenty-four directors, chosen from among the proprietors, together with the lord mayor of the city of London for the time being.

East India Docks.

In the year 1803, the principal proprietors of East-India shipping, seeing the salutary effects derived from the West-India docks, came to a resolution of following the example, by having docks made for the accommodation of East-India ships, and for the security of the goods brought home by them, which the state of the river, and the abuses practised on it, had rendered highly necessary. Having succeeded in carrying a bill through parliament for these purposes, and opened a subscription to the amount of 300,000l.; and the directors who were appointed made purchase of the Brunswick dock at Blackwall, with a view of converting it into a dock for loading the outward-bound shipping. The dock, which received its name in honour of the present race of monarchs, was begun and executed by Mr. Perry, from his private fortune, and affords ample proof of his enterprising public spirit. In addition to this, the East-India dock company have formed a large dock of eighteen acres, for the purpose of unloading the homeward-bound ships, with a commodious basin and embrasures to it. This great dock was begun in the end of 1803, and all the works were completed in 1806. All East-India produce coming to this port must be unloaded in these docks. The business is conducted by thirteen directors of the East-India company.

Commercial Road.

For the purpose of opening an easy communication between the city of London and the different docks, this road was made. It is seventy feet wide, and, in the centre of it there is a strong pavement of twenty feet in width. The management is committed to thirteen trustees, who are empowered to raise a sum of 120,000l. for making and paving it. The distance from the Royal Exchange in London to the West-India dock gate is three miles, and to the East-India dock gate three miles and a half.

In the digging of the East and West-India docks, a very thick stratum of decayed vegetables or peat was found spread over the soil, about six feet under the surface; and amongst which were nuts, leaves, branches of trees, &c., of different species, almost in an entire state.

In the East-India docks, a very fine elephant's tooth was picked up near the bottom of the dock; and in the West-India docks a very large deer's horn nearly at the same depth.

To the surprise of thinking men, all these great under-takings were begun and carried on during a long and expensive war; they display to great advantage the spirit and enterprise of the merchants of this nation.

See also the following related pages:

View of London Docks

Map of Poplar, and London Docks