Sailortown

Sailortown

Alleyway

Alleyway

 

The Port of London has been central to the economy of London since the founding of the city in the 1st century and was a major contributor to the growth and success of the city. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was the busiest port in the world, with wharves extending continuously along the Thames for 11 miles (18 km), and over 1,500 cranes handling 60,000 ships per year. In World War II it was a prime target for the Luftwaffe during The Blitz. The first evidence of a reasonable sized trading in London can be seen during Roman control of Britain, at which time the Romans built the original harbour. The construction involved expanding the waterfront using wooden frames filled with dirt. Once these were in place the wharf was built in four stages moving downstream from the London Bridge. The port began to rapidly grow and prosper during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and saw its final demise in the early 5th century with the decline in trade activity. The changes made to the banks along the port made by the Romans are so substantial and long lasting that it was hard to tell where the natural waterfront really began. Until the beginning of the 19th century, shipping was handled entirely within the Pool of London on the stretch of the River Thames along Billingsgate on the south side of the City of London. All imported cargoes had to be delivered for inspection and assessment by Customs Officers, giving the area the name of "Legal Quays". The Pool saw a phenomenal increase in both overseas and coastal trade in the second half of the 18th century. Two thirds of coastal vessels using the Pool were colliers meeting an increase in the demand for coal as the population of London rose. Coastal trade virtually doubled between 1750 and 1796 reaching 11,964 vessels in 1795. In overseas trade, in 1751 the pool handled 1,682 ships and 234,639 tons of goods. By 1794 this had risen to 3,663 ships and 620,845 tons. By this time the river was lined with nearly continuous walls of wharves running for miles along both banks, and hundreds of ships moored in the river or alongside the quays.

 

London's Docklands had their origins in the lack of capacity in the Pool of London which particularly affected the West India trade. In 1799 The West India Dock Act allowed a new off-river dock to be built for produce from the West Indies and the rest of Docklands followed as landowners built enclosed docks with better security and facilities than the Pool's wharves. Throughout the 19th century a series of enclosed dock systems was built, surrounded by high walls to protect cargoes from river piracy. These included West India Docks (1802), East India Docks (1803, originating from the Brunswick Dock of 1790), London Docks (1805), Surrey Commercial Docks (1807, originating from the Howland Great Wet Dock of 1696), St Katharine Docks (1828), Royal Victoria Dock (1855), Millwall Dock (1868), Royal Albert Dock (1880), and Tilbury docks (1886). A Royal Commission led to the setting up of the Port of London Authority (PLA) in 1908. In 1909 the PLA took control of the enclosed docks from Tower Bridge to Tilbury, with a few minor exceptions such as Poplar Dock which remained as a railway company facility. The PLA dredged a deep water channel, added the King George V Dock (1920) to the Royal group, and made continuous improvements to the other enclosed dock systems throughout the first two thirds of the 20th century. This culminated in expansion of Tilbury in the late 1960s to become a major container port (the UK's largest in the early 1970s), together with a huge riverside grain terminal and mechanised facilities for timber handling. Under the PLA London's annual trade had grown to 60 million tons (38% of UK trade) by 1939, but was mainly transferred to the Clyde and Liverpool during World War 2. After the war London recovered, again reaching 60 million tons in the 1960s.

 

The museum is part of the Museum of London. The nucleus of the collection is the museum and archives of the Port of London Authority which became part of the port and river collections of the Museum of London in 1976, but remained in storage until the museum opened. The museum uses the latest presentational techniques including videos presented by Tony Robinson, known for his involvement with archaeological television programme Time Team. The museum houses a large collection of historical artefacts, models, and pictures in 12 galleries and a children's gallery (Mudlarks), arranged over two floors. Visitors are directed through the displays in chronological order. The periods covered range from the first port on the Thames in Roman times to the closure of the central London docks in the 1970s and subsequent transformation of the area with commercial and residential developments. The different galleries are as follows: Thames Highway AD 43-1600; Trade Expansion 1600-1800; Legal Quay 1790s; London Sugar & Slavery 1600 onwards City and River 1800-1840; Sailortown 1840-1850; First Port of Empire 1840-1880; Warehouse of the World 1880-1939; Docklands at War 1938-1945; New Port, New City 1945 onwards. Services available for visitors with a mobility impairment: There is a public car park directly behind the museum, in Hertsmere Road. Unfortunately, the museum does not have disabled parking available. Accessible lift serving all floors of the museum. Accessible lavatories and baby changing room. Wheelchairs and disability scooters to borrow for free from the Information. Desk Spaces for wheelchair users in the theatre and learning rooms. Folding seats available to visitors. Services available for visitors with a visual impairment: Large print brochure and floor plan available from the Information Desk. Access for guide dogs to all areas of the museum. Regular touch tours for visually impaired visitors. Book an audio-described tour. They have a number of trained hosts who are able to give audio-described tours during the normal gallery hours. If you wish to book a tour, please contact them at docklandsdutymanager@museumoflondon.org.uk.

 

Location : No.1 Warehouse, West India Quay, London E14 4AL

Transport: West India Quay (DLR). Thames Clipper (Canary Wharf Pier). London Buses routes D3, D7, D8, 277, D6, 15, 115 and 135 stop nearby.

Opening Times: Monday to Sunday 10:00 to 18:00.

Tickets : Free.

Tel: 020 7001 9844