A look into the history of the London Docks

London Docks

The London Docks have been a mainstay of the capital for centuries, and have a rich history of trade within the Port of London. The building of the docks ushered in a new era of trade for the city and helped to draw in commerce from around the world. Today very few people know the history of this area, so let’s take a closer look at some of the major events in the formation of London’s Docklands…

Early origins

During the early 1800s, the territories and trade ports of the British Empire were constantly expanding. The arrival of steam power meant goods could be transported with far more ease and speed than ever before, and yet it also meant significantly more traffic was making its way to and from the City. This served to encourage record levels of crime and discord amongst both traders and locals.

The Port of London was at this point in history downright chaotic, and far from the sedate trading post which many may imagine. The area was crying out for a new solution to the increased traffic, and thankfully a growing number of entrepreneurial minds developed a clever solution – to build larger docks than the city had ever seen before, intended to survive for at least an additional century. The plan was to build the docks from pure marshland, and they became a significant feat of engineering in the capital.

A new trading post

Whilst guests at the Montcalm Royal London House might find it difficult to imagine the city as it was then, the idea of such an endeavour was shocking to many – but these bright entrepreneurs, led by George Parker Bidder, continued with their plan unabated. Nobody knows how many people took part in the dock’s expansion, but the Victoria Dock opened in 1855 to acclaim, using the latest technology to help service and maintain the needs of a thriving empire.

Linked by a growing railway network from the late 1800s, hundreds of different types of cargo arrived in the city containing everything from tobacco to meat, vegetables and grain. Passenger ships also started to arrive in growing numbers. This created growing employment opportunities in the local area and boosted the population. However, maybe of the jobs associated with the docks were dangerous, and the area was unrecognisable to how it now appears to those staying at our hotels near Old Street London.

Later years and closure

The final dock was opened in 1921 by King George V, and was large enough to welcome enormous cruise liners in the decades that immediately followed. Poor working conditions eventually caught up with the dock in the form of the General Strike of 1926, and whilst the conflict was eventually resolved, disputes remained keenly felt through the rest of the dock’s life. Damaged during World War II, the London docks remained open and remained that way until their closure in 1981, no longer able to compete with the changing demands of commercial vessels and the rapid pace of technological change.