The East End has always been a place of international arrival and departure, today from the old Royal Docks you can fly into or out of London City Airport. The Airport is part of the Docklands urban regeneration, which is the world’s biggest single civil engineering project and is creating a new financial centre that rivals the City of London.
The origins of the first London Docks began between London Bridge and the Tower of London. The photo on your right illustrates the world’s busiest docks in the early Twentieth Century. The Romans took advantage of the natural geographical assets establishing successful military control and a trade base. Subsequently, conquering Danes, Norwegians and Normans took charge of trade, culture and bloodlines. Docks were established by the Normans at Queenhithe in the City during the 12th Century and then at Billingsgate. Under the Tudors foreign trade increased, the East India Company was founded and under the reign of Elizabeth I, many successful treasure hunting expeditions took place. The defeat of the Spanish Armada opened up sea routes and new markets. London traded in everything, all from waterside quays and river moorings.
The first inland dock was completed in Rotherhithe in 1696, the second in 1789. Only in 1802 was a series of enclosed London docks built by the West India merchants, where ships and their cargoes could be handled and stored in secure conditions. The Royal Group of Docks was the largest area of impounded dock water in the world and was one of Britain’s major industrial centres.
Victoria Dock was opened in 1855, constructed on Plaistow Marshes. The closure of the Royal Group of Docks (pictured left) in 1981 – Victoria, Albert and George V and core industries has radically changed the face of the area and the lives of its residents. In the old dockside villages of Limehouse and Rotherhithe there are still Swedish chemists, Norwegian churches, Chinese restaurants run by descendants of the people to whom Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes to score his opium.
New industries moved into the area alongside the riverside belt, attracted there by the lack of legislative restrictions on noxious trades. Behind the high dock walls and fences was a bustling world, where thousands of dock workers serviced the ships. People lived in streets between the docks, factories, warehouses and the river, and were separated from one another by a maze of railways and dock bridges.
The London docks were built steadily down the river until they reached Barking. By this time they were getting too far from the Capital. So they went back up and started again. That is why St Katherines Dock is newer than ones further down river.
Who were the Dockers? Men who made their living from servicing the ships which brought cargoes, seamen and travellers from many lands. The Dock owners relied on casual labour before the Second World War and poverty was common. While the Trade Unions secured better working conditions at the London Docks after the war, since the late 1960s, shipping in the form of `containerisation’ has transferred to the Old Tilbury Docks in Essex.
Most of the associated local industry has gone with the docks, out of London. With this the area deteriorated markedly and it soon became derelict. In their place now warehouse apartments and the headquarters buildings of American franchised niche-marketing operations and national newspapers. Canary Wharf is a focal point of the old London Docks. The tower, with its pyramid shaped roof was completed in 1991. It has a height of 245 metres, making it the tallest building in Britain and second tallest in Europe. Canary Wharf was originally called the Rum Quay through its trade with the West Indies. The Wharf got its present name because, after the last war, this is where the Fred Olsen Line discharged bananas and tomatoes from the Canary Islands.
Canary Wharf is one of Britain’s tallest building, with its pyramid shaped roof, it dominates London’s newest business district, the home to many blue chip organisations. Security staff will inform you that the Canary Wharf Tower is an office block and is NOT open to the public. Cabot Hall, at the Centre of a complex of offices; shops and restaurants hosts many arts and cultural events.
Canary Wharf was originally called the Rum Quay through its trade with the West Indies. The Wharf got its present name because, after the last war, this is where the Fred Olsen Line discharged bananas and tomatoes imported from the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of Africa.