04 July 2018

History of a Port City: The Museum of London Docklands and Canary Wharf (21 April 2018)

Part of the Museum of London, the Museum of London Docklands opened in 2003 and is dedicated to the history of the River Thames and the development of the Docklands.  It is housed in the grade I-listed No. 1 Warehouse, a sugar storage facility built alongside the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in London's east end in 1802.  Though the area is now home to gleaming, modern skyscrapers that comprise London's Canary Wharf, the Museum of London Docklands allows visitors the opportunity to take a chronological journey through the Port of London's history, from Roman times to the closure of the West India Docks in 1980, and its subsequent redevelopment into the 21st century commercial district it is today.      

A view of No. 1 Warehouse from the North Dock footbridge spanning the West India Dock. By the late 1700s, the River Thames was heavily congested as the result of over 13,000 cargo ships arriving annually.  Additionally, with ships forced to anchor in the river and unload their cargoes onto small lighters for ferrying ashore, the process of unloading and loading goods was inefficient and subject to much theft and black market activity. As a result, a group of British West Indian merchants and shipowners pressed for the construction of a new, secure dock and warehouses on the Isle of Dogs, which opened on 27 August 1802.  The West India Docks were London's first purpose-built cargo handling docks and the largest structure of their kind in the world.  Their size and sophistication placed London at the forefront of world trade.  Once unloaded from ships docked alongside, cargoes like sugar were sampled and re-packaged in the warehouses, under lock and key. 

Housed alongside the museum in West India Docks' restored No. 1 Warehouse are various fashionable restaurants and bars.  From 1802 until their closure in 1980, the West India Docks processed a wide range of commodities, such as almonds, bananas, camphor, cocoa, coffee, coir, copper, cotton, currants, dates, ebony, figs, ginger, grain, grenadilloes, horns, jute, lemons, mahogany, mangoes, melons, molasses, palm oil, pepper, pimento, pineapples, plumbago, pomegranates, raisins, rice, rosewood, rum, sandalwood, sugar, sugarcane, tamarind, tea, tin, tulips, and wood.   

A couple of river barges tied up outside the Museum of London Docklands.  These vessels are not part of the museum, but rather a private residence/office and a floating church.

The entrance to the Museum of London Docklands, housed in No. 1 Warehouse, a former sugar warehouse, opened on 27 August 1802. Only two of the original nine warehouses remain following extensive damage inflicted on the West India Docks by German bombers during the Second World War. Note the warehouse's windows, which were fitted with spiked, iron frames to prevent break-ins and theft; such spiked frames even extended to the top floor windows, providing maximum security for the facility and its valuable contents.

Below: The front and reverse sides of the 2018 tour guide given to visitors at the Museum of London Docklands.

The rowing skiff Thames, constructed in 1934 and used in and around the West India Docks until their closure in 1980.  This skiff was mainly used to meet incoming ships at the dock's entrance to carry their hawsers (towing cables) to the pierhead.  The cable was then tied to a hauling line and a team of men would pull the ship into the dock.

An 1802 hand-coloured engraving by David Steel, entitled 'The River Thames from London Bridge to Woolwich Warren'.  The engraving shows the West India Docks complex spanning the Isle of Dogs, with two dock basins: one for unloading imported goods and one for loading export goods.    

The inside of the top floor of No. 1 Warehouse, displaying a large number of artefacts and examples of the specialised cargo handling tools and equipment used by dock labourers to unload cargo off ships arriving from around the world.  Cargoes would be wheeled from the quayside into the ground floor or hoisted to the upper floors and placed in their allotted storage positions, or 'stows'.  Hanging from the ceiling are cargo destination boards (Hong Kong, Bermuda, Singapore, Sihanoukville, etc.) dating from between 1920 and 1980.  These signs were hung over cargo loads in transit sheds so that dock labourers knew which order to load receiving ships: the cargo to be unloaded at the ship's first destination would be the last loaded onto the ship.
A display of casks and cargo weighing scales.  Hanging from warehouse ceiling timbers or mobile iron frames, beamscales were regularly used to weigh large items or quantities of items to confirm their weight.  Regular accuracy checks of the scales and weights were undertaken to prevent fraud and ensure that correct fees were paid to the Customs and Excise, as well as the dock companies.  Most cargoes were also sampled upon arrival to confirm for Customs and Excise Officer, dock managers, and merchants that the products were of the quantity and quality as ordered.  All goods had to be strictly controlled to protect against theft and fraud, as well as to ensure that cargoes were not misplaced.  On the left side of the photo is a collection of wooden, hooped dry cargo casks of various sizes; such casks did not need to be watertight, and so were often called 'slack' casks.   

A sculpture of a sailor at a ship's wheel, entitled 'The Helmsman', carved by George Bawn around 1850.  The sculpture was the trademark of George Bawn & Co., makers of ship masts, who were located in the West India Dock Road.  Situated on the roof of the company's offices, the sculpture became a well-known local landmark. 

A cheese handling barrow made from wood and iron, manufactured around 1910.  This barrow was used in the Surrey Commercial Docks at Rotherhithe for grabbing and moving stacked wooden drums of cheese from Canada. 

A small, carved stone coat of arms for the East India Company, dating from 1618 and discovered by accident during the closure of the Blackwall Yard in 1987-88.  The East India Company was established in 1600 under Royal licence to advance trade with India and monopolised trade between the United Kingdom and the Far East for 200 years.  Growing trade soon rendered the company's original shipyard at Deptford too small and it moved to a new, larger yard at Blackwall in 1614-18.  Ships destined for trade with India, called East Indiamen, continued to be built at the Blackwall Yard until 1831.  This coat of arms was situated over the main entrance to the yard.   

A display on shipbuilding along the River Thames, when London was the nation's largest shipbuilding centre.  As London's seaborne commerce grew, a plethora of associated industries grew up beside the great shipyards along the Thames, from mast makers and anchor smiths to rope walks and ship's carvers.  In addition to royal dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich for the construction of naval vessels, many private shipyards also grew up along both sides of the Thames, most notably those of Barnard and Dudman at Deptford, Randall and Wells at Rotherhithe, and the Blackwall Yard owned by the Perry family.  The display case holds a large number of specialised tools that would have been used by shipyard workers.

Punishment fit for a pirate: a mid-18th century iron gibbet cage in which the tarred bodies of executed pirates would be displayed as a means of demonstrating the consequences of criminality.  Many captured pirates were brought to London and tried before the High Court of Admiralty.  Most accused pirates were convicted and sentenced to death, with public executions taking place at 'Execution Dock' on the foreshore at Wapping, where temporary gallows were erected and large crowds always gathered to watch the hangings.  Decomposing corpses hanging in the gibbet cages following these executions struck fear into passersby and served as a deterrent to any who might contemplate a life of piracy.  The gibbeting of executed pirates continued well into the 19th century.  

The gallery devoted to London's role in the sugar and slave trades, which generated enormous wealth for the city.  A large wall on the left lists the particulars of all the British ships involved in the slave trade before it was outlawed in 1807.  Other panels address the link between British consumer demand for sugar, rum, and molasses and the use of slave labour to plant, harvest, and process the sugar cane from which those products were derived, as well as the heavy human toll the slave trade took on African societies.  London was the world's fourth largest slave trading port after the Brazilian cities of Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, and the English city of Liverpool, and over 3,100 ships departed from London to carry nearly one million Africans into slavery.

A panel showing the stages of planting, harvesting, processing, shipping, and using sugar.  Sugar cane originated in New Guinea and was spread through the Middle East by the Arabs, being introduced to the Americas by Christopher Columbus.  Though considered a luxury commodity only available to the wealthy as late as the 1600s, the popularisation of coffee as a beverage between 1700 and 1800 led to increased demand for sugar as a sweetener.  British merchants, realising the great profits to be made from sugar, soon adopted mass cultivation methods and imports of sugar to the UK soared by 800 percent.  Sugar cane had been introduced to Britain's West Indian island colonies in the 1600s, with plantations worked largely by political prisoners from England, Ireland, and Scotland; however, by the 1680s, the African slave trade provided a more plentiful source of cheap labour.     

A display of ornate tableware manufactured to reflect the wealth generated by the sugar trade: coffee cups dating from the 1700s, a chocolate pot from around 1760, and silver sugar tongs.  Coffee was also grown on West Indian slave plantations, and its bitter taste increased demand for sugar.  Chocolate as a beverage was introduced to London around 1650 and chocolate drinking houses throughout the city were fashionable until around 1800.     

A display on the West India Regiments, established by Britain in 1795 to ensure adequate numbers of soldiers to defend its West Indian colonies against the French. At a cost of £70 million in today's money, the British government purchased 13,000 enslaved African men and boys and formed 12 regiments.  After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the West Indian Regiments were sustained by offering enlistment to captives aboard slave ships intercepted by the Royal Navy.  Later, when slavery was entirely abolished in 1838, volunteers signed up for the West Indian Regiments.  Most ordinary soldiers of the West Indian Regiments were of African or African-Caribbean descent, while all regimental officers were white.  The West Indian Regiments served in Britain's Caribbean and African colonies, fighting a number of battles throughout the late 19th century and in the First World War before being disbanded in 1927.    

The City of London's coat of arms, with the Latin motto, Domine Dirige Nos ['Lord, direct (guide) us'].  The coat of arms was in use as early as 1381, though the motto was adopted in the 17th century, with its first use recorded in 1633.

A display on South Sea whaling operations, in which London served as the home port for a fleet of whaling vessels which plied the South Atlantic and Pacific Oceans hunting sperm whales, southern right whales, and seals.  At the peak of activity, in 1821, London's South Sea whaling fleet numbered 149 vessels and the city was the world's largest whaling port.  The whaling industry provided whale oil and spermaceti candles for lighting London's shops and houses, as well as raw materials for some of its factories.  The whaling industry also led to the exploration of uncharted waters and coastlines, thereby expanding Britain's commercial empire.  As competition by American and Australian whaling fleets increased and duties on imported whale oil decreased, London's whaling fleet went into decline, with the last two ships being withdrawn from service in 1859.  Nineteenth century whaling artefacts displayed here include a harpoon gun, a blubber knife, a blubber hook, whaling shears, and a cast-iron whaling pot. 

A model of a mid-19th century collier brig of around 250 tons, used to haul coal to the London market.  Collier brigs featured stunsails (extra sails on some of the yards) and staysails.  Different combinations of sails could be set, depending on the weather, to ensure that the heavily-laded vessels reached the city in a timely manner.  Steam-powered colliers began replacing the sailing vessels in the early 1850s.  Coal powered London, from heating homes to powering factories and gasworks.  Between 1800 and the mid-1830s, the number of colliers serving the port of London each year doubled to 8,000, with 2.3 millions tons of coal being delivered in 1835 alone.  On any given day, between 40 and 330 colliers were awaiting a berth in the Pool of London, the stretch of the River Thames between London Bridge and Limehouse.    

A model of London's St. Katharine Docks, around 1830, based on original plans and architectural drawings.  The model demonstrates the compact nature of the dock complex, with the main features being the Entrance Lock, Entrance Basin, the Western Dock, and the Eastern Dock.  The construction of the St. Katharine Docks between 1826 and 1828 required the demolition of 1,250 houses in the 23-acre site, displacing 11,300 mostly port workers from their homes; only property owners were provided compensation.  Ships entering the St. Katharine Docks discharged their cargoes directly under covered colonnades connected to the adjacent warehouses, with the cargo then being hoisted up into the warehouses.  The central jetty contained a two-storey wooden transit shed for export cargoes.  The small size of the dock soon revealed itself as restrictive given growing trade volumes.     

A display of 19th century swords, cutlasses, truncheons, and a blunderbuss issued to dockyard security guards employed to protect cargoes, buildings, equipment, and ships.  The docks were surrounded by a high wall, with entrances guarded during the day and locked at night.  Security guards regularly patrolled the quaysides and walls, and were given staves and guard dogs to do so.  The West India, London, and East India Docks were protected by the government's Military Guard, tasked with defending the facilities against thieves, radicals, and French agents until 1822.  Although dock entrances were controlled by Customs and Excise 'watchers' in addition to the Military Guard, dock companies established their own police forces due to mistrust over the honesty and reliability of these other authorities.   

Covering the period 1840 to 1850, this part of the Museum of London Docklands is called Sailortown and depicts the dark, dank, and dangerous alleys of Wapping during the mid-19th century.  Grungy, twisting cobblestone alleys take visitors past typical port city establishments, such as a ship chandler, a pub, a stationary store, an inn, and a wild animal emporium.  The narrow streets would have been filled with sailors arrived on ships from around the world and with money to spend, as well as thieves, pickpockets, prostitutes, and con men eager to relieve those sailors of their money.   

The interior of the ship chandler's shop, selling marine supplies such as lanterns, rope, and hand tools. 

The Three Mariners pub, a rowdy port city tavern where sailors could easily blow their hard-earned wages on wine and women (i.e. prostitutes) during shore leave.  

The interior of the Three Mariners pub.

Within the gallery devoted to the rise of steam power between 1840 and 1910, is a 1/96 scale model of famed engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel's ocean liner SS Great Eastern.  The 18,915 gross ton, 692-foot-long Great Eastern was constructed at London's Millwall Iron Works on the Thames between 1854 and 1858 and was designed to carry all the coal she would need for a non-stop journey from Britain to Australia.  Steered from the wheelhouse at the after end of the upper deck, the helmsman could not see over the bows and thus had to rely on orders telegraphed from the bridge straddling the deck between the paddle wheel boxes.  Skylights located along the upper deck provided daylight and ventilation to luxurious passenger accommodations located within the hull.  Brunel was photographed aboard the Great Eastern on 5 September 1859, but suffered a stroke and collapsed on deck only seconds after the photo was taken; he died ten days later. 

A reproduction of a blacksmith's forge as would have been present in London's shipyards, barge yards, engineering works, and large factories, as well as small, independent blacksmith shops.  Iron bar was heated to make it malleable, after which skilled blacksmiths would shape it by hammering the red hot iron against an anvil or curling it around conical iron mandrils for circular shapes.

A reproduction of a dock warehouse office using some original furniture removed from a dock office that occupied part of the ground floor of the museum building, No. 1 Warehouse, in the late 19th century.  The dock offices maintained the detailed departmental ledgers and day-to-day shipping, storage, rent, and pay records that were critical to successful dock operations.  A gentlemanly atmosphere held sway in the dock offices, with staff often dressing in bowler hats and wing collars, and shaking hands with colleagues at the beginning and end of each day.  As smoking was banned in the warehouses, dock office staff often took snuff or chewed tobacco.   

A mobile tobacco weighing station.  All tobacco was weighed with and without its packaging.  Before the Customs net entry weight was taken, any damaged tobacco was cut away with large 'garbling' knives and destroyed in a kiln.  After weighing, small samples of the tobacco were taken to measure moisture content, while larger samples were taken for merchants and cigarette manufacturers.  The tobacco was then held in bond until the payment of duty and removal by the purchaser.  The large wooden drum on the right is a wooden, hooped tobacco hogshead, measuring 48 inches tall and 30 inches in diameter and weighing 1,000 pounds.  The main source of tobacco was the United States, but tobacco also arrived from Russia, Turkey, and China.  By the 1930s, London was importing 45,000 tons of tobacco annually, most of it destined for the city's large cigarette factories. 

A reproduction of a dock cooperage, where coopers spent their time maintaining and repairing barrels.  In addition to this work, dockyard coopers also assisted Customs and Excise Officers to gauge casks containing wines and spirits and helped in breaking out and weighing casks of tobacco.  Wine and spirit coopers sometimes engaged in 'sucking the monkey', drawing off illicit personal samples known as 'waxers'. 

A reproduction of a dockyard bottling vault, where wines and spirits could be blended, bottled, and cased for merchants.  The contents of casks would be siphoned off into bottles by the vault keepers and coopers, after which the bottles would be corked by special machines and have labels applied.  In 1934, about 12 million gallons of wines and spirits were imported into London, with approximately 65% received by the Port of London Authority and the remainder by the riverside wharves.  The wines and spirits imported by London came from all over the world: Spain and Portugal (sherry, port, and wine); France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Cyprus, Palestine, Australia, South Africa, and California (wine); Jamaica and the Cape Colony (rum); France, Spain, Algeria, and Egypt (brandy); and Scotland (whisky).  Different Thames dockyards stored different wines and spirits, with the West India Docks concentrating on rum.   

A sample showcase dating from the period 1890-1900. Such sample showcases were maintained by dock companies in sample rooms for merchants and bookers, as well as the company main offices or town warehouses. This showcase cabinet contains samples of imported tea, coffee, and cocoa, along with some tea tasting cups.

The Docklands at War, 1939-1945 gallery, recounting the heroic efforts to keep the vital dockyards operating in the face of nearly incessant German bombing raids.  Indeed, London's east end dockyards would become the most heavily bombed civilian area in all of Britain, enduring the destruction caused by over 25,000 bombs dropped by German aircraft attempting to cut off the capital city from vital supplies needed to sustain the war effort, as well as prepare the way for the planned Nazi invasion.  A particularly devastating raid took place at 5pm on Saturday, 7 September 1940 ('Black Saturday'), when German aircraft bombed London for over two hours, followed by a second wave of attacks later that evening.  Hitting carefully selected targets, including the Ford plant at Dagenham, Beckton Gas Works, and sheds and shipping at the Royal Docks, the German bombs caused a massive inferno that silhouetted the London skyline with its orange glow.  A million tons of lumber stockpiled at the Surrey Commercial Docks burned for five days, while several historic sugar warehouses at West India Docks were consumed by fire, melting the sugar into a thick, hard, sticky mass.  At the Rum Quay at Canary Wharf on  September, blazing alcohol poured from barrels onto the quayside.  Over 1,600 Londoners were seriously injured in the Black Saturday bombings.    

A display of dockyard civil defence artefacts, including publications and equipment.  Items shown here include a copy of Civil Defence Air Raid Precautions Handbook No. 1, Personal Protection Against Gas (1936); an Air Raid training certificate; a 1940s hand-operated fire alarm iron; Civil Defence arm band (1940); Port of London Authority war service badges; a 1939 pocket-sized reference booklet for Special Constables and War Reserve with first aid hints and notes on the treatment of gas victims; and a Civil Defence helmet bearing the arms of the Port of London Authority.  Since one-third of Britain's imports arrived via the Thames in 1939, the dockyards along the river naturally were prime targets for German attack once the war began.  To defend the dockyards, the Port of London Authority trained thousands of dockyard volunteers as first aid attendants, repairmen, and fire wardens, and each London dockyard established its own Home Guard unit as part of the Civil Defence organisation.  

A scale model of an Army Fort, designed by civil engineer Guy Maunsell and accepted by the Army in June 1942 following devastating German raids on London and Liverpool.  Designed to defend the Thames Estuary against German aircraft, light attack craft ('E-boats'), and mine-laying vessels, Maunsell's 'sea forts' consisted of seven steel houses, each standing on four reinforced legs 117 feet above the river bed and connected by footbridges.  Five of the houses were equipped with guns, with a searchlight position on the sixth house and a command post occupying the seventh house.  Three Army Forts were built for use in the Thames, named Red Sand, The Nore, and Shivering Sands.     

A display on some of the secret projects that involved the London Docklands, including the 'PLUTO' (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) used to pump petrol across the English Channel to Allied forces after the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944.  Once developed, sections of flexible PLUTO pipe were welded together at the Tilbury docks on the Thames and wound onto enormous conical drums before being laid across the Channel between Boulogne and Dungeness, and between Cherbourg and the Isle of Wight.  Finally completed on 18 September 1944, at its peak, PLUTO was pumping 1,350,000 gallons of petrol per day.

The gallery covering the period from 1945 to the present, including the post-war reconstruction of the London Docklands and their subsequent decline and closure as cargo vessels became larger and the introduction of containerised cargo rendered the Docklands too small to compete.

A map showing British Empire colonies and shipping routes in 1937, when London imported vast amounts of raw commodities from the colonies for processing into manufactured goods and re-export back to the colonies.  The decolonisation movement in the 1950s and 1960s broke this traditional trade pattern, with many of the colonies choosing to process and manufacture goods in their own countries.  The introduction of the European Economic Community's Common Agricultural Policy in 1973 led to increasing 'short sea trade' between the UK and Europe, though London's dockyards had fallen behind major European ports like Rotterdam, Dunkirk, and Hamburg and London's warehouses, which had once been stuffed with valuable cargoes, increasingly sat empty.  

A display on the London Docklands Development Corporation, established  by the Thatcher government on 2 July 1981 with a remit to secure the lasting physical, economic, and social regeneration of the area.  The Corporation did this through a market-led regeneration strategy unconstrained by local planning controls and designed to bring land and buildings back into effective use; encourage development of existing and new industry and commerce; ensure that housing and social facilities were available to encourage people to live and work in the area; and create an attractive environment.  Additional displays recount the construction of London City Airport and the Docklands Light Railway in the 1980s, as well as the massive Canary Wharf development on the Isle of Dogs which created a major hub for commercial and financial services housed in modern skyscrapers.

A display of London Docklands Development Corporation planning and design guidelines for East India and West India Docks, as well as publications concerning the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). The DLR was commissioned in 1984 to link the Isle of Dogs with Tower Hill in the west and Stratford in the east, with a project budget of £77 million.  Passenger estimates of 1,500 people per hour each way were soon revised upward to 13,000 people per hour each way once the Canary Wharf development was announced; as a consequence, the DLR was outdated even before it was completed, and additional contracts to upgrade infrastructure, lengthen station platforms, and add rolling stock were let in June 1987. 

A scale model of the 97-acre Canary Wharf development on the Isle of Dogs.  Construction began in May 1988, with the first buildings, including the 50-storey 1 Canada Square (the tall tower with the pyramidal top), completed in 1991.

A final look at the exterior of the Museum of London Docklands, once the West India Docks' No. 1 Warehouse.

The Docklands today, a thriving, modern commercial hub.  The UK's second-tallest building, 1 Canada Square, is the pyramid-topped tower on the right.  The London Marriott Hotel West India Quay is the glass building on the far left.  

Two decommissioned historic cranes recall the gritty, industrial heritage of the Docklands and provide an interesting juxtaposition with the soaring modern office towers of 21st century Canary Wharf. 

Crossrail Place, designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster and partially opened on 1 May 2015. The structure is built in the former import dock (North Dock) of the West India Docks and sits atop the platforms for Crossrail's Canary Wharf Station. Crossrail, the 118-kilometre east-west high-speed rail line running under London and the Home Counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Essex, is scheduled to open in December 2018 at a cost of £14.8 billion.  Crossrail Place houses shops, a movie theatre, and a rooftop garden open to the public.

The Roof Garden at Crossrail Place.  Crossrail Place's geographic location, north of Greenwich, nearly places it atop the Prime Meridian dividing the eastern and western hemispheres.  As such, the Roof Garden has been divided into two geographic zones: east and west, featuring plants native to the eastern and western hemispheres.  It celebrates the exotic species brought to London by merchant traders and explorers.

The design of the Roof Garden is meant to evoke the feel of a ship carrying unusual and exotic plant species from around the world, and was inspired by the Wardian Case, an early version of the terrarium developed by Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward around 1829.  Here, in the Eastern Zone, notable plants include various species of bamboo, Japanese maple, and northern Japanese magnolia.

In the western hemisphere garden, plants include several species of tree fern, as well as strawberry tree and sweet gum tree.

The covered Adams Place pedestrian bridge linking Crossrail Place to 1 Canada Square. 

The Adams Place pedestrian bridge crosses the Adams Place plaza.

Reuters Plaza in the heart of the Canary Wharf district and surrounded by tall skyscrapers.  An entrance to the Jubilee Line's Canary Wharf Underground station is located in the centre of the plaza, with the adjacent Jubilee Park providing a green oasis for office workers and tourists.

The glass-and-steel entrance to the Canary Wharf Underground station.  The station is served by the Jubilee Line, and specifically the Jubilee Line Extension that runs from Green Park to Stratford through south and east London.  The Jubilee Line Extension opened in stages between May and December 1999.    

Descending the escalators to the ticket hall level in the cathedral-like Canary Wharf Underground station.  Opened on 17 September 1999, Canary Wharf station has become one of the busiest Underground stations outside Central London, with over 40 million people passing through every year.  The enormous size of the station was meant to keep pace with the anticipated growth in passenger numbers to 50,000 per day; however, by 2006, certain weekday passenger loads were exceeding 69,000 people.

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