London Docklands

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Docklands is the semi-official name for an area in northeast and southeast London, England. It forms part of the boroughs of Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Greenwich. The docks were formerly part of the Port of London, at one time the world's largest port. They have now been redeveloped principally for commercial and residential use. The name London Docklands was used for the first time in a government report on redevelopment plans in 1971 but has since become virtually universally adopted. It also created conflict between the new and old communities of the London Docklands.



In Roman and medieval times, ships tended to dock at small quays in the present-day city of London or Southwark, an area known as the Pool of London. However, this gave no protection against the elements, was vulnerable to thieves and suffered from a lack of space at the quayside. The Howland Great Dock in Rotherhithe (built 1696 and later forming the core of the Surrey Commercial Docks) was designed to address these problems, providing a large, secure and sheltered anchorage with room for 120 large vessels. It was a major commercial success and provided a for two phases of expansion during the Georgian and Victorian eras.

The first of the Georgian docks was the West India (opened 1802), followed by the London (1805), the East India (also 1805), the Surrey (1807), St Katharine (1828) and the West India South (1829). The Victorian docks were mostly further east, comprising the Royal Victoria (1855), Millwall (1868) and Royal Albert (1880). The King George V was a late addition in 1921.

The London Docklands was bombed during the Second World War, and was hit by over 2,500 bombs.


Three principal kinds of docks existed. Wet docks were where ships were laid up at anchor and loaded or unloaded. Dry docks, which were far smaller, took individual ships for repairing. Ships were built at dockyards along the riverside. In addition, the river was lined with innumerable warehouses, piers, jetties and dolphins (mooring points). The various docks tended to specialise in different forms of produce. The Surrey Docks concentrated on timber, for instance; Millwall took grain; St Katharine took wool, sugar and rubber; and so on.

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