Old London Docks

Over 2,000 years ago, the Romans set up the town of Londinium where London is today. It was a good spot because the Thames offered relatively easy access to the rest of the Roman Empire. And so, part of the development included the building of a port. This would grow in size over the centuries. However, today, it is only a shadow of what it was.

To locate where the main port was, it is a good idea to start about where London Bridge is today. On the north side of the river, we have a roadway which consists of two separate names. They are Upper Thames Street and Lower Thames Street. They roughly mark out where the original port was located. When the Romans departed, eventually the Saxons moved the port area a bit further upriver to meet the River Fleet. This was an important feeder river to the Thames. Unfortunately, for much of its life, it was crammed with rubbish and sewage. The Fleet still flows into the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge. However, it is now underground. But, there are some manhole covers where you can still hear the river flowing beneath the streets.

The Medieval period saw the port facilities move back towards London Bridge and then further downriver as far as the Tower of London. So, we now have the port area stretching from the Fleet to the Tower. Many specialised wharves and quays were constructed with private money. The names they were given often signified what goods were handled there. So, we have Wool Quay, Bread Wharf, Fish Wharf, Wool Wharf and Wine Wharf to name but a few.

During the fifteenth-century, the closure of the drawbridge at London Bridge meant that most vessels were confined downriver if the bridge. This area became known as the Pool of London, a name still in use today. Towards the end of the eighteenth-century, other docks further downstream were opened up such as the West India Dock. Traffic increased and by 1800, it was not unknown for there to be over 1,400 ships operating in the London Docks. The docks continued to expand during the nineteenth-century. But, the years following the Second World War, saw the docks shrink to a fraction of what they were in their heyday.

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