1902 Encyclopedia > London > London - Docks; Warehouses; Custom-house; Trinity House

(Part 18)


Docks. Warehouses. Custom-house. Trinity House.

In the time of Stow, Billingsgate had begun to supersede Queenhither as the principal landing place of the port of London; but he also gives a list of other "common Watergates," and mentions that there were besides "divers private wharfs and keys all along from the east to the west end of the city, where merchants of all nations had landing places, warehouse, cellars, and stowage of their goods and merchandise." On account,, however, of the attempts made to avoid the payment of customs by the use of private landing places, a royal proclamation of Elizabeth appointed certain quays to be used as general landing places and others for special purposes. After the great fire the limits of the port were declared to be the North Foreland and London Bridge; certain wharves named "legal quays" were appointed for the general trade, and others named sufferance wharves were permitted to be used under certain conditions with the special leave of the commissioners. The frontage of the legal quays in 1795 was only 1419 feet, and of the sufferance quays about 3500 feet, and so inadequate was the storage accommodation that it would not have sufficed even for the single article of sugar. After the proposal for the establishment of wet docks was made by the West India Company the system was very rapidly extended. The West India docks at the Isle of Dogs were opened in 1802, the London docks at Wapping in 1805, the east India docks at Blackwall in 1806, St Katherine’s docks to the east of the Tower in 1828, the Victoria docks in 1850, and the Millwall docks at the Isle of Dogs in 1868. The West India Company was granted for twenty years a monopoly of the West India trade, the London Dock Company of the trade in wine, brandy, tobacco, and rice, and the East India Company of the East India and China trade, but in no case were the privileges of the companies renewed. The various docks have at different times undergone improvement and extension to meet modern necessities, the latest addition being the Albert extension of the Victoria dock, opened in 1880, which affords an additional water space of 70 acres, and is unsurpassed in the completeness of its arrangements by any other docks in the world. The St Katherine’s, London, and Victoria and Albert docks are now held by one company, and the East and West India docks by another, who are adding to their accommodation by the construction of the Tilbury docks specially for ocean steamers. All the great merchandise docks are thus on the north side of the river,- the Commercial docks, which date from 1696, and were reconstructed in 1807, and the Surrey docks (1812), on the south side of the river, being used almost exclusively for timber and grain. The position of St Katherine’s docks renders it impossible to adapt them to modern requirements; and probably, on account of the increased use of large ocean steamers, all the older docks may soon be superseded as regards the bulk of the foreign trade. The water area of the docks on the north side of the ricer, which in 1861 was 272 acres, will soon be 465 acres. The Surrey and Commercial dock, which is very complicated in its construction, has a total area, including land and water, of 330 acres. The land and water area (in acres) of the several docks on the north side of the river at present completed or in process of construction is as follows (Table XIX.):-


The bonded warehouse system was sanctioned in the port of London in 1803, and the exclusive enjoyment for several years of this privilege gave it a great advantage over the other ports of the kingdom. The warehouses of the dock companies, each occupied with their special class of goods, embrace a large portion of the City area, but the rapidity with which goods now pass into consumption renders this kind of dock property at present very unprofitable, and it is probable that very soon many of the warehouses will be turned to other uses.

The Custom-House in Lower Thames Street was built by Laing, 1814-17, but on account of the subsidence of the central part the present Corinthian faced, 490 feet in length, designed by Smirke, was a afterwards added. In the building there is a museum containing various old documents and specimen of articles seized by the custom-house authorities.

Trinity House, Tower Hill, a plain building with an ornamental façade, erected in 1793 from the designs of Wyatt, is the seat of an association of mariners which received a charter from Henry VIII. in 1514, and gradually acquired the management of lighthouses and buoys not only on the Thames but on the whole English coast, besides the superintendence of naval arsenals and dockyards. Along with the corporation of the City it had the conservancy of the Thames, until those authorities were superseded by the Thames Conservancy Board. Its general rights and privileges have also been much curtailed since 1853, when it was put under the partial control of the Board of Trade, but it has still the sole charge of the erection and maintenance of lighthouses and buoys, the examination of pilots and if navigating lieutenants; and two of its elder brethren act as nautical advisers in the High Courts of Admiralty.

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