|1868 map of Rotherhithe Docks. |
Click to enlarge.
Although this is a strictly prosaic account of how the docks evolved, they were not merely centres of commerial activity. Whole lives were lived out at the docks, and visitors were impressed with the bustle, the wide open spaces and even the wildlife. A.G. Linney's 1929 book Peepshow of the Port of London has a lovely description: "It may seem strange, nigh incredible, to associate sentiment with Rotherhithe and that enormous tongue of land washed by the waters of the Pool and Limehouse Reach which contains the linked docks and timber ponds and timber yards covered by the embracing name, Surrey Commercial Docks. yet the region has a spaciousness and an atmosphere such as no other London dock are can equal. West India and East India Docks have a historical association quite their own, but neither has the amplitude of 'Surrey.' "
It is probably easiest to follow the story using the 1868 and 1914 Ordnance Survey maps of Rotherhithe, one of which is shown at each end of the post, and you may want to open them (by right clicking) in a new tab or window so that you can refer back to them very easily. If you are using Firefox, bringing the map open in a new tab will give you a much bigger image than simply left-clicking it, and will also allow you to magnify the sections in which you are interested. Other browsers may offer the same sort of functionality.
There is a list at the end of this post of earlier posts that have looked into some of the docks in much greater detail. Other docks and ponds will be covered in more detail in future posts.
The docks were not built to a single plan, which accounts for the maze-like arrangement of docks and internal locks and channels. Five different companies were responsible for the way in which the Surrey Commercial Docks appeared before they were brought under the wing of the Port of London Authority in 1909. Where they are mentioned for the first time, companies are highlighted in lilac, and docks and ponds are highlighted in black. All images can be clicked to see a bigger version.
|Howland Great Wet Dock|
|Rotherhithe in 1806, before |
development began in 1807.
Click to enlarge.
|Norway Dock looking over the bridge at|
Acorn Pond, both handling timber. (1870)
As the Commercial Dock Company developed a line of enclosed spaces along the eastern edge of Rotherhithe, the Grand Surrey Canal Company realized that the Rotherhithe section of its canal could be usefully developed to compensate for the financial failure of the canal enterprise, which never lived up to the promises of its original promoters. In 1811 they received parliamentary permission to expand the the channel of the canal that led from the island Grand Surrey Outer Dock, which was expanded to either side, with the widened area becoming a dock in its own right, with the canal flowing down the middle. It was named the Grand Surrey Inner Dock. On the 1868, 1894 and 1914 Ordnance Survey maps, after they had all been further extended, they were shown as Stave Dock, (the northernmost of the island basins) Island Dock (the southern part of the basin gyratory) and Russia Dock (the expanded section of the canal) respectively.
|1820 map showing the East Country Dock,|
bottom right, with Greenland Dock to its
north, feeding into Norway Dock and the
timber ponds beyond. Parallel to it is the
Grand Surrey Canal Company's canal-
based network in its early stages,
The East Country Dock was bought by the Commercial Dock Company in 1850, which connected it into the Greenland Dock system via a cut between the East Country and Greenland Dock. The East Country Dock was considerably extended and became a much more useful asset. The rebuild was completed in 1855. It was renamed South Dock.
In 1855 the Grand Surrey Canal Company changed its name to more accurately reflect its remit and became the Grand Surrey Docks and Canal Company and set about modernizing in order to accommodate the larger and deeper vessels that were being built. One of the biggest Rotherhithe landowners was Lord of the Rotherhithe Manor, Sir William Maynard Gomm and he both sold land to the dock developers and gave land to the Church to extend their activities in matters both religious and educational. He sold land to the Grand Surrey Docks and Canal Company that enabled them to seriously extend their operations. An extended lock was built upriver and the old one was eventually filled in, certainly by 1888. The new lock, the Surrey Lock, opened into a new basin, the Surrey Basin (renamed Surrey Water by developers of the 1980s). The basin was filled in when the docks were closed but re-excavated by the London Docklands Development Corporation and is now one of Rotherhithe's attractive water features.
|Map showing the brand new|
|Commercial Dock Company|
|Surrey Dock at Surrey Basin at the time of|
the addition of hydraulic lock gates in the 1870s
At some time between 1862 and 1868 the long thin Commercial Dock was established, a little way beyond the end of Greenland Dock, and was connected to Russia Dock. I have been unable to find out exactly when when it was established, or why, but a map of 1862 shows nothing where the dock was located, but it is clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey map of 1868.
|Canada Dock under construction 1875-6|
If you compare the 1868 map at the beginning of the post and the 1914 one at the end, you can see how the ponds were re-arranged to enable the construction of Canada Dock. The following will be much easier to follow if you can look at the relevant pieces of both the 1868 and 1914 maps. Canada Dock replaced the western thirds of Albion and Canada Ponds. The middle third became a wide set of yards. Final third, to the east, became a single pond, amalgamating what remained of Canada and Albion Ponds to become Canada Pond. The new Canada Dock and Canada Pond were connected to each other and to Quebec Pond, which remained in its original location without changes to its size or shape. This, in turn, was still connected to Centre Pond to its north. Canada Dock covered part of them and the rest of the area formerly occupied by the ponds was converted to use as yards
|Surrey Commercial Dock Company personnel on|
the Company's steam tug Canada, shortly before
it was incorporated into the PLA.
- The Howland Great Wet Dock (1699 to 1763)
- Greenland Dock (1763 to 1836)
- East Country Dock / South Dock (1811-2014)
- The route of the Grand Surrey Canal through Rotherhithe as it survives in today's landscape
|Rotherhithe in 1914|