ON the north bank of the Thames, and at the eastern extremity of the West
India Docks, is said to have been originally called Bleakwall, from its exposed
situation on the artificial bank or wall of the river, through the
winding of which it is nearly eight miles from the City, though less than half
that distance by land. Here, on the Brunswick Wharf or Pier, is the handsome
Italianized terminus (by Tite) of the Blackwall Railway from Fenchurch-street,
4˝ miles in length.
To the large taverns at Blackwall and Greenwich gourmets flock to eat whitebait, a delicious little fish caught in the Reach, and directly netted out of the river into the frying pan. They appear about the end of March or early in April, and are taken every flood-tide until September. Whitebait are caught by a net in a wooden frame, the hose having a very small mesh. The boat is moored in the tideway, and the net fixed to its side, when the tail of the hose, swimming loose, is from time to time handed in to the boat, the end untied, and its contents shaken out. Whitebait were thought to be the young of the shad, and were named from their being used as bait in fishing for whitings. By aid of comparative anatomy, Mr. Yarrell, however, proved whitebait to be a distinct species, Clupea alba.
Pennant describes whitebait as esteemed by the lower order of epicures. If this account be correct, there must have been a strange change in the grade of the epicures frequenting Greenwich and Blackwall since Pennant's days; for at present the fashion of eating whitebait is sanctioned by the highest authorities, from the Court of St. James's in the West to the Lord Mayor and his court in the East; besides the phihosophers of the Royal Society; and her Majesty's Cabinet Ministers, who wind up the Parliamentary session with their "annual fish dinner," ...
An important thing to be noticed is the vast extent of iron shipbuilding carried on here, an art of construction but of thirty years' growth. A great portion of Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs is occupied in this building trade, with its clanking boiler-works, and its Cyclopean foundries and engineering shops, in which steam is the primum mobile.
In the East India Docks, at Blackwall, arrived, April, 1818, a large Chinese Junk, the first ever seen in England.
John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867
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Blackwall — Here are the East India-docks, where the principal sailing ships trading from the port of London load and discharge. The visitor may in these docks inspect long tiers of China tea-clippers—now almost run off the line by fast steamers—and the fine passenger ships trading to the Australasian ports. Adjoining the docks is the spacious ship-building yard of Messrs. Green, and farther down the river is the Trinity House head-quarters, beyond which again are the Victoria-docks. The Brunswick Hotel, once famous for fish-dinners, has recently been transformed into an emigration office. There is a railway-station on the steamboat-pier. Fares from Fenchurch-street (17 min.), 1st, -/6, ./10; 2nd -/4, -/6; trains running each way every 15 minutes. Steamers from Westminster, Charing-cross, Temple, and London-bridge every half-hour. Fares: aft, -/6; forward, -/4. Omnibus from Bank of England.
Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879