Victorian London - Thames - Docks - Grand Surrey Docks

GRAND SURREY DOCKS, on the south bank of the Thames: new works, in 1858, cost upwards of 100,000l.

John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867

Surrey Commercial Dock (The) is situated on the peninsula between the Lower Pool and Limehouse Reach. It claims to be the oldest public dock in Great Britain, its Act being dated 1696, and referring in its preamble to the existence on the spot for many years previously of a dry dock "of considerable importance and benefit to shipping." In Queen Anne's time the Howland Dock, since known as the Greenland Dock, was not quite ten acres in extent; the Commercial Dock system, of which it was the nucleus, now covers 330 acres, land and water. In 1808 the Commercial Dock was, by special order of the Commissioners of Prizes, appointed to be the place for "the reception of prize ships and unlivery of their cargoes," and from that time to the final amalgamation in 1864 of the Commercial Dock and Grand Surrey Dock Companies, under the present title of the Surrey Commercial Docks, the history of the undertaking is one continuous progress, some very interesting details of which may be found in the valuable little "History of the Surrey Commercial Docks," printed for private circulation by the Secretary, Mr. J. Griffin, in 1877.
    The Surrey Commercial Docks are in direct railway communication with the London and Brighton system on the south side of the river, and, by means of a siding from the East London Railway, with all the railways north of the Thames, but this latter has not yet been utilised.
    The arrangement of the docks themselves is almost too intricate and irregular for effective description, without the aid of a map, but may roughly be said to consist of a long and narrow central dock, the "Russia," which is in effect a widened continuation of the Surrey Canal, about 3,500 feet in length, by from 150 to 300 in width, branching off right and left at the further extremity - known as the "Stave" Dock - into two ranges of docks and ponds of various sizes and shapes. There are four river entrances; the first, approaching from the river's mouth, being the South Lock, leading into the South Dock, the right hand or eastern range. Thence the Greenland, 209 feet long by 42 feet 6 inches wide, leads into the south side Greenland Dock, from the eastern end of which the Greenland Lock leads into Limehouse Reach. From the centre of the north side a passage leads into the Norway Dock, upon the opposite side of which another passage leads into the small end of the Lady Dock, with an exit through the middle of the farther end into a series of three ponds entitled the Acorn, Lavender, and Globe Ponds, all of impossibly irregular outline the Lavender Pond opening by means of the Lavender Lock, 320 feet long by 34 feet wide, into the river at the extreme end of the isthmus. This completes the eastern series, connected by a passage from the western end of the Lavender Pond with the Stave Dock. From the side of the Stave Dock the Island Dock, about 900 feet in length by 180 in width, and bending to the north-east at a right angle at about one-third of its length, leads through a passage into a triangular basin, communicating by the Surrey Lock, 256 feet long by 50 feet wide, with the Thames at the lower extremity of the Lower Pool. From the opposite corner of the basin to that at which it is entered from the Surrey Lock, and in a direct line with the entrance, a passage opens into the Albion Dock, from the top end of which a passage leads into the north-western extremity of the Canada Dock, 16 acres in extent, along the south-western side of which runs the station-yard in close contact with Deptford-road Station, whilst from the centre of the north-eastern side a passage opens into a second series of three ponds, named in this instance the Canada, Quebec, and Centre Ponds - the latter, by the way, the last and not the middle one of the series - with the acreage respectively of 8, 15, and 12 acres. From the east side of Centre Pond, the terminal of the west or left-hand series, a passage leads again into the great Russia Dock, which, as will be seen, is the centre of the entire web, from the southern extremity of which through a lock an feet long by 20 ft. 5in. wide, the goods sucked in through the various entrances finally pass out into the great exit channel of the Surrey Canal. Interspersed throughout this sophisticated system are a number of yards. West of the South and Greenland Docks lies the great Swedish Yard, communicating in the southern extremity with a smaller railway yard in connection with Deptford Branch Railway, whence the visitor passes across the Onega Yard to the Russia Yard, covering the whole space between the Russia Dock and the Acorn and Lavender Ponds and the Lady Dock on the east side of which is the Acorn Yard, the Lavender Yard lying due north of the Lavender and part of the Globe Ponds. The north-western extremity of the Russia Yard leads across the passage from the Lavender Pond into the Stave Yard, which extends as far as the Surrey Lock, and is fronted on the opposite side of the Stave and Island Docks by the Baltic Yard, which separates the latter from the northeastern extremity of the Albion Dock. Along the north-western side of this latter the Albion Yard leads into the northern end of the East London Station Yard, the space between the south-eastern side of the Albion Dock and the three ponds of the western series being takers up by the Centre Yard, and that between the ponds and the Canada Dock by the Canada Yard. Finally, the Canada, Quebec, and Centre Ponds are separated on the east from the Russia by the Upper and Lower Quebec Yards. The Brunswick and Commercial Yards enclosing a basin about 850 feet long by 100 feet wide, complete the system on the southern side of tire western series.
    The principal trade of the Surrey Commercial Docks is in timber, grain, and seed. 
    The best mode of approach to the Surrey Commercial Dock System is by the Deptford-road Station of the East London Railway from Liverpool-street.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881