Victorian London - Thames - Docks - West India

The West India Docks.- These are formed of two grand divisions; the northern one, for unloading the ships arrived from the West Indies, covering thirty acres, and capable of accommodating three hundred West Indiamen ; and the southern, for loading outward-bound ships, covering twenty-four acres, and capable of holding upwards of two hundred West Indiamen. The former was begun February 3. 1800, and opened August 27. 1802, being only two years and a half; it is surrounded by an extensive range of warehouses, in which the goods are deposited until the duty Is paid. The dock of twenty-four acres was opened in 1805. These docks are situated on the northern side of the Isle of Dogs, which is formed by a circuitous course the river takes, leaving this almost a peninsula so that the docks communicate with the river at both extremities of the island, - at Blackwall and at Limehouse. The Canal to the south of the West India Docks was cut in order that ships might avoid the circuitous navigation of the Isle of Dogs; but not being much used, the City sold it to the West India Dock Company in 1829.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844 

WEST INDIA DOCKS, the most magnificent in the world, (William Jessop, engineer), cover 295 acres, and lie between Limehouse and Blackwall, on the left bank of the Thames. The first stone was laid by William Pitt, July 12th, 1800, and the docks opened for business Aug. 21st, 1802. The northern, or Import Dock, is 170 yards long by 166 wide, and will hold 204 vessels of 300 tons each ; and the southern, or Export Dock, is 170 yards long by 135 yards wide, and will hold 195 vessels. South of the Export Dock is a canal nearly threequarters of a mile long, cutting off the great bend of the river, connecting Limehouse Reach with Blackwall Reach, and forming the northern boundary of the Isle of Dogs. The two docks, with their warehouses, are enclosed by a lofty wall five feet in thickness, and have held at one time 148,563 casks of sugar, 70,875 barrels and 433,648 bags of coffee, 35,158 pipes of rum and Madeira, 14,021 logs of mahogany, and 21,350 tons of logwood. Though they retain their old name, they belong to the East and West India Dock Company, and are used by every kind of shipping. The office of the Company is at No. 8, Billiter-square; and the best way of reaching the docks is by the Blackwall Railway. The original capital of the Company was 500,000l., afterwards raised to 1,200,000l. The revenues in 1809 amounted to 330,623l., and in 1813, when they reached their climax, to 449,421l. Since that time the depreciation of the West India Trade has caused a great falling off. The annual expenses of the establishment amounted in 1819 to 151,644l., of which above 50,000l. went to workmen, above 40,000l. to building and improvements, and 13,320l. to taxes.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

see Henry Mayhew's Letter IV in Morning Chronicle - click here

    WEST INDIA DOCKS, the, lie between Limehouse and Blackwall, and their long lines of warehouses, and lofty wall, 5 feet thick, are well seen from the Blackwall Railway. These Docks were designed by Ralph Walker, C.E., as "the Merchants' Place," in 1799, and were commenced 1800, when the Rt. Hon. William Pitt laid the first stone; they were opened 1802. Their extent is (including the canal, made to avoid the bend of the river at the Isle of Dogs) 295 acres; this canal is nearly three-quarters of a mile long, with lock-gates, 45 feet wide, and is used as a dock for timber-ships. The northern or Import Dock will hold 250 vessels of 300 tons each: when originally opened, it took ten hours to fill, 24 feet deep, though the water was admitted at 800 gallons per second. The southern or Export Dock will hold 195 vessels. Here the ship is seen to the greatest advantage, fresh-painted, standing-rigging up, colour-flying, &c.; whereas in the Import Dock, the vessels, though more picturesque, have their rigging down and loose, the sides whitened by the sea, and contrasting with outward-bound vessels. The warehouses will contain 180,000 tons of merchandize; and there have been at one time, on the quays and in the sheds, vaults, and warehouses, colonial produce worth 20,000,000l. sterling; comprising 148,563 casks of sugar, 70,875 barrels and 433,648 bags of coffee, 35,158 pipes of rum and Madeira, 14,000 logs of mahogany, and 21,000 tons of logwood, &c. In the wood-sheds are enormous quantities of mahogany, ebony, rosewood, &c., logs of which, four or five tons weight, are lifted with locomotive cranes, by four or five men. For twenty years from their construction, these Docks were compulsorily frequented by all West India ships trading to the Port of London, when the maximum revenues amounted to 449,421l., in 1813; since the expiry of this privilege, and the depreciation of the West India trade, the revenues have much declined. The Docks are now used by every kind of shipping, and belong to the East and West India Dock Company.

John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The West India Import Dock

West India Dock - photograph


The West India Docks, a hundred and sixty-four acres in extent, consist of two parallel docks running east and west, from Limehouse to Blackwall. Over the chief, or western, entrance are inscribed the words: The West India Import Dock, begun 12th July, 1800; opened for business 1st September, 1802. The opening ceremony was performed by William Pitt and this was the first wet dock built on the north side of the Thames. The Import Dock, the more northerly of the two, has on the north side eleven huge warehouses, capable of accommodating nearly a hundred thousand tons of goods here are stored sugar, coffee, flour, cocoa, spices, etc. The other West India Dock is known as the Export Dock.