Regency (H)Not Spots: London Docklands

In honor of the recent read No Place for a Lady, I thought it was high time I add a little bit of the seedier side of Regency London for your pleasure.

The Docklands was the name eventually (circa 1970s) given to the stretch of docks along the East and South East of London and the River Thames.  Commercial expansion in the Georgian era gave us the following docks: West India (opened 1802), followed by the London (1805), the East India (also 1805), the Surrey (1807), St Katharine (1828) and the West India South (1829).

Most dock sections had specialities: textiles, rubber, grain, etc.  Within each dock section you had a division based on the type of dock: wet docks where ships could drop anchor and unload; dry docks for smaller ships in need of repair; and dockyards for ship building.  On land, warehouses, moors, piers and jetties organized systems of efficiency for the rapidly expanding British Empire export and import.

Naturally, the docks were teeming with workers–lightermen (for carrying cargo between ships and “lighter” barges for distribution), crewmen, shipbuilders, and a whole other crew of “dockers” or day laborers who met at pubs in the early morning ready for casual work (“You can imagine for a moment from 1,500 to 2,000 men crowded together, the front men forced up against the chain: the back men are climbing over the heads of those in front, and the contractor behind the chain is picking out the men, generally his own favourites.   The Times, 29 August 1889.)

This also spanned a subsidiary workforce of laundresses, pubs, marine stores, lodging houses, brothels, dolly-shops (unlicensed pawnbrokers), and instrument makers.

The dock lands were marshy, and consisted for the most part of wharves connected to basins that could be locked from the river and help control the level of water.

For more information visit this wonderful site: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/English/Learning/Learningonline/Trade_1750_1900.htm

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