London’s docks, like those in every other major port in Europe, changed utterly from the 1960s. Warehouses, transit sheds and wet docks were abandoned as more and more goods were carried in containers, and huge bulk carriers came into use for transporting grain, coal and metallic ores. The location of the Museum of London Dockland illustrates a previous period of change. Most traffic in the Port of London in the eighteenth century was handled at riverside wharfs which by the 1790s were severely overcrowded. Various options for increasing capacity were proposed, but the solution was found by cutting a canal across the isthmus of the Isle of Dogs, downstream from the Tower of London, with two wet docks alongside, lined with warehouses, and surrounded by high walls that were intended to prevent pilfering. This complex was designed by William Jessop (1745-1814), opened in 1802, and became known the West India Docks. By 1914 London’s system of enclosed wet docks extended 12 km along the north bank of the River Thames from the Tower of London to the King George V Dock, with the Surrey Commercial Docks on the south bank.
The Museum occupies a four-storey warehouse and provides detailed interpretations of the various periods of the history of the Port of London, the main themes being ‘The City and the River’, ‘Sugar and Slavery’, the First Port of Empire’ (1840-80), ‘Warehouse of the World’ (1880-1939) – when London ware the world’s busiest port, ‘Docklands at War’ and ‘New Port: New City’ which is concerned with the transformation of Docklands since 1945. A reconstructed street recalls the atmosphere of Sailor Town, and children can enjoy a special section called ‘Mudlarks’. The Docklands Museum is part of the Museum of London Group.