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The Story of the London Graving Dock



The London Graving Dock

The history of the London Graving Dock is long and varied. When the West India Docks were built, it was decided that shipbuilding and repair would not be allowed in the docks area. However a dry dock was built in Millwall Docks in the 1860s and it soon became clear that not having a dry dock was leaving the West India Docks  at a disadvantage. Eventually there was a change of mind and a small site was found just off Preston Road.
The West India Graving Dock as it was named was completed and opened in 1878, it was at the time one of the largest dry docks in the country.

west india dry dock 1878
West India Dry Dock 1878

 By 1890 the site was taken over by the London Graving Dock company who built new buildings and plant and in 1917 extended the site. Although the site suffered heavy bomb damage in the Second World War, it was repaired and the site extended again in 1951.
In 1977 the London Graving Dock Company was taken over by British Shipbuilders and made part of River Thames Ship Repairers, however the decline of wet docks was the death knell of the dry dock which closed in 1979.
The caisson was removed in 1985 which flooded the dry dock and a concrete bridge built over dock in 1988.
The area surrounding the dock was later used for building a number of apartments.

Recently I have come across the books of David Carpenter who worked at the London Graving Dock.

He very kindly sent me some information about the Graving Dock and some anecdotes of working in the area in the 1950s.

Many people may be surprised where the remains  of  the Graving dock  are actually located .



Just off Preston’s Road there looks like a small ornamental pond , a concrete bridge and then a small stretch of water that  then feeds into Blackwall Basin.


Graving Dock 1950s (Photograph  Dr Bob Carr)

The photographs sent by David show the scene in the 1950s and David explains the layout.

The one looking down the dry – dock from approx. where Lovegrove walk (as it is now called) is situated shows the end of the dry dock where the pump room was, at the bottom can be seen the tunnel which extends round Coldharbour to exit into the river beneath the ‘Guns’ terrace. The wooden skin floor of the dry – dock can be seen exposed just outside the tunnel. On the left of the picture can be seen part of the Graving Docks Blacksmith’s shop.




Graving Dock 1950s (Photograph  Dr Bob Carr)

The other photograph of the dry – dock shows the caisson (now gone). On the right behind the tall double doors was the Graving Docks plumbers shop. Beyond the Cassion is Blackwall Basin and beyond this is the entrance to British Railways Poplar Dock.

David Carpenter has published a humorous and informative account about the his time working in the London Graving Dock  in the book ‘Dockland Apprentice’.

In his later book, Below The Waterline follows the Author through his experiences from the end of his apprenticeship in 1961 with The London Graving Dock Co. on the Isle of Dogs to his time in the Merchant Navy as an engineer.

Both books are available here

David has kindly offered a 10% discount if you mention Isle of Dogs Life.

Over the next few weeks I will be posting some more of David’s memories of the Isle of Dogs in the 1950s.



  1. Diane Chiplin says:

    I am really interested to read this account of the London Graving Dock. My father worked there from the age of about 18 when he was the junior office boy and rose to become company secretary. He was the last person to work at the docks when it shut down. He is now 91and very frail. We were talking about his work over lunch today but his memory is now very hazy. At the time the London Graving Dock and Ayr Engineering were his life! He would be very interested in David’s book but he is now partially sighted and finds reading a challenge.

    • Hi Diane,

      Thanks for your comment, it is a fascinating part of the Island History. The Graving dock is still there which is pretty amazing considering the development.
      Your father sounds an amazing character working his way up from office boy to company secretary which was a very senior position in those days.
      David’s book is well worth reading but I understand your father may find it difficult. I am sure David probably knew your father, if you visit his website you will find his email address.
      Once again many thanks for getting in touch.

  2. George Rollinson says:

    I served my apprenticeship at the London Graving Dock 1971 to 75 but at their King George V works at Silvertown. I done a further ten months with them before going to sea as a Junior Engineer. Last Ship I worked on was the RFA Sir Lancelot in the Preston Road dry dock May 76. I cannot recall the Company Secretary’s name but I am sure it is on my indentures or other paperwork I have from my apprenticeship days. Part of my time was with Ayrodev (from Ayr Engineering) which was the electrical side of things.

    • Hi George,

      Thanks for the comment, the London Graving dock is a fascinating piece of Island History. I posted some excerpts of David Carpenter’s book about working there. Amazingly the graving dock is still there!

  3. tracey says:

    I have my grandfathers reference from when he work at the west india dock preston road poplar e14 he was a marine fitter on ship repairing work for admiralty and merchant vessels in 1943 I,d love to find out more and the pics are great

    • Hi Tracey,

      Thanks for the comment, Your Grandfather was involved in very important work because a large number of ships were refitted to enable the war effort to continue. There were later a number of projects preparing for D Day. It was also extremely dangerous working in the Dock area with the German bombing decimating the area. If you look through the site you will find a number of posts referring to the second world war, hopefully these will give you more of a picture of what was going on.

  4. Andrew Hopkins says:

    I worked at LGD from 1974 to 1980 in the print shop above the blacksmiths. In the summer, it was unbearably hot as our print shop was a converted container with one window cut in the side. It made it worse when the blacksmiths below had the furnaces on. It would be interesting to hear from anyone still around from the old days. I remember Rod in the wages office and quite a few of the others around the yard. Am still in touch with one of the Wade family who had several members of the family working there. I have a few black and white photos taken during this time too which always bring back a few memories.

  5. Anthony Waye says:

    I am writing a book about my long career in the British film industry, during my research I looked up on the internet on any history on LGD.
    In 1967 I worked on a film called ‘Attack on the Iron Coast’, a story loosely based on a famoud WWII attack on the dry dock in St Nazaire (during which 89 medals were awarded including 5 VC’s). During our 5 nights shoot we brought our ship into the London Graving Dock so we could shoot on and around the deck area at night, it was easier to control lighting and special effects explosions with a solid working area all round.

    • Hi Anthony,

      Thanks for the comment, I find it fascinating the amount of filming that has happened on the Isle of Dogs.
      I actually saw the Attack on the Iron Coast when it was released, I thought it was very good.
      I didn’t realise the Graving Dock was used for filming scenes for the film, so that is useful information.
      Once again many thanks for the comment and the best of luck with the book.

  6. Jeffrey Wood says:

    I was the last apprentice to ‘serve his time’ as a shipwright at the Graving Dock at their yard on the Limmo peninsula – the Orchard Dock. I’m now 87 (2017) and, I think, may be the last man alive to have worked at the Orchard.

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