Quite often I walk pass the plaque in the West India Docks that commemorates the laying of the foundation stone at the new docks in 1800.
Reading the plaque closely it seems to contain some rather odd turn of phrases.
Of this Range of BUILDINGS
Constructed together with the Adjacent DOCKS. At the Expence of public spirited Individuals
Under the Sanction of a provident Legislature.
And with the liberal Co-operation of the Corporate Body of the CITY of LONDON.
For the distinct Purpose
Of the complete SECURITY and ample ACCOMMODATION
(hitherto not afforded)
To the SHIPPING and PRODUCE of the WEST INDIES at this wealthy PORT.
THE FIRST STONE WAS LAID
On Saturday the Twelfth Day of July, A.D. 1800,
BY THE CONCURRING HANDS OF
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE LORD LOUGHBOROUGH.
LORD HIGH CHANCELLOR OF GREAT BRITAIN.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE WILLIAM PITT
FIRST LORD COMMISSIONER OF HIS MAJESTY’s TREASURY AND CHANCELLOR OF HIS MAJESTY’s EXCHEQUER.
GEORGE HIBBERT, ESQ. THE CHAIRMAN, AND ROBERT MILLIGAN, ESQ. THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
OF THE WEST INDIA DOCK COMPANY:
The two former conspicuous in the Band Of those illustrious Statesmen,
Who in either House of Parliament, have been zealous to promote,
The two latter distinguished among those chosen to direct
Which under the favour of GOD, shall contribute
STABILITY, INCREASE AND ORNAMENT
A newspaper report of the times gives more details of the opening ceremony.
The ceremony of laying the First Stone of the buildings of this magnificent undertaking was performed on Saturday the 12th of July, 1800, the anniversary of the day on which the act of parliament for carrying the same into effect received the royal assent. The company assembled at the London Tavern at one o’clock, and moved in the following procession to the Isle of Dogs:
The directors of the West India Dock Company; and, in the last of their carriages, the chairman and deputy chairman ; then the lord chancellor, earl Spencer, Lord Hawkesbury, the right honourable William Pitt, the right honourable Henry Dundas, the right honourable Dudley Ryder, the right honourable Thomas Steele, the right honourable Silvester Douglas, Sir Joseph Banks, bart. K. B. Sir Andrew Snape Hamond, bart. and a numerous train of members of parliament, including those of the select committee of the House of Commons for the improvement of the port of London. Soon after two o’clock the procession arrived at the works, where Lord Carrington and many other distinguished personages of both sexes had assembled to be present at the ceremony, which was conducted in the following manner:
The stone had been previously prepared to receive two glass bottles, one of which contained the several coins (gold, silver, and copper) of his present majesty’s reign and in the other, the following inscription, and translation thereof in Latin, were placed:
The bottles being deposited in the recesses made to receive them, and also a plate with the directors’ names engraved thereon ; Mr Tyrrel, the clerk and solicitor to the West India Dock Company, read the inscription, and the four noble and honourable personages named for that purpose raised the stone (by means, of four rings fixed thereto), and laid it in the proper situation. The spectators then gave three times three hearty cheers, and declared their best wishes for the success of the undertaking.
Robert Milligan was the man considered largely responsible for the construction of the West India Docks. He was a wealthy West Indies merchant and shipowner, when he returned to London from Jamaica he was upset at the losses due to theft and delays due to theft and delays along London’s riverside wharves.
Milligan with a group of powerful and influential businessmen including George Hibbert, proposed the creation of a wet dock circled by a high wall for added security. The businessmen lobbied Parliament to allow the creation of a West India Dock Company. The Docks were authorised by the West India Dock Act 1799 – the first parliamentary Act for dock building.
The plaques reference to ‘ For the distinct Purpose – Of the complete SECURITY and ample ACCOMMODATION (hitherto not afforded)’ clearly states the intention that the Docks would be very secure.
W Daniell 1802 The new Docks and the City Canal on the left.
The creation of the Docks in the next couple of years culminated in what was considered one of the most magnificent docks in the world. The size of the complex amazed visitors to the site.
The first ship into the dock in 1802 was the newly built Henry Addington and newspaper reporters were there to record its grand entrance.
The grand and magnificent work was on the 27th of August last opened for the reception of vessels; when the Henry Addington, one of the finest ships in the West-India trade, was conducted through the locks into the grand dock, amidst the shouts of the multitude, and the discharge of cannon. Nothing could surpass the beauty of the scene; the ship was dressed out from stem to stern in the colours of all the maritime Nations, and the whole passed in review before the Directors of the Plan, and the first and most distinguished characters in the country. The accommodation these Docks must afford our Commerce is an object of universal admiration, inasmuch as they promise to become of the first national importance.
Unfortunately the commercial success of the docks was tainted by the West India Docks company’s association with the slave trade. Up to the abolition of slavery in 1807, both Milligan and Hibbert had been heavily involved in the trade as were many of the merchants involved in the company.
The Docks themselves were in use for 178 years until they closed in 1980, in that time thousands of ships came in and out of the dock picking up and discharging cargo and the complex provided work for thousands of workers. Now few of office workers and visitors who sit at the bars and restaurants in West India Quay would realise that there are historical reminders of the dock all around them.
So much fascinating history.