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‘Docklands at War’ Photographs from the Museum of London Docklands

The Docklands ablaze during the Blitz on 7th September 1940. The rising palls of smoke mark out the London Docks beyond the Tower of London, the Surrey Docks to the right of the bridge and the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in the distance. This image can be found on page 36 of the book London’s Changing Riverscape. © PLA Collection / Museum of London

To commemorate VE Day on Friday 8 May, the Museum of London Docklands has released a number of images from its ‘Docklands at War’ gallery with additional exclusive content from the collection rarely on display.

Many of the photographs illustrate that the London docks and the riverside factories in the East End of London bore the brunt of enemy attack and were targeted by enemy aircraft, with over 25,000 German bombs falling on the Docklands over the course of the war.

Bomb damage to London Dock. Shed, formerly Guiness’s on west side of eastern dock, looking north from the southend. Date of air raid: 8/12/1940 Date: 19/12/1940 Photography: John H Avery & Co  © PLA Collection / Museum of London

The Nazi’s believed by destroying the docks, they could severely hamper local and national economy and weaken British war production.

By the end of World War II, the damage to the East End left much of the area in ruins. Tens of thousands of homes were uninhabitable, businesses were destroyed, and a third of the Port of London’s docks were decimated with West India Docks and St Katherine Docks suffering most of the damage.

St. Katharine Dock air raid damage. F warehouse including S end of ‘E’. From Marble Quay looking south east. 7th Sept 1940. “St Katharine Dock after air raid, September 1940. The damage occurred on Saturday 7 September 1940, the first attack on Docklands. The photographs were taken later as a technical record.” Photography: John H. Avery & Co © PLA Collection / Museum of London

The Prime Minister visits some of the thousands of British workers at East India Dock, 1944, engaged upon the construction of sections of the prefabricated ports. Two prefabricated ports, each as big as Gibralter, were manufactured in Britain in sections, towed across the channel, and set down off the coast of Normandy. The use of the prefabricated port greatly simplified the problem of supplying the Allied Armies in France. The dock was pumped dry to allow for the building of concrete ‘harbours’ that would be towed to France for ‘D Day’. © PLA Collection / Museum of London

Tanks arriving in the London Docks prior to embarkation for the D Day beaches, 1944 © PLA Collection / Museum of London

The crucial role of the dockers to the war effort brought some improvement in their working conditions, including the introduction of mobile canteens. Here the staff of the Port of London’s Mobile Canteen No 32 dispense tea to queuing dockers in 1942. © PLA Collection / Museum of London

West India Dock WWII concrete air raid shelter showing precast units being placed in position by crane. South of East Wood Wharf office. Date: 21/07/1939 © PLA Collection / Museum of London

Bomb damage to London Dock. Milk Yard Boundary Wall. South side of Shadwell Old Basin, looking east. Date of air raid 8-9/12/1940 Date: 19/12/1940 Photography: John H Avery & Co © PLA Collection / Museum of London

Bomb damage to London Dock. West End of Denmark Shed showing bulged quaywall of South Side of Western Dock. Date: 19/12/1940 Photography: John H Avery & Co © PLA Collection / Museum of London

River Emergency Services’ volunteers carrying bandages, and blankets and taking a break from their civil defence duties to pose for this photograph. © PLA Collection / Museum of London

The photographs are a reminder that in a crisis, normality goes out of the window and people come together to fulfil jobs that they not normally do. Although the present crisis is not the same as the horrors of the Second World War, there are similarities and we probably can now understand better the human costs of any kind of crisis.

If you are interested in Docklands at War, you will find plenty of information and photographs at the Museum of London Docklands and their online collections.

Online Maritime Records at Lloyd’s Register

Photo – Lloyd’s Register Foundation

In these strange times, I have found there is plenty of time for research, therefore I was delighted to find out about a new resource to investigate from Debbie Levett, Secretary for Friends of Island History Trust.

Debbie informed me about the Heritage & Education Centre of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and their digital online records. I had visited the centre some years ago and was fascinated by the information in their records. However the access to the physical records was not straightforward and I thought it was more useful to search for information in other ways.

Fortunately many of those records have now been catalogued and digitised, and are searchable online for free and available for public use.

Photo – Lloyd’s Register Foundation

When I visited their office, I was fascinated by the history of Lloyd’s Register which was the first maritime classification society, the Register began in 1760 and has inspected and surveyed vessels on the basis of the quality and condition of their workmanship and materials. These vessels were given a classification and entered within our annually published Register of Ships as a record of safe ships, and later, a record of all vessels over 100 tons regardless of whether they had been surveyed.

Photo – Lloyd’s Register Foundation

The society operated at ports and offices all around the United Kingdom and Ireland, and eventually, across the globe. The society eventually accumulated a large collection of material (1.25 million documents), that are being digitised and catalogued, consisting of survey reports, correspondence, photographs, ship plans and certificates, dating back to 1834. Around 200,000 of these are now online with more scheduled at a rate of around 30,000 a month.

Photo – Lloyd’s Register Foundation

From a local point, it is worth mentioning that Lloyd’s Register has long had a presence in and around the Isle of Dogs and a number of the records deal with the main shipbuilding areas of Limehouse, Blackwall and Millwall.

Photo – Lloyd’s Register Foundation

I will be exploring the site over the next few weeks and hopefully will bring some of the stories related to ships built on the Isle of Dogs.

The portal to the online catalogue can be found here


West India Dock Visitors Review 2019

It is that time of the year when people begin to review the past 12 months, carrying on the tradition from previous years, we are listing the ships that have visited West India Docks in the last year. No doubt we may have missed one or two ships but we have certainly had quite a number of fascinating visitors.

The development surrounding West India Dock and Canary Wharf seems to have had a considerable effect on the numbers visiting the dock. It has been generally a very quiet year for visitors in the dock compared with previous years.

Some old Tall Ships favourites returned with Tenacious, other tall ships included Marienborgh, ARA Libertad, Gulden Leeuw and Cuauhtémoc.

Superyachts included Reef Chief, Kismet, Bellami.com, Ocean Dreamwalker III and Bristolian.

Royal Navy ships included HMS Westminster and HMS Enterprise.

Dutch training ships Sittard and Rigel were unusual visitors.

Marine exploration was a bit of a theme this year with the arrival of DSSV Pressure Drop, Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior III and MV Esperanza.

The Marienborgh yacht seems to be permanently in the dock and Tenacious has been berthed for several weeks. The Massey Shaw, The Portwey and the Lord Amory which are permanently moored in the dock provide year round interest.

With all the development, it is unlikely that in the foreseeable future that numbers visiting will pick up quickly but we will keeping our eye on the many different ships that circle around the Isle of Dogs.

This year we spotted on the Thames, Dutch Tall Ship Stad Amsterdam, Polish Tall Ship Dar Mlodziezy, cruise liners Silver Spirit and Le Champlain.

May we wish all our readers a Happy New Year and we look forward to welcoming new visitors to the dock in the New Year.

Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior III in West India Dock

On a cold grey day, we welcome the arrival of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior III into West India Dock. Rainbow Warrior III is a purpose-built motor-assisted sailing yacht owned and operated by Greenpeace and is used for environmental protests and scientific excursions.

The vessel is the first Rainbow Warrior that is not converted from another vessel. Her hull was constructed in Poland and she was built in Germany and launched in 2011, to provide state-of-the-art facilities including advanced telecommunication equipment, specialised scientific equipment and a helicopter landing pad. The ship was designed to be one of the “greenest” ships afloat using primarily wind power, with a 55 m mast system which carries 1255 sq meters of sail and incorporates green marine technology.

Rainbow Warrior III was custom built for Greenpeace International at a cost of $32m (€23m) with funds raised from about three million sponsors. The ship has the capacity to carry and launch inflatable boats in tough weather conditions.

Rainbow Warrior III is the third Rainbow Warrior Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior I was a converted trawler which was sunk by the French intelligence service while in harbour in New Zealand in the 1985, Rainbow Warrior II completed two decades of campaigning across the world before it was found unfeasible to upgrade to modern specifications.

Rainbow Warrior III was designed by naval architects Gerard Dijkstra & Partners in Amsterdam with superstructure made of aluminium while the hull is made from steel. The ship’s mast has A-frame masts for semi-automatic sails.

Rainbow Warrior III is not the only Greenpeace ship to visit West India Dock in recent years, MV Arctic Sunrise visited in 2013 and MV Esperanza in 2019

Remembering the Port of London Authority Police Force

Copyright: Museum of London- PLA collection

Looking at the now famous photograph of policeman jumping into West India Dock was a reminder to write a piece about the little known Port of London Police who mostly disappeared when the London docks closed down.

Security was always an important aspect of the docks since the West India Docks opened in the early 19th century, however in the early days they did not have one police force for all the docks but rather the docks security had previously been run by five separate private companies London and St Katharines, Surrey Commercial, India and Millwall, the Royals (the Royal Albert Dock, the Royal Victoria Dock and the King George V Dock) and Tilbury, each with its own private police force.

All that changed in 1908, when the newly formed Port of London Authority (PLA) created the Port of London Authority Police Force. This police force were very specialised as a newspaper report of 1949 explains.

Port of London Police Are Specialists 1949

The sea routes from the world’s chief markets converge upon the Port of London, that gieat centre of commerce which stretches 26 miles from Tilbury to Tower Bridge and beyond. The ships of all nations, loaded with the produce of every land, nose their way through the swirling grey waters of the Thames and find their berths in one of the five groups of docks to the accompaniment of a melancholy symphony of sirens.

If you had business with one of these ships, wherever you entered the docks you would find at the gate at least” one policeman silhouetted against a background of rumbling derricks, mammoth warehouses, speeding lorries, hissing railway engines and moored vessels of every type and size.

As you approached you might well consider him to be just another London policeman going about his duty, scrutinising the passes of every vehicle leaving the docks, checking the load with an expert glance, and at the same time keeping a vigilant eye on the heterogeneous throng of stevedores, labourers, drivers, seamen,officials,lightermen, engineers, members of the forces and others who pass in an endless stream,in and out of the Port of London docks. But this constable, whose primary concern while on duty at the gate is the protection of property, is not a member of London’s Metropolitan Police Force, although his uniform is similar. He wears the badge of the Port of London Authority’s own police force.

It is one of the most efficient police forces in the world. During 1947 goods of all descriptions valued at hundreds of millions pounds passed through the port, yet there were only 1,011 cases of larceny reported to the police involving’ goods to the value of £18,129 of which £10,084 or 55.6 percent was recovered.The Port of London police made 820 arrests, charged 681 persons and 626 of these were convicted.Yet nowhere else in the world can one see so much valuable property in so small an area, apparently so easily accessible, and an easy prey for the thief.

It was in 1908 that the Port of London Authority, was created by an Act of Parliament to administer the Docks of the Port of London. It is a public trust, whichtook over the powers and undertakings of the old dock companies and whose business it is to administer the port for the good of the public. The P.L.A. took over, along with the rest of the dock companies’ personnel, the three separate police forces in being, and set about welding them into one force, reorganised on the lines of the metropolitan police.

To-day the P.L.A. Police Force has a, strength of 593, under the control of the Chief Police Officer W. H. Simmons, M.B.E. Their power extends over the 3,521 acres of land, 720 acres of water and 44 miles of quays of the Port of London. The port of London (Consolidation) Act of 1920 gave the police power to stop, search and detain persons reasonably suspected of being in possession of property stolen or unlawfully obtained, and this power is extended to include premises, vehicles or boats within a radius of one mile of the Port of London. It operates five divisions within the Port: London and St. Katharine Docks; East and West India, and Millwall Docks; Royal Victoria and Albert and King George V Docks; Surrey Commercial Docks; and Tilbury Docks. Each division is in charge of a divisional inspector.There is a police station and motor ambulance service at each control. Each group of docks is surrounded by a wall or fence and there are no fewer than 89 entrance gates, 17 water entrances and 38 beats. All gates are manned by police and the interior is covered day and night the beat patrols; the total length of the beats being 166 miles.

All goods leaving the docks must be covered by a pass, signed by an authorised person, showing the number and description of the articles. An important duty ofthe constables at the gates is to collect the passes and ensure that the quantities taken out tally and that the signature is correct. This is specialised work for the pass system is an intricate one, and many different types of passes are used, varying from P.L.A.,Baggage Clearance, Demand and Grain Sample, to Ship’s Officers and Private Companies which have manufacturing plant inside the dock area.

The work of the constables at the gates is augmented by those on the beat, and although one may spend hours in the docks and seldom see a policeman, their regular patrols of the quays and warehouses where cargoes are being handled act as a great deterrent to pilferage.The greatest deterrent, however is the P.L.A. Police Mobile Squad: Once a policeman has passed any given point on his beat it is unlikely that he will reappear for some time; but no-one knows when and where the Mobile Squad will appear next. They will swoop on one dock, make a thorough search of vehicles, craft and personnel, and’ perhaps thirty minutes later be at another dock miles away.

The Port of London Police regard their primary function as the protection of property, the property of the world which passes through the London Docks. Only when they fail in this, and then failures are microscopic as statistics show, it is their duty to detained and bring the criminal to justice.

Although the PLA police were restricted to the docks, the work did present some unique dangers and there were fatalities due to accidents and assault. A list of which is shown below:

Port of London Authority Police Fatalities

PC Alfred William V. Daws
Died 10 November 1913, aged 21
Found drowned in the docks where he was on patrol on a foggy night.

PC John Thomas Severn
Died 24 December 1914, aged 27
Drowned when they fell into the dock while on patrol in a dense fog.

PC William Ware
Died 24 December 1914, aged 28
Drowned when they fell into the dock while on patrol in a dense fog.

Insp John Joseph Jeffers
Died 22 August 1915, aged 60
Found drowned in the Millwall Dock while on patrol in the early hours.

SC Truman Ellis
Died 15 May 1917, aged 52
Accidentally killed on patrol when part of a ship’s cargo fell on him.

PC John Reilly
Died 15 April 1918, aged 59
Whilst on patrol in the early hours he fell into the dock and drowned.

PC Frederick Cheese
Died 9 October 1921, aged 31
Drowned when he accidentally fell in the dock while on patrol at night.

PC Frederick Edward P. Miller
Died 21 April 1923, aged 23
Fatally injured in a fall guarding the scene of a warehouse fire.

Insp George Henry Ponsford
Died 21 February 1924, aged 50
Fatally injured on patrol at Tilbury Docks by a fall into a dry dock.

Insp James Frederick Berry
Died 4 September 1929, aged 53
Found drowned on duty in a dock with no evidence as to the cause.

Sgt Henry Frederick Wren
Died 15 January 1930, aged 49
Whilst on patrol he was knocked down and run over by a train.

PC Robert Charles Winney
Died 18 September 1940, aged 45
Sgt Charles Edward Showell
Died 19 September 1940, aged 40
Fatally injured by an unexploded bomb while investigating bomb damage.
Posthumous King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct in Civil Defence to both.

PC Reginald Ernest Smith
Died 1 December 1949, aged 53
Fatally wounded when accidentally shot by an armed security officer.

PC Frederick Stanley Giddings
Died 16 October 1951, aged
Drowned while on bicycle patrol when he rode into the dock in a fog.

When the docks closed the PLA Police were downsized and limited to the Port of Tilbury and renamed the Port of Tilbury Police.

ARA Libertad Tall Ship in West India Dock

Another interesting visitor for West India Dock is the ARA Libertad tall ship which is a training ship for the Argentine Navy. Ara Libertad is one of the largest and fastest tall ships in the world and holds a series of speed records.

The tall ship was designed and built in the 1950s by the Río Santiago Shipyard in Argentina and made her maiden voyage in 1961. Since then she has been a training ship and a travelling goodwill ambassador for Argentina. The ship is estimated to have covered more than 800,000 nautical miles (1,500,000 km), visited about 500 ports in more than 60 countries and trained over 11,000 navy personel.

The ship has a total length (including bowsprit) of 103.75 m (340.4 ft); a beam of 14.31 m (46.9 ft) and is world’s sixth longest tall ship and the third heaviest. The crew usually numbers around 350, including 24 officers, 187 crewmen and 150 naval cadets. Unusually the ship has four fully functional cannons which are used for salutes.

It is the first time that the Libertad has visited London for 17 years and marks the half-way point on the 48th midshipman training voyage.

The Frigate departed from Buenos Aires on 17th of August and will navigate over 23 thousand miles in 2019, visiting 15 ports in 10 countries, including: Salvador de Bahía (Brazil); Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Cadiz (Spain); Lisbon (Portugal); Brest (France); Antwerp (Belgium); London (United Kingdom); Dublin (Ireland); Boston and Miami (U.S.A); Bridgetown (Barbados); Recife and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Montevideo (Uruguay).

The ship is due to be open for visitors for free tours on Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th of October before the ship departs on the 29th October.

Super Yacht Kismet in West India Dock

The nights may be drawing in and there is a slight chill in the air but we are still having a few interesting visitors in West India Dock. Today saw the arrival of the Super Yacht Kismet.


Kismet is a large superyacht and has visited the dock a couple of times before in 2014 and 2016. It often comes to London when its owner Pakistani-American billionaire businessman Shahid Khan wants to entertain guests attending NFL matches in London. His NFL team Jacksonville Jaguars play Houston at Wembley Stadium on the 3rd Nov 2019.

Last time the yacht arrived it was tucked away at the bottom of the dock for some time before being taken up to near Tower Bridge.


Kismet is 308ft long has three decks and a private sundeck with a pool-Jacuzzi-BBQ area and all mod cons. The ship features exterior styling by Espen Øino and interior design by Reymond Langton Design featuring marble and rare woods, it will accommodate 12 guests in six staterooms, and has a crew of 20. This ship is the second vessel named Kismet owned by Mr Khan and estimated to have cost 200 million dollars, a previous 223ft yacht was sold for a rumoured £70 million in 2013. The new Kismet was built at German boatyard Lurssen.

Unusually for the secretive super yacht world, a great deal seems to be known about Kismet and it was rumoured last year that the yacht was up for sale. If you would fancy life aboard the Kismet, the super yacht can be chartered for £940,000 or 1.6 million dollars a week.