|The 1807 CDC logo, showing the entrance
to Greenland Dock, with a granary on one
side and a sea of masts on the other.
I had some trouble fitting in all the images that I wanted to include, so some of them are rather small. On the other hand, you can click on any of them to see the bigger images. I have also played very fast and loose with paragraphs, splitting them where they don't actually need splitting in order to prevent images overlapping too badly. That gives it a rather fragmented feel, for which my apologies.
The Commercial Dock Company
|The Commercial Docks in 1811
Meanwhile, William Ritchie was busy with the creation of a small thin dock, which was added to the south of Greenland Dock, parallel to its southern end, also shown on the map to the left. This opened in 1811, the same year in which the Commercial Dock Company opened for business, with capacity for 28 ships. It supplemented Greenland Dock, handling similar traffic as well as supplies for the local shipyards. It is shown on maps between 1810 and 1843. Unfortunately I don't have any maps for the area for the 1850s or early 1860s but it had vanished by 1868, when the land was used for warehousing, so it had a relatively short lifespan of under 50 years, after which it clearly became redundant.
The new Commercial Docks were not the only docks in Rotherhithe. In 1807 the entrance to the Surrey Grand Canal had been extended to incorporate a basin (where Surrey Water is now located) for loading and unloading ships; and at the same time the East Country Dock Company opened the East Country Dock, a long thin dock parallel to Greenland Dock to it east, so there was competition for the CDC from the word go. However, in 1850 the East Country Dock Company sold the East Country Dock to the Commercial Dock Company, which they renamed South Dock, for £40,000. Between 1850 and 1852 the Commercial Dock Company expanded the dock, and connected it to Greenland Dock.
|Greenland Dock in 1868
A connection to the rail network was established in 1855, which linked South Dock, Greenland Dock and Norway Dock.
Competition between Rotherhithe's two dock companies, the Commercial Dock Company and the more laboriously named Grand Surrey Docks and Canal Company resulted in the impoverishment of both. Eventually the losses became untenable, business sense kicked in, and in 1865 the two companies were merged to form the Surrey Commercial Docks Company. The two separate dock systems were connected by two locks where they ran along side each other, which enabled them to form one integrated, albeit complex dock network with entrances from the Thames from Greenland Dock at one side of Rotherhithe and Surrey Basin at the other.
The Surrey Commercial Docks Company
|John Wolfe Barry
The Ordnance Survey map of 1868 (above) shows that Greenland Dock was lined with granaries as well as a steel yard and a small area of timber sheds. The capacity of Greenland Dock had been extended by its connection to South Dock and the addition of Norway Dock, which by now flowed into Lady Dock, Acorn Pond, Lavender Pond and Globe Pond, a ribbon network of docks and ponds that had greatly expanded the capacity of the Commercial Dock Company.
In his book London's Docks, John Pudney's view of matters during this period was that the Surrey Commercial Docks were more stable financial entities than those to the north: "While the dock systems on the north bank had proliferated in disarray, with much competition and little managerial competence, those on the south bank in the Surrey Docks system had prospered, with a regular regular dividend of 6 per cent, and had kept up with the needs of the times." He puts this down to the sensible management of the directors, who were timber and grain merchants whose strategy was to retain existing customers and attract new ones by making continuous improvements. Timber handling had begun to dominate throughout the Rotherhithe docks, together with grain, and as timber ships were not particularly long, there was no demand for big locks or docks.
|Greenland Dock in c.1876, by Morgan and Laing
When completed in 1904, the dock measured 2250ft by 450ft and its lock was 550ft by 80ft, the measurements that it retains today. It had cost a staggering £940,000. To put the cost into perspective, today the equivalent to £940,000 would be £53,636,400 (with thanks to the National Archives Currency Converter for their wonderful conversion application).
Greenland Dock remained connected to the Norway Dock section of the earlier Surrey Commercial Dock system and at its southern end, where the underpass to Surrey Quays Shopping Centre is now located, there was a new connection to Canada Dock, allowing ships to pass between the two largest docks in the system. The Grand Surrey Canal now passed straight over the centre of the dock, which must have been an interesting navigational experience for all concerned. The railway, which had reached as far as Norway Dock stopped just short of South Dock, meaning that cargo had to be offloaded from train wagons and onto road transportation for the onward leg of the journey - a far less efficient way of cargo handling than before. The main dock roads had to be significantly re-routed and a swing bridges were installed to carry the road over the cut between Greenland Dock and Canada Dock and over the locks into both parts of the Grand Surrey Canal, thereby adding interruptions to traffic that are caused the same sort of traffic jams that build up at level crossings.
Most of the bridges around Greenland Dock were moved here from elsewhere, but the bolted cast iron lattice-truss bridge manufactured by Armstrong, Whitworth and Co. was added to its current location in 1904 when the lock was extended. A magnificent structure, the bridge is one of the best features of Greenland Dock. It was not fixed in its position. Its two parts could be swung to each side when tall ships needed to pass through the lock. It was operated by vast hydraulic jiggers that worked by pushing water at very high pressure through pistons in the cylinder equipment to open and close the two halves of the swing bridge. The hydraulic equipment is still preserved today in the pits next to the bridge on each side, although they no longer function. Although the lock gates, the granite steps and the hydraulic gear have been preserved, the lock is now blocked off. The Grade II listed bridge was renovated in 1987 and still looks good.
|Hydraulic machinery that operated
lock gates after the 1865 Greenland
Dock expansion and improvements
The expense of the newly expanded dock was not met by income from the timber trade, which was now in decline, and the company resorted to price-war tactics to try to win trade from other Thames docks, which benefited no-one. The survival of London's docks was to fall on the shoulders of the Port of London Authority.
The Port of London Authority
In the Surrey Commercial Docks plenty of modernization took place, but in Greenland Dock it mainly took the form of new open-sided timber sheds for the deal timber trade and the building of a general cargo warehouse of 75,000 square foot.
|Alaunia at Greenland Dock
Writing in 1929 the eternally enjoyable A.G. Linney loved the winter-quiet and bird life of the timber ponds, about which he admitted to feelings of sentimentality, but he was really unimpressed by Greenland Dock, which he described as "being kept busy by the arrival and departure of massive, modern-type, ugly and utilitarian steamers bringing huge quantities of provisions of all sorts from North America." But he couldn't help being fascinated by the ships that brought in timber during the late Spring and early summer: "rustyish , sea-battered Baltic tramps with queer tall funnels and names painted amidships; plain dingy British cargo boats with little to give them grace; and a certain yet undoubted proportion of elderly barques and barquetines." Linney loved the Surrey Commercial Docks and was visiting just as the old sailing ships were becoming almost anachronistic anomalies.
|Timber being unloaded from a ship onto the quayside
at Greenland Dock, beneath one of the mobile cranes
in 1927 (the crane tracks still survive
in places along the side of this and other docks)
|Greenland Lock, filled with spritsail barges, 1930s
Port of London Authority archive
The Second World War
|Canadian Cold Store, bombed in 1940
The Surrey Commercial Docks, its ships and warehouses, were devastated. The losses throughout Rotherhithe were appalling.
Greenland Dock's timber yards suffered repeated attacks and, thanks to the combustibility of the timber and the deliberate use of incendiary bombs, frequently burned but fortunately the loss of life was relatively small compared with the rest of Rotherhithe. Damage was mainly to property.
|the Dog and Duck public house before
its destruction in 1944
One ship, the SS Empress Tristram was hit by a V1 flying bomb on 23rd June 1944 at 0413, killing five people. The bomb hit the portside decking and penetrated though to the engine room. The same ship was struck again by a V1 on the 12st July was moved to Greenland Dock for repairs. There was severe damage to 3 and 4 holds and a further six people were killed. The nearby SS Peebles was also damaged.
The Dog and Duck pub, which sat between the lock entrances of Greenland and South Docks was obliterated along with other buildings by a VII rocket in October 1944, injuring 16 people. The Dog and Duck was a famous old pub, but never rebuilt.
The Beginning of the End
|Greenland Dock 1958
|Greenland Dock in the snow, early 1950s
Added to the serious difficulties that the post-war years imposed on the London docks, the main nail in its coffin was the shipping industry itself. The entire character and organization of cargo handling operations was changing and all the associated ships and dockside technology were adapting accordingly. Container transportation, new packaging systems and palletization, all involving increasing automation and much less manual labour, began to replace traditional methods. These were serviced not by the older dock systems but by new dedicated docks that were positioned nearer to the mouth of the Thames, could handle larger vessels and included new state-of-the-art equipment. The old inner Thames dock systems were being left behind very quickly. Stuart Rankin gives some startling figures for the tonnage being handled, shown in the graph below, indicating the declining income of Rotherhithe's docks.
Individual docks and ponds began to be blocked off and filled in even before the official closure of the Surrey Commercial Docks. The PLA gained approval for the official closure in April 1970 and cargo deliveries were slowly run down until there was very little traffic by September of the same year. As W. Paul Clegg puts it: "By the year-end it was all over, the last ship being the Russian timber carrier Kandalakshales (4673grt) which left on 22nd December. The Russian services were transferred to the Royal Albert Dock, while others went to India and Millwall, and Phoenix Wharf."
By 1977 the land had been sold into the ownership of the Greater London Council (now defunct) and Southwark Borough Council, and most of the remaining docks were in-filled for safety reasons. Various warehouse facilities remained in use, but the commercial life of the docks and its supporting infrastructure was effectively over.
In 1699 the Howland Great Wet Dock was established, and it took 271 years for the shipping adventure to come to an end. Fortunately for Rotherhithe, the London Dockland Development Corporation came along and rescued Rotherhithe, salvaging traces of its heritage at the same time. Greenland Dock is now surrounded by residential homes that overlook a very different vista, and this will be the subject of a future post.
|Kandalakshales, the last ship to sail from the
Surrey Commercial Docks in 1970
|Pacific Reliance (9337grt) in 1971. A regular
of Greenland Dock, she transferred to the Royal
Docks after the closure of the Surrey Commercial
Docks in 1970
In this post I have not covered the two dry docks at the end of Greenland Dock that opened out onto the Thames and flanked the lock. The post is already so long that I thought that these would be better covered on a post of their own. They were not owned by the dock companies and were operated privately, so there is a solid argument for treating them separately at some point in the future.
As usual with the dockland and shipping history of Rotherhithe many, many thanks are due to Stuart Rankin's excellent research. He was by no means my only source, but where would I be without his booklets to give me a kick start?