Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A short history of Greenland Dock 1806 - 1970

The 1807 CDC logo, showing the entrance
to Greenland Dock, with a granary on one
side and a sea of masts on the other.
Greenland Dock was established over the area occupied by the former Howland Great Wet Dock (1699-1807), which has been covered on a previous post. It was renamed Greenland Dock to reflect its use as a whaling dock (much of the whaling took place in Greenland waters) and the the whaling history has also been covered on a previous post (1763-1806).  This post takes up where that leaves off, in the first years of the 1800s, and ends with the closure of the Surrey Commercial Docks in 1970.  A future post will look at how it survived, its current uses and, of concern to local residents, the prospects for its future care under Southwark Council.

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

In 1806, following the decline of the whaling industry, Greenland Dock had fallen into disrepair. It was purchased by William Ritchie of Greenwich. An entrepreneur, he believed that its fortunes could be turned around due to the rise in timber and corn imports.  He immediately began to raise finance and was so successful that a year later it became the property of the newly formed Commercial Dock Company, headed by Alderman Sir Charles Price.  It needed substantial work for conversion to a timber and grain handling dock, and was closed whilst this work was under way.  The engineer employed to make the changes to the dock was James Walker, whose likeness is captured in a statue at the top of Brunswick Quay.  Walker was only 27 years old at the time but had impressive experience working on the construction of both the West India and East India Docks where he had commanded the respect of his employers. The pre-existing buildings were demolished and were replaced with large granaries. 

The Commercial Docks in 1811
The dock was awarded an Act of Incorporation in 1811, after which it was able to operate commercially with a capacity of 350 ships.  Another dock was also completed for timber handling  and was ready for use at the opening of Greenland Dock, to which it was connected as the map to the left shows. On the map Greenland Dock is marked as "Commercial Docks" and the irregularly shaped dock above it, "New Dock," later became Norway Dock (now the development known as The Lakes).

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.

Greenland Dock in 1813, from a bigger painting by William Daniell in the National Maritime Museum (Greenwich)
It clearly shows the dock itself full of ships, warehouses and granaries and a dry dock that opened
out into the Thames, which was owned privately and was not part of the dock complex.  At this time
there was no connection between South Dock, shown on the far left, and Greenland Dock.  The
Grand Surrey Canal can be seen in the distance with ships passing down it.

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 various ponds and docks of the system were renamed, making it much easier to distinguish them from each other because when they were originally built, most were just numbered and some of the numbers were duplicated across the two systems.  Greenland Dock retained its name.

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
It was only when ships began to change that the owners of the Surrey Commercial Docks began to look at how to adapt.  New technologies had resulted in much bigger and faster ships that required bigger locks, docks and improved cargo handling solutions. Their solution was time-consuming, eye-wateringly expensive, and ultimately doomed to long-term failure.  Finding themselves in major competition with other Thames docks built towards the end of the 19th Century, it became clear that to stay competitive changes would have to be made to parts of the Rotherhithe dock system.  These were centred on Greenland Dock.  The plan to extend Greenland Dock, which was to include its connection to Canada Dock, was seriously ambitious. As you can see in the map below, the Grand Surrey Canal passed along the end of the dock and any dock extension would mean cutting across the canal's route.  There were also major roads that would have to be re-routed to accommodate the dock's new size, the dock railway would no longer be able to extend beyond South Dock, and  there were plenty of buildings in the way of the expansion, both industrial and residential, that stood in the way and would have to be purchased and demolished.  Once the decision was made and an Act of Parliament obtained, all of these changes could be implemented.  The engineer hired to make these changes was James A. MacConnochie.  MacConnochie had worked at a number of other sites, including Canada Water, and began work in 1894.  He had not been working on the project for long when he died in 1895, and was replaced by John Wolfe-Barry, a very experienced dock engineer who was knighted in 1897 for his work on Tower Bridge.  See his biography on the Grace's Guides website.

These two maps are designed to show the changes made
Greenland Dock between 1894 and 1914.  In 1894 it was a
short dock opening out on to the Thames with the Grand Surrey
Canal (in pink) running past its end.  In 1914 the dock was
now so long that the Surrey Grand Canal passed across its
middle.  At the end of the dock, a cut was established
(in lilac) to connect it with Canada Dock.  The unusual
lock walls extend into the dock, creating two "fingers"
(as they are still known today) either side of the
lock walls, and are highlighted in turquoise.
The extension works took ten years to complete and were hampered by repeated encounters with the highly unstable Thanet sand, which kept filling foundations and required major engineering work to neutralize.  The extension of the entrance lock was achieved by building it into the dock itself.  This meant that long vessels could use the dock but at the same time a second set of gates within the lock meant that smaller vessels could use the dock without using excess water. Water management within the dock system was an ongoing headache, with levels changing considerably during over a 24 hour period. The lock gates were operated with hydraulic machinery, which remains in position today. 

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.  

The delightful lock buildings, consisting of the harbour master's cottage and the tide gauge house were also built at this time at the side of the extended lock, both of which remain in situ. They were built when the dock and the lock were extended between 1894-1904. They were probably designed by James McConnochie (who is also thought to have been responsible for the dock offices on Surrey Quays Road) for the Surrey Commercial Dock company.  They are single-storey structures built in a pale yellowish brick (the yard office was of a paler, whiter brick), with a black brick plinth visible along the bases. The doors and windows set under red-brick jack arches with white keystones, and each building was topped with a black-tiled hipped roof (again, the exception is the Yard Office, which has a gabled roof).  Chimneys were provided for much-needed heat. They are lovely little buildings, nicely designed and were clearly intended to be good looking as well as functional. The lock keeper's office at Greenland Dock lock, headed by the Lock Keeper, was the equivalent of the modern edifice overlooking South Dock's lock entrance.  It was manned in thee shifts by teams whose role was to process ships in and out of the lock when the tide was right.  A lock keeper's office would have sat at every lock into the network of docks in Rotherhithe, and paintings of the office at the entrance to Surrey Basin survive.  The gauge house, next to the lock keeper's office, contained the equipment for determining the state of the tide.  It was essential for the correct operation of the lock for this to be precise.  The equipment consisted of a tide gauge that indicated the level of the river. 
Hydraulic machinery that operated
lock gates after the 1865 Greenland
Dock expansion and improvements
Many of extant features of the dock date to this time, including the hydraulic capstans, the rounded iron bollards, and hydraulic cranes that travelled up and down the dock along tracks. 

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 1909 the Port of London authority was formed. Problems with river congestion, uncompetitive commercial docks and antiquated dock handling systems had plagued London for years.  Official investigations  were followed by the introduction of a Bill introduced by David Lloyd George and carried through parliament by Winston Churchill, receiving Royal Assent as the "Port of London Act, 1908," in December 1908. The decision was made to take the docks out of private ownership and amalgamate them under a single government body, the Port of London Authority (PLA), which also took on responsibility for dredging the main channel of the Thames and, following the First World War, upgrading parts of the newly consolidated London dock system.

Artist's impression of the Surrey Commercial Docks in 1909, the
year that the Port of London Authority became responsible for them.
Greenland Dock is the long expanse to the right of the picture, and
this painting shows clearly how Greenland Dock connected into
Russia Dock, the dog-legged dock that lies perpendicular to it
and into which it has a cut in the centre of its length.

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
Although the main cargo handled at the Greenland Dock was timber, as well as some perishable foods, during the inter-war years one of the more unusual regular visitors was a division of the A-Class fleet of Cunard cross-Atlantic cruise ships.  Cunard's acquisition of ships of the Thomson Line in 1911 established Cunard's first direct service between London and Canada, and was the reason that Cunard acquired premises in Greenland Dock.  Following losses during the First World War (which included all of Cunard's A-class ships), eleven new "intermediate" ships were built by the Cunard company.  These had been designed to bridge the gap between their small and large, sometimes vast vessels and fulfilled a very useful role for Cunard.  Of these eleven, five made up the replacement A-class ships that moored at their home base in Greenland Dock.  All very similar, the Albania, Ausonia and Andania were sister ships whilst the Ascania and Alaunia differed in several ways. They were all turbine-driven and could reach 13-15 knots. They had particularly beautiful lines.  After the expansion of its lock, Greenland Dock was one of the few Thames docks capable of handling ships of this size.

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
I have yet to write a post about how Rotherhithe was torn about during the Second World War by German bombing raids, but it was catastrophic.  The war lasted between 1939 and 1945 and the so-called Blitz began in September 1940. All of London's docks, reflecting moonlight, were easy targets for bomber planes and as important commercial centres of England's capital city were strategically obvious targets.

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
The Canadian Cold Store burned out in 1940, a building established in the early 1900s to accommodate perishables, mainly dairy products, imported from Canada.  The LDDC archive photograph, above, shows it with flames pouring out of it's roof and windows.  The heat must have been staggering.

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
The 1958 photograph to the left shows a mixture of long low timber stores as well as more traditional warehouses at the top end of the dock.  Cranes line the quaysides but much of the heavy lifting was still carried out by manual labour, emptying cargo into lighters, small un-powered vessels of the sort that are gathered around the two ships in the foreground. The connection to Canada Water, now the underpass leading to Surrey Quays Shopping Centre, is clearly visible at the bottom of the photograph, with the road passing over it as it does today, on a lift bridge.  Whenever one of the Rotherhithe bridges was lifted to allow ships to pass through, massive traffic jams built up, remembered with more annoyance than nostalgia by some of the former dock workers who still live in the area.  The gathering of small vessels in the middle of the photograph mark the eastern entrance to the Grand Surrey Canal.  Opposite it is the inlet that led into another part of the dock system along the western route of the Grand Surrey Canal.

Greenland Dock in the snow, early 1950s
In spite of the appearance of activity on Greenland and other docks, the Surrey Commercial Docks never really recovered from the Second World War.  Cunard, for example, ceased to use Greenland Dock for its A-Class liners, other commercial fleets had been reduced during the war, international trade had changed and many shipping companies had to make fundamental changes in order to survive the post-war years.

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?

1 comment:

Mikecheck said...

Amazing blog. I've never been to London, and am not even much of an Anglophile, but I'm really intrigued by the history of London's docklands. I also really like people who enjoy, appreciate, and really learn about where they live. Your blog will keep me busy for a while.