London’s Historic Places
Before 1800, the Thames river was overcrowded with ships. They carried cargoes of tea, china and cloth in their lower parts along with casks of water, salted meat, beer, wine and rum for their crews. Brandy, wine, and tobacco were also shipped and stored in the warehouses.
In 1800, the London Dock Company was formed and the planned docks in Wapping went ahead in 1801. The first was the West India Dock. In 1806, the East India Company opened their own docks to the north-east of the West India Docks after deciding that the Brunswick Dock at Blackwall, where ships were fitted out, was unsuitable for storing cargo.
The Brunswick Dock, which had originally been connected directly to the Thames to the south, became the Export Dock. To the north the company built a larger 18-acre (7.3 ha) Import Dock. Both were connected to the Thames via an eastern entrance basin.
The East India Docks didn’t have many warehouses because cargoes were taken straight to their warehouses in the City. So instead of building warehouses, the company built private toll roads like Commercial Road and East India Dock Road to carry traffic to and from the docks.
The company made large profits on tea, spices, indigo, silk and Persian carpets. The tea trade alone was worth £30 million a year. Spice merchants and pepper grinders set up around the dock to process goods.
Although the East India docks were smaller than the West India Docks, they handled up to 250 ships at one time and East Indiamen of 1000 tons but larger ships and steam power reduced the importance of the docks.
In 1838 the East and West India companies merged.
Following the Second World War, in which all the docks were badly damaged, the East India Docks were confined to occasional Channel Islands traffic and to the maintenance of dredger equipment etc.
Brunswick Wharf Power Station was built on the site of the Export Dock in stages between 1946 and 1956.
The docks were the first London docks to close, in 1967.
Today the docks have been mostly filled in. Only the entrance basin remains, as a wildlife refuge and an attractive local amenity. The area is predominantly residential with several major developments either complete or under construction around it.