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The Port and Docks of London (1909)

The Docks of London are so spread out along the Thames River for a distance of 26 miles from London Bridge that they impress one as being disconnected, unco-ordinated and poorly managed in comparison with those of Liverpool, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg. London has so long been the leading port of the world in respect to the amount of shipping and goods which enter, that only within the last decade has the keen rivalry and phenomenal growth of some of the younger continental ports impressed her with the great importance of keeping abreast of modem requirements by providing better facilities for navigation.

Plan of the Thames River and Lond Docks (1909)

The Royal Commission appointed to investigate this subject· speaks in its 1902 report of the natural advantages of the Port of London as being the "geographical position of the port; the magnitude, wealth and energy of the population behind it; the fine approach from the sea; the
river tides strong enough to transport traffic easily to all parts, yet not so violent as to make navigation difficult, and land along the shores of a character suitable for dock construction and all commercial purposes.

The existence upon the Thames of the greatest market and centre of consumption in the world, it is contended, bestowed upon the port a huge practical monopoly. London was sure of a trade of which rivals could not deprive it, and, in consequence, had not the usual incentives to affect improvements. Other ports in keen competition with each other for the general world-trade, have improved their organization and physical advantages in recent years, while London has in these respects remained much more nearly stationary.

Hence, it is suggested, both the inland and re-export trade of London may have lost ground, relatively to other ports, in consequence of the improvements in other maritime cities of the United Kingdom and in adjacent countries. So far as relates to the reexport of foreign and colonial produce the figures seem, to some extent, to correspond with this view."

Mr. D. Owen attributes the failure of the Port of London to maintain its rate of growth as a distribution port to causes of a wider character, as follows:

''Formerly London was a distributing and collecting port, as being the world's trade focus, the world's market. The cargoes came to the biggest market. The Low Countries and the Continent bought in London and sent goods to London for shipment. London was the 'Goods Exchange' for Europe to a large extent. Foreign produce formerly was largely a prohibitive luxury, only available to the few.

Foreign ports had no use for shiploads; they wanted parcels; shiploads came to London. The development of production, cheapening of transport, abolition
of duties, increase of population, spread of wealth, and the introduction of steam factories, altered the situation. The Continent became able to swallow whole shiploads, but Continental ports being undeveloped and unhandy, and the force of ancient usage being strong, cargoes continued to come to London.

In 1863 the abolition of the ScheIdt dues threw open Antwerp, which at once began to compete with London. The Suez Canal was opened, trade increased enormously, and ships began to be ordered, with full cargoes, to Antwerp. The new departure extended to Hamburg, Rotterdam, Havre, and other places, and all these ports began competing furiously with one another, and all with London. Moreover, the practically new ports of Marseilles, Genoa, and Trieste now intercept cargo which formerly passed through the Straits of Dover, and these ports are greatly developing.

This competition, powerful as it is, is still in its infancy. Continental ports are spending lavishly on improvements, and already British ship-owners prefer Antwerp to London, and would as soon go even to Hamburg as to London. It seems inevitable that the business of London as a port of distribution will decline."

With all the natural advantages, and the fact that London is Lhe greatest city in the world with a population of 7,000,000 and growing rapidly, the increase in the commerce of the port is much less than the increase in population and less than the increase in commerce of the ports of New York, Antwerp and Hamburg.

This is more especially due, first, to the fact that London, previous to 1909, had no centralized authority to administer the affairs of her great port with that singleness of purpose, so conspicuous in the work of "The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board" of Liverpool, and the "Oyde Trustees" of Glasgow,--and secondly, to the fact that the ownership, maintenance and management of the quays and docks was so divided between many different individuals and corporations, that it was almost impossible to obtain that unity of action so important to the development of a great port Previous to 1909 there were no less than five controlling authorities on the River Thames.


In addition to the control of the waterway the Port of London Authority own and manage the Docks, formerly vested in the London and India, Surrey Commercial, and MillwaU Dock Companies, whose land and water areas consisted of 2,467 acres. There are also 10 acres of city properties and 106 acres of land at Crossness, making a total area of 2,583 acres.

The river frontage of the dock properties is about 3 miles in length. There are 28 miles of dock quays available for shipping. The machinery employed at the Docks is worked principally by hydraulic power, but electricity has been introduced during recent years. There are 1,468 cranes and lifts of varying capacity, including sheer legs lifting up to 80 tons, and 5 floating derricks lifting from 15 to 50 tons at wide radius. Amongst the movable plant are 23 tugs and 42 locomotives for use in and about the docks and railways. There are about 120 miles of

The purchase price of the three Dock undertakings was paid by the issue of Port Stock in substitution for the various Dock stocks, the amounts given being:

  • 3% "A" Stock : $44,479,459
  • 4% "B" Stock : $64,204,605
  • Total : $108,684,064

The following describes briefly the individual docks and equipment:

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