Above: Looking west on the south side of South Dock.
Within the vast area originally covered by the docks in London, there were two that were called ‘South Dock’. The West India Docks, on the Isle of Dogs, were made up of three parallel docks and the most southerly – which is still its original length but not its original width – retains its original name of South Dock. The Surrey Commercial Docks, in Rotherhithe, were a collection of eleven docks and one of them is also called South Dock.
The above picture was taken in South Dock, on the Isle of Dogs. If any of the original dockers still walk around – for ‘old time’s sake’ – they probably tell their grandchildren that they can hardly recognise the place. The vast stretch of water is its original length, extending right across the width of the Isle of Dogs but its width is now much less because cofferdams have been built in order to erect large offices on what was once the water of the old dock on its north side.
The view above was taken by standing on the southern quayside of South Dock. Included in the view is an old Thames Sailing barge moored alongside. It is the ‘Will’, registered in Malden, and one of about 30 such vessels that are still in existence and in good enough condition to continue in use. The ‘Will’ is nearly 100 feet long and was built in Great Yarmouth in 1925. It makes money by taking passengers on trips around the coast of England. When photographed it was in use for lucrative bookings from corporate dining right next to the Canary Wharf Estate.
In the distance is London’s most modern mode of transport – a Docklands Light Railway train crossing the dock on a new concrete bridge completed in the 1980s. The ‘Will’ is old enough to have been sailed into the old dock before the Second World War, probably carrying grain from East Anglia. As the skippers of such barges often say today ‘A sack of grain was almost worthless. Today, carrying passengers brings in far more money!’
It is an interesting view – with the sailing barge representing the old mode of transport and the DLR train representing an advance in the transportation of almost 100 years later. It is good to see a Thames sailing barge in the docks. When the vessel was first built the owners probably thought that their way of life would remain forever. How wrong they were. And how wrong we would be if we thought for one moment that the DLR will remain the same. We don’t know what will come next but it is highly likely the day will come when those DLR trains are considered to be as old fashioned as that sailing barge looks today!