EAST MEETS WEST
CONSTRUCTION OF WEST INDIA DOCKS
West India Docks are a series of three docks on the Isle of Dogs, the first of which opened in 1802. Robert Milligan, a merchant and ship owner, was the main driver in the construction of the West India Docks, and promoted the creation of a wet dock encircled by a high wall for elevated security.
Statue of Robert Milligan (1746–1809), at West India Quay
THE DOCKING OF ECHO
A newly-built ship named after the Prime Minister of the time, Henry Addington, was hauled in by ropes on the 27th August 1802, for the formal opening of the docks. Another ship, the Echo, laden with cargo from the West Indies, closely followed, and marked a pivotal point in prosperity and growth.
PROSPERITY FOR THE AREA
For the following 21 years all vessels in the West India trade using the Port of London were compelled under an Act of Parliament to use the West India Docks. Trade flourished in this part of East London, with especially large quantities of tea, sugar, spices, copper and rum arriving from the West Indies.
ONE OF THE MAJOR TRADING CITIES OF THE WORLD
The West India Docks was one of the largest and busiest docks in the world, and could accommodate more than 600 vessels. The high volume of cargo helped to establish London as one of the world’s major trading cities.
A HIGHLY SOUGHT COMMODITY
Sugar was seen as the foundation of the golden age of West Indian prosperity in the Eighteenth Century. It was the most highly sought commodity of the period, and the largest single English import.
The new Docks and City Canal
FIVE-STOREY HIGH WAREHOUSES
To facilitate such high volumes, warehouses were built and were usually five storeys high. There was a continuous line of three-quarters of a mile of warehousing, lining the Import Dock, that housed nine vast sugar and molasses warehouses.
THE EAST INDIA COMPANY
The voyage to China and back took an East India Company tea clipper about one year, with the average East Indiaman able to carry 1,200 tons of cargo.
From 1802 to 1939 the area was one of the busiest docks in the world. After the 1960s the port industry began to decline, leading to the closure of all docks by 1981. In spite of the decline, the prolonged prosperity of the area had left its mark and eventually led to the birth of the globally connected and economically-thriving hub of Canary Wharf.
THE CANARY WHARF ESTATE
The Canary Wharf Estate, which now covers most of the 295 acres of the West India Docks, is a major business district, and one of the United Kingdom’s two main financial centres (along with the City of London).
It was home to the tallest building in the UK for two decades from 1990 to 2010, and this height will be surpassed by the tallest residential building in western Europe which is being built right here on this site.