The East India Docks: The buildings

Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1994.

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'The East India Docks: The buildings', in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, ed. Hermione Hobhouse( London, 1994), British History Online [accessed 20 July 2024].

'The East India Docks: The buildings', in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Edited by Hermione Hobhouse( London, 1994), British History Online, accessed July 20, 2024,

"The East India Docks: The buildings". Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Ed. Hermione Hobhouse(London, 1994), , British History Online. Web. 20 July 2024.

In this section

The Buildings

Docks needed a variety of functional storage buildings such as sheds and warehouses. Sheds formed simple shelters to protect cargoes from the elements while they were checked and sorted; warehouses provided long-term storage facilities with a higher degree of security. The East India Docks were unusual in that they were designed to have no warehouse provision at all, because the East India Company had substantial warehousing in the City. But soon after the opening of the docks, the East India Company realized that some on-site warehouses would be useful.

When the company's monopoly was partially broken in 1813 and the India trade opened to private merchants, it was thought
["]expedient that Accommodation should be made in the said Docks for the shipping which shall be engaged in such private Trade, and that Warehouses, Cranes, Sheds and other Conveniences should be erected in the said docks for the safe custody of certain goods, wares and merchandize imported in private trade and unladen from such shipping.["] (fn. 5)

Most warehouses and sheds in any dock were simple buildings with little architectural pretension. The warehouses built in the East India Docks to the designs of Ralph Walker were purely functional; they were certainly conservative in appearance. They were more progressive in constructional terms, however, employing materials such as cast iron, which was coming into increasing use during the second decade of the nineteenth century under the influence of John Rennie and other leading engineers. Its high compressive strength made it an ideal material for the internal columns of warehouses. The cruciform cross-section used in these early cast-iron columns remained the commonest form in the timber-floored warehouses of London throughout the nineteenth century.

Import Dock: North Quay

Saltpetre Warehouses.

A group of three sheds or warehouses for the storage of saltpetre was built on the north quay of the Import Dock between 1806 and 1810. They were plain single-storey slated buildings, designed by Ralph Walker. Warehouse No. 1 was constructed between September 1806 and February 1808, at a total cost of £4,398. It was built of brick supplied by Trimmers, and was erected by Thomas Crawford of Blackwall. (fn. 6) The largest construction cost (of £1,187) was for carpenter's work from Henry Rowles, Carpenter to the East India Company. Saltpetre Warehouses Nos 2 and 3 were built between 1808 and 1810 at a cost of £4,438 and £4,879 respectively, and again Rowles's charges were the largest items. (fn. 7) Both were 150ft long and 50ft deep, with slate roofs supported on oak queen-post trusses.

In 1855 accommodation for 12,000 tons of guano was provided in a shed at the back of the warehouses at a cost of £2,600. (fn. 8) Sheds were built linking the three warehouses and there was continuous shedding along the rear of the whole length. The warehouses continued to be used for saltpetre, with the sheds storing lint and other seeds. (fn. 9) In 1859 the guano shed was taken down and the materials were re-used for a shed for the export trade. (fn. 10)

Warehouses Nos 15–19: The Jute and Seed Warehouses.

The north quay increasingly was used for the landing of jute imports, accommodated in the warehouses and sheds built for the purpose. By 1863 there were five timber sheds in front of the warehouses. (fn. 11) Nevertheless, the jute and other 'fibrous goods' were also stored on the open quays, because there was insufficient space in the buildings. (fn. 12) On 17 March 1865 a fire swept through the buildings on the north quay. The accident was blamed on the storage of jute in the open. (fn. 13)

The dock company acted quickly to provide replacements for the buildings destroyed and in June 1865 approved the erection of three new warehouses. These were built by William Brass and designated Nos 15, 16 and 17 shed-warehouses. (fn. 14) Each was 213ft long and 82ft deep, with a floor area of 16,720 sq.ft, and a double-span roof of iron and slate. The flooring was laid on iron girders supported on cast-iron columns. (fn. 15) The new warehouses, which cost £4,892 each, (fn. 16) were built up to the dock company's boundary on the Barking Road.

Nos 18 and 19 Warehouses, the former saltpetre warehouses, were damaged in the fire, but were repairable. The reinstatement was carried out by Hill & Keddell, to the designs of E. J. Leonard (the dock company's Engineer), at a cost of £2,796. (fn. 17)

The new jute warehouses were designed to be fireproof, with a total of 21 iron doors. Nevertheless, there were damaging fires at No. 17 in 1873 and 1905. (fn. 18) This warehouse was rebuilt in 1905 to the original design at a cost of £1,575. (fn. 19) With the decline in the jute trade, the dock company was prepared to consider alternative uses for the north quay of the import dock; in 1893 it was suggested that it should be redeveloped for housing. (fn. 20) By 1901, Nos 18 and 19 were the only warehouses approved for fibre storage (wool, jute and coir); Nos 15, 16 and 17 were then occupied by Messrs Johnson & Jorgensen, glass-bottle manufacturers, who also occupied Shed No 1. Nos 2–5 were used for the storage of general export goods by the dock company. (fn. 21) These single-storey wooden buildings had been constructed for fibre storage in the mid-nineteenth century.

Warehouses Nos 1, 2 and 3.

In 1912–13 the LCC widened the East India Dock Road along the north side of the dock company's land (see page 122). The PLA sold the council a strip of land 25ft wide for £20,000. (fn. 22) This necessitated the demolition of all the buildings on the north quay of the Import Dock. A new boundary wall, completed in July 1915. was built by John Mowlem & Company at a cost of £13,202. (fn. 23) The quay was widened by 20ft as part of the general programme of improvements. (fn. 24) The buildings were replaced by three singlestorey transit sheds, each 408ft long and 110ft wide, with shallow-pitched double roofs. (fn. 25) In 1913 Chatteris Engineering Works Company supplied three 15cwt moveable electric quay cranes for £885. (fn. 26)

The new buildings were adapted for use by the meat trade. This work included the provision, in 1915–18, of cold storage facilities, and internal railways and platforms at the rear of the buildings. (fn. 27)

Nos 2 and 3 sheds were damaged during the Second World War, but subsequently were reinstated. (fn. 28) Coast Lines Ltd had occupied some of the buildings before they were requisitioned for wartime use, and the company returned in 1946, (fn. 29) remaining there until the closure of the docks.

Import Dock: South Quay

No. 1 Warehouse.

This was a saltpetre warehouse erected in 1814–16 at the east end of the south quay of the Import Dock at a cost of £2,390; a shed was built in front of the building. George Munday undertook the brickwork and Thomas Kinghorn slated the roofs. Another saltpetre warehouse was built adjacent to the first in 1816 and was known as 'Auxiliary to No. 1'. (fn. 30) Both were single-storey brick buildings, similar in design to the saltpetre warehouses on the north quay of the Import Dock.

A devastating fire in December 1900 destroyed No. 1 Warehouse and the adjoining quay sheds, (fn. 31) and they were replaced in 1901–2 by a single-storey flat-roofed building in ferro-concrete, one of the earliest uses of this material in the Port of London. Following its employment at the Liverpool and Southampton docks, and for new warehouses at the Royal Albert Dock, the Hennebique reinforced-concrete system was chosen, on a tender of £3,900 from A. Jackaman & Son of Slough (who was the contractor for the ferro-concrete warehouses at the Royal Albert Dock). The new work was designed by C. E. Vernon, the Joint Committee's Engineer, and L. G. Mouchel, Hennebique's agent in London, prepared the specifications. The total cost was £10,139. (fn. 32) The flat roof leaked, and in 1903 it was covered in asphalt at an estimated cost of £1,200 (Plate 61b). (fn. 33)

Nos 2 and 3, 4 and 5, and 6 and 7 Warehouses.

Between 1814 and 1821 three pairs of bonded warehouses were built along the south quay of the Import Dock for the use of the private trade. They were designed by Ralph Walker, the dock company's Engineer. (fn. 34) Constructed in brick, with prominent, rather barn-like hipped roofs, these warehouses were modest in scale, being only two storeys high, though numbers 6 & 7 (the last to be built) were raised over a semi-basement. Their basically plain elevations were enlivened with blind arcading which embraced the upper as well as the lower windows. As in all the early warehouses, the window openings were fitted with spiked iron grilles (Plate 62c).

Figure 220:

Nos 8 and 9 Warehouses, East India Import Dock, South Quay, 1866. Demolished

Nos 2 & 3 Warehouses were built to accommodate the anticipated rise in imports generated by the opening to private trade of Indian goods. They were erected between 1814 and 1816 at a total cost of £7,609. A shed costing £1,425 was erected in front of them in 1816. The builder was George Munday, who was paid £2,206, and the cast-iron posts, iron window frames and four, doublepurchase, fixed cranes were supplied by Hunter & English of Bow. (fn. 35) Warehouses 2 & 3 were damaged in the fire of 1900 and were restored in 1901–2 (Plate 63d). (fn. 36)

Built in 1816, Nos 4 & 5 Warehouses were similar in design to Nos 2 & 3 Warehouses and were built by the same contractors. They cost £7,210 A shed was placed in front of the building. (fn. 37)

The foundation stone for Nos 6 & 7 Warehouses was laid by Joseph Cotton, Chairman of the East India Dock Company, in 1820, and the building was completed in 1821 at a cost of £13,580. (fn. 38) Of this, £4,219 was paid to George Munday for brickwork. (fn. 39) These warehouses survived into the 1950s (Plate 63a). They were constructed with timber queen-post roof-trusses, and castiron columns, purchased from Hunter & English, carried the first-floor joists and the brick vaulting in the basement, where they were cruciform in section (Plate 63b). A similar use of cast-iron cruciform columns can be found in the contemporary crypt of All Saints' Church.

The principal reason for building Warehouses Nos 6 & 7 was the problem of storing coconut oil and tamarind, which was dangerously piled in casks, stacked four-high, in the existing warehouses. The dock company intended that these goods were to be removed to the cellars and floors of one of the new warehouses, while the other could accommodate ships' canvas sails. (fn. 40) This may explain why the warehouses were built with lots of quay space in front of them, to allow the easy manoeuvring of barrels and casks. In 1835 HM Customs approved the upper floors of Warehouses Nos 2 & 3 and 4 & 5 as suitable for the reception of tea. (fn. 41)

Nos 6 & 7 Warehouses were demolished in 1959, settlement of their foundations having made them unusable for storage. (fn. 42)

Nos 8 and 9 Warehouses.

These three-storey warehouses were built in 1866 by Hill & Keddell at a cost of £16,330 (Plates 63c, 107a; fig. 220). (fn. 43) They were of brick, with hipped roofs behind a parapet. Their spiked iron window grilles were similar to those in the East India Company's Pepper Warehouses, erected in 1807– 10, and they resembled the row of warehouses built on the north quay of the Import Dock at the West India Docks in 1800–3. Indeed, these largely utilitarian buildings, with their dignified facades, were characteristic of dock warehousing and exemplify the conservatism in dock architecture in the nineteenth century. In 1937–9 these, Nos 6 & 7, and Nos 12 & 13, on the west quay, were converted for the storage of tobacco. (fn. 44)


By 1841 a shed ran almost the whole length of the dock, and there were three others in front of the warehouses. In 1871 shed accommodation at the East India Docks was reported to be inadequate for the steamers that required rapid discharge. Four new sheds were built on the south quay in 1873, one at each end of the row of warehouses, one between Nos 2 & 3 and 4 & 5, and one between Nos 4 & 5 and 6 & 7. (fn. 45)

Import Dock: West Quay

Quayside Sheds.

On the west quay, beside the water of the Import Dock, Rennie and Walker erected slate-roofed sheds that were '30 feet wide and about 12 feet high, placed parallel to the Quay and 10 feet distant from it'. (fn. 46) They were designed to provide convenience in unloading from the ships to the horse-drawn wagons that transferred the goods to the warehouses in Cutler Street. Walker explained that
The waggon by setting their [sic] end against the platform, will occupy the least room on the quay. They will be in the most convenient situation for departing with their load, and as three shoots or slides may be applied to the side of the vessel abreast each hatchway, the goods may be thrown down them, to that place on the stage, where they are to be loaded into the waggons. (fn. 47)

No. 14 Warehouse.

In 1824–5 Warehouse No. 14. with a baggage warehouse attached, was built on the west quay at a cost of £5,858. This, the first warehouse at the East India Docks designed by James Walker, (fn. 48) was a twostorey brick building of conventional character, with a stone floor. All the bricklayers work was undertaken by Henry and John Lee. (fn. 49) It was designed to be used to store baggage, and in 1855. when a part of it was needed for sugar, the flooring had to be strengthened, at a cost of £138. (fn. 50) A fire in 1939 caused slight damage to the ground-floor store-room. (fn. 51)

Nos 12 and 13 Warehouses.

After the dock company's monopoly expired in 1827, the East India Company agreed to continue to operate through the docks (see page 580). To accommodate it, the dock company rapidly built these two three-storey warehouses on the west quay of the Import Dock, to the south of No. 14 Warehouse. They were designed by James Walker and built in 1827–9. The building and carpentry work was carried out by Thomas Corpe. (fn. 52) A shed was built connecting Nos 12 & 13 Warehouses with No. 14, and all three warehouses stood behind a single-storey wooden shed with brick ends, that lay beside the quay. (fn. 53)

Much of this quay was damaged during the Second World War. No. 13 Warehouse was destroyed and Nos 12 & 14 were damaged. (fn. 54) By 1951 the whole of the west quay had been cleared. (fn. 55)

Import Dock: East Quay

East Warehouse.

The east quay initially was used for the storage of ballast and wood. The East India Company had the right to land and store wood here, in a stockaded enclosure 200ft by 60ft. (fn. 56) A two-storey brick warehouse with an iron-and-slate roof was built on the quay in 1837. The estimated cost was £3,300; the tenders of James Brown of College Hill for £2,497, for building work, and of Ebenezer Robert Dewer of Old Street for £748, for founders work, were accepted. The upper floor was used for storing coffee. (fn. 57)

No. 4 Shed.

The PLA's improvements to the docks in 1912–16 included the construction of a two-storey transit shed on the east quay, 420ft long and 50ft wide, replacing the East Warehouse. Designated No. 4 Shed, it was identical in design to the transit sheds on the north quay of the West India Import Dock, also built at this time. In 1916 office accommodation was provided in the building for the Superintendent of HM Customs, and Scrutton's Ltd. (fn. 58)

Export Dock: North Quay

As early as 1806 the East India Dock Company stated that it would be convenient to owners of East India shipping if storehouses were to be erected on the north side of the outward bound dock for stores, rigging and furniture of East India ships'. (fn. 59) A variety of storehouses was built on the north quay in the early years of the nineteenth century.

Nos. 1,2 and 3 (Cotton) Warehouses.

Designed by Ralph Walker, these warehouses were erected on the north quay in 1815–16 at a cost of £2,199, the main contractors being George Munday (brickwork) and Christopher Richardson & Son of Limehouse (carpentry). (fn. 60) They were two storeys high on the north side and one storey on the south and east sides, and had blind arcaded elevations (Plate 149a). Their large barn-like hipped roofs, carried on queenpost trusses, were slated by Thomas Kinghorn of Stratford. (fn. 61) A variety of goods, including cotton, was stored in these warehouses and in 1862 they were divided into several compartments. (fn. 62) In 1900, D. Currie and Fyffe, Hudson & Company rented part of the ground floor of the Cotton Warehouses, measuring 80ft by 40ft, for the storage of bananas, and by 1906 the building was described as a banana-ripening warehouse. (fn. 63) By 1921 the warehouses were adapted to allow for the storage of oil. They were severely damaged by bombing in the Second World War and were demolished in 1946–7. (fn. 64)

Nos 8, 9 and 10 Sheds.

These were single-storey wooden buildings, perhaps erected in 1860. (fn. 65) Some of the other sheds erected around the dock in the 1850s and 1860s were placed on this quay, including one built in 1850 at an estimated cost of £320. (fn. 66)

Export Dock: South and East Quays

Nos 14, 15, 16 and 17 Sheds.

In 1844 there were two small sheds on the south quay, which were regarded as 'quite inadequate'. Carden & Hack replaced them with two new sheds, each 100ft by 30ft, one on the south quay and the other on the east quay. (fn. 67) These were later replaced by three single-storey wooden buildings on the south quay (Nos 14, 15 and 16 Sheds) and one on the east quay (No. 17). The south quay sheds stood in front of the London and Blackwall Railway terminus. In 1859, a 50–ton crane was installed on the south quay to serve the new railway terminus. (fn. 68) No. 17 was demolished when the new passage to the Entrance Basin was constructed in 1895–7.

Export Dock: West Quay

No. 4 Shed.

This may have been one of the sheds erected around the dock in the mid-nineteenth century. It burned down in 1875, and was rebuilt in such a way as to support an upper storey later if needed. The replacement was built by J. Perry & Company at an estimated cost of £797. (fn. 69)

Warehouses on the Entrance Basin

1877 Warehouses.

In 1877 several new three-storey brick warehouses for the import and export business were built on the north and east quays of the newly extended East India Dock Basin (Plate 65c). Augustus Manning designed these as fire-proof buildings. (fn. 70) In the building on the east quay, the ground floors were built for the reception of export goods, while the upper floors were intended for imports. At first-floor height (of both the warehouses and quays) was an overhead gallery or crane road, on which travelling hydraulic cranes for discharging cargoes into loopholes on the first and second floors were worked. (fn. 1) This ingenious mechanism prevented interference with the lower quay and the railway lines which provided transport for the export trade. (fn. 72) To the rear of the buildings, many entrances into the delivery yard allowed the land carriage business to proceed without interruption to the quayside activity.

For much of the nineteenth century the east quay was used exclusively by the Union Castle Line of Cape mail steamers belonging to Messrs Donald Currie & Company. A three-storey brick warehouse on the north quay was used for the same purpose. Both warehouses, built in 1877, had transit verandas which facilitated fast unloading. (fn. 73)

Engine Houses

Steam power was needed for the construction of the docks, and engine houses were among the earliest ancillary buildings to be erected. At the East India Docks two steam engines were required at an early stage, one for grinding the mortar needed to build the docks, and the other to pump the water out of the excavations (see fig. 217). (fn. 74)

The smaller engine house for the mortar mill, which may have been designed by John Rennie, was erected in 1804, and used for the first time in January 1805. It stood near the company's wharf on the River Lea, on land afterwards sold to the East India Company. Boulton & Watt supplied some of the machinery for this mill, but the main engine was purchased from the Hull-based firm of Pearse, Wray & Company at a cost of £550. (fn. 75) After selling the land in 1807, the dock company allowed the mortar mill to remain on site for a time for the use of the East India Company (see page 656). (fn. 76) No illustration of the building is known.

The water pumping engine, or 'Great Steam Engine' as it was originally known, was erected in 1803–4, at a cost of over £14,000. Situated on the quay between the Export Dock and the Entrance Basin, this building, which also comprised a residence for the principal enginekeeper, was designed by John Rennie and Ralph Walker, and built by James & William Green of Mile End. (fn. 77) Boulton & Watt supplied the engine, which was operated for the first time in October 1804, 'when she went off very pleasantly. (fn. 78) The engine house itself was a rather domestic-looking building comprising a central threestorey three-bay block, flanked north and south by two two-storey wings with semi-circular recesses in the upper storey (Plate 64b). On the ground storey all the door and window openings were round-headed and recessed within shallow arches, similar to those at the Principal Dockmaster's house. Although the building was provided with two substantial chimney stacks, the absence of a characteristic tall engine-house chimney is noticeable. Illustrations give the impression that the building was stuccoed, but if original proposals were followed the exterior was, in fact, faced with malm bricks. (fn. 79) The building survived into the 1850s.

In the 1850s a new generation of engine houses was required at the East and West India Docks to provide hydraulic power for the new cranes and other hydraulically operated equipment then being introduced at the docks. At the East India Docks a hydraulic pumping station was erected in 1857–8, not within the dock walls, but on the south side of East India Dock Wall Road, east of Naval Row. Surprisingly, this building still stands. It is described on page 637. It owes its survival to its slightly detached location and to the continuing demand for hydraulic power at the East India Docks, which lasted until they closed in the 1960s. The building was extended in 1877–8 to accommodate the additional machinery needed to meet the increased demand for power caused by the building of warehouses around the enlarged basin and by the new hydraulically operated lock gates. As part of this campaign of improvements, a remote accumulator tower was erected at the Basin in 1878. Situated close to the boundary with Orchard Wharf, it was a square brick tower with a low pyramidal roof and wooden finial, similar in style to the two surviving accumulator towers erected at the same time at Poplar Dock. (fn. 80) The tower was demolished in the 1970s.

Another engine house to survive the closure of the East India Docks was the impounding station erected on the south-east quay of the Import Dock in the late 1890s as part of a scheme of works which included rebuilding the communication between the Export Dock and the Basin and improvements to the lock between the Basin and the Import Dock. Designed by the Dock Company's Engineer, H. F. Donaldson, the impounding station is a single-storey red-brick shed with stone cornices and copings, detailed in a style faintly suggestive of the lateseventeenth-century English vernacular manner, with pedimented end elevations, broad pilaster strips, and small-pane windows. It has a slated roof supported on steel trusses. The building originally housed three pumping engines, supplied by Sir W. G. Armstong Whitworth & Company, and a 10-ton travelling overhead crane. (fn. 81)


Two early offices were among the most enduring of the ancillary buildings erected at the East India Docks, but dock offices generally were rather fugitive structures. Because there were originally no large warehouses at the East India Docks, there was no immediate requirement for a permanent office, like the Ledger Building at the West India Docks. Offices could not be dispensed with altogether, however, and from an early date there was a small dock office just inside the main gate next to the west boundary wall, which, however, soon disappeared. (fn. 82) The construction of warehouses along the north side of the Export Dock in 1815–16 led to the building of a general office at the west end of this quay, close to the entrance in East India Dock Wall Road. Erected from Walker's designs, this was a plain single-storey brick building, partly top-lit by means of a glazed lantern or clerestory, with an entrance in the centre of the west front through a porch flanked by paired pilasters. This building survived until after the Second World War. (fn. 83)

The most substantial of the early offices was built at the behest of the East India Company to accommodate the influx of clerks, merchants and brokers 'attending' the docks as a result of the new agreement between the East India Company and the dock company signed in 1827. To begin with they were given accommodation in the board-room over the main gate, but this was unsatisfactory — for 'besides its deficiency in room [it] is not in a good situation' — and the East India Company suggested that new offices should be erected a little to the south-east of the main gate (see fig. 218). The new building was designed by James Walker and erected in 1828–9 by Thomas Corpe, junior, who received £2,665 for his work. (fn. 84) It was a completely detached two-storey block, roughly oblong in plan, with a raised ground floor over a basement. The exterior was brick-faced, and, to judge from the few glimpses of the building which survive in photographs, was very plain, the only decorative features, apart from some stone bandcourses, being a dignified tetrastyle portico and flight of steps on the north front, where the principal entrance was situated. Over the years the building was altered several times, the interior being rearranged to suit changing usage, which included a period as a dockmaster's house. It was demolished in the 1930s.

Of the many later offices erected at the East India Docks, two neo-Georgian examples may be mentioned. The earlier was built in 1917 near the main gate, between the old offices and No. 14 Warehouse, and jointly occupied by the PLA and Nelson Line. This was a twostorey red-brick block, square on plan except for a splayed north-west side, with small-pane Georgian windows, stone dressings and brick quoins. It was apparently designed within the PLA, presumably by the Chief Engineer. (fn. 85)

A more substantial but architecturally more refined essay in the same style followed in 1924–5, when another two-storey range of offices was erected for the PLA along the west quay of the Import Dock. In December 1921, the company's Engineer, Cyril R. S. Kirkpatrick, reported that the quays, sheds and offices on the north quay of the Export Dock were dilapidated. Several schemes for redevelopment were put forward but it was thought not worthwhile to carry any of them out, as the dock generated little income. In December 1922 (Sir) Thomas Edwin Cooper (1873–1942), architect of the PLA's imposing headquarters buildings in Trinity Square, was asked to prepare plans and estimates for an office building for staff to be built at the north-west corner of the Export Dock (Plate 66a). His design was for a building 145ft long with adjoining dining-rooms and lavatories, which he estimated would cost £7,060. The contract for the office building was awarded to Walter Lawrence & Son and the work was completed by March 1924. (fn. 86) It was a long, low brick building with regular fenestration. The internal fitting-out of the office was undertaken by J. Mowlem & Company in March 1925, and the office was reported to have been completed by May at a total cost of £7,274. (fn. 87) The office range was demolished for the building of the Brunswick Wharf Power Station.


In common with the other dock companies, the East India Dock Company erected houses and other accommodation at the docks for the use of its employees. Although originally fewer in number and type than the comparable accommodation provided at the West India Docks, they ranged, downwards, from a large detached house for the Principal Dockmaster in the East India Dock Road to small quayside shelters for the lock-keeper. None of these buildings has survived, and in many cases there is no record of their appearance, apart from an outline shape on a plan.

In the early years of the East India Docks the houses occupied by the company's dockmasters were naturally the most substantial, but of the three dockmasters in the original establishment only the Principal Dockmaster rated a new, purpose-built house, the others having to make do with renovated houses in the vicinity. The practice of taking over existing buildings began almost as soon as work started on the docks, when the Engineer, Ralph Walker, was given accommodation in the old copperas house beside the River Lea, which the dock company had acquired as part of one of the properties purchased for making the docks. After being vacated by Walker, this house continued to be used as a residence for dock officials until the early 1870s (see page 662).

The new Principal Dockmaster's house stood just outside the main entrance to the docks on the south side of East India Dock Road, the site now covered by the approach road to the Blackwall Tunnel. (fn. 88) Erected in 1806–7, from the designs of the company's Surveyor, Thomas Swithin, this house was demolished in the late 1880s, and its appearance is known only from a couple of incongruent engravings. (fn. 89) The best of these show a fairly plain, probably stuccoed, detached house of two bays and three full storeys plus attics, flanked by two low single-storey wings. The attics were contained within a tall M-shaped mansard roof. On the ground floor, the door and window openings were set within shallow relieving arches. (fn. 90)

Only one of the early dockmasters lived inside the boundary walls of the docks, and his house, on the east quay of the Entrance Basin, was an old building, formerly part of Mather's blubber-boiling premises which had been 'patched up for the purpose'. (fn. 91) Daniell provides a distant view of it in his panorama of 1808. This house was demolished in 1815, when the basin was extended, and the Assistant Dockmaster was rehoused outside the dock wall in a new residence in Leamouth Road, designed by Walker, which survived into the 1930s (Plate 111b), although by then it had long ceased to be used as a residence by dock officials. The rehousing of the Assistant Dockmaster in a new purpose-built residence did not signal an end to the practice of converting existing buildings, and in the 1870s both the General Office Building, just inside the main gate, and the former Brunswick Tavern on Brunswick Wharf, were refurbished for occupation by the Dockmaster.

Among the smaller structures erected to provide shelter for the company's employees, the most distinctive was the lodge or cabin for the lock-gate keeper erected in 1819–20 on the eastern pier of the docks entrance lock. Designed by Walker, this was a single-storey hexagonal brick structure with a slated roof and central chimney, which survived into the 1930s (Plate 64c). (fn. 92)

The Boundary Walls

Apart from the curtailed Entrance Basin, the most substantial surviving remains of the East India Docks system are two much-repaired stretches of the high brick wall around the Import Dock enclosure. The longest stretch, of over 1,000ft, consists of part of the western perimeter wall, a portion of the southern wall and the curved interconnecting section at the south-west corner (Plate 66b). The other stretch is a carefully conserved 230ftlong section of the eastern perimeter wall, now stranded, like some venerable antiquity, on the central reservation of the recently widened Leamouth Road (Plate 66c).

Because the valuable goods unloaded at the East India Docks were not originally stored on site, a high wall around the Import Dock enclosure was thought to be sufficient for the protection of the site, without the ditches and other security devices found at the West India Docks. To start with, only the East India Import Dock was secured by a high wall, the Export Dock and Entrance Basin being protected by fences. The latter were replaced by 15ft-high brick walls in 1814–16, when warehouses were erected at the docks, but these do not survive. (fn. 93) (fn. 2)

The wall around the Import Dock was erected 'under the Inspection' of the dock company's two engineers, John Rennie and Ralph Walker, and was doubtless designed by them. (fn. 95) Trimmers supplied the bricks, McIntosh excavated the foundations, and Richards & Crawford undertook the building work, for which they had tendered at the rate of £2 10s per rod. (fn. 96) Construction was delayed while the docks themselves were being excavated, so as not to impede access to the site, and work on the wall did not begin until the autumn of 1805. (fn. 97) (fn. 3) By mid-July 1806 the wall had been completed to its full height along nearly four-fifths of its length, and the remainder was within 5ft of completion. The engineers expected the work to be finished within the week, 'if the weather continues favourable'. (fn. 99) The cost was £18,750, of which more than half (£10,150) was spent on buying bricks. As Trimmer usually supplied stocks at the rate of £2 per 1,000, some five million bricks must have been used in the construction. (fn. 100)

Rising to nearly 20ft, the wall is tapered in section and strengthened at intervals by battered buttresses. Originally, it was pierced in three places: at the northwest corner, where the main entrance to the docks stood (see below); at the south-east corner, flanking the lock connecting the Entrance Basin and the Import Dock; and on the east side where there was a gateway into Leamouth Road. This last still survives and has recently been renovated: it consists of a simple arched opening flanked by round-headed niches. A large stretch of the wall along the south side, including the rounded south-west corner overlooking Naval Row, is not the original structure, but dates from 1833–4, when the wall here was rebuilt further back to allow the new road to Brunswick Wharf to be squeezed in between the dock wall and Naval Row. (fn. 101) Designed by James Walker, this stretch of wall is now similar to the earlier portions, with battered pilasters, but photographs as late as 1947 clearly show that the pilasters were formerly more like giant piers whose tops rose above the top of the wall itself (Plate 107b). At the south-west corner there is a small iron door in an iron-framed doorway which probably dates from 1833–4. Other openings along the south and west sides are all recent.

The original long stretch of perimeter wall on the north side of the Import Dock, next to the East India Dock Road, was taken down in 1912, when the road was widened, and replaced by a much lower red-brick wall with recessed panels, stone coping and stone-capped piers. Built by Mowlems, (fn. 102) this replacement survived into the late 1980s.

Main Gate, East India Dock Road

In the absence of impressive stacks of warehouses, the construction of an imposing main gate provided almost the only opportunity for architectural display at the original East India Docks. Situated aslant the north-west corner of the Import Dock and rising to nearly 70ft, this gateway — and its replacement of 1913–14 — was a prominent local landmark, which for 150 years closed the vista at the eastern end of the East India Dock Road (Plates 61a, 62a, b).

It was designed by the dock engineer, Ralph Walker, (fn. 103) and took the form of a three-gate triumphal arch with a tall central attic storey surmounted by a metal clock-andbell turret. The height of the building in relation to its width was balanced by the addition of two narrow flanking wings, one on each side of the central three bays. These contained porters' rooms and staircases. Although built of brick, the west (or road) front of the gateway was faced in ashlared Dundee stone and on this side the ground storey was dressed with a giant order of pilasters. The attic storey contained the East India Dock Company's board-room, lit by a large tripartite round-headed window in the east wall. There was no corresponding window on the west front, where the wall space was taken up with a long inscription recording the building of the docks and the names of prominent individuals involved.

Walker's plans for the gateway were approved in December 1805, by which time the foundations were already in hand, but the work appears not to have been completed until about 1807, although it was sufficiently well advanced when the docks were opened to be hailed by The Times as a 'sumptuous stone gateway, adorned with emblematical sculpture'. (fn. 104) (fn. 4) The building work had been largely in the hands of the contractors employed elsewhere on the docks: McIntosh dug the foundations, Richards & Crawford built the structure, Kingsell & Company undertook the plumber's work, and Bailey & Company were responsible for the ironmongery, which presumably included the 25cwt of cast-iron ribs specified for the clock-and-bell turret. John Brockbank of Cowper's Court, Cornhill, supplied the clock and the bell. The well-known fanlight makers and decorative ironsmiths Underwood & Doyle provided iron railings for an internal gallery, while the furniture for the board-room was purchased from Remington & Company. (fn. 106) The total cost (to March 1808) was £5,518. (fn. 107)

The original gateway survived until 1912, when it was dismantled to allow for the widening of the East India Dock Road and the extension of the metropolitan tramway into Essex. (fn. 108) By this time the area in front of the gate had become a Speakers' Corner of the East End, long used as a rallying point and place of public oratory by trade unionists and politicians. (fn. 109) In 1913–14 the PLA erected a new entrance on a site to the south of the old. This new entrance was a quasi facsimile of the old, the principal difference being that it lacked the flanking wings, thus emphasizing the design's tall but narrowshouldered look. Although faced in stone at the front (and brick at the back) the new gateway was constructed of ferro concrete using Hennebique's system (also employed for the rebuilding of No. 1 Warehouse on the south quay of the Import Dock). (fn. 110) Dove Brothers were the principal contractors. (fn. 111) A new inscription was provided, cut in granite blocks. The old inscription over the gateway, which had been cut in Dundee Stone, had deteriorated to the point of illegibility. When this second gateway was demolished in 1958 for the new northern approach road to the Black wall Tunnel, the inscribed blocks were re-erected close by as a memorial to the gate. Though still nearby, this memorial has been re-sited since 1986.


  • 1. Loopholes are the vertical series of doors from which the goods, in craning, are delivered into a warehouse.
  • 2. In the event the walls proved to be scalable, and in 1820 the Treasury suggested that the docks might be better secured from pilfering either by raising the wall or by placing chevaux de frise along the top. Neither suggestion appears to have been adopted.
  • 3. At one point early in 1806 Richards & Crawford were relieved of the wall contract for non-attendance and neglect of the work. The reason was that Crawford had been very ill while Richards was away in Bristol supervising a contract at the docks there. Arrangements were made to employ other contractors, but the directors relented and they were re-instated.
  • 4. The sculptural embellishments mentioned by The Times are a bit of a mystery. They do not appear to be included in the building accounts, but at least one (rather dim) early engraving shows what look like four carved trophies on the parapets flanking the central bay.
  • 5. 54 Geo III, c.228.
  • 6. EIDC 291, f.328.
  • 7. EIDC 278, p.71; 292, ff.34, 36, 68, 85, 93, 95.
  • 8. EWIDC 444, p.184.
  • 9. GL, MS 14,948, p.14.
  • 10. EWIDC 446, p.66.
  • 11. Ibid, p.239: GL, MS 15,628/1.
  • 12. GL, MS 14,942/1, pp.84, 170.
  • 13. GL, MS 14,943/1, p.130.
  • 14. EWIDC 448, pp.393, 448.
  • 15. BN, 16 Nov 1866, p.770.
  • 16. MiDS (LD) 11/5.
  • 17. EWIDC 449, p.353: B, 7 Nov 1867, p.672.
  • 18. EWIDC 449, p.33: LIDJC 269, pp.300, 304.
  • 19. LIDJC 269, pp.300, 304.
  • 20. EWIDC 237A, p.86.
  • 21. GL, MS 14,942/9, p.298; Royal Commission. . ., 1902, app.D, pp. 162–3.
  • 22. PLA Mins, iii, p.337.
  • 23. PLA Mins, vii, p.184.
  • 24. MiD, East India Dock Improvements, 1912.
  • 25. PLA, Guide for the use of Visitors to the Docks and Warehouses, 1913, p.61.
  • 26. PLA Mins, vi, p.43.
  • 27. PLA Mins, vii, p.439; xii, pp.127, 425; xiv, p.485.
  • 28. PLA Mins, xxxix, p.284; xli, p.98; xlv, p.259.
  • 29. PLA Mins, xxxviii, p.173.
  • 30. EIDC 293, ff.48, 145.
  • 31. LIDJC 258, p.53: Royal Commission. . ., 1902, p.162.
  • 32. MiDS 395: LIDJC 269, pp.28–9, 270–1.
  • 33. LIDJC 258, p.392: MiDS 359.
  • 34. EIDC 281, pp.19, 40, 82, 85, 393, 395, 401–2; 283, pp.83–6.
  • 35. EIDC 293, ff.47, 123, 133, 144.
  • 36. LIDJC 269, p.76.
  • 37. Ibid, ff. 144, 148.
  • 38. EIDC 294, ff.3–5.
  • 39. Ibid, f.177.
  • 40. EIDC 283, pp.58–9.
  • 41. EIDC 287, p.378.
  • 42. PLA Mins, li, p.193.
  • 43. EWIDC 449, p.94; 472, pp.8–11.
  • 44. PLA Mins, xxix, pp.262, 323; xxx, p.337.
  • 45. EWIDC 451, pp.192, 228.
  • 46. ICE, Rennie Report, East India Docks, 12 June 1806.
  • 47. Ibid.
  • 48. EIDC 284, pp.219–20.
  • 49. EIDC 295, ff.171, 192.
  • 50. EWIDC 443, p.516.
  • 51. GLRO, LCC/FB/GEN/2/69.
  • 52. EIDC 285, pp.334–449; 287, pp.314–449.
  • 53. GL, MS 14,948; Royal Commission. . ., 1902, app.D, p.162.
  • 54. MiDS 1660
  • 55. MiD, PLA Map 1951.
  • 56. EIDC 278, pp.465–7.
  • 57. EIDC 289, pp.206, 220, 362, 408; 290, p.12: GL, MS 14,948.
  • 58. PLA Mins, vii, p.329.
  • 59. EIDC 278, pp.7–8.
  • 60. EIDC 293, ff.46, 50.
  • 61. GL, MS 15,628/1.
  • 62. GL, MS 14,942/1, p.21.
  • 63. GL, MSS 14,942/9, p.242; 14,943/1, p.545.
  • 64. PLA Mins, xxxviii, p.302.
  • 65. EWIDC 446, p.258.
  • 66. EWIDC 441, pp.110–15; 442, p.438.
  • 67. EWIDC 437, pp.71, 110.
  • 68. EWIDC 445, p.499; 446, p.25.
  • 69. EWIDC 455, pp.9, 123.
  • 70. GL, MS 14,943/6, p.25.
  • 71. J.Gwilt, The Encyclopedia of Architecture, 1867 edn.
  • 72. MiDD 6620070.
  • 73. MiDD 6620093.
  • 74. EIDC 276, p.149.
  • 75. Ibid, pp.77, 91; 291, pp.27, 34, 185, 223: MiD, Vaughan portfolio, plan of Dec 1804.
  • 76. EIDC 278, pp.88–9.
  • 77. EIDC 276, pp.178–9; 291, ff.49, 143.
  • 78. EIDC 277, p.476.
  • 79. EIDC 276, pp.178–9.
  • 80. MiDD 6660003.
  • 81. LIDJC 233, pp.64, 69; 240, p.347; 241, p.31: MiDD 6780015, 6780027–30.
  • 82. Horwood's map.
  • 83. MiDD 6620374.
  • 84. EIDC 285, pp.317–25, 352–3.
  • 85. MiDD 6620353.
  • 86. PLA Mins, xiv, pp.77, 315, 484.
  • 87. PLA Mins, xvii, p.50.
  • 88. MDR 1826/9/71.
  • 89. EIDC 277, pp.457, 460; 278, pp.8–9, 118, 123, 189, 193–4, 295, 298, 308; 284, p.115: MDR 1826/9/71.
  • 90. Pudney, op.cit., p.94 (illus.67).
  • 91. EIDC 281, pp.176–7.
  • 92. EIDC 292, f.28.
  • 93. MiD, Vaughan portfolio, plan of the East India Docks, 1804: EIDC 281, p.40; 293, ff.33, 44, 45.95.125, 169.
  • 94. EIDC 283, p.211.
  • 95. EIDC 277, p.32.
  • 96. Ibid, pp.301–2; 291, pp.125, 294.
  • 97. EIDC 277, p.323; 296, p.29.
  • 98. EIDC 277, pp.376–8, 380–2.
  • 99. EIDC 296, p.44.
  • 100. EIDC 277, p.60; 291, pp.69, 137–8.
  • 101. MiDD 1440029: MiDS 3150, plan of 1836: EIDC 286, pp.387–8, 401, 432–3, 443.
  • 102. PLA Mins, iii, p.312; iv, p.143: MiDD 6500019.
  • 103. EIDC 277, p.350.
  • 104. Ibid, pp.345, 350: The Times, 5 Aug 1806, p.3a.
  • 105. THLHL, illustrations 964.2.
  • 106. EIDC 277, p.350; 291, ff.103, 243, 264, 272, 282; 292, ff.65, 97; 293, pp.15, 351, 361.
  • 107. EIDC 291, f.282.
  • 108. Westminster Gazette, 11 Sept 1912: EEN, 17 Feb 1914, p.1.
  • 109. Daily Telegraph, 1 May 1912.
  • 110. PLA Mins, iv, p.142: MiDD 6620240–59.
  • 111. PLA Mins, iv, pp.142, 153.