Our new season is now open: Spring 1677 !
Since ancient times London had always been one of the major ports of England, both because of its location at the lowest bridging point of the Thames and the tides, which brought a useful depth of water at high tide and letÂ shipsÂ come and go, even though the port was a long way from the mouth of the river. The inland position also provided extra defences. Only the Dutch had breached the port once, Admiral De Ruyter stealing the Royal Charles sailing up the Thames with a broom tied to his mast.
Nowadays most of the the ships unloaded at the dock in Blackwell, their cargo then loaded upon barges that were taken further up the Thames towards the warehouses at the Quayside in Southwark, also known as the Pool of London.
While the Thames itself was a highway of traffic to and fro, accessed by the many waterstairs, the London Port was more difficult to access. Most Londoners would watch the activity from the London Bridge with curiosity, wondering what all the mysterious activity was about. Even during the night it continued, though more often than not the cargo not entirely legal at such a time. Most of the time authorities seemed to turn a blind eye.
While everybody thought of it as London Port, there were a slew of smaller villages just outside that city which saw the actual activities develop, providing a single focus. Greenwhich and Blackwell were such villages.
The docks provided the landing space required. Surrounded by big walls, here the big overseas merchant ships, as well as the Navy ships dock. Here they are fitted again for another trip, taking in or off loading cargo. Guards at the entrance prevent casual walker's by and potential thieves from wandering where they are not wanted.
The small yards at Blackwall were privately owned. They produced coastal craft and merchant ships. Some also received contracts to build brigs and sloops for the Navy. This allowed the naval dockyards to concentrate on building larger ships.
The Yards could be openly accessed by a persistent person, but all tools of trade were locked up in a wooden shed with a guard, who also patrolled the ships. There had been incidents last year with a royal yacht that necessitated these measures.
A platform now stands atop the locale of neglected pile of gravel, one day it shall hold a statue, but for now it is a fine spsot upon which to view the industry of London Port
Pool of London
On both side of the Thames in London one could find the many piers that allowed barges to land, with water stairs giving easy access to the city beyond. Here were the quays, or wharfs, legal, or as was the case on the south bank on sufferance, where cargo was offloaded from the barges and put into the many warehouses with use of a large labour force.
Companies that find themselves with a warehouse at the Quayside in Southwark include the Spitsbergen whaling Muscovy Company (its origins in Russia), the Royal African Company with its slave trade, the Virginia Company and the Hudson Bay company. The most impressive warehouses however were reserved for the riches of the East India Company.
The Custom House
The first Custom House was built around 1275 to collect the dues for Edward's Great Custom. After many destructions, like so many buildings in London it was rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire, in 1671. The building itself was a simple one, painted with bright white walls.
All paperwork concerning duties payable on imported goods were taken here for processing before unloading might begin. This was a complicated business. When there were almost 2000 dutiable goods, and ships carried many different goods, calculating the necessary duties for each vessel was an immense task. After costume was paid, the goods were given an official seal of approval. Recently the seal has been renewed to prevent copies from being made for smuggling purposes.