An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse

I’ve known this print for a while, but recently came across a higher resolution version for the first time and managed to zoom in on various areas. This revealed an amazing amount of detail, including elements which are still recognizable today – albeit much changed and redeveloped.

Click for large version

The caption reads (most of the dodgy spelling is the artist’s, but some is the spelling of the time):

An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse for the reception and accommodation of Shipping in the West India Trade, representing the General appearance, when finished of that magnificent & truly national work of which a great part, by the energy, spirit & perseverance of the Directors appointed to superintend its excavation has been actually compleated in the short space of little more than two years from its commencement in Feb. 1800, insomuch that on the 27 of Aug. 1802 the Thames was permitted to flow into the larger bason, which is 2600 feet in length containing an Area of thirty Acres; & two Ships, the Henry Addington & Echo, being the first Vessels admitted, were received amidst the shouts of an immense concourse of spectators assembled to behold a scene so highly interesting to every well-wisher to the property & glory of his Country. The Canal on the left, running parellel to the Docks, is executing by the Corporation of London for the purpose of facilitating the navigation of the River, in affording an opportunity for Shipping to avoid its circuitous & often dangerous course round the Isle of Dogs; A Work co-operating with the other in the same grand Object which is to give at once Activity & Security to the commerce of the Metropolis.

To the Chairman, Deputy Chairman & Directors of the West India Dock Company this Print is with their permission inscribed by their Obedient and obliged Servent, William Danniell.

Drawn & Engraved by Wm. Danniell & Published by him at No. 9, Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square, London, Oct. 15, 1802.

William Dan(n)iell (1769–1837) was an English landscape and marine painter. Famous for his perfection of the technique of aquatint, a form of etching in which ink was placed in marks on a copper or zinc plate from where the image would be printed. Daniell made hundreds of these etches in his lifetime, including those made after a trip to India and many travels around Great Britain. His works include a number of elevated views of the docks along the Thames in London.

Daniell based his print on the designs for the docks as projected in 1800.


Excavation in 1802

Survey of London:

When work on the docks started it was intended that they should be ready for the arrival of the West India trade in the summer of 1802.  The first stages were completed smoothly, and on the first anniversary of the Act, 12 July 1800, William Pitt and Lord Loughborough, the Lord Chancellor, ceremonially laid the foundation stone of the first warehouse, at the south-east corner of what became No. 8 Warehouse. The stone carried a commemorative inscription, later replicated at the base of the clock-turret on No. 5 Warehouse, at the centre of the north quay.

This stone has since been moved and mounted on a plinth in Hertsmere Road, opposite the Cannon Workshops.

… on 27 August 1802 a crowd of tens of thousands, including many of the country’s most eminent figures, gathered for a grand opening ceremony. Invited guests were accommodated in No. 8 Warehouse and two ships entered the docks with great pomp. The occasion was regarded as a national event of the first importance and was reported in superlatives. Indeed, the scale of the work stupefied some contemporary observers: The Times referred to ‘the stupendous scale on which it has been planned’ and noted that the dock itself, ‘appearing like a great lake, was an object of beauty and astonishment’. The Import Dock, Blackwall Basin, Blackwall entrance locks and three warehouses were essentially complete and already formed the largest wet-dock system ever seen.

But anyway, back to the print. In 1800 there was plenty to see (this version has highlighted areas, for reference from later sections)…

Click for larger version

a. City of London
b. Limehouse
c. Poplar
d. West India Import Dock, North Quay (western end)
e. West India Import Dock, South Quay & West India Export Dock, North Quay
f. City Canal, Western Entrance
g. City Canal
h. Blackwall Basin
i. City Canal, Eastern Entrance
j. Cold Harbour
k. Blackwall Entrance

a. City of London

There’s not much to see north and northwest of West India Docks. Off in the distance is the City of London, with St. Paul’s Cathedral on the right, and Westminster Abbey further away on the left.

It is not surprising that there is not much to to see – at the time of the construction of the West India Docks, East London as we know it now was largely farmland.

1804, just after the opening of West India Docks

b. Limehouse

Right of centre, St. Anne’s Church.

Commercial Road was constructed between 1802 and 1806, intended for the shipment of goods to/from the City and the West and East India Docks. Before its construction, the main routes east from the City were Whitechapel Road, and the roads that we now know as Cable Street and The Highway (which converge(d) at the western end of Narrow Street). The construction of Commercial Road also cost St. Anne’s the northern end of its church yard.

c. Poplar

The settlement of Poplar was not much more than the houses on either side of Poplar High Street. As “High Street” means in the strictest sense, it was the path along the highest-lying land, which in this case was drier and more passable than the Thames marshland to the south; as can be observed by looking down Dolphin Lane, Stoneyard Lane or Harrow Lane from Poplar High Street (which the following, 1804, map describes as ‘Poplar Street’).

d. West India Import Dock, North Quay (western end)

Unfortunately this hasn’t zoomed in too well. The warehouses at the western end still exist and house – amongst others – the Museum of London Docklands.

Import Dock, North Quay, 1810. Looking east from approximately the site of the Hibbert Gate (where it is today, not where it was).


Warehouses further east along the North Quay were destroyed during World War II.



e. West India Import Dock, South Quay & West India Export Dock, North Quay

This depicts a double row of substantial warehouses in the area between the Import and Export Docks. Few of these warehouses were actually built – three decades later the need for warehouse space was less than projected – in part because the East India Docks were winning more business.


f. City Canal, Western Entrance

Another section which unfortunately has not zoomed too well. Before the City Canal was constructed, there was a tavern on the site of the western entrance, known as the Gut House (see The Poplar Gut for more information), which was demolished to make room for the canal. The owner of the Gut House purchased some land south of the canal entrance, and built a new pub, which he named the City Arms.


The City Arms (later, City Pride) has gone, but the “Pumping Station” – the West India Docks Impounding Station – is still there, maintaining the docks’ water level.

g. City Canal

The City Canal preceded the docks by a few years. As Daniell describes, it was created by the City of London Corporation, and was intended to shorten the route between the City and the sea (not just due to the shorter distance – the wide loop around the Isle of Dogs meant that ships would inevitably at some stage have to sail into the wind; as a consequence, it wasn’t uncommon for ships to be becalmed for days on end in the river off the Island).

City Canal, with West India Docks behind the dock wall in the background.

The wind problem wasn’t entirely cured by the straight line offered by the canal – it wasn’t wide enough for ships to tack. This, combined with the locks at either end, meant that ships would frequently have to be towed. In the end, the cost of passage proved too great for many ship owners, and the City Canal was not a financial success.

A forelorn looking City Canal, with West India Docks behind the dock wall in the background.

The dock company acquired the canal from the the City of London Corporation in 1829. By 1849 a timber dock had been constructed south of the City Canal, which was no longer a canal but had been converted for dock usage and was now known as the South Dock.


And in the 1860s, the South Dock and Timber Dock were combined and enlarged to form the South Dock. (And, as the map shows, the West India Docks had gained some competition from the newly-built Millwall Docks to its south).


This, largely, was the form the docks would retain for the remaining 100 years of their operations.

h. Blackwall Basin

The three docks were initially separate, with the docks connected by Limehouse Basin in the west and Blackwall Basin and the SW India Dock Basin in the east. The basins were essentially huge locks – ships would sail in from the Thames at high tide, the lock gate was closed behind them before the tide receded, and there they would wait until it was convenient to sail them into one of the docks. The opposite process was applied to ships leaving the docks.

Originally, Blackwall Basin was not walled, but had banked sides. Its shape was designed to facilitate the towing in of ships (don’t ask me how). In the 1920s, the PLA, who by then ran the docks, created passages to connect the three West India Docks, which caused Blackwall Basin and Limehouse Basin to lose their function as oversized locks (at the end of the same decade Millwall Cut was constructed to connect the Millwall and West India Dock systems). However, it did lead to the walling of Blackwall Basin and the opportunity to use it for berths and quays. Limehouse Basin, on the other hand, was filled in.



From the collection of the late Tom Bolton, with many thanks to his daughter Debbie Warren


i. City Canal, Eastern Entrance

This is the only image of the bridge over the City Canal of which I am aware, and – seeing as the print is based on plans rather than reality – it is highly unlikely to look like the timber bridge that was eventually constructed across the 45 ft wide canal entrance. The timber bridge survived until 1842, when it was replaced by an iron swing bridge, the first of many bridges on the site, the last of which is the Blue Bridge (see The Blue Bridge for more information).


Cutty Sark

c1970 (guessing)



j. Cold Harbour

This was one area that Daniell did not need to entirely envisage as some buildings were there before the construction of the West India Docks, and some are still there today (see You say Coldharbour, I say Cold Harbour for more information).

Rear of 3 Cold Harbour (aka Nelson House). Visible in print and in present-day photo. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (City of London)



k. Blackwall Entrance

For information about the Blackwall Entrance, see The End of the Island – Blackwall Entrance Lock.

Reconstruction in 1893


1963, screenshot from Queenie Watts documentary (that’s her in the headscarf)



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13 Responses to An Elevated View of the New Docks & Warehouses now constructing on the Isle of Dogs near Limehouse

  1. Hello Mike.
    Next time you’re in the area pop in and see me at my Cannon Workshops studio. I’ll let you have a copy of a limited edition we’ve produced of the William Daniel panorama. We use the image (albeit low resolution) as the banner on our Twitter account.

  2. Rich says:

    Brilliant piece of East End history Mick I found it most interesting

  3. Pingback: A Wander Around the Block Near the City Arms | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

  4. Tony Alltoft says:

    Superb Mick. Most interesting and loved the pictures and maps.

  5. Without wishing to offend some much loved friends, I thought for a moment that the bundle of 20’s was severance pay! Anyway, a lovely piece of work. Keep up the good work. Without sites like this our history would disappear forever. (P.S. friend who where stevedores or docker’s will appreciate the irony of my opening sentence, God bless them!)

  6. Oops! Used a Grocers apostrophe inadvertently on my previous post!

  7. Pingback: The Blue Bridge | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

  8. Pingback: The Isle of Dogs in Maps | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

  9. Pingback: A Small Corner of the West India Docks | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

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