From the Port of Londinium to the Docklands of Today: A Brief Historical Look at the Docks of London.

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     When I first went to the Museum of the Docklands, I felt so absorbed into the rich history of this region by the River Thames. The first exhibit floor consisted of the stories of how it all began.  Recounting the battle between the native Britons led by Queen Boudicca and the Roman army who would eventually defeat the natives, take the land and build the region’s first port, Londinium was incredibly interesting to read at this part of the exhibit floor.  As the exhibit went on it was then discussing the fall of the Roman Empire, which in turn left the once bustling port to the Germanic-Saxon tribes who drove off the last of anyone who was still living in this area. Then the exhibit talked about the revival of the area which would result in a rebellion led by Alfred the Great, who would help bring about the first steps into unifying the nation of England.  Later on, I saw the story of this revival unfold as a place on the brink of dismantlement turn into one of the world’s most flourishing ports as the Docklands more and more throughout its history grew into the port of a metropolis. However, there were exhibits that were depressing but did portray the time periods and the harsh realities that were depicted in them.

The second floor exhibited artifacts, paintings and information podiums on slavery and the British East India Trading Company which pretty much ruled the world’s economy at the time.  Showing exhibits of as well the slave trade which made me emotionally distraught but to be fair they also tell of the do focus on England’s African population in a great detail of context and the contributions they had made to the docklands after slavery. Another exhibit that really got to me emotionally was seeing the photographs of the Docklands Development and how many people had to suffer so that the Docklands could me the modernized port it is now. When I saw that in the information plaque that over 50,000 residents were forced into homelessness due to the development in the from the Mid-1970’s to the Late 1980’s, I felt just mortified about it. To conclude, the history of the Docklands is rich. Whether that history was paved with the suffering and exploitation of it’s own people and the people of the nations under it’s colonial rule, or paved with the ideas of exploration, modernization and a unified nation, the 2,000 year old history of this area still continues to this day.



Chris Ciambor

August, 12 2013

The Museum at Docklands was one of the most interesting museums that I had visited. It had a much more modern feel than that of the other museums that we had visited. The museum delves into what life along the docks were   before and after things changed into a massive urban center. The museum shows how people felt and what they went through during times of strife, such as IRA bombings or the times they were essentially forced to move out of their homes to make way for construction.

What was also discussed was the darker side, such as the history of slavery and trade in the earlier times of London. Altogether, I believe that this excursion was one of the best representations of Englishness and the mapping of such. This shows the history of trade within London and commodities traded. It also shows the practices of slavery and the hardships that were experienced.  It also showed the more recent history of the people who lived in the Docklands and their culture. I never knew that people had grown so attached to the Docklands. The Docklands has deep to Londoners, which was expressed on a wall of post cards, relating personal feelings and experiences.  I originally thought the Docklands was just another urban area in London but I clearly learned that there is more history there that connects Londoners of today to their past.  The museum shows the essence of what the English Empire, how vast it stretched, how powerful it was.  The docklands acted as a world center of the British Empire, an empire that essentially ruled the world.  The world has changed, the empire is no longer there, but Londoners still have a strong connection to the Docklands, both negative and positive in nature.  Personally I believe that the urban development that occurred with Docklands is a good thing for London, avoiding urban decay.  

A history of the Docklands:


Museum of Docklands

Our trip to the Museum of London Docklands was quite fascinating and not what I expected- in a good way! One of the exhibits that struck me was titled Sugar and Slavery. On the Museum of Docklands website, the description reads
“London, Sugar & Slavery. Visit the permanent exhibition that examines London’s involvement in transatlantic slavery in our thought-provoking gallery, London, Sugar & Slavery, In the setting of this historic sugar warehouse, challenge long-held beliefs that abolition was initiated by politicians and be touched by the real objects.” In the upper right-hand corner, there is a PDF you can download that advertises “revealing our city’s untold history, a short walk that shows some of the city of London’s connections to transatlantic enslavement.” The floor which housed the exhibit displayed shocking information about politicians and people in power being extreme advocates for slavery and how important it was to preserve slavery in the world. Also included was information about strong advocates for freedom and how, slowly but surely, the resistance gained followers.

My favorite part of this exhibit was a brief film that was shown on three screens in the middle of the floor. The picture I included above was taken by me during the film. Though the film was mainly images of words shown across the screen, it had such an impact on my understanding of slavery. My stomach lurched some of the sentences about not being able to have any control or personal autonomy, being starved and beaten and mistreated; the simple words projected onto the screens were startling because of the truth they spoke. The second part of the film focused on the strength that slaves had by living through this and fighting slavery. It was incredible.

And what I loved about it was that the hope didn’t overshadow the atrocities people that were enslaved went through. I’ve seen a lot of places, especially in America, that talk about the devastating, disgusting realities of what the slaves went through, but they try to make the viewer forget about the truth and only remember the hope and strength and happiness of slavery being abolished. The point of those representations is to leave the viewer feeling a sense of pride for their country, not to fully educate about the realities. However, this film in the Museum of Docklands did a phenomenal job of not being solely for the pride and patriotism of the viewer. It presented a truthful representation.

Another section of this exhibit that really stuck with me was the contemporary spin it had on it. There were pictures of black people today in London, explaining how they felt about their race and their place in society. The people shown were proud to be black Londoners and talked about their jobs and home lives. This reminded me of what our class said about Patience Agbabi and how she is focusing on creating a place for blacks in London. If we take these two representations of black in London (and England as a whole), we see two different stories being told: the museum shows the positive side, Agbabi brings to light the difficulties blacks are still facing today in poems like “Foreign Exchange” and “Grey Area.” By making these connections and seeing how the identities aren’t exactly alike, we learn how Englishness is being redefined differently for everyone. Possibly in some areas of London, black Londoners are met with more racism or more acceptance than in other parts. Or, we can think about the audience and the purpose of these representations. The Museum of Docklands is telling the story from a place of power that, because it is one of the museums in London, might want to show a hopeful, brighter side to today’s society when showing the nasty history of slavery. Maybe the museum wants to reinforce that the history is indeed history. Agbabi, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily writing so her audience is comforted or uplifted by her representations of race. She is more focused on telling of her personal experience and the experience she sees of race representations in London. There is so much to consider as to why these representations differ so much.

All in all, this excursion enriched my understanding of the Englishness and the course material, and was a lot of fun!

Museum of London Docklands

One of the many museums that we visited was the Museum of London Docklands and one that I found particularly interesting. I found the Thames particularly beautiful and found the history of it and the docks to be really fascinating. What I found most interesting was the Sailortown exhibit. I always find historical setups that guests can walk through and explore to be particularly interesting and I loved going into the saloon and pretending to be at the bar with the background noise and music from that time period. The Sailortown page on the museum’s website says, “Experience the bustle and hustle of Victorian Wapping in this evocative reconstruction.” It also goes on to say, “The gallery attempts to recreate the contemporary description of the area as “both foul and picturesque”. The area was a maze of streets, lanes, and alleys. Its inhabitants catered to the needs of sailors of all nationalities alighting in London.”

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This museum is important to two texts: The London Scene and City of the Mind. It is mentioned in City of the Mind as the place that Matthew is reviving. As we know from the history, it was a place of dirt and grime. It was where work was done and ports were docked with boats from around the world. It definitely was in need of a revival and is a focal point of the story in this way. The more prime example of this museum relating to the text is in The London Scene. Virginia Woolf makes it very clear that no pleasure boats navigated through the river and it was a very smelly place to be, with the banks of the river lined with dingy warehouses.

With the sea blowing its salt into our nostrils, nothing can be more stimulating than to watch the ships coming up the Thames- the big ships and the little ships, the battered and the splendid, ships from India, from Russia, from South America, ships from Australia coming from silence and danger and loneliness past us, home to harbour. But once they drop anchor, once the cranes begin their dipping and their swinging, it seems as if all romance were over. If we turn and go past the anchored ships towards London, we surely see the most dismal prospect in the world. The banks of the river are lined with dingy, derelict-looking warehouses.

The Thames and these docks can be the most beautiful sight in the whole world and that is soon ruined by the derelict warehouses and the smell. It’s an important part of London’s history as the Port of London, which the Docklands were once a part of, was at one time, the world’s largest port. By the late 1970s, the docks had become obsolete and the area had become a “derelict wasteland.” The docks were transformed in the 1980s and 1990s by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) and has now become a successful center for trade. This video, from the BBC Learning Zone, highlights the changes made and gives a little history on the Docklands:

It’s a pertinent excursion to the theme of Mapping Englishness because this was once the largest port in the world and became an important part of London’s history. The museum was essential to the theme and background of Englishness because of the many exhibits illustrating the many different parts of the Docklands. Sailortown is a beautiful depiction of what life was like during that time period, the Victorian time period. So while we have the smelly Docklands and the existence of Sailortown in one part of London, we have the wealthy burying their dead loved ones in the ever prestigious Highgate. Everything connects together and becomes and essential element to the history of London and what it means to map Englishness.


The Docklands Museum

The Docklands Museum


The Dock Lands Museum was unlike any other museum I have ever gone to. One reason is because I’ve never been to a museum right outside the actual dock! I thought that was a really interesting and clever place to have a museum and it definitely drew my attention to it. I liked that when you first walk in, it just looks like a little gift and coffee shop, but as you walk upstairs it takes you to a huge exhibit. I really liked how the build this museum, it kept me very interested and wondering what was going to happen next. I really enjoyed walking through the exhibit were it displayed the old western times. It was in a dark cave looking exhibit and it actually felt like you were in that time. They also had a pub display where you could go in and look around. Everything about that exhibit was really creative and fun I really enjoyed it.

Some interesting facts related to “Englishness” were learning about the history of the London Eye. The London Eye weighs 2,100 tones, stands 135 meters high and it is history’s Largest Observation Wheel. Also it is 25 miles of London and south0east of England. Another interesting fact about it is that husband and wife, “David Mark and Julia Barfield”, created it. They created this as to mark the “passing of the millennium.” Another fact I saw in the museum was about ‘Thames boat”. It was about a tragic event in London history of a ship sinking and losing many peoples lives. There were 113 guests on the party and 51 of those guests lost their lives.

Another historic event that I found was an important part of history was the video of “Black Saturday”.  The video talked about how the London port was a quarter of the imports for London. But at 4:00pm the city of London was bombed by the Natiz. It stated that the fire from the bomb burned the city for five whole days. Also talked about how on September 19, 1914, the Prime Minister Whinstin Church saw the damage that was done to London. I think this tragic event was an important part of history because the bombs could not destroy London. I think when you hear the history and tragic stories and then see how London looks today, you can tell how much effort people put in to this internationally well known city.

I believe Englishness is seen through out this museum because it has a different aspect to how they portray the information within. I believe that the culture itself is seen through the different displays and stories. I believe that the different people and languages that come together to explore the museum give it a sense of Englishness. I feel the people in a space make up somewhat of the space itself. Since London itself is such an international city, I believe that the museum itself represented London through that aspect as well.

The Docklands Museum

Before going to the Docklands, I had no idea what to expect. In my mind there were the echoes of Virginia Woolf, “The banks of the river are lined with dingy, decrepit- looking warehousing. They huddle on land that has become flat and slimy with mud. The same air of decrepitude and of being provisionally stamps them all.” I had known that they were renovated because that is what a large part of Penelope Lively’s City of the Mind focuses on. But it was still a surprise to me see the large glass buildings with stock information on them and men in business suits around once we got off of the tube. This was not at all the London that I was expecting or used to. Even when we stopped by Canary Warf again to go to Greenwhich I was still impressed with the massive glass structures that still took me by surprise

At the Docklands Museum found the transformation of the docks to be very interesting. The museum tracked the development of the docks form the time of the Romans to what they are today. A couple of portions of the museum struck me. This past year I was in a Victorian Britain history class and we focused on the abolition movement It was interesting to me to see the things that I discussed in the class and see the actual artifacts in the museum. There was a wall with all of the names of all the slave ships and the number of cargo they held, when you see this wall it truly has an impact. IMG_0735

Another area of the museum that I enjoyed was the fisherman’s village. This town was more reminiscent of what we would have seen if we went to the Docklands in the time that Woolf was writing about them



London has been able to re-grow several times. It should virtually not exist after all of the fires they have experienced, but today London thrives. The Docklands are a perfect example of how that area is able to rise up from something that was so vile before to become an area of growth and business that it is now. The novel City of the Mind looks at the changes the city has and continues to make. It is an interesting look at time and space and how these two intersect to create the history of London.

This is all about the renovations of the Docklands

Museum of London Docklands

The Museum of the London Docklands was a very interesting excursion. If we hadn’t gone there I’m not sure I would have seen the docklands which would have left me with a skewed image of this section of London. Before our excursion the only things I knew about the docklands was what Virginia Woolf said about them in her 80+ year old series of essays ‘The London Scenes’. Equipped with Woolf’s descriptions I can say that stepping out of the tube system and seeing the modern day docklands was a shocking moment. Woolf had stated in the 1930s that the docklands was an unpleasant place that was dirty and smelled bad. The docklands of today are honestly the largest, cleanest, fanciest business district I have ever seen.

It was when I saw what the docklands are like now that helped me see City of the Mind better. Matthew Halland’s project at the docklands had been difficult to picture without warehouses, cranes, and barges (which are certainly there but not the focus) but when I walked down a concrete courtyard flanked by massive steel buildings covered in spotless glass and nearly tripped over a precisely cut out strip in the ground that allowed a thin, straight trail of water to run down the courtyard for no apparent reason, I realized how immensely lucrative this place is and how well Halland must have been doing as an architect.

The docklands is quite a different place than what Woolf described and the museum of the Docklands taught me about this dramatic change. I think I can speculate that the docklands would not be what they are today without what happened in World War II. Progress that reflected the changing times might have been significantly slower had a large portion of the docks not been destroyed by bombs in the London Blitz of the early 1940s. The Germans strategically heavily bombed the docks of London which they knew would be economically devastating for the British. This situation of having to rebuild certainly would have accelerated the process of change into what we see as the docklands now.

In the museum, the first thing you learn about, obviously, is Londinium and its creation by the Romans. The Romans had created a port along the Thames as a supply base they called Londinium in AD 50. They continued to defeat the native Britons and soon established a town at the port of Londinium. As a plaque at the museum says, “In AD 60, the Roman writer Tacitus, described Londinium as ‘an important centre for merchants and merchandise’.” So even since its inception, London has been an important port of trade, though now its main function is simply importing goods. Reading about this gave me a better idea of what Londinium would have looked and been like in The Emperor’s Babe.

As we know, London’s massive expansion from these humble beginnings turned Britain into a formidable empire, one of the biggest in the world. Further along in the museum I found a drawing from 1805 that embodies the Britain’s global influence, and its narcissism. The following picture is an “Emblematic Representation of Commerce and Plenty Presenting the City of London with the Riches of the Four Quarters of the World”. As you can see, the four corners of the world are presented in the drawing as very small people implying that Britain is literally bigger and better. I found it extremely interesting that the three main figures in the drawing, ‘Commerce’, ‘Plenty’, and ‘The City of London’ are all women. As I could find no information on this drawing at allWhat do you suppose this means in an England of 1805? As I could find no further information on this drawing at all, I’ll leave it as food for thought…