Port of London

Port of London

The Port of London lies along the banks of the River Thames from London, England to the North Sea. Once the largest port in the World, in recent years it has been Britain's second or third largest port.

The port can handle cruise liners, ro-ro ferries and cargo of all types including containers, timber, paper, vehicles, aggregates, crude oil, petroleum products, liquified petroleum gas, coal, metals, grain and other dry and liquid bulk materials. In 2007 the Port of London handled 52.7 million tonnes of trade, including 2,027,000 TEUs and 18.5 million tonnes of oil and related products.

The port is not located in one area - it stretches along the tidal Thames, including central London, with many individual wharfs, docks, terminals and facilities built incrementally over the centuries. As with many similar historic European ports, such as Rotterdam, the bulk of activities has steadily moved downstream towards the open sea, as ships have grown larger and other city uses take up land closer to the city's centre.

Port of London Authority

The Port of London is governed by the Port of London Authority (PLA), a public trust established in 1908 by the Port of London Act, whose responsibility extends over the Tideway of the River Thames. This is defined as being from a point just below Teddington Lock (the upstream limit of the tidal river) downstream to where the river joins the North Sea (between Margate to the south and Clacton-on-Sea to the north), a total of around 95 miles (150 km). The Port Authority does not cover the Medway or the Swale. The PLA originally had its headquarters on Tower Hill in the City of London, but today has its headquarters at London River House in Gravesend. The PLA retains a presence in the City however, with offices at Bakers' Hall on Harp Lane, where the Chairman, Chief Executive and Secretary of the authority are based.

From the City of London, via the Thames Conservancy, the PLA has inherited ownership of the bed of the river and foreshore from Teddington to the Yantlet Line (between Southend and Grain). [London Assembly standard letter re access to the River Thames - [http://mayor.london.gov.uk/assembly/past_ctees/plansd/2003/plansdmar11/plansdmar11item05appb.pdf PDF] ( [ view as HTML] )] The PLA during much of the 20th Century owned and operated many of the docks and wharfs in the Port, however they have been privatised. Today the PLA acts mainly as a managing authority of the use of the tidal stretch of the River Thames, ensuring safe navigation and the well-being of the port and its activities.

Although the PLA is repsonsible for the operation of Richmond Lock, it is not responsible for the operation of the Thames Barrier which is instead managed by the Environment Agency.

A defaced blue ensign exists for the PLA, who fly it on their own ships and river craft. The Authority also have coat of arms and a flag. Pennants exist for the Chairman and Vice Chairman. [Flags, etc of the PLA - [http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/gb-e-pla.html here] ]


The PLA is controlled by a Board. The chief officials of the Authority are at present -

*Chairman of the Board: Simon Sherrard
*Vice Chairman: Joanna Kennedy OBE

*Chief Executive: Richard Everitt
*Chief Financial Officer: Brian Chapman
*Chief Harbour Master: David Snelson
*Secretary: Bob Crighton

An historic honour is that the Lord Mayor of London, the chief dignitary of the City of London, is "ex officio" the Admiral of the Port of London.


The Port of London has been central to the economy of London since the founding of the city in the 1st Century and was a major contributor to the growth and success of the city. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was the busiest port in the World, with wharves extending continuously along the Thames for 11 miles, and over 1,500 cranes handling 60,000 ships per year. In World War II it was a prime target for the Luftwaffe during The Blitz.

Enclosed dock systems

In the late 18th century an ambitious scheme was proposed by Willey Reveley to straighten the Thames between Wapping and Woolwich Reach by cutting a new channel across the Rotherhithe, Isle of Dogs and Greenwich peninsulas. The three great horseshoe bends would be cut off with locks, as huge wet docks. ["Clout, H. (Ed) 1994, The Times London History Atlas",Times Books,ISBN 0-7230-0342-4] This was not realised, though a much smaller channel, the City Canal was subsequently cut across the Isle of Dogs.

Throughout the 19th Century a series of enclosed dock systems was built, surrounded by high walls to protect cargoes from river piracy. These included Surrey Commercial Docks (1807, originating from the Howland Great Wet Dock of 1696), West India Docks (1802), East India Docks (1803, originating from the Brunswick Dock of 1790), London Docks (1805), St Katharine Docks (1828), Royal Victoria Dock (1855), Millwall Dock (1868), Royal Albert Dock (1880), and Tilbury docks (1886).

The enclosed docks were built by several rival private companies, notably the East & West India Docks Company (owners of the East India, West India and Tilbury docks), Surrey Commercial Docks Company and London & St Katharine Docks Company (owners of the London, St Katharine and Royal docks). By the beginning of the 20th century competition and strikes led to pressure for amalgamation. A Royal Commission led to the setting up of the Port of London Authority (PLA) in 1908. In 1909 the PLA took control of the enclosed docks from Tower Bridge to Tilbury, with a few minor exceptions such as Poplar Dock which remained as a railway company facility. The PLA head Office at Trinity Square Gardens was built by John Mowlem & Co and completed in 1919.

The PLA dredged a deep water channel, added the King George V Dock (1920) to the Royal group, and made continuous improvements to the other enclosed dock systems throughout the first two thirds of the 20th Century. This culminated in expansion of Tilbury in the late 1960s to become a major container port (the UK's largest in the early 1970s), together with a huge riverside grain terminal and mechanised facilities for timber handling. Under the PLA London's annual trade had grown to 60 million tons (38% of UK trade) by 1939, but was mainly transferred to the Clyde and Liverpool during World War 2. After the war London recovered, again reaching 60 million tons in the 1960s.

Port industries

Alongside the docks many port industries developed, some of which (notably sugar refining, edible oil processing and cable manufacture), survive today. Other industries have included iron working, lead smelting, casting of brass and bronze, , timber, grain, cement and paper milling, armament manufacture, vehicle manufacture, etc. London was the major centre of shipbuilding in Britain (and perhaps in the world) for centuries, but declined relative to the Clyde and other centres from the mid 19th Century, with the last major warship, HMS Thunderer, being launched in 1911. This also affected an attempt by Henry Bessemer to establish steel-making on the Greenwich Peninsula in the 1860s. [ [http://www.history.rochester.edu/ehp-book/shb/hb21.htm Bessemer's autobiography Chapter 21] ]

There were also numerous power stations and gas works on the Thames and its tributaries and canals. Major Thames-side gasworks were located at Beckton and the Greenwich Peninsula, with power stations including Brimsdown, Hackney and West Ham on the Lea and Kingston, Fulham, Lots Road, Wandsworth, Battersea, Bankside, Narrow Street Stepney, Deptford, Greenwich, Blackwall Point, Brunswick Wharf, Woolwich, Barking, Belvedere, Littlebrook, West Thurrock, Northfleet, Tilbury and Grain on the Thames.

The coal requirements of power stations and gas works constituted a large proportion of London's post-war trade. A 1959 "Times" article [Cite newspaper The Times |articlename=Industries along the Riverside|author=Special Correspondent |section=news |day_of_week=Mon |date=Mar 16 1959 |page_number=xi |issue=54410 |column=A ] states:Quote|"About two-thirds of the 20 million tons of coal entering the Thames each year is consumed in nine gas works and 17 generating stations. Beckton Gas Works carbonises an average of 4,500 tons of coal every day; the largest power stations burn about 3,000 tons during a winter day.." ".. Three more power stations, at Belvedere (Oil-firing), and Northfleet and West Thurrock (coal-firing), are being built."

This coal was handled directly by riverside coal handling facilities, rather than the docks. For example Beckton Gas Works had two large piers which dealt with both its own requirements and with the transfer of coal to lighters for delivery to other gasworks.

A considerable proportion of the drop in London's trade since the 1960s is accounted for by loss of the coal trade, the gas works having closed following discovery of North Sea gas, domestic use of coal for heating being largely replaced by gas and electricity, and closure of all the coal-burning power stations above Tilbury.

The move downstream

With the use of larger ships and containerisation, the importance of the upstream port declined rapidly from the mid-1960s. The enclosed docks further up river declined and closed progressively between the end of the 1960s and the early 1980s. Trade at privately owned wharves on the open river continued for longer, for example with container handling at the Victoria Deep Water Terminal on the Greenwich Peninsula into the 1990s, and bulk paper import at Convoy's Wharf in Deptford until 2000. The wider port continued to be a major centre for trade and industry, with oil refineries and terminals at Coryton, Shell Haven and Canvey in Essex and the Isle of Grain in Kent. In 1992 Government privatisation policy led to Tilbury becoming a freeport. The PLA ceased to be a port operator, retaining the role of managing the Thames.

Much of the disused land of the upstream London Docklands is in the process of being developed for housing and as a second financial district for London (centred on Canary Wharf).

The Port today

"See also: List of locations in the Port of London"

The Port of London today comprises over 70 independently owned terminals and port facilities, directly employing over 30,000 people. [ [http://www.portoflondon.co.uk/ Port of London Economic Impact Study, quoted on PLA website] ] These are mainly concentrated at Purfleet (with the world's largest margarine works), Thurrock, Tilbury (the Port's current main container facility), Coryton and Canvey Island in Essex, Dartford and Northfleet in Kent, and Greenwich, Silvertown, Barking, Dagenham and Erith in Greater London.

In 2007 London was the second largest port in the United Kingdom by tonnage handled (52.7 million), after Grimsby and Immingham (66.2 million). [ [http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/statistics/datatablespublications/maritime/ports/provportstats2007 (DFT) Provisional Port Statistics 2007] ] Tees and Hartlepool was the UK's third largest port in 2007 and has a similar annual tonnage handled as London (in 2006 a slightly greater tonnage was handled in Tees and Hartlepool than at London). The Port of London however handles the most non-fuel cargo of any port in the UK. Other major rival ports to London in the country are Southampton and Felixstowe.

The number of twenty-foot equivalent units of containers handled by the Port of London exceeded 2 million in 2007 for the first time in the Port's history. The Port's capacity in handling modern, large ships and containers is set to dramatically expand with the completion of the London Gateway port project, which will be able to handle up to 3.5 million TEUs per year when fully completed.

With around 12,500 commercial shipping movements annually, the Port of London handles around 10% of the UK commercial shipping trade, and contributes 8.5 billion pounds to the UK's economy.

Although the Kent (BP) and Shell Haven (Shell) refineries closed in 1982 and 1999, Coryton remains in production. A number of upstream wharves remain in use. At Silvertown for example Tate & Lyle continues to operate the world's largest cane sugar refinery, originally served by the West India Docks but now with its own cargo handling facilities. Many wharves as far upstream as Fulham are used for the handling of aggregates brought by barge from facilities down river. Riverside sites in London are under intense pressure for prestige housing or office development, and as a consequence the Greater London Authority in consultation with the PLA has implemented a plan to safeguard 50 wharves within Greater London, half above and half below the Thames Barrier. [ [http://www.london.gov.uk/mayor/planning/docs/safeguarded_wharves_05.pdf Safeguarded Wharves on the River Thames London Plan Implementation Report, GLA 2005] ]

Proposed expansion

In terms of number of containers, London currently ranks third in the UK after the Port of Southampton and Felixstowe. This is likely to change in future if plans for a major new facility at the Shell Haven refinery site, (DP World's "London Gateway"), come to fruition. Government approval was given in May 2007 for the redevelopment of this 607 hectare (1,500 acre) brownfield site, which has a two mile river frontage. The developers plan a port capable of handling the largest deep-sea container ships, including a 2,300 metre long container quay with a capacity of 3.5 million standard container units a year. The development would also include a 300 hectare (700 acre) 'logistics and business park', with direct links to the rail network. [ [http://portal.pohub.com/pls/pogprtl/docs/PAGE/DP_WORLD_WEBSITE/DP_WORLD_MEDIA_CENTRE/MEDIA_CENTRE_NEWS_RELEASES/47.DP%20WORLD%20LONDON%20GATEWAY%2030MAY2007%20FINAL.PDF P&O London Gateway decision press release] ] This would re-establish London's pre-eminence as originally intended by the PLA in the 1960s with its proposed development of a deep-sea port at Maplin Sands as part of the proposed third London airport site.

Policing the Port

The Port of London once had its own police force - the Port of London Authority Police - but is today policed by a number of forces. These are the local Home Office forces of the areas the Thames passes through (the Metropolitan, City of London, Essex and Kent constabularies) and the Port of Tilbury Police (formed in 1992 and a remnant of the old PLA force). The Metropolican police have a special Marine Support Unit, formerly known as the Thames Division, which patrol and police the Thames in the Greater London area. A sixth police force in the Port may be established with the creation of the London Gateway port.

ee also

* London River Services
* Pool of London
* Shadwell Basin
* Richmond Lock and Footbridge


External links

* [http://www.portoflondon.co.uk/ Port of London] - the website of the PLA.
* [http://www.portcities.org.uk/london/server/show/nav.001 PortCities London Home]
* [http://www.londonancestor.com/leighs/docks.htm The Port of London in 1819]
* [http://www.forthports.co.uk/ports/ports/tilbury/ Port of Tilbury]
* [http://www.planning-inspectorate.gov.uk/gateway/ London Gateway Planning Inquiry]

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