This is how the history talk went down – Fiona Rule‘s written a book about the history of the docklands and came armed with pictures…
Tonight’s talk is by Fiona Rule, who’s written a book called London’s Docklands: A History of the Lost Quarter.
When constructed in 1880, the Royal Albert was the largest dock in the world – over a mile long
Fiona’s interest in Docklands began when a colleague told her with passion about the old docks where his dad had worked
Her colleague had expected to work in docks but his prescient dad arranged printing apprenticeship saying there was “no future” in the docks
Fiona contrasts pic of docks in use with view now from ExCeL over Royal Victoria dock, of disused factory & luxury flats. No future indeed!
London’s original Roman docks are now buried under Cannon Street station.
Elizabeth I opened docks along Thames, w/different quays for different products. Port of London contributed to city’s reputation worldwide.
Docks were built at Tilbury to ease congestion in Thames. Wharves & docks of Port of London occupied huge areas & employed lots of E London.
In the end, though, it was the advent of huge container ships that spelt the end of the Port of London – they were simply too big for it.
Fiona is now telling the story of the docklands industrial action of the late nineteenth century, over humiliating pay and work practices.
In summer 1889, walk-out turned into Port-wide strike, with dock-workers demanding improved conditions. Owners said demands’d ruin the docks
By Sept, strike fund was running low and dockers were worried about carrying on; owners convinced if they acquiesced, more strikes’d follow.
In the end, worldwide solidarity won the day, as donations poured in from Australia’s dockers, inspired by the story of the London strike
Dockers saw they could now keep strike up indefinitely, so the employers relented and the dockers returned to work with improved conditions.
Fiona describes dockers’ action as a watershed moment in industrial relations, as both owners & workers realised collective power of latter.
Answering a Q from floor, Fiona describes how dockers would get tip-offs about which pubs to buy people drinks in to get selected for work!
There was quite a drinking culture in the docks, she adds, which explains why there are (or were) many large pubs in the area
And with that, in the spirit of the old docks, everyone’s off to the pub (perhaps) after another great talk; thanks very much to Fiona Rule!