Free instant online valuation: click here 

Greenland Dock & its history

June, 2018

A lady selling her house overlooking Greenland Dock provided us with this wonderful history and overview of the dock. She wrote it in 2014 when some visitors were staying in her place for their holiday. (The photo below was taken from her living room.)



Greenland Dock is the oldest of London's riverside wet docks. It was created in 1695-1699 as Howland Great Dock on marshland within a rural area – London was much smaller then. The dock was also about half its present size at that time. At first the dock was used for re-fitting ships of the East India Company. From the 1720s it was used by whaling ships and whale blubber was boiled on the quayside to produce oil. The whaling ships came in from Greenland leading to the dock beng renamed Greenland Dock.

In 1806 the dock was sold to a timber merchant who constructed a series of shallow holding docks for timber. Greenland Dock formed part of the Surrey Commercial Docks, which handled 80% of London's timber trade. The dock was expanded to its present size in 1895-1904 and had many interconnecting timber ponds (see picture below). The expansion created a large entrance lock and a depth of 31 feet (9.4m) allowing much bigger ships to enter, such as Cunard A class liners carrying cargo and passengers between London and Canada. (Cunard Walk off Greenland Dock was named after this.) [We are also marketing a house there - see here.]

In 1940 the Surrey Commercial Docks, along with major docks on the otherside of the Thames, were bombed at the beginning of the Blitz. On 7 September 1940, 348 German bombers escorted by 617 fighters attacked London in the late afternoon, forming a 20 mile-wide block of aircraft. Many of the bombs falling on the Surrey Docks were strapped to oil drums which ignited the timber ponds. The result was a firestorm that blazed for a whole week and could be seen for miles around. Firefighters came from as far away as Bristol to fight the blazes.

After the war, the docks recovered but changes in shipping (containerisation) brought commercial use of Greenland Dock to an end in the late 1950s. The docks lay derelict until the 1980s when the London Dockland Development Corporation began developing the area. Greenland Dock and South Dock kept their water but many of the timber poinds were filled in. South Dock is nearby on the way to the river and is now a marina. On the otherside of Greenland Dock you will find Norway Dock, where houses are built in the water, and Russia Dock, which has been filled to make an attractive woodland park.

Greenland Dock has some houseboats at the far end but otherwise is now used for watersports. Surrey Docks Fitness and Watersports Centre organises sailing, canoeing, windsurfing and kayaking for local schools and other enthusiasts. From time to time, there is dragon boat racing on the dock and you may also see some 'rocket men' flying above the water at the weekend. There is also a well-attended club for disabled sailors.

One of the attractions of the docks is its visiting wildlife: coots, grebe, swans, ducks, cormorants, Canada geese and the occassional heron.

Recent articles