The museum in Docklands tells the story of the Thames river, its port and its people, from the arrival of the Romans to the building of Canary Wharf. Located by the West India Quay in Docklands, the museum covers five floors in a sprawling 110,000 square foot warehouse that was built 200 years ago for storing sugar, coffee, molasses, and rum. Twelve major galleries, a children's gallery, education services, functions suites, a restaurant, and a shop are on offer.
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The collection, covering 2000 years of the Thames history, is made up of approximately 3000 items - from barrels and packing cases to dockers' trolleys and small boats - which were salvaged from the docks when they closed over 20 years ago. It also includes historic photographs, documents and films from the Port of London Authority's library and archive. There are state-of-the-art interactive displays, videos, models and recreations of shops, along with the true stories from people who settled the Thames waterside.
The first gallery is titled the Thames Highway and spans the years AD43 to 1600—from Roman settlement and Saxon town in Covent garden to medieval London excavated at Billingsgate and Lower Thames street. Here is a model of old London bridge, the first stone structure over the Thames.
Gallery two explores Trade Expansion from 1600 to 1800. During this time new trading companies, such as the East India Company emerged. There is a recreation of a Legal Quay, set up to handle dutiable cargoes. An iron gibbet cage suspended from the ceiling is a reminder of the punishment awaiting pirates of the day. Enormous whale bones mark the use of the Rotherhithe docks during the days when London was the centre of the world’s whaling trade.
The Rhinebeck Panorama, from 1810, is a view of the upper pool of London, enlarged to 30 by 12 feet from the original panels. Coming of the Docks, 1796 to 1840, is an exploration of the Isle of Dogs, Wapping, Blackwall, and Rotherhithe. Here vast new trading dock complexes built in the early 1800s helped to resolve problems of overcrowding, theft, and pilferage in the old river port. Original plans, engineering drawings, pictures, and artefacts are included in the displays.
City and River, spanning the 20 years from 1820 contains a recreated rum vault and tells the story of sugar. Contemporary prints, drawings, and artefacts along with an 1807 model of the Lord Mayor’s state barge are here.
The decade of the 1840s is represented by The Sailortown, a mid-19th century alleyway, atmospheric of the times.
First Port of Empire and Warehouse of the World, from 1840 to 1939 details the change from wood to iron shipbuilding, the struggles of organized labour, and the working practices of the times.
The River Thames Gallery has a number of traditional Thames vessels that include an 1880s double sculling pleasure craft and a 1925 Port of London Authority Waterman’s skiff. The work of sailmakers, riggers, ship chandlers, and leisure boat operators are highlighted.
Docklands at War tells the impact of the World War II blitz on the area. Imperial War Museum footage and oral testimonies lend drama to this part of the museum.
New Port New City starts from 1945 and shows the dereliction, then regeneration of the area. The London Docklands Development Corporation plans, dating from the 1980s, give a vivid picture of this change.
Children under 11 will enjoy the Mudlarks Gallery where they can get involved in interactive activities.
The museum is located at No. 1 Warehouse, next to the water and is a short walk from the Docklands underground station.
Information line. 0870 444 3856
Tel. 0870 444 3857
Fax. 0870 444 3858
Open: daily, 10am-6pm, last entry 5.30pm; closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan
Insider tip: This museum is worth three hours of your time, but, if your schedule is tight, plan on a minimum of one hour. After visiting the museum, stroll around the Docklands area and take in a meal at any of the numerous restaurants. It’s quicker to take the Jubilee underground to Canary Wharf station instead of the Docklands Light Railway. The museum is a five-minute walk away.