Royal Wharf Area Guide
The three docks were completed between 1855 and 1921 on riverside marshes in East Ham and West Ham (now the London Borough of Newham). The Victoria and Albert docks were constructed by the London & St Katharine Docks Company, to provide berths for large vessels that could not be accommodated further upriver. They were a great commercial success, becoming London's principal docks during the first half of the 20th century. They specialised particularly in the import and unloading of foodstuffs, with rows of giant granaries and refrigerated warehouses being sited alongside the quays. The docks' great size and provision of numerous finger quays gave them a collective span of over 12 miles (19.3 km) of quaysides, serving hundreds of cargo and passenger ships at a time. Following the opening of the Royal Albert Dock in 1880, giving the Royals access to Gallions Reach, 11 miles (17.7 km) below London Bridge, the rival East & West India Docks Company responded with the construction of Tilbury Docks even further down river. The ruinous competition led eventually to all the enclosed docks being taken over by the Port of London Authority (PLA) in 1909. The PLA completed the King George V Dock in 1921 and reserved land to the north for a fourth dock, never built.
The Victoria dock in 1973
The General Strike of 1926 hit the Royal Docks hard, with 750,000 frozen carcasses threatened by the docks' electrical supply being cut off. Fortunately for the dock owners, the Royal Navy were able to save the day by connecting the generators of two submarines to power the warehouses' freezers.
Although the Royal Docks suffered severe damage from German bombing in World War II, they recovered after the war but suffered a steady decline from the 1960s onwards, following the adoption of containerization. Nonetheless, they survived longer than any of the other upstream docks, finally closing to commercial traffic only in 1981. The docks' closure led to high levels of unemployment and social deprivation in the surrounding communities of North Woolwich and Silvertown.