Museum of London Docklands - History and Facts | History Hit

Museum of London Docklands

London, England, United Kingdom

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About Museum of London Docklands

Based in West India Quay, next to Canary Wharf, the Museum of London Docklands exhibits the history of the Port of London, the River Thames and the dock’s historical association with the transatlantic slave trade.

Museum of London Docklands history

The Museum of London Docklands opened in 2003 in various early-19th century Georgian sugar warehouses on the north side of West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in East London.

The warehouses themselves are demonstrative of the port’s pivotal role in the lucrative business that was trading in enslaved Africans and those goods produced by slaves across the Atlantic.

Opened in 1802 by the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants, the West India Docks were at the centre of the triangular system of trade that was very much at its zenith in terms of scale and profitability.

English sugar imports (almost solely from the West Indian colonies) had increased sevenfold, from 22,000 tonnes in 1700, to over 150,000 tonnes in 1800. Sweet-toothed Britons were consuming 10 kilograms of sugar per head by 1800 – five times as much as a century before.

The West India Docks remained central to British trade in imports and exports for generations, even after the Britain’s slave trade and the institution of slavery itself had been abolished. The site underwent various stages of redevelopment and expansion in the mid-19th century, yet soon became superfluous with the introduction of the large shipping container in the 1960s.

The Docks officially closed in 1981, and soon became the site of an extensive housing project that was part of the “Docklands scheme”. It is now home to the developments of Canary Wharf.

The Museum today

The Museum of London Docklands focuses on the history of London’s river, port and people and starts its story during Roman times. As you walk through its three floors of history, the journey follows a chronological narrative all the way through to the most recent redevelopment of the Docklands.

The museum features 12 galleries, featuring such exhibits as “Docklands at War”, “Warehouse of the World” and “London Sugar & Slavery”. It also includes a series of life sized, walkthrough replicas of how the docks used to look, feel and smell.

All in all, the museum in truly a hidden gem within the City of London.

Getting to the Museum of London Docklands

The museum entrance is a 2-minute walk from West India Quay. If you are driving to the Museum of London Docklands, please join the A1206 that leads to Ontario Way. Follow it to the left onto Hertsmere Road. The museum entrance is on the quayside of the building, which unfortunately is not accessible for vehicles.

There is a public car park directly behind the museum, in Hertsmere Road, which has a height restriction.

The nearest Tube stations are Westferry, West India Quay and Canary Wharf (approximately a 10-minute walk away). There are several bus routes that all stop near to the museum.

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