Postcard of the month - #52 - September 2004

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Wapping Riverside

This shows a stretch of the Upper Pool of London and a part of the riverside at Wapping seen at the beginning of the 20th century. These 19th century wharves and warehouses were run by a number of wharfingers. They provided a number of specialised services for merchants, such as: bonded warehousing, bottling of wines and spirits, blending tea, as well as the handling of general cargoes.

The wharves nearest are Irongate and St Katharine Wharves owned by the London shipping firm, the General Steam Navigation Company. The combined river frontage of these wharves totalled 500 feet with berths for two ships. Four or five vessels a week would discharge and load at these wharves. Trading mainly in cargo to and from the near continent, the wharves specialised in wines and spirits, general cargo and fruit in the summer months. From these wharves in the 1930s, the General Steam Navigation Company was already pioneering the use of containers to tranship cargo.

Below Irongate and St Katharines Wharves is the entrance to St Katharines Dock, opened in 1828. Beyond this is Harrisons Wharf that specialised in tea and wine, bought to the Wharf by lighters or barges. South Devon Wharf comes next, followed by the British and Foreign Wharf, where a ship is seen alongside its jetty. This firm also specialised in wines and spirits. It provided bonding facilities and the bottling of wine and spirits. Carron Wharf and Carron’s London and Continental Steam Wharf. are in the distance. They also specialised in bonding facilities and the bottling of wine and spirits.

A major feature of the London River was the thousands of barges that could be seen throughout its length. Barges played a very important part in the life of the working River. They enabled cargoes to be moved to and from ships in the Docks to the thousands of wharves and warehouses that crowded the banks of the London River. Towed behind a tug or rowed with the tide by lighterman, these barges were flat bottomed, allowing them to rest on the flat riverbed alongside the wharves.

All these wharves and warehouses received the attention of the Luftwaffe, especially Irongate and St Katharines Wharves. Being next to the prime targets of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, they received extra attention. In 1944, a flying bomb, a Doodlebug, fell beside Irongate Wharf sinking two barges and a tug as well as blowing the roofs off the warehouses. Some months later, another Doodlebug crashed on the foreshore blowing the repaired roofs off the warehouses!

In the early 1970s Irongate and St Katharines Wharves were demolished and the Tower Hotel, opened in 1973, built on the site. All these other riverside wharves and warehouses were either demolished and rebuilt for residential use or converted into flats or apartments. The headquarters of the Royal Naval Reserve, HMS President, occupies part of this development.

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