Kontakt Flappe öffnen
The Port of London: From the Thames to the entire world

A port for an empire

The Port of London stretches along the banks of the Thames, between London and the North Sea. Once, it was the largest port in the world and the logistics hub of an empire. Even under Roman rule, almost 2000 years ago, the port was of great importance and with the rise of the “Empire” became even more so. In the meantime, port facilities along the Thames have undergone tremendous change, owing in part to the rapid developments in the transport industry. In any case, the port is to London what “Big Ben” is to the Houses of Parliament, and it forms an integral part of the city’s identity. We take a look at the port's colorful history, how the loops in the river were transformed into shipyards and what a legendary football club has to do with it.

The exact location of the Port of London can’t be pinpointed; it is spread out along the Thames, stretching from the city center over several kilometers towards the North Sea. The numerous moorings, port facilities and docks are influenced by the tides and came into existence over the course of centuries. As with many other historical ports in Europe, such as the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, most of the port’s activities continued to move further downstream towards the Thames Estuary. The reason is obvious: the ships increased in size over time and drew too much water to even travel so far upstream. In addition, other demands on the city increasingly took priority, resulting in gradual changes to the port areas near the center of the city. Many parts of the city have now been completely transformed, although their names and backstories remain inseparable from the “maritime inheritance” of London.

Advantageous location was already clear to the Romans

The first signs of meaningful handling of cargo are dated by historians between 50 and 270 AD, when the Romans built the original port and chose London as their headquarters. The “docks” consisted of wooden frames filled with earth to reinforce the banks. The port grew quickly and flourished during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, although it was later abandoned for a time at the start of the 5th century when trading activities subsided significantly due to the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the ensuing turbulence in Europe. An interesting side note: another port had previously been established somewhat further east in Shadwell – a development that continued in the subsequent centuries.  Nevertheless, it turned out that the Romans were right to choose this port as it became very important and played a major role in the growth of the city and the British Empire.

Rapid growth in times of the Empire

Following the decline of the Roman Empire, the Port of London continued to expand slowly but steadily, remaining the most important site for trading. As England developed over the course of centuries to become the world’s leading seafaring nation and eventually a major imperial power, this naturally resulted in the port’s impressive growth. It was viewed as a gateway to the world and a symbol of the nation’s self-image.
At the end of the 18th century, a plan was considered to straighten the Thames, which runs in multiple river loops, by digging a new channel through the Rotherhithe, Isle of Dogs and Greenwich peninsulas. The three large river loops would have been cut off by locks to become massive inner harbors. This plan was not realized, however, a smaller canal was later built to run through the Isle of Dogs, the City Canal.

Extensive “Docklands” as a gateway to the world

In the 19th century, a whole series of inner harbors were built. Many of their names reflect the history of the rise of the United Kingdom and are not entirely unknown to London's visitors: West India Docks (1802), East India Docks (1803), London Docks (1805), St Katharine Docks (1828), Royal Victoria Dock (1855), Milwall Dock (1868), Royal Albert Dock (1880) and Tilbury Dock (1886) – a list that is far from complete. In the 18th and 19th centuries, London became the busiest port in the world, with anchorages that extended without interruption over 17.7 km of the river bank and where more than 1,500 cranes loaded and unloaded 60,000 ships per year.
At the start of the 20th century, competitive pressure and strikes forced a merger of the individual port operators. This led to the Port of London Authority (PLA) being founded in 1908. Numerous modernization efforts followed, including the digging of a deepwater channel and construction of the King George V Dock.

Ships needed shipyards. Shipyards created identity.

The multitude of ships frequenting the Port of London also led to a correspondingly large shipyard industry. In 1864, when London was an important center for shipbuilding and most ships had wooden hulls and sails, there were 33 dry docks for ship repair alone. However, the development of modern shipbuilding techniques created space problems in the inner city, and other (open sea) ports surpassed London’s in importance. While shipbuilding on a large scale came to an end with the closing of the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd. in 1912 (the last large warship, the HMS Thunderer, was built in 1911), the ship repair industry continued to thrive. A variety of industrial enterprises also moved in along the inner harbors, many of which are still of importance today.  These included plants for processing agricultural products, iron and steel production, coal and gas power plants, brass and bronze foundries, shipbuilding, wood processing, cement and paper production, etc.

Transformation and football

Although many of these businesses have long since closed their doors, they still live on today – in a sense. For example, the football club “Thames Ironworks F.C.” was founded in 1895 by employees of the famous shipyard and later competed in the FA Cup for the London League within two years. Five years later, the club developed into “West Ham United” and remains one of the greats in what the Brits like to call “English football” today. The shipyard is long since history, but the “Hammers” still proudly bear two hammers in their crest as a sign of their origins. West Ham’s biggest rival, Millwall, was itself founded by employees of a nearby preserves factory. Their name derives from Millwall Docks in Millwall, on the Isle of Dogs. As you can see, London is inextricably linked to its port facilities – even if this hasn’t exactly led to “neighborly” behavior. The relationship between the two clubs was already problematic even at the time.

Industry gives way to high finance and expensive flats

As mentioned, modern developments left the Port of London out of step with the needs of the day. In this, it shared the fate of many other European cities, where space, harbor depth, available warehouse space and other factors led to the transformation or decline of the former port operations. With the introduction of larger (container) ships, the importance of port facilities situated upriver declined as of the mid-1960s. The inner harbors farther up the Thames saw a decrease in freight volume and were gradually abandoned. This coincided with the expansion of the facilities at Tilbury toward the end of the 1960s, turning the site into a container port (the largest in the United Kingdom at the start of the 1970s).
A majority of the space in the heart of the city that was no longer needed for shipping, the London Docklands, was developed with high-end apartment buildings and became a second financial center in London, known as “Canary Wharf.”

Big plans for container traffic

In a ranking based on containers moved, the Port of London currently ranks third in the United Kingdom, behind Southampton and Felixstowe. But the Port of London is not ready to accept this fate. In 2010, the expansion of the container terminal “London Gateway” began on over 600 hectares of fallow land on the north bank of the Thames (3.2 km of shoreline). But don’t be fooled by the name: London Gateway is almost 50 kilometers away from the city of London and is located at the mouth of the Thames. In other words, the port is closer to the North Sea than to Tower Bridge.

The first of a total of six possible moorings opened in 2013. This was followed by the second mooring already in 2014 and presumably the last in 2017. In its final constellation, the 2.7-kilometer-long container supports a transshipment capacity of 3.5 billion TEU per year. Thanks to its dimensions and correspondingly large container cranes, even the “giants of the sea” – modern container ships 400 meters in length – can be handled without difficulty.
The container port is also connected to the railway network by the longest rail terminal in the country. We offer our congratulations on this success, and we are excited to see what the future holds, considering that a new record of 1.8 billion TEU in container cargo passed through here in the year 2021.

cargo-partner further Expands Its Presence in the United Kingdom

After embarking on a joint venture with Aztek International Freight Ltd. in 2021, cargo-partner has now acquired the remaining shares and will fully integrate its UK-based partner company into the cargo-partner group. With this step, cargo-partner is adding two new offices, in East London and Bradford to its existing location in Manchester and thus further expands its network. cargo-partner’s team in the UK has now grown from 13 to 55 employees, in three locations across UK in the last 15 months.

Focus on emergency solutions

Besides supporting customers with post-Brexit customs procedures, the logistics provider has also placed a strategic focus on express solutions for highly time-critical transports. Since opening their UK branch, cargo-partner has handled several emergency air freight shipments for customers from the automotive, aerospace, healthcare, retail and consumer industries.

Strategic expansion in Western Europe

Traditionally the Austrian-based logistics provider has had a very strong presence in Central and Eastern Europe, but has recently substantially invested to also further expand the footprint in Western Europe. Besides having branch offices in Germany and Benelux for 20 years, cargo-partner has recently added Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK to its network and is now represented in the most important markets in the region. Further strengthening its footprint in the UK is an essential puzzle piece in the company’s strategic development plans in Western Europe for 2022 and beyond.