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24 September 2014

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You are in: London > Coast > A Thames Tour of Rotherhithe

Greenland Dock

A Thames Tour of Rotherhithe

A Thames Tour of Rotherhithe will take you on an historic walk along the home of London’s seafarers and dockers

Rotherhithe Facts

  1. Surrey Docks peninsula lies in the historic village of Rotherhithe, a name which probably comes from the Saxon redhra (sailor) hyth (haven)
  2. Rotherhithe was also known as Redriffe and is in the London Borough of Southwark
  3. Redriffe is the fictitious home of Gulliver in Jonathan Swift's travels
  4. Greenland whaling ended in Rotherhithe in 1836
  5. The deal porters' jobs were abolished from 1958 when timber started to be "packaged", and also when the shipping industry moved to containerization
  6. The dock today is used for sailing, canoeing and much more
The Rotherhithe Peninsula

Satellite view of Rotherhithe


The walk begins close to Surrey Quays shopping centre under Redriff Road Bridge. This large red lifting bridge was built in 1949 as a temporary measure to span nearby Deptford Creek. It was moved here 10 years later to replace the much older swing bridge.

As you walk under the bridge you enter Greenland Dock, part of Surrey Docks. This dock dates back to the 17th Century and was originally known as Howland Great Wet Dock. It was used as a shelter for ships ready to unload their goods at the nearby legal quays. It was also twice the current size and one of the largest in the world.

Keep to the left as you walk around Brunswick Quay and Finland Street.

Greenland Dock

Greenland Dock

It was later renamed Greenland Dock in recognition of the whaling trade during the 18th Century. Many ships sailed from London to Greenland hunting whales for blubber and whalebone. The blubber was rendered down to produce oil for lamps, to lubricate machinery and even for use in soap. The bones were used in umbrellas and corsets. Boilers, tanks and whaling fleets would have been the busy scene along the dock where you stand today. You will notice on the left side of the dock a pub named the Moby Dick, for obvious reasons. The whaling trade declined in the 19th century and gave way to timber and grain imports.

Deal Porters

Deal Porters in Rotherhithe, 1930's

In 1806 the dock was sold to William Richie, a Greenwich timber merchant and founder of the Surrey Commercial Dock Company. Timber, or deal, dominated Greenland Dock for over 100 years with huge warehouses and timber ponds. The timber was imported from Scandinavian and Baltic countries and was unloaded by London's famous Deal Porters - athletic men who unloaded, carried and stacked the timber.

Capstans and other dockside equipment

Dockside equipment

As you walk around the quays you will notice foreign street names, old capstans, stairs and cranes. Watch out for information boards and plaques around this section of the walk.

In the early 1900s Greenland Dock was expanded by engineer Sir James Walker, who also built Tower Bridge. A bust of him can be found on Brunswick Quay just before the pub. Bombing during WW2 devastated the docks but they did revive until the timber trade ceased and the docks closed in 1970. A majority of the warehouses were demolished and rebuilt in the late 1980's as part of the LDDC plans. It is now mostly residential.

last updated: 12/03/2008 at 09:42
created: 28/09/2005

You are in: London > Coast > A Thames Tour of Rotherhithe

360 view of Greenland Dock
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A Thames Tour of Rotherhithe

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Coast: Historic walk along the home of London’s seafarers

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