Skip to main content

Expanding docklands

The early 19th century saw much ambitious and inventive expansion in dockland facilities in response to the increased volume of trading traffic. The lead was taken by London with an Act of 1799 authorising the construction of the West India Dock on the Isle of Dogs.


The Act, which laid down the dimensions of the new dock in some detail, was promoted jointly by the Corporation of London and by the West India merchants. It set up the 'West India Dock Company' and established a pattern for the expansion and organisation for other major docks in the future.

More Acts of Parliament followed authorising projects to develop other areas of the Port of London. In 1800 an Act gave approval for the construction of the dock at Wapping, which was planned and supervised by the Scottish engineer John Rennie. Another in 1802 sanctioned the East India Dock, and a further Act of 1825 commenced work on the St Katherine Docks near the Tower of London.


Outside London, other ports were seeking Parliamentary authorisation. Bristol's merchants played a leading part in securing an Act in 1803 to redirect the River Avon to enable the construction of a 'floating harbour' at a cost of £600,000.


The Tyne coal ports underwent huge expansion from the mid-19th century. In 1850, as a result of pressure from local shipowners, the River Tyne Improvement Act ended Newcastle's monopoly over the area, transferring control of the river to a specially established commission.

Through further Acts passed in 1852, 1857, 1859 and 1861 the Tyne commissioners acquired powers to develop the docks and raise borrowing for the extensive engineering tasks involved in broadening the river to accommodate the largest vessels.

This legislation was instrumental in transforming the Tyne into a major international port. Coal shipments from the Tyne increased from 3.8 million tons in 1850 to 20.3 million in 1913.

Also within Living Heritage