Thursday 14 April 2011

Those Places Thursday - London docks

St Katherine's Dock

The area round London's docks has always been busy and crowded, with people who lived there, and even more who were just passing through. Long before the railways or decent roads, the Thames was London's highway, and nearly all the goods that came into the capital city, even from other parts of England, came in through the docks at its eastern end.

This map of the Port of London describes the area from St Katherine's Dock and the Tower of London all the way downriver to the East India Docks. It covers areas like Stepney, Limehouse and Poplar on the north bank, and Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Deptford and Greenwich south of the river.

These places were populated by people who depended on the river and the docks for their living, going back many centuries. They left plenty of evidence of their lives and activities, in parish registers and other records.

You can find out a lot about these people at, the website of Dockland Ancestors Ltd. Although it is a commercial site with books, maps, CDs and look-ups for sale, there is lots of background material and links to other useful sites. Many of the parish register indexes can also be searched on

Many of these will also be found on as part of their London Parish Registers collection. They also have some Poor Law Union records, which are not searchable by name, but can browsed.

The family history societies for this part of London are the East of London Family History Society for the area north of the river (Middlesex), the East Surrey Family History Society for Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, in the modern borough of Southwark (Surrey), and the North West Kent Family History Society for Deptford and Greenwich (Kent). That should be enough to keep you going for a while!

Such a busy port needed a lot of customs officers, and if your ancestors were among them you can find out about their records in The National Archives. None of the records is online, but there is a Research signpost that will tell you where to start researching.

But if you want background information about the place itself and its history, the Port Cities - London site is full of it. There are chapters on all kinds of themes, with a collection of images and even a 'virtual pub crawl'. How can you resist that?


1 comment:

  1. Thankyou for tying all this up in a bow for me! I have an ancestor who built boats in Fiji who said in his will that he came from Poplar. I'd always written him off as too hard, especially with such a common name (William Simpson), but now I can see it might be easier!