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Discover when London was the hub of the world’s largest empire
As British power and trade spread across the globe, so the port of London grew and prospered. Wooden sailing ships gave way to iron steamers, and the docks became the centre of world trade.
Trolleys, barrows and baskets set out on the wooden floor of the warehouse. The painting by Charles Deane shows the river at Westminster with the new Waterloo bridge, opened in 1817.
The church of Saint Paul began as a 'floating church' on board a ship, the 'Brazen' moored close to the Thames Tunnel. It was replaced by a church built in Dock Street in 1846-47.
Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the ship was built at Millwall on the Isle of Dogs. At the time of her launch in 1858, she was the largest ship ever built in the world.
Billingsgate was London’s main fish market. Here a women fishmonger is about to prepare a large cod. Next to the smoked fish on the left, there are Billingsgate bills.
The fire started in a warehouse at Cotton’s Wharf south of the river, and spread rapidly. Tragically, James Braidwood, the chief fireman, died when a wall fell on him while he was fighting the fire.
During the 19th century, Chinese sailors settled in east London. They eventually formed a thriving community, echoed in road names such as Mandarin Street and Canton Street.
This etching shows the riverfront around the east London district of Limehouse, including the harbourmaster's office on the right.
This is a sailor-made model of the sailing ship Torrens, built in 1875 for the wool trade between England and Australia. It was the ship on which the writer Joseph Conrad sailed from 1891-92.
Making everything from ship's nails to warehouse tools, blacksmiths kept the London docks working.
Winches like this one were used in the days when the museum building was still a working warehouse, filled with valuable cargo from around the world.
The gallery is open during the museum's normal hours:
The gallery is on the second floor and can be accessed by lift.
The Port and River archive tracks the history of Docklands
Find the archive
See some of the ways you can entertain the kids at Docklands.
Relax and refresh yourself after your visit
Plan your visit