Photo: Hydar Dewachi

London Graving Dock Company

Blackwall was a shipbuilding area since the Middle Ages. The deep water at this section of the Thames allowed large vessels to moor close to the dock. The East India Company operated a shipyard in Blackwall from 1617, starting a long tradition of dock industry in the area.

West India Graving Dock opened in Blackwall in 1878 and was one of the largest dry docks in the country, with the capacity for two large steamers at once. In 1890, the dry was taken over by the newly formed London Graving Dock Company who also bought a dry dock at Orchard Dock near Bow Creek.

During the Second World War, the whole of Blackwall Basin was filled with warships. Over 3000 men and women were employed at the site during the war, and despite heavy bombing the dock remained open throughout. In 1945, aged 14, Jeffrey Wood began working for the London Graving Dock Company, and was apprenticed at Orchard Dock.  Jeffrey remembers many of the ships repaired at Orchard Dock after the war, including the Eastern Coast, which was dry docked there after a collision during the fog of 1948. The liner had to be cut in half, with over 150 men working alongside Jeffrey to get the ship back on the water. 

By the 1970s, the ship repair industry was nationalised and business was in decline. In the late 1960s, Orchard Dock was bought by Shell Tankers Ltd, who filled in the dry dock in the early 70s. In 1977 the London Graving Dock Company merged with R H Silley and Weir, as part of the nationalised British Shipbuilders, which closed in 1982. The dry dock at Blackwall was finally closed in 1989, ending a long tradition of shipbuilding there.