Thames barge repair, South Dock Marina | Photo: Hydar Dewachi
Thames barge repair, South Dock Marina | Photo: Hydar Dewachi

Rotherhithe has long been associated with river industries, with hundreds of wharves and boatyards operating in the area up until the 1960s. Originally a marshland along the river, it became a key side for docks in the 17th century, with the Mayflower sailing from Southampton to Rotherhithe in 1620 to load supplies for the voyage to New England. Howland Great Wet Dock was first built between 1696 and 1700, able to accommodate up to 120 sailing ships. In the 18th century it was used by arctic whalers and became known as Greenland Dock.  In 19th century the dock was dominated by imported timber from Scandinavia, and food imports coming from Canada. The area around it housed nine docks named for their primary cargoes, including Canada Dock, Quebec Pond, Norway Dock, and Russia Dock.

In 1969, due to containerisation and the decline of the London Docks, the Surrey Commercial Dock was forced to close and the dry dock filled in. After a period of dereliction, In 1981 the London Docklands Development Cooperation sought to redevelop the former dockyards in East London, including Surrey Docks, and over 5,500 new homes were built around the re-excavated dock which was converted into a marina.

Today South Dock Marina is one of London’s largest marinas, with 200 moorings operated by Southwark Council. They have a working DIY boatyards, where residents and boat owners can repair their boats, and a hydraulic light to crane boats in and out of the yard. One of the residents at the yard is William Robinson, with his partner Philip Donovan, who work together to repair old barges and bring them back into use. In 2017, Bill and Phil built a new barge for the Worshipful Company of Waterman and Lighterman from scratch, which won the Apprentice Barge Driving Race in July 2017. 

Busy commuters walking past Henry Reichhold's One Hour installation 2019

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