The Museum of London Docklands is all about the history of the River Thames, the growth of London as a port and the docks’ historical links to slavery.
- Immerse yourself in the museum’s recreation of Sailortown, the ramshackle district around the docks that included Wapping, Shadwell and Ratcliffe
- Imagine the hustle and bustle of medieval London Bridge as you walk along the two huge models of the bridge as it was in the 1400s and the 1600s
- Take a free tour of the museum; there are different tours throughout the day so you’re bound to find something to suit you
What to see and do
Walk under a whale’s jawbones
These huge jawbones were found in the River Thames and are believed to be from the 1700s, when London had its own whaling fleet. The bones form an archway to an alcove where you can find out more about why whales and their oil were so important to London.
Take your younger children to Mudlarks
Mudlarks is an interactive space for children aged eight and under, as well as their parents and carers. This facility offers the stories found elsewhere in the museum, but in a more hands-on way that younger children will be able to engage with.
Take a look (if you dare) at the gibbet
The museum has an 18th-century gibbet (an iron cage made to hold a body) that was used to display the bodies of executed criminals to act as a warning to other ne’er do wells. The gibbet at Docklands used to hang at the Thames entrance into London to remind new arrivals that piracy wasn’t welcome in the city.
Find out more about the No1 Warehouse
Go up to the third floor to the No1 Warehouse Gallery to find out more about the West India Docks and how they formed part of what became the world’s biggest dock complex. You’ll see how the docks operated during their heyday, as well as try out some real dockers’ tools. Look out for the mummified cat and rat…
Did you know? (3 Interesting Facts)
- Possibly the most infamous occupant of a Thames gibbet was the notorious pirate Captain Kidd, the inspiration behind Treasure Island. He was hanged in 1701 at Wapping and his tarred body remained in its iron cage on the Thames riverbank for several years.
- The Port of London was Britain’s most heavily-bombed civilian target during World War II. More than 25,000 bombs were dropped onto the Docklands and you can see an example of the Consol shelters that dockworkers took refuge in during bombing raids in the Docklands at War Gallery.
- A dock worker found the mummified cat and rat lying together behind a stack of bottles back in the 1890s. Cats were encouraged to roam the docks to keep down the numbers of vermin and it may be that this unfortunate pair died together somehow and lay undiscovered for years.
- Roman and medieval times: Cargo ships would arrive into London via the Thames River, but the relatively open topography and lack of built structures offered no protection against the elements.
- 1802: The West India Dock opened. It was the first wet dock in London and was circled by a high wall. The docks officially opened on August 27 1802 when the unladen Henry Addington ship was pulled in by ropes.
- 1860: A second dock – the South West India Dock – was built to the south of the first one and for nearly the next century almost all goods coming from the West Indies arrived at the complex.
- 1909: The Port of London Authority took control of the West India Docks, as well as the other enclosed docks from St Katherine’s to Tilbury.
- 1960-1980: Trade coming into Britain via the docks dwindled to almost nothing. This decline was due to the introduction of shipping containers, which made smaller docks inefficient, as well as the manufacturing industries which provided exports moving away from London.
- 1981: The docks closed.
- 1990s: The development we now know as Canary Wharf started and continued throughout the 1990s.
- 2003: Warehouse No1 was converted into the Museum of London Docklands.
Facilities and accessibility
The museum offers full physical access to all its galleries, cafes, toilets, classrooms, shops and theatre. If you have any particular requirements you can talk to the visitor hosts at the information desk.
Access guide dogs are welcome for people with visual impairments and there are also magnifying glasses and large print guides available at the information desk. Be aware that the Sailortown installation is darker than the rest of the exhibits.
Assistance dogs are welcome and there’s induction loop systems throughout the museum, as well as subtitled videos.
Visitors with autism spectrum conditions and also those living with dementia are welcomed too and there are special events and programmes available.
Visitors with babies can swap their buggies for a baby carrier for easier exploration of the museum if they choose and there are several baby-changing rooms within the building.
If you’re feeling hungry then you have the choice of the Rum and Sugar restaurant, the Docklands Diner or the Museum Café. All three places are very child-friendly and the diner serves traditional British dishes like fish and chips and apple pie and custard.