Surrey Docks Walk

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[Canada Water] [Canals] [Greenland Dock] [Lavender Pumphouse] [Nelson Dock] [Reference Sources] [Russia Dock Woodland]

Surrey Docks initially developed irregularly under four separate companies who combined in 1865. It covered an area of 300 acres, comprising 10 docks/timber ponds and a basin plus a 3 mile long canal to Peckham. The main import was timber plus grain and commodities from the West Indies. The docks declined following war damage and the advent of containerisation. The Port of London Authority had taken control in 1909 but sold out to Southwark Council in 1969. Closures took place in 1970-1 and an infilling programme followed until 1981 when the London Docklands Development Corporation was given a ten year period (later extended) of responsibility for the regeneration of the whole of Docklands.

The Grand Surrey Canal of 1801 reached Camberwell Road in 1811-2 with a branch to Peckham opening in 1826. A two-armed dock and ship lock was built at the river end in 1804-7. The canal was widened into the Russia Dock in 1898 in conjuction with the enlargement of neighbouring Greenland Dock. A canal office of the 1890s remains on Rope Walk. In 1855-60 a new entrance lock and basin was constructed with Albion Dock to the west. The system closed in 1971 and Surrey Water was created from the Surrey Basin. A newly constructed canal follows the position of the former Albion Dock between Surrey & Canada Waters and retains its quay edge. It is crossed by several bridges and surrounded by distinctive housing developments.

This was originally the Howland Great Wet Dock opened around 1696 as a 10 acre facility for 120 merchant ships. Edged with polar trees it provided a haven against winter gales & river ice, for repairs to be carried out and made theft of cargo more difficult. From 1763 it was renamed and became a centre for the whaling trade until 1809 when it became an import dock. It was enlarged to 22 acres in 1894-1904 and now serves as a water sports centre. The entrance lock designed by Sir John Wolfe Barry in 1904 has been preserved with its original features although it is now unused. The bascule bridge at the west end allowed ships access to Surrey Commercial Dock from Greenland Dock. Originally installed on Deptford Creek in 1955 it was moved in 1959.

The 34 acre woodland was created in 1980 in the former dock basin. Within the park are remnants of entrance depth gauges, canalsides with bollards & mooring chains and former crane tracks. A compass set in the path depicts the area's former trade. A central motif is of a Southwark Sparrow that was at one time the local newspaper and a council logo. Stave Hill was created by the LDDC in 1985 from industrial spoil. A bronze relief map by Michael Rizzello, which fills with rainwater, shows the docks as they were in 1896.

Lavender Lock was constructed in 1863 to provide access to ponds where timber was stored so as not to dry out and split. The lock was linked by a small drawbridge to the pumphouse (built in 1929) which enabled water levels to be regulated. The building was refurbished in 1989 to serve as an educational museum (now closed). The Nature Park is maintained by TRUE and has been awarded a Green Penant.
Nelson Dockyard was used for shipbuilding from the 17th century producing clippers, war ships and steam ships. A dry dock was built around 1790. In 1870 it changed to ship repairs, closing in 1968. Nelson House (pictured right) was built for one of the shipyard owners and is Grade II listed. The adjoining Engine House (pictured in header) was constructed in 1850 and provided hydraulic power for hauling ships out of the river. The present machinery dates from 1900.

This occupies about a third of the former Canada Dock of 1874-6 the remainder having been developed by Tescos as a retail centre in 1988. It has a fresh water ecology replenished by excess water from Surrey Docks Station. There is a bronze statue by Philip Bews of the Deal Porters. These were a special class of docker, virtually confined to Surrey Docks, who carried loose sawn timber on their shoulders and heads stacking it up to 50' high. The Dock Manager's Office was in use 1887-1969 and was restored by the LDDC. Canada Water Station on the Jubilee line was opened in 1998. The library by Piers Gough opened in November 2011 and is worth a visit [

London Docklands - an Architectural Guide by Williamson & Pevsner
Discover Docklands by S K Al Naib
Discover Deptford & Lewisham by Darrell Spurgeon

Find out more at the Museum of London Docklands [website] 2013

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