Not far from Lambeth Palace is an old relic of industrial times, and a load of boat-shaped benches dotted around it. This is an old riverside dock that was built to support local industry, and after falling into decay was restored and gained the boat benches.
Called White Hart Dock, although it was often known as Doulton’s Dock thanks to being next to the Doulton pottery factory. However, the name does seem to have been formally White Hart Dock after river access in the area known in the 18th century as White Hart Stairs. Likely after a local pub.
The current dock was built in the 1860s as an inland dock for access to the river when the Albert Embankment was constructed and would have cut off cargo deliveries. Two tunnels under the road link the dock to the river.
The other docks were later filled in as industry moved away, leaving this one survivor, and it was nearly removed as well. In 1960 Lambeth council secured approval to remove the dock because it had “not been used by commercial craft for very many years”. However for some unknown reason, they never got around to carrying out the closure, so it survived.
The dock might have ended up being a lot busier though, as there was a plan in 2004 to moor a barge inside the dock, and open it as a local museum. Sadly declined, but reading between the lines of the refusal, it might have been a local pub looking to open a bar on the barge – and using the lure of offering a small museum as an excuse.
In a state of decay, in 2009 the dock was cleaned and refurbished, and that’s also when the timber decorative elements were added in the shape of old boats. Those were designed by Handspring Design for the council, after it accepted a Section 106 payment from Berkely Homes for their neighbouring housing development.
It’s not obvious, but look closely inside the dock and you’ll see a small boat in there. That’s not dumped rubbish, but part of the art installation — and is there to provide space for plants to grow.
The timber has aged and darkened over the years compared to the bright colour it had when new, but that’s expected, and yet, the darker wood is now easier to miss as you whiz past so the public art has become less noticeable.
There is a plaque next to the dock with some details, and another one on the side that tells the story of the Lambeth Cholera Epidemic, which is partly why the Albert Embankment was built, to hold the new sewer network being built to clean London’s fetid environment.
An often overlooked twist, look at the pavement near the dock entrance, it’s in a shape that matches the boat frames installed over the docks.