A rare survivor of London’s historic docks will be celebrated by a new gallery opening at the Museum of London Docklands in a couple of weeks time — the first part of a redevelopment of the Museum’s galleries.
The new permanent gallery focuses attention on the Museum of London Docklands building itself.
Originally called No 1 Warehouse, the museum building was part of the West India Docks, London’s first enclosed dock system. A walled and gated compound, the West India Docks provided a secure environment within which cargoes could be loaded, unloaded and stored. Established in 1802, they were the first stage in the proliferation of early 19th century dock building in the east of London.
The new gallery aims to reveal the inner workings of London’s docks and warehouses. It will bring this story to life using a combination of historic equipment and machinery which performed the day-to-day work of the docks, as well as oral histories, historic images, film and the building itself.
Among the most visually impressive items on display will be the beautifully made pieces of equipment which were the working tools of the dock: 19th century iron beam scales which hung from the ceiling timbers and weighed large items or quantities, large wooden cargo casks, braided ropework baskets and iron hand winches.
Smaller items include an early 19th century bronze call-on bell, which sounded the dock’s opening and closing times; a lifesize wooden sculpture of a sailor at the wheel of a ship, the trademark of mast maker Bawn & Co; iron ring weights; tobacco trolleys, meat carts, and cut away models of the docks, illustrating the activity taking place on each floor.
Perhaps the finest exhibit is the building itself, designed by George Gwilt and his son; with its loophole doors on each floor, security windows with spiked cast iron frames and timber columns, the warehouse is an impressive relic of a lost era.
With the new gallery development, visitors will for the first time be able to look out on to the quay through the historic loophole windows.
The new gallery opens on the 25th March. Entry will be free.