London - Greenwich Guide
Not only is London the capital of the UK it is also one of its largest ports. Founded by the Romans some two thousand years ago as an anchorage and convenient point to cross the River Thames, much of the city's later growth has been associated with its role as a port. By the mid-nineteenth century it was the busiest port in the world and the heart of the British Empire. It's fortunes as a port have declined since then but it still has a strong maritime heritage and busy port area downstream.
River Thames London
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The ukcoastguide is focussed on the coast of the UK and so this brief guide to London will only consider the coastal and riverine aspects of the capital. Of course there are many famous and interesting sights and attractions along the River Thames.
The main development of the docklands area of the capital took place during the nineteenth century. During this period 11 docks were opened including; the West India docks, the East India docks, the Baltic docks and the Royal Albert docks. Two major canals were dug; the Grand Surrey Canal and Regents Canal. Also during this period shipbuilding was increased and many famous ships were built at the London yards including; the Great Eastern and HMS Warrior.
The pre-eminence of London as a port continued in the early part of the twentieth century but with a steady decline in its position, as trade patterns and technology changed. The city of London and especially the port area suffered considerable damage during the Second World War but trade soon recovered after the war. However things were never quite the same again and there was a marked and steady decline in the fortunes of the port due to containerisation and changes in the pattern of trade, in particular the effects of joining the European Union.
By 1981 all of the docks had closed. At the same time, much of the industry that had grown up along the Thames also declined, leaving large areas of Docklands derelict. Shortly after this time the London Docklands Development Corporation was formed with the aim of redeveloping the area.
As a result of this initiative much of the docklands area was redeveloped during the 1980's and 1990's into a large new commercial area culminating in the development of the Canary Wharf complex which has come to symbolise the resurgence of the area in commercial terms.
The latest high profile development within the area was the Millennium Dome which opened in the year 2000 to celebrate the new millennium.
For more information about the development of London as a port go to www.portcities.org.uk/
Old Royal Naval College Cable car to Millennium dome
A major tourist destination within the port area of London is Greenwich, which is a World Heritage Site and has a lot of attractions to explore. Located here are numerous excellent buildings associated with Britain's maritime and scientific history. The greatest of these is the Old Royal Naval College which was built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1694 as a home for retired sailors. Just along the road is the National Maritime Museum which houses a large collection of items associated with all aspects of Britain's maritime heritage.
Greenwich is also home to the Royal Observatory, which was built in 1675 at the request of Charles II as an astronomical observatory. This institution was instrumental in the discovery of the best method of calculating longitude so that ships at sea could calculate their positions exactly and as recognition of this, in 1884, the Observatory was designated as the prime meridian - that is the division of the globe into an east and west hemispheres. There is a groove cut into a wall at the Observatory to show exactly where this point is.
The other famous sight at Greenwich is the Cutty Sark, a clipper ship, that is housed in a dry dock on the side of the River Thames. The Cutty Sark was launched in 1869 and she soon proved to be the fastest ship in the world with a speed of up to 17 knots per hour - about 20 miles per hour. The ship was used on the route from China to carry tea, which was a very valuable cargo in those days - particularly the new crop of tea which would sell at a premium in London.
Old Royal Naval College Millennium Dome London Docks of the past
Places to visit around Greenwich
Old Royal Naval College Foundation House - 2, Cutty Sark Gardens, London, SE10 9LW Phone: 020 8269 4747
National Maritime Museum - Park Row, London, SE10 9NF Phone: 020 8858 4422
Millennium Dome - now known as The O2 Arena - Phone 0871 984 0002 for bookings
Canary Wharf - The new business centre on the Isle of dogs peninsular.
Emirates Air Line cable car - crosses the Thames from Greenwich peninsular to the Royal Victoria Docks.
Map of London port area