Continuing to chronicle the history of the Olympic borough of Newham in song, this week, I explore the underbelly of the Royal Docks.
“Employment was largely concentrated on the docks, the largest of which was Newham’s Royal Docks. Not just the greatest in Britain but the largest enclosed docks in the world. And of the employees that worked on the docks an estimated 30% were criminals…”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘The Thames’.
The Royal Docks
Central to life in London over the centuries and indeed the very reason of its very existence, lies in that great body of water known as the Thames. Over the years the river has supplied the city’s population with food; oysters, fish, salmon right into the 1800’s when strangely enough, this food group seemed to disappear around the same time that the Thames was being utilised as one giant toilet.
Its currents have brought with it, trade; exotic goods, treasures, spices and with it, employment. Employment that was largely concentrated on the docks, the largest of which is found in the Borough of Newham and named The Royal Docks. An area that isn’t just the greatest in the United Kingdom, but is recognised as the largest enclosed docks in the entire world.
As trade boomed in the 18th Century the demand being placed upon the Thames riverside was enormous. Ships and boats could be laid up for months on end waiting to get unloaded, and of course this presented too much of a temptation for some members of the London community.
Of the estimated 30,000 docks employees 11,000 of them were recognised to be engaged in criminal activity. There were ‘Scuffle Hunters’ – men who would organise mass brawls on crowded and badly managed quays. In a madness that followed, these rogues would make their escape, stealing goods and hopping from boat to boat across to the other side of the Thames.
‘Mudlarks’ would hang around the base of stationary vessels collecting anything that fell off. ‘Monkey Suckers’ were teenage boys who hadn’t yet developed a taste of alcohol. These youngsters were employed to siphon off gallons of wine, brandy or whatever they could find. It was a great job for a junior unless they suffered what was common to many, and allow the fumes to overcome them, waking up in jail.
There was even a tale of three dockers leaving the site one evening. When apprehended, they were found to be only two men. The third a pig carcass dressed up in a shabby suit and hat.
So whilst you may be doing the right thing in keeping the clientele of Battersea dogs and Cats home to a minimum whilst also employing a universal rule of survival of the fittest. Just remember that you are only one in a long line of many who see the Thames as an opportunity to think outside the box.