Royal Docks’ rich history to be brought to life with education pack
- Credit: PLA collection/Museum of London
London has been the centre of trade and commerce since its foundation by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago.
They chose the site, where the River Thames narrows, as a suitable crossing point for their armies. Soon the river became a vital part of the development of the city as a port.
Now, when children who live and study in the area around the Royal Docks (and further afield) return to school after their summer holidays, they will be learning about both the ancient and the more recent history of the Royal Docks,
They will be using an education pack called Your Royal Docks that has been specially designed for the Key Stage 2 part of the curriculum with the aim of bringing the area’s rich history to life.
The pack has been developed by the Museum of London Docklands in partnership with London City Airport and features cross-curricular links with geography, art, design and technology. Teachers will also be able to cover literacy, numeracy and ICT through some of the activities.
In addition to photographs, the pack also includes a timeline. It charts the history of the Royal Docks from 1855 when Royal Victoria Dock was built by the London and St Katharine Dock Company. It was for vessels that were too large to use the upriver docks near the Tower of London. The timeline goes right up to the present, as the Silvertown Partnership announces plans to regenerate Silvertown Quays into a waterfront destination with global brands and a residential zone.
As well as background on the development of the area there are suggestions for pupils to learn more about its history.
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Kirsty Sullivan, from the Museum of London Docklands, said: “I think the history of the Royal Docks is a key part of the new development and focuses people’s minds on the area as an important part of east London, as well as helping people understand why it is still so important to London’s economy even though the commercial docks have closed.
“The Royal Docks are the last great opportunity for inner London regeneration; we know this massive area is ripe for redevelopment.
“It is the last great space in east London that is open enough to become as regenerated as Canary Wharf or Stratford – it’s the gateway to the River [Thames] and from there to the rest of the world.
“It can be a place for Asian businesses to establish key import and export bases, and the proposed new housing will be a forerunner in the drive towards sustainable cities, especially with the development of the super sewer along the river and improvements in local waterways like the Lea. Thinking about the environment is key to what will be happening in London in the future.
“In the post war years, regeneration meant total destruction and building skywards rather than focusing on traditional communities, and these experiments in modern building weren’t always a success... and a lot of the past was lost.
“People are a lot more sensitive to the past now so the original character of the area is being included as part of the redevelopment – for example, we have the ExCeL centre which is very modern but the cranes are still there alongside it. The Millennium Mills are still there and the beautiful old warehousing is a feature of the destination with bars and restaurants.
“The past has been assimilated into the present incarnation of the Royals and, quite rightly, there is a recognition that the history and development of this part of east London has come out of the Docks.”
The Docks opened in the mid-19th century and the population of east London boomed.
Sailors came from Australia, India, Africa and Canada – from all over the British Empire, crewing ships into what was known as the ‘warehouse of the world’.
East London as we know it today did not develop until the Docks were built.
Mrs Sullivan added: “On the Isle of Dogs and where the Royal Docks are now there was nothing but marshes.
“There was a single man, George P Bidder who built a railway – people called it Bidder’s Folly! People thought he was mad to build the railway in a marsh but he bought up the land around it and made his profits selling it to people like Tate & Lyle and the London and St Katharine Dock company.
“The sailors from Pakistan and India formed part of the large population in the mid-1800s and they settled in the Docks, marrying local women in the early days and spreading through the area – the Docks are the reason the area is so diverse, as it was an entry post for people from all over the world. There was also a huge Irish community working on the canals and the railways when they were being built, then they worked on the building of the Docks and finally became dockers.
“As someone who is involved with the past, present and future of the area, I think it is incredibly important that schools and local communities are taught how their population has developed.”