The Story Telling Cranes of Royal Victoria Docks

A 7 year+ documentary project on the largest dock in the world -Royal Victoria Docks

Kiron Ponnath - Hues & Tones Studios

4/19/2022 0 min read

I have been a Royal Docks resident for around 8 years and this has become my second home away from India. A Photo-Documentary project which started off as a hobby back in 2014 later grew into a systematic and thorough documentation of the changing face of Docklands. Royal Victoria docks has been undergoing a massive regeneration over the last decade and these cranes are the silent spectators of those changes.

Royal Victoria Docks - A brief history

The Royal Victoria Dock, opened in 1855, is the largest dock in the modern world. As per the Royal Docks archives, this area which is known as Royal Victoria Docks was an uninhabited area belonging to the Plaistow Marshes . It was the first of the Royal Docks, followed by Royal Albert (1880) and King George V (1921), and the first London dock to be designed specifically to accommodate large steam ships. It was also the first to use hydraulic power to operate its machinery and the first to be connected to the national railway network.
The dock was deeply indented with four solid piers, each 152m long by 43m wide, on which were constructed two-storey warehouses. These were filled in after WWII. Other warehouses, granaries, shed and storage buildings surrounded the dock, which had a total of 3.6km of quays. The dock was an immediate commercial success, as it could easily accommodate all but the very largest steamships. By 1860, it was already taking over 850,000 tons of shipping a year - double that of the London Docks, four times that of St Katharine Docks and 70% more than the West India Dock and East India Docks combined. It was badly damaged by German bombing in WWII but experienced a resurgence in trade following the war. However, from the 1960s onwards, the Royal Victoria experienced a steady decline - as did all of London's docks - as the shipping industry adopted containerisation, which effectively moved traffic downstream to Tilbury. It finally closed to commercial traffic along with the other Royal Docks in 1980. [Source: Wikipedia & RoyalDocks Archives]

The Cranes of Royal Victoria Docks:

When you first visit Royal Victoria Docks, I am sure that these 14 gigantic cranes - built by Stothert & pitt, will be the first ones to catch anyone's attention.

The fourteen cranes at Royal Victoria Dock - two were built in 1920s and twelve in 1962. This is the most concentrated ensemble of cranes surviving in London's Docklands, with the group representing the swansong of the docklands as an industrial area in the 1960s, poignantly redolent of this vanished industry. Twelve of the cranes are the innovative DD2 models of 1962, a strikingly modern design in welded tubular steel. All fourteen are by Stothert & Pitt, the most famous makers of cranes in the world. Both types are impressive in scale and form and the group has an almost sublime quality, particularly in silhouette."

A late-evening panoramic view of Royal Victoria Docks(From west side)