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Environnements portuaires

Anne-Lise Piétri-Lévy
John Barzman
Éric Barré

Troisième partie. Métiers, Gestes, Techniques

The Labour Process in the 19th Century Port of London
Some New Perspectives

Sarah Palmer

Texte intégral


  • 1 An earlier version of this paper, ‘The Myth of Casual Labour in the Port of London’, was delivered (...)

1The starting point for this discussion is the vivid, much quoted, description by Henry Mayhew, a journalist writing in the early 1850s, of a crowd of men ‘struggling for a day’s hire’ outside the gates of one of the London Docks.

He who wishes to behold one of the most extraordinary and least-known scenes of this metropolis, should wend his way to the London Dock gates at half-past seven in the morning. There he will see congregated within the principal entrance masses of men of all grades, looks and kinds.... Presently you know, by the stream pouring through the gates and the rush towards particular spots that the "calling foremen" have made their appearance. Then begins the scuffling and scrambling forth of countless hands high in the air, to catch the eye of him whose voice may give them work. As the foreman calls from a book of names, some men jump up on the backs of the others, so as to lift themselves high above the rest, and attract the notice of him who hires them. All are shouting. Some cry aloud his surname, some his Christian name, others call out their own names to remind him that they are there. Now the appeal is made in Irish blarney-now in broken English. Indeed it is a sight to sadden the most callous, to see thousands of men struggling for one day’s hire; the scuffle being made the fiercer by the knowledge that hundreds out of the number there assembled must be left to idle their day out in want.

2What Mayhew was describing was the ‘call on’ - the process of hiring labour which took place every working day outside London’s docks. Despite the sympathetic tone of this portrait, he made clear his judgement of these men and the nature of their employment:

  • 2 Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (First edition. 1861).

The dock labourers are a striking instance of mere brute force with brute appetites. This class of labour is as unskilled as the power of a hurricane. Mere muscle is needed...dockwork is precisely the office that every kind of man is fitted to perform, and there we find every kind of man performing it2.

3The key features of Mayhew’s account were that the work was intermittent and casual; that the pool of labour, those who wanted work, was greater than the demand for their services; that whether a particular worker was taken on was largely a matter of luck; that dock work was unskilled - anyone could do it.

4In the mid nineteenth century, the time when Mayhew was writing, there was little concern in either political or charitable circles about the conditions of employment of port workers, though the future Prime Minister William Gladstone, had championed the cause of the ‘coal heavers’, labourers who discharged coal, in attempts to free them from dependency on publicans in getting work. Contemporary accounts of the Port of London such as Charles Capper’s, The Port and Trade of London (1862) and the relevant sections of popular guides, told their readers little or nothing about the labour force.

  • 3 Beatrice Potter, ‘The Docks’in Charles Booth (ed.), Life and Labour of the People in London Vol. 4 (...)

5In contrast in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century what came to be known as the ‘casual labour problem’ - underemployment, irregularity of employment and hence earnings - was attracting a lot of attention. Charles Booth’s investigation London Life and Labour included a chapter on the docks by Beatrice Potter (later Beatrice Webb) which echoed Mayhew in her description of the call on - ‘Rise early and watch the crowd at the St Katherine or the West and East India gates. The bell rings, the gate opens and the struggling mass surge into the docks.’ Like him she reflected on the casual, chancy nature of employment and suggested that it was open to anyone: ‘the staple of the dock and waterside population subsisting by means of the extreme fluctuation and irregularity of employment is made up of those who are either mentally or physically unfit for worthfull and persistent work.’ But unlike Mayhew she seeming regarded London’s casual dock workers as morally debased, commenting that ‘they have a constitutional hatred to regularity and forethought and a need for paltry excitement’3. There were also a number of parliamentary or governmental reports, which threw light on London’s port workers, including the Royal Commission on Labour (1892), the Select Committee on the Sweating System (1888) and the Report on Dock Labour in Relation to Poor Relief.

  • 4 G. Phillips and N. Whiteside, Stevedores and Dockers: A Study of Trade Unionism in the Port of Lond (...)

6Both Mayhew’s and Potter’s accounts have influenced popular perceptions and Gareth Stedman-Jones’ scholarly study Outcast London: A Study of the Relationship between Classes in Victorian Society (1971) also drew extensively on Mayhew when looking at the situation of the casual poor generally in the 1850s and 1860s. The wider range of primary sources of information, including trade union records, available for the later nineteenth century onwards formed the basis for John Lovell’s Stevedore’s and Dockers: A study of Trade Unionism in the Port of London 1870-1914 (1969) detailed investigation of industrial relations and also the starting point for Phillips and Whiteside’s important study of casual labour in the British port industry from 1880 to 19704. These studies in some respects seem to confirm the Mayhew and Potter accounts, in others significantly to challenge them. Thus employment in the late nineteenth century is confirmed as largely casual; but skill (real or perceived) is revealed as a significant factor dividing the workforce, inhibiting the development of a sense of common interests. To regard most port work as unskilled and unspecialised, and therefore open to all comers, is shown as fallacious.

  • 5 Lovell, pp. 37-57.

7Lovell’s study also provides much information on the very complex structure of employment in the Port of London, which was in part a reflection of the large number of private employers of labour: dock companies, wharf owners, warehouse owners, shipowners. A nationally distinctive feature here was the separation in dock shipwork between loading and unloading, with export business contracted by shipowners but unloading in the hands of dock companies. In the period Lovell deals with, 1870 to 1914, most work was task based and sub-contracted5.

  • 6 Phillips and Whiteside, p. 21.

8Such findings however, relating as they do to the specific circumstances of the later nineteenth century, which include the impact of steam and growing underemployment, should not be expected to provide the basis for understanding the conditions of port labour over the whole of the previous century. As Phillips and Whiteside put it, ‘the circumstances of the labourers apparently continued to change from one generation to another’6. Yet they encourage us to investigate the whole labour process associated with the ships and their cargoes - the loading and unloading, the handling and storage - in half century or so before the period covered by Lovell. Given the emphasis Lovell places on the skills associated with dock work, is Mayhew’s claim that ‘dockwork is precisely the office that every kind of man is fitted to perform’ an accurate representation?

  • 7 Research for this paper, in part financed by an Economic & Social Research Council Major Grant, is (...)

9Fortunately, the survival of the records of London’s dock companies make it possible to gain an insight into the labour process associated with dockwork, at least from the perspective of the management. This paper is based on the results of a long-term investigation of this valuable and extensive material7. The core conclusion is that the conventional picture of London port labour depends too much both on Mayhew’s characterisation and the assumption that conditions at the end of the 19th century were in fact typical of the century as a whole. Indeed some of the late 19th century strikes and industrial unrest in the port become more explicable once it is recognised that the terms under which labour was employed, of which wages were only a part, were deteriorating.

10A subsidiary, but related argument, which is only indirectly touched on here, is that for the employers of dock and waterside workers their labour force was something which had to be managed and, indeed, worked with; the dock worker was more active protagonist than subservient factor of production. To say this is not to suggest that the life of a port labourer was other than hard.

1. Port labour before the docks

  • 8 On the general history of the Port of London see Sir Joseph Broodbank, History of the Port of Londo (...)

11The late eighteenth century Port of London was still a river port, centring on the customs port - the quays and wharves giving on to the stretch of river between London Bridge and the Tower of London8. Cargoes were unloaded from vessels alongside the wharves, or more commonly transferred by "lighters" from vessels moored in the river - sometimes at some distance from their landing point. Once landed, and scrutinised by the Customs Officers, dutiable foreign goods would be transferred for storage to warehouses either on the waterfront or closer to the centre of the City of London. In the warehouses cargoes would be packed or repacked, transferred from hogshead to cask and so forth ready for eventual sale to buyers.

12The handling of timber and coal involved different arrangements and different sections of the waterfront but whatever the cargo, the process of discharge and loading, landing and warehousing, packaging and sampling involved a number of stages - each of which provided a source of income for a distinct group of London workers.

13Most cargo handling required teamwork, but the grouping together of labourers was typically handled not by the owners of the cargo or ships but within the workforce itself on a sub-contract basis. Foreign owned vessels typically used their own crews to discharge but most masters of British-owned vessels paid off the crew once mooring was complete and recruited the labour to unload the cargo - either giving the job to a set of men working together - known as "the team" or more commonly to a single individual known as the "Master Lumper" who would then take on subordinate workers. In the coal trade, "undertakers", typically publicans, contracted with the coal merchants to supply coal heavers and a similar subcontracting system applied in timber. The transportation of goods from vessel to quay fell to lightermen, skilled men who had served an apprenticeship and were members of the guild - the Honourable Company of Watermen and Lighterman.

14In this unloading work the group of labourers dispersed once the vessel had been cleared of cargo. In the following stages of cargo handling, on the quays and in the warehouses, with the task less clearly defined business was subcontracted longer term to partnerships of "gangsmen" who took responsibility for hiring and firing of labourers and contracted with skilled self-employed specialist workers like coopers.

  • 9 See Walter Stern, The Porters of London (1969).

15City of London regulations had from the middle ages confined transportation of goods in London - "porterage" to those who were members of one of the porterage Fellowships, signified by the holding of an individual licence, the "ticket". By the late eighteenth century this monopoly had been weakened, and even not all gangsmen were ticket porters - nevertheless the term "ticket porter" still implied a privileged right that other workers did not possess9.

16Three features of the system outlined should be noted. First, the specialised nature of much port work. Port workers were not an undifferentiated mass. In all the trades mentioned ‘ordinary labourers’, those without particular experience, were only employed in extremis. Note too the presence of skilled worker combinations, the coopers and the lightermen.

  • 10 Much information on the way goods were handled is found in the Report from the Select Committee app (...)

17Second, the underlying pattern of all port work was predominately sub-contract, task based, finite team work, with labour typically measured, as wharfinger Edward Ogle told the Select Committee on the Port of London in 1799, ‘by the cask, bale or piece, as lumpage, lighterage, landing, wharfage, housing’. The job was priced as a lump sum, with payment to labourers by the day or on piecework basis - with payment often a mix of cash and perks10.

18Finally, given the impact of seasons and weather on the work available, the majority of port labourers worked on a casual basis - but the frequency of employment was not a lottery. It depended on the worker’s status in terms of skills and connection. There was an element of choice. If work was available it was up to the worker whether or not they took it on. Note too that the owners of capital, the merchants and shipowners, did not control the port workforce on which their profits in part depended. This is not, of course, to say that the labourer’s economic position of port labourers was comfortable, nor that exploitation by other workers might not be a problem.

2. Port Labour and the Coming of the Docks

19The building of docks owned and operated by private companies in the first decade of the nineteenth century signified a new era in London port facilities. The opening of the West India Dock on the Isle of Dogs in 1802 and the East India Dock at Blackwall in 1806 extended the scope of the port down river, while from 1805 the London Dock at Wapping brought dock facilities close to the traditional port. These three docks were designed to handle the foreign trade dutiable cargoes previously handled by the Legal Quays and each were given by government a time limited monopoly in the handling of specified cargoes. For the first twenty years, then, these companies were not in direct competition for business. When their monopolies ceased, new opportunities to profit from London’s foreign trade were created and in 1828 the St. Katharine Dock, built close to the Tower of London, opened.

20These docks, surrounded by high walls and with secure bonded warehouses, were all sited on the North Bank of the Thames. On the South Bank dock systems also developed, with no fewer than four separate businesses initially involved. These docks primarily handled Baltic produce, in particular timber, grain and tallow. They were given no monopoly status, and from the start competed with each other and also with the wharves.

21Although the former Legal Quays faced hard times until the dock company monopoly ended, the coming of the docks had no effect on the port’s busy coasting trade and supplemented rather than replaced the older facilities. Lor lighters (barges) the dock waterspace was treated as an extension of the river. All the Acts of Parliament authorising the creation of dock companies contained a ‘free water’ clause guaranteeing to the members of the Honorable Company of Watermen and Lightermen free access to all the docks. From being a river port, then, London became, not a dock port, but a river and dock port.

22As a result, the coming of the docks left much of the former labour system intact, so the description we have given of the organisation of port labour in the eighteenth century holds good for the river waterfront - at least until the 1840s. Much more research is needed on waterside labour but in the corn and higher end of the timber cargo-handling business, the influence of the porterage fellowships within the subcontracting system appears to have remained strong, a reflection of the specialised skills associated with these trades. (When the Millwall Docks on the Isle of Dogs was built in the late 1860s, its labour system - again sub-contracting out the supply of labour - was designed to counter a combination among corn porters.) In the coal trade, as also sections of the timber trade, labourers continued to be supplied by agents, who were frequently publicans. The opening of the South Bank docks serving the timber trade had no effect on this system. The Commercial Dock Company saw its function primarily as providing docking and storage facilities. As a company it maintained only a small workforce and in relation to cargo-handling adopted the same practice as on the riverside wharves of sub-contracting the employment of labour, which was in the hands of the timber porterage fellowship.

23The success of the timber porters in keeping outsiders out had a decasualising effect through ensuring consistency of employment, but this was exceptional. For other South Bank trades where cargo handling skills were more easily acquired, subcontracting seems to have sustained short term engagement for workers. Nevertheless, as we have seen in relation to the late 18th century, this waterfront casual labour system encouraged a sense of distinctive occupational identity. Furthermore, the labourers enjoyed a substantial measure of group control over the performance of the work and as individuals a measure of control over the disposition of their time. This was unexceptional among workers in the late eighteenth century, but increasingly less so as industrialisation and mass production transformed the labour process.

24The situation in the docks on the North Bank was different. In devising the labour system to fit with these new facilities, all three North Bank companies rejected the system of sub-contract in favour of becoming direct employers of labour, basing their payment systems not on piece work, the task, but on time rates, normally quoted on a weekly basis.

  • 11 PLA, West India Merchants Committee, Minutes, 7 June 1799. This question was put by Patrick Colquou (...)

25What were the reasons for this major departure from past practice in the port? For the leading merchants who promoted and invested in docks on the North Bank, the attraction of these new facilities was not only more security for their cargoes and the ending of delays caused by congestion on the quays and in the river. There was nothing new about the docks in terms of cargo-handling which might in itself argue for a different labour system, but their immense scale, fortress-like security and on-site warehouse provision presented both a challenge and opportunity. As disciplinary structures they provided at least a partial answer to a question put to the West India Committee in 1799: ‘In what manner are from two to three thousand labourers, who must be frequently employed at one time within these docks, and those too of a class that have been accustomed to plunder, and are not refrained by any sense of the turpitude of their actions, to be overawed and controuled [sic]’11.

  • 12 On dock company employment systems see Anthony Henderson and Sarah Palmer. ‘The Early Nineteenth Ce (...)

26But they also offered a way of improving the efficiency of the labour force. Under the ‘traditional’ system, as we have seen, the owners of capital - the merchants and ship-owners - did not control the port workforce on which their profits depended. With docks, it seemed to these new companies, came the means of turning ‘free’ labour into subservient labour, with beneficial results for profitability12.

27The development of a direct association, which would enable a company to select, direct and control its own workforce also had another advantage. There was a need to build up an attachment among as large a group of suitable labourers as would meet a company’s requirements. For the West India Dock Company, situated at a distance from the centre of population, labour shortage was a particular potential problem, but there is evidence that the docks nearer to the City of London, including the later St Katherine’s Dock, also faced difficulties recruiting labour.

28The problem for each company was not simply how to ensure there were sufficient labour available to each to meet demand as it arose - a pool of labour - but how to maintain a pool of workers of the right quality, both technical and moral. All three North Bank companies adopted a ranking for their workers, which distinguished permanent labourers (a small core); preferable labourers - guaranteed work at the dock if there was work to be done; extra labourers - taken on when there was more work than the preferables could cover. The same categories were similarly applied to the only formally skilled section of the port workforce - the coopers, a unionised craft which enjoyed considerable autonomy within the dock company - but again were directly employed.

  • 13 Port of London, SKD 001, Board Minutes, 1 February 1831.

29The significance of these three categories, which were also adopted by the St. Katharine Dock and appear to have persisted until the 1860s, is that they are an indication of the wish and need of the companies to provide as great a consistency of employment to suitable workers as possible. The kinds of qualities typically looked for are illustrated by an 1831 St Katharine’s Dock directive that no more preferable labourers be appointed ‘unless they shall be accompanied by satisfactory proofs of the parties being qualified for dock labour, from having acquired experience in other establishments of similar description, or at wharfs, or on shipboard - a certificate of character from their last employers, and that they shall be strong and of robust constitution’13.

  • 14 See Phillips and Whiteside, p. 22, Footnote 28.

30Within the companies, once established, promotion to permanent labourer was normally from the preferables and to preferable from extra labourers already frequently employed. Numbers are hard to come by, but in 1852 labourers ‘regularly employed’ by the London Dock Company numbered 700, a year when the maximum working on any one day was about 3000. At the East and West India Dock in the same year there were 1000 permanent and preferables, when the total number called on according to Mayhew was 400014.

  • 15 PLA, EWID 008, Court of Directors Minutes, 17 September 1847.

31The operation of such a system required the companies to keep records of all those who worked for them, not simply the permanent labourers. Preferable labourers who failed to turn up for work for some time were removed from the list and their place taken by promoted extra labourers. Effectively to be a ‘preferable’ was little different from being ‘permanent’. In the amalgamated East & West India Dock Company as a condition of employment both groups were required to join the Provident Society formed in 184015.

  • 16 PLA, EWID 004, Court of Directors Minutes, 4 February 1842; EWID 003, Court of Directors Minutes, 1 (...)
  • 17 PLA, LDC 193, 4 October 1853.

32There are many references within the minutes of these dock companies, which suggest knowledge of the workforce beyond the preferables and permanents. In 1842, for example, Simon Knight, the East & West India Dock Company Superintendant, asks the Directors to rule on whether he should pay Extra Labourers for the holiday marking the Christening of Prince of Wales as had been done at its ‘uptown’ warehouses in the City. Directors say all such payments should be abandoned. In 1839 the Directors ruled that a regulation forbidding warehouse workers to undertake other work outside business hours should apply to all employees, including extra labourers. In 1843 they considered the case of 82 years old Richard Leigh, an extra cooper, ‘now past all work’ who had been employed as an extra cooper since 1803 and agreed a gratuity of £ 5. The same sum was paid in 1856 to a 72 year old Extra Labourer, no longer fit for work, who had been ‘constantly employed for 30 years’16. In the wake of a strike in 1853, the London Dock Company decided that extra labourers ‘who have continued at work during the recent “Strike” but who are too old to be appointed Permanent Labourers be permanently employed as Extra Laborers [sic] - it being understood that they are not to look to the Company for any Superannuation Allowance17.

  • 18 Merseyside Maritime Museum, Merseyside Docks and Harbour Board Archives, Report of the Committee of (...)

33These are just a few examples of the numerous references to the past employment history of individual workers - permanent, preferable and extra labourers - which are to be found in the minutes of the three North Bank dock companies. The system of categorising workers necessarily meant that records had to be kept. An investigatory delegation from Liverpool, which visited the West India Dock in 1838, reported that the ticket numbers of preferables who would be required the next morning were displayed each evening outside the gate. The same investigators noted that the preferable workers complained about having to attend early because work could not begin until the whole workforce was assembled18. Indeed, one such register, giving names and addresses covering the period 1848 to 1857, survives in the archives of the St Katharine Dock Company.

  • 19 PlA, SKD, Board Minutes, 22 July 1828.

34When Mayhew saw the foreman with his book at the London Docks and heard the men shouting their names, he failed to make the connection - or draw the conclusion - that not everyone could get work at the docks. The crowd outside the dock gate was not an undifferentiated mass of unskilled workers. The reason that they were calling out their names was because they knew the foremen were working to a list. Many were consistently employed, even though on an irregular basis. The work was casual, that is intermittent, but it would be wrong to see the workers as anonymous unknowns to the companies for whom they laboured. Much dock employment, whether ship work, quay work or warehousing, required experience and expertise - no less among men taken on only when busy than at other times. We know from the Poor Law Commissioners reports on Spitalfields weavers that it was customary for them to go into the docks when times were hard, but that does not mean that they lacked the necessary skills. When the St Katharines Dock Company made up its permanent workforce in 1828, the group of foremen included one ‘Master Weaver’, who was presumably not a novice19.

  • 20 See, for example, PLA, EWID, Court of Directors Minutes, 12 July 1850; 27 June 1851; LDC Ms 3436. R (...)

35Mayhew’s account is in a number of respects misleading, but it is not entirely so. From the start the docks were no doubt a source of irregular employment for unemployables - given the opportunity for work only when the amount of cargo handling to be done produced acute labour shortage. Equally it is clear that for dock companies in the first few decades of their operation the need for skill bulked larger than the need for numbers. Labour productivity was seen in terms of recruitment of respectable, compliant, hard-working men and the development of loyalty. Indeed the 1840s and early 1850s saw a number of initiatives by the dock companies designed to cement relations with their permanent and preferable labourers and to discourage labour militancy. In the cases of both the London Dock Company and the East & West India Dock Company examples of such ‘fringe benefits’ included pension and savings bank schemes, schools for dock labourers’ children, housing and even a lending Library20.

3. The changes in employment conditions at mid century

36In fact from mid-century the established system of direct employment by dock companies and payment according to the time worked was undergoing change. For a variety of reasons, but primarily falling demand for warehouse storage and increasing competition for business between docks and river wharves, the dock companies were facing declining profit margins. At the same time, as ships increased in size with the introduction of iron hulls and the progress of steam propulsion, the established companies were confronted with the need for major new investment, not least to counter the challenge from newly-formed competing companies. Along with the building of new docks, the Victoria Dock (1853-8) and the Millwall Dock (1865), came fresh approaches to the ways of employing and managing labour in the, by now, older enterprises.

  • 21 PLA, EID 290, Minutes of the Court of Directors, 17 January 1838.
  • 22 PLA, EWID 012, 12 May 1854. This company shifted back to direct employment in some areas of its bus (...)

37In the late 1830s just prior to its amalgamation with the West India Dock Company, the East India had rejected the introduction of piecework in its warehouses on the grounds that the premium on speed from task work would lead to careless handling and ultimately to more complaints from merchants21. By the 1850s, the need to save labour costs overruled such an argument. The East and West India Dock Company saw a need to provide a greater incentive to labourers to work energetically. Its solution was to abandon the existing system of directly employment of labourers on a daily rate, and instead to introduce piecework scales and sub-contracting. Such a system, it was argued, would ensure that the labourer ‘acquires a direct interest in the amount of work performed, while at the same time the Company’s expense is considerably reduced’22. A similar shift to piecework and subcontract occurred in the London and St Katherine docks in the 1860s.

  • 23 PLA, BA 3147, Memorandum by Du Plat Taylor 21 June 1880.

38What we see here is the progressive distancing of the established dock companies from their past history and their earlier distinctive pattern of labour management. This also meant a distancing of the management from its work force, recruitment and the ways in which work was organised and remunerated. In 1880 a senior officer of the East & West India Dock Company concluded from an investigation of the payment systems operating by that time ‘we had no idea and we presume it cannot have been conceived that so much divergence [is] exhibited in the practice followed at the docks’23. In fact, neither changing the way workers were recruited, nor paying them by the job, had the desired effect on total labour costs. Such changes did, however, prove to be an important ingredient in the deterioration in the relationship between management and labour and form part of the background to major strikes in 1872, 1880 and the Great Dock Strike of 1889, which profoundly damaged dock company profitability.

39We may speculate that by bringing the labour systems in the North Bank docks more into line with practice in the rest of the port an identity of interest was forged between port workers, which encouraged solidarity. The passivity among dock workers prior to the 1870s noted by a number of labour historians may indeed have reflected the earlier success of their employers, the dock companies, in managing their workforce.

  • 24 Phillips and Whiteside, Casual Labour, p.33.

40In conclusion, if we take the longer view, arguably by the end of the nineteenth century the labour system of the port bore more similarities to the situation in the eighteenth century than it did to that in the half century after the building of the docks. The special characteristics of employment in the North Bank Docks had been abandoned and following the 1889 Dock Strike, another distinctive feature, responsibility for arranging the discharge of vessels passed from the dock companies to the ship-owners and thence to sub-contractors. In London, as Phillips and Whiteside have noted, ‘a traditional, almost pre-industrial rhythm of work and leisure persisted on the waterside; the more prized because it allowed the labourer a measure of control over the disposition of his time and effort’24. This was a far cry from the intentions of the founding fathers of the docks that these would be an example of the most modern labour management. The wheel had come full circle.


1 An earlier version of this paper, ‘The Myth of Casual Labour in the Port of London’, was delivered in Calgary 1998.

2 Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (First edition. 1861).

3 Beatrice Potter, ‘The Docks’in Charles Booth (ed.), Life and Labour of the People in London Vol. 4 (1889, 1902 reprint) pp. 30-31.

4 G. Phillips and N. Whiteside, Stevedores and Dockers: A Study of Trade Unionism in the Port of London 1870-1970 (1985). For a recent summary of developments over the long term, see John Mankelow ‘London, 1790-1970’in Sam Davies et al (eds) Dock Workers: International Explorations in Comparative Labour History 1790-1970 Vol I (2000). An earlier exploration is G. Patterson, ‘Nineteenth Century Dock Labour in the Port of London’, Mariner’s Mirror, LU, 1966.

5 Lovell, pp. 37-57.

6 Phillips and Whiteside, p. 21.

7 Research for this paper, in part financed by an Economic & Social Research Council Major Grant, is based primarily on the abundant dock company records, which form part of the Archive of the Port of London Authority, held in the Museum of London’s, Museum in Docklands archive. The author acknowledges with gratitude the generous assistance given by Robert Aspinall and other staff of the Museum in Docklands. For discussion of these and other records relating to the Port of London see Robert Aspinall, “‘Liquid History’; the Archive of the Port of London Authority”, Peter Guillery, “Using the Port of London Archive for Engineering and Architectural History”, Sarah Palmer, “Using the Port of London Authority Archive for Commercial History” in M.V. Roberts (ed.), Archives and the Metropolis (London, 1998).

8 On the general history of the Port of London see Sir Joseph Broodbank, History of the Port of London, 2 vols (1921); J. Bird, The Geography of the Port of London (1957); J. Pudney, London’s Docks (1975); R.J.M. Carr (ed.) Docklands (1986).

9 See Walter Stern, The Porters of London (1969).

10 Much information on the way goods were handled is found in the Report from the Select Committee appointed to consider evidence taken on Bills for the Improvement of the Port of London (1799). This quotation is from the evidence of Edward Ogle. See also Peter d’Sena, ‘Perquisites and Casual Labour on the London wharfside in the Eighteenth Century’, London Journal, XIV, 1989.

11 PLA, West India Merchants Committee, Minutes, 7 June 1799. This question was put by Patrick Colquoun.

12 On dock company employment systems see Anthony Henderson and Sarah Palmer. ‘The Early Nineteenth Century Port of London: Management and Labour in Three Dock Companies’, in Simon Ville and David Williams (eds.), Management, Finance and Industrial Relations in Maritime Industries (St. John’s, 1994).

13 Port of London, SKD 001, Board Minutes, 1 February 1831.

14 See Phillips and Whiteside, p. 22, Footnote 28.

15 PLA, EWID 008, Court of Directors Minutes, 17 September 1847.

16 PLA, EWID 004, Court of Directors Minutes, 4 February 1842; EWID 003, Court of Directors Minutes, 11 November 1839; EWID 005, 28 April 1843; EWID 013, 4 January 1856.

17 PLA, LDC 193, 4 October 1853.

18 Merseyside Maritime Museum, Merseyside Docks and Harbour Board Archives, Report of the Committee of Finance of the Town Council of Liverpool, March 1839, Memorandum Concerning the Several Docks in London.

19 PlA, SKD, Board Minutes, 22 July 1828.

20 See, for example, PLA, EWID, Court of Directors Minutes, 12 July 1850; 27 June 1851; LDC Ms 3436. Rules of the Friendly Society.

21 PLA, EID 290, Minutes of the Court of Directors, 17 January 1838.

22 PLA, EWID 012, 12 May 1854. This company shifted back to direct employment in some areas of its business, but piecework continued. See PLA BA 3147, Memorandum by the Secretary. For the situation in the 1880s, see Lovell, Stevedores and Dockers pp. 93-94.

23 PLA, BA 3147, Memorandum by Du Plat Taylor 21 June 1880.

24 Phillips and Whiteside, Casual Labour, p.33.


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