Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Port of London in the 18th Century

Pool of London, painting by John Wilson Carmichael

I’m writing Echo in the Wind now, book 2 in the Donet duology (To Tame the Wind was the first). Both are Georgian romances set in the 1780’s with ship captain heroes. In each of the stories, the captain must adroitly maneuver his ship (one is a schooner and one a brig-sloop) through the traffic on the Thames to moor in the Pool of London. That’s the area just downstream from London Bridge where London’s port was originally centered. And it was a very busy place because the Port of London was the busiest port in the world!

During the 18th century, both the city of London and its international trade went through a great expansion. The Thames became a huge traffic jam, or, as one of my characters in To Tame the Wind described it, “There are so many ships in port just now, the Thames is like a kettle of stew on the boil.”
 
Thousands of coastal sailing ships entered the port each year bringing coal or grain to the capital. These ships competed for space in the crowded river with vessels carrying goods like sugar and rum from the West Indies, tea and spices from the East Indies, wine from the Mediterranean, furs, timber and hemp for rope from Russia and the Baltic and tobacco from America.


As you might expect, the rate of increase in the volume of the trade fluctuated with the alternating periods of peace and war. Between 1700 and 1770 the commerce of the port nearly doubled, and from 1770 to 1795 (only 25 years) it doubled again. In 1751, the Pool of London handled 1,682 ships in overseas trade. By 1794, this had risen to 3,663 ships. By 1792, London’s share of imports and exports accounted for 65% of the total for all of England.

The heavy congestion in the Pool resulted in damage to goods and ships, theft and delays. Merchants complained loudly about the effect this had on their costs and profits, and in the 1790s the merchants of the highly profitable West Indies trade began to campaign for better port facilities, which they eventually got.

Some idea of the state of congestion that existed in the river can be gathered from the fact that in the Upper Pool, 1,775 vessels were allowed to moor simultaneously in a space adapted for about 545. A ship of 500 tons was thought of as a ship of exceptional size and this partly explains the state of congestion. The great increase in the volume of trade resulted in the addition of a large number of ships of relatively small carrying capacity. The situation was aggravated by the large number of these smaller craft, estimated at about 3,500, employed to convey cargoes from the moorings to the wharves.

Ships did their best to sail up or down the Thames, but being unloaded was another matter. Until the end of the eighteenth century, there were no docks built for unloading ships (as opposed to dockyards that repaired them). Instead, cargo that couldn’t be carried from a ship to the wharf would be ferried by smaller craft. Is it any wonder the heroines admire the heroes who can handle such a challenge?

What reviewers say about To Tame the Wind:

"... a captivating tale of love and intrigue...  Walker deftly weaves historical fact into the tale, and her depiction of privateers and privateering is well done. Daring sea battles, roguish lurkers, ill-treated prisoners of war, and deceitful dandies add dashes of spice to this historical romance, 
making it one readers will savor long after they turn the last page."  ~ Pirates & Privateers 

  "Masked balls, handsome sea captains, and a plot that will keep you hooked. What's not to love!? To Tame the Wind is romantic historical escapism at its finest - a historical romance fan's dream of a novel! 5/5 stars."  ~ Good Friends, Good Books

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And see the Pinterest Storyboard forEcho in the Wind, coming this spring!



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