With the river Thames as its southern boundary between the Tower of London and London Bridge it’s no surprise that this area was once the heart of London’s maritime trade.
From Roman times through to the 19th century the City waterfront was the Port of London. The Roman waterfront quays, built of timber, stretched from Cannon Street, EC4 in the west to east of the Custom House, EC3.
In the reign of Elizabeth I the legal quays were established between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. These quays had a monopoly on the landing or loading of dutiable goods ‐ goods on which taxes had to be paid.
The Pool of London, divided into the Upper and Lower Pools, is the name given to the section of the river Thames that flows between London Bridge and Limekiln Creek in Limehouse. The section of river in EC3 is in the Upper Pool and just to the east of London Bridge you would have found a quay located here from Roman Times.
By the medieval period it was a fish wharf known as the Fresh Wharf and by the 19th century it was handling fruit and general cargos. In the 1930s the wharf was extended and after World War 2 it was renamed Fresh Wharf. Given its location alongside London Bridge this was one of the best-known wharves in the City.
Other notable quays and wharves located in the area include:
From 1588 all cargoes entering the Port had to be discharged at the designated ‘Legal Quays’ close to the Custom House. On the north bank between London Bridge and Tower Bridge there were 20 individual wharfs.
By the end of the 18th century the port didn’t have enough space and the cost of discharging cargoes was prohibitive. Following the West India Dock Act of 1790, docks to the east of Tower Bridge were developed on both sides of the river.
The Port of London Authority website gives a detailed account of how the port has been developed over the last 2000 years.
Today, the part of the river that flows through EC3 between Tower Bridge and London Bridge is largely the preserve of vessels carrying commuters and visitors. The occasional cruise liner can be seen moored alongside HMS Belfast. City of London waste, along with the waste from several other boroughs, is ferried along the river in sealed containers and loaded onto barges. See the Cory Riverside Energy for more details.
As you walk around EC3 there are buildings, memorials and sculpture which underline the importance of the area at the centre of maritime London.
10 Trinity Square was built as the headquarters of the Port of London Authority who occupied the building from the 1920s to the 1970s.
Trinity House, the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, Channel Islands and Gibraltar, have been based in the district since 1660. Their first City property was in Water Lane and since 1796 their home has been in Trinity Square.
A Custom House was first recorded in the area in the 14th century. The current Custom House in Lower Thames Street, on the site of the former Wool Quay, is to be vacated by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs by 2020 as part of the government’s shake up of the department’s office estate.
Situated in Trinity Square Gardens are the Merchant Marine Memorials recording the names of those who last their lives in World War 1, World War 2 and the Falklands War.
On the corner of Lloyd’s Avenue and Fenchurch Street stands the home of Lloyd’s Register. Begun in 1760 Lloyd’s Register is a leading international provider of classification, compliance and consultancy services to the marine and offshore industries.
The East India Company had their headquarters on Leadenhall Street from 1729. It was demolished in 1861. Today Lloyds of London occupy the site.
On the opposite side of Leadenhall Street stands the Cheesegrater. Formerly this was the site of the P & O Steam Navigation Company. Cunard also used to occupy a building on Leadenhall Street.