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A Walk Around The Docks With Lew Tassell

August 23, 2018
by the gentle author

Constable Tassell of the City of London Police is going to escort us around the London Docks today

Police Constable Tassell, 1971

“During the summer of 1971, I was on duty one Sunday on Tower Bridge, walking up and down and spending a bit of time in the control box. On my way back to Bishopsgate where I was stationed, I bumped into a couple of London Port Authority Police who were opening up St Katharine Dock to have a look inside. I said, ‘I’d love to have a look in there myself.’ and they replied, ‘When you finish work, come round to our office in Thomas More St – we’ll give you the keys and you can spend the afternoon in Western Dock and Eastern Dock up to Shadwell Basin.’ So I said, ‘That’s wonderful, thankyou very much!’

I dashed back to Bishopsgate Police Station where I was living at the time, changed and got my camera, picked up the keys and made my way to the Western Dock just east of St Katharine Dock. Today this area is a housing estate and a supermarket, and virtually all the water has gone. So I spent the afternoon going round the derelict docks taking pictures. It was quite unsafe as you can see from some of the photographs. There are only eighteen pictures because I used the other eighteen frames on the film to take pictures of my girlfriend at the time, whom I married the next year and is my wife today.’

Western Dock parallel with Pennington St looking east

Looking towards Wapping Pierhead

Looking west across Western Dock

Bridge between Western Dock to the left and Tobacco Dock on the right

Interior in Western Dock

Interior in Western Dock

Western Dock looking towards Tower Bridge

Western Dock looking towards Wellclose Sq

Western Dock looking towards St George-in-the-East

Western Dock looking east

Southern part of Western Dock, partly demolished

At Crescent Warehouse

Interior of Crescent Warehouse

Interior of Crescent Warehouse

Interior of Crescent Warehouse

Buildings east of St Katharine Dock

Semi-demolished buildings east of St Katharine Dock

Photographs copyright © Lew Tassell

You may also like to take a look at

The Docks of Old London

Along the Thames with John Claridge

Philip Cunningham’s London Docks

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Roger Tiller permalink
    August 23, 2018

    You lucky man Lew, you had a great advantaged being a policeman, I should think you saw a lot of places where the general puplic can’t go in, if only you had a camera on you all the time you could of got some great shots.
    My grandfather was a railway policeman in the 1920/30s
    All the best Roger

  2. James Wyburd permalink
    August 23, 2018

    I did the same thing in 1976 when studying for my shipping exams. A friend and I climbed through a gap in the walls at the Western Docks at lunchtime, and instead of throwing us out the caretaker showed us round. Amazingly the basements were full of supplies for London in event of nuclear war. A walk back into history, and souls departed.

  3. August 23, 2018

    What atmospheric photographs, great stuff! We are so lucky Mr Tassell took these, truly the last days of an old part of London.

  4. James Harris permalink
    August 23, 2018

    My Dad loves reminiscing about docking in London from his time in the merchant navy. If it wasn’t for the docks he would never have met my Mum and I wouldn’t be here now enjoying the daily Gentle Author articles.

  5. Stephen Barker permalink
    August 23, 2018

    I was reminded of the film ‘The Long Good Friday’ which was based on the idea of an East End Gangster developing derelict docklands. The film was made in 1979 and many of the scenes are similar to these photographs.

  6. Teresa Clark permalink
    August 23, 2018

    How lucky we are that a young Constable Tassel would have been interested in taking these photos and saving them. Quite unrecognizable compared to the vibrant community now. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Ian Silverton permalink
    August 23, 2018

    When a Policeman looked like a Policeman, all City of London Polce looked the part back then,you had to be over 6 ft to get in that job,a real mans world then, they say never look back!!! Sad that, good reminder of how we should be now,IMHO.

  8. Libby permalink
    August 23, 2018

    Wonderful photographs. Poignant and historically important. And I love the reason there were only 18 photographs!

  9. Kate Hayes permalink
    August 23, 2018

    I love the map fragment as well to show how the docks were originally laid out. Is it possible to know the source of this, as I would be very interested in viewing more maps of this era. Lovely job as ever, thank you!

  10. August 23, 2018

    What an amazing stroke of luck, I assume the images are from the negs, prints back then were usually so poor and lacking in contrast

  11. Marie-Anne permalink
    August 24, 2018

    I have a memory that I hold on to very tightly and it is as vivid now as the day I first recorded it.

    My parents were very good friends with a couple (sadly, both no longer alive) and one day, Charlie (or Uncle Charlie as we called him) took me and my sister to see the wharves of Wapping. I don’t know why but I guess that he wanted to show us a piece of London’s past before it ceased to exist.

    This was in the 1970’s so no start had been made on their transformation yet and the buildings stood proud and empty. I was fascinated, and in awe of these magnificent buildings, beautiful and industrial, dirty, forlorn and unwanted and even at my tender age, I fell in love with them.

    As we walked around listening to Uncle Charlie talking about them, even in the relative silence, I could almost hear the noise of the busy docks and I was sad to get back in the car and leave.

    I have told this story to friends and some family many times and the memory of that day is still clear, and may it always remain so. The only regret I have is that I didn’t have a camera then so was unable to take photographs.

  12. August 29, 2018

    I live in Wapping and it is amazing to see how this neighborhood used to look like. Thanks for sharing

  13. Amanda permalink
    September 24, 2018

    Proud Past

    You look amazing in your special City of London Police helmet and uniform and l too, am happy to read that those 18 photos of your girlfriend were the beginning of a happy lifetime together.
    Please include one of your engagement in another posting.

    l was fascinated all my life by the truly exciting atmosphere of the CITY and seeing the Docklands traditional trades and proud way of life of the busiest port in the world. It is worth watching Bob Hoskins in THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY to see Docklands on film 50 years ago.

    Yesterday l visited Docklands Museum and was sad l could no longer find that excitement in the area, nor many leftover signs of the life l knew, so a big thank you Lew for your enquiring curiosity in your heyday and for posting that nostalgia for all of us.

    You can tell how appreciated and meaningful your stories and photos are today. Well done.

  14. Georgina Briody permalink
    October 17, 2018

    My father knew this area well and, as a child, would listen to his stories and often drive through the area en route to family further out.

    It was a sad time to see the decline and demolition of the area but, in recent years, I have returned and it gladdens my heart to see its regeneration, bringing life back in a different way albeit I still thankfully retain memories of the ‘old life.’

    Yes, I also remember when City of London Police had to be over six foot tall, not the case today I fear.

  15. Mario permalink
    November 21, 2018

    In the early 80s, I had a band, and we used to rehearse in cheap studio-space in these areas, and it was like walking back into Dickensian England. Lots of areas still looked bombed-out and in recovery from WW2.

    Like an HG Wells story, it seemed as if one could walk from the present directly into the past, through some ruined door, and find scattered remains of past eras thrown on the floor of long lost spaces, forgotten by time and money.

    My God, it was full of character, so sorely lacking now.

  16. April 14, 2021

    I came to this entry via today’s (14th April 2021) entry about Lew Tassell and the TV programme that I certainly intend to watch, but was fascinated but his photos from Britannic House and now these from the docks. How fortunately to be able to visit places like this with a camera. It would be impossible today. My offices were in St Mary Axe, when the the CU Building (now Aviva) was being built opposite and I remember walking in unchallenged and taking the lift to the top floor and sitting in one of the chairs in the boardroom before the building was in use. No chance of doing something like that today. I suppose the IRA are responsible for much of the tightened security as they bombed the Baltic Exchange in 1991 (believing it was the Stock Exchange) and killed a security guard. I had glass strewn over my desk. The damage to our building was so great that it was taken down – and became the Gherkin.

  17. October 2, 2021

    What sad sights those Docks became. My eldest brother now in his 80s, worked on the Docks back in the 60s. Said huge spiders as big as a man’s hand used to arrive along with the Ffyfe bananas

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