The changing face of London – Royal Victoria Dock

We have looked through our archives again to see how sections of Great Britain have changed throughout the 20th century (see how the Isle of DogsGlasgow Docks and Greenland Docks have changed). In this blog, we have a look at the extensive regeneration of Royal Victoria Dock. Constructed in 1850, as the Victoria Docks on the Plaistow Marshes, the docks were specifically built to accommodate large steam ships and were granted the prefix “Royal” in 1880.

The area was first mapped by Geographers’ A-Z Map Company for the 1938 original A-Z Atlas and Guide to London.

After construction, the dock was an immediate success probably due to its size and depth enabling easy accommodation of all but the very largest steamships. In only 10 years after construction, the Royal Victoria Dock was turning over 70% more shipping than the West India Docks (see Isle of Dogs blog).

German bombing during the Second World War badly damaged the docks however, these docks played a direct role in the outcome of the war against Germany, through unloading food supplies as well as military preparations. The mulberry harbours, used during the Normandy Landings (1944), were constructed through the Royal Docks.

As with all the docks on the Thames, a post-war resurgence occurred until the 1960s as trade continued as reconstruction and recovery began. See the A-Z mapping for the area immediatly after the war in 1948.

Royal Victoria Dock as seen in the 1948 First Edition London A-Z Master Atlas

The docks were a success right through to the transfer to containerisation of shipping during the 1960s – 1980s. The A-Z map dated 1963 shows the Royal Docklands area at the beginning of the general decline in the Docklands industry. During the next 20 years, larger ports were constructed such as Tilbury leading to a decline in business for the Royal Docks.

The Royal Victoria Dock as seen in the 1963 Master Atlas of London.

During this decline in business, the London Docklands Strategic Plan (1976) was written by the Docklands Joint Committee to reduce the impact of unemployment and underdevelopment of the area after the closure of the docks.

The Royal Docks closed to commercial traffic in 1981 and the last vessel left on the 7th December 1981.

See the changes in the area from 1976 and 1980.


The London Docklands Development Corporation was formed in 1981 with the objective of regenerating and finding new uses for the former docks of London. These uses can be recognised almost immediately in the next two maps from 1994 and 2017.

Royal Victoria Dock in as seen in the 1994 version of the Master Atlas of London

Some of those developments include the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and the creation of an inner city Airport utilising the former central wharf as the Airport Runway. This is now London City Airport. The airport opened in 1988 with additional places opening in the earlier 2000s including the ExCel centre and a new campus of the University of East London.

We can still expect to see many changes in this area. In fact, by 2020 we should see the complete regeneration of all former dock buildings and land. So, keep looking out for the next A-Z Map book or keep up with our data to see the latest developments in the area.

A-Z Maps produce a range of publications, gifts and digital data for London and we have a host of archive and current map data that is available for purchase. Please get in touch with us for more information.

The Royal Victoria Dock in 2017 as found in our database and within the latest edition of the Master Atlas of London

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