How come you never see a book about London's docks? They are of incalculable importance to the history of our city, yet nobody has published a book on the topic for decades. Peter Stone fills this long-empty berth with the superb The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of all the Nations.
The book runs chronologically, beginning with the Roman and Saxon ports and the development of trade organisations in the Middle Ages. By the time of the Tudors, the river was also an important centre of shipbuilding. The age of empire, the industrial revolution, and two world wars all had a huge impact on the port, as did containerisation in the middle of the 20th century. The port today is still a major player, though much of the activity is hidden downriver in Tilbury and Thurrock.
Peter Stone weaves this intricate story together like a master rigger. Histories anchored in trade and commerce can quickly turn dry, but Stone keeps the pace brisk and tone lucid.
There are many remarkable side-stories here, too. Did you know, for example, that two Royal Navy submarines once crept into the Royal Docks to serve as backup power generators, when striking labourers closed down the power plant? The book is full of such little-known stories.
Overall, this is a solid, well-researched history, written in an easily accessible style. The full history of the Port of London is finally, and finely, told.
The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of Nations by Peter Stone is out now from Pen & Sword History. While you're at it, check out the author's excellent website The History of London.