Archaeology excavation begins at Canada Water, London (c)MOLA

Canada Water dry dock remains on show for the community

Magnus Copps

Magnus Copps, our Development and Community Project Officer, was recently invited by Sellar to talk to the local community about a hidden dry dock that has recently been unearthed by enabling works as part of a regeneration scheme in the heart of Canada Water. Magus tells us more in this blog…

It was great to have such an interested audience visit the viewing platform at Canada Water to explore the fascinating history of the dock. In all we welcomed nearly 50 people down, including a few people who remembered the dock in-use and recounted their part in the history of the area.

The dry dock structure was built in the 1860s, originally as a linking channel between the Main Dock, to the north, and Canada Pond, to the south. MOLA Archaeologist Richard Hewett, who supervised a watching brief of the archaeology in preparation for construction, identified the original curving southern ends of the brickwork walls protruding from behind a later concrete structure. These curves mark the point where the brick-lined channel of the dock opened out into the earthen-banked pond to the south.

By 1876, the seemingly ever-increasing tonnage of material through the dock prompted a further redesign of the dock system. The old channel was capped off in concrete, a relatively new advance in construction at the time, with a curved apsidal end that can still be seen today. With the addition of a pair of lock gates on the northern end, the channel functioned as a dry dock.

In its working life, the dock would have been used to repair smaller boats and lighters, which would have towed barges, onto which cargo was transferred, or in the case of timber they would just have towed the floating balks through the water. This use of the dry dock seems to have continued until the Surrey Docks closed in 1971.

The dry dock lay buried for over 20 years, since the construction of Canada Water tube station, but was recently uncovered during enabling works for an eight acre, mixed-use development by Sellar in partnership with Notting Hill Housing.   

The site and exposed dry dock, can be seen from a publicly-accessible platform allowing locals to take a look before the dock is covered over in the next month or so. As part of the scheme, the dry dock will be retained and preserved in a sealed time capsule, protecting the site’s history for future generations. 

Thanks to everyone who came!

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