The overlays that highlight 17th century London features are approximate and derived from Wenceslaus Hollar’s maps:

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Bill  •  Link

From an early date Blackwall was a great place for ships, shipbuilding, and docks. It is often mentioned in Sir Walter Raleigh's Letters to Cecil, and is spelt indifferently Blakwale, Blakewale, and Bralkwale. Thus on May 3, 1596, he writes, "From Blakewale, reddy to go down agayne this tyde;" in the body of the letter he spells it Bralkewale. He was then toiling to organise the expedition against Cadiz, and on the following day he writes from Northfleet, "if this strong wind last I will steale to Blakewale to speak with you and to kiss your hands."
---London, Past and Present. H.B. Wheatley, 1891.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

compiled from:…

Blackwall’s name presumably derives from the color of the river wall, built in the Middle Ages with its stairs. It was known as Blackwall by the 14th century.

The area was historically part of the parish of Poplar in Middlesex. The area lay in a sheltered loop of the river next to Poplar's East Marsh. The area never had its own Anglican church, so services such as road maintenance were organized by a vestry, and for poor relief it relied on its ecclesiastical parish (of All Saints) Poplar.

The whole Isle of Dogs was referred to as being Poplar or the Poplar District. In the 1950s, the Isle of Dogs excluded the symmetrical part that is its north west, forming the parish of Limehouse and comprises the ancient hamlet of Poplar itself, the old shipbuilding centre of Blackwall, and the former industrial districts of Millwall and Cubitt Town.

Contrary to expectations, the River Thames landmark named Blackwall Point is not in Blackwall district but on the north tip of Greenwich Peninsula, which is south of the Thames. It is named after the Blackwall Reach of the Thames.

Blackwall played a significant part of the ocean-going Port of London, connected with important voyages for over 400 years.

On 7 June 1576, financed by the Muscovy Company, Martin Frobisher set sail from Blackwall, seeking the North West Passage. He landed at Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island, claiming it as England first possession in the name of Queen Elizabeth I.

Walter Raleigh had a house at Blackwall, and in the early years of the 17th century the port was the main departure point of the English colonization of North America and the West Indies, launched by the London Company.

Until 1987, Blackwall was a centre of shipbuilding and repairing. This activity principally included Blackwall Yard, the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company at Leamouth, Canning Town (part of whose works spanned the informal border of the small one-road, one unit deep area of Leamouth), and the Orchard House Yard. Blackwall Yard built the first Blackwall Frigates.

Coldharbour is said to be "[t]he sole remaining fragment of the old hamlet of Blackwall" and "one of the last examples of the narrow streets which once characterized the river's perimeter". The Coldharbour Conservation Area has several listed historic buildings as well as engineering structures once part of the former docks.

The Thames Path (north bank) National Trail which opened in 1996 is connected to Blackwall; it enters the district at the South Dock Entrance and goes via Coldharbour and Blackwall Way and rejoins the River Thames at Virginia Wharf until the East India Dock at Blackwall Point.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Compiled from…


The area around Blackwall Stairs was known as 'Blackwall' by the 14th century. It was situated on the north bank of the Thames between the River Lea to the east and Coldharbour to the west, in a sheltered loop of the river, before the Thames turns southwards past the eastern side of the Isle of Dogs.

Settlement was confined chiefly to a street, known as Blackwall, which ran parallel to the river towards Coldharbour and was connected to Poplar High Street by Blackwall Causeway, the route today is represented by Brunswick Way.

To the east of the Causeway lay Blackwall Yard, the biggest shipbuilding on the Thames during the 17th and 18th centuries.

In appearance Blackwall resembled Coldharbour. The area was transformed during the 19th century when everything was swept away, so the original river wall now lies several hundred feet inland.

The earliest known reference to the site is in a document of 1362, in which pasture were leased at Godelockhope (Goodluck Hope) and Blackwall. In 1377 it was called Blakewall. The wall was no doubt an artificial bank constructed beside the marsh to keep out the riverwater.

In 1593 John Norden stated that Blackwall took its name from 'the blackeness or darkeness of the bankes or wall at that place'.

Blackwall lay to the south-west of open fields known as the East Marsh of Poplar. A small community of fishermen lived in the area in the 14th century. As far as land communication was concerned it was a dead end, as its only connection with the rest of Poplar was along an ancient trackway called Blackwall Causeway, which in 1725 was 1,122ft long on its west side and 1,076ft on its east, and 26ft wide. (fn. 7)

At the southern end of the causeway were Blackwall Stairs, a common way consisting of a slipway and staircase leading down to the river.

In 1643 there was a complaint that the carts going along the causeway were damaging it, and the East India Company ordered a gate and a stile, 3ft high, to be erected at the northern end. Giles Sheppard was employed as a porter 'to keep the key of their gate' and no carts could pass through without a 2d payment. The money was to be used to repair the causeway.

At the time of the Armada a proposal was put forward to construct a barrier across the Thames at Blackwall to prevent Spanish ships reaching the capital. This was presumably a boom of masts, chains and anchors. Robert Adams' map of the Thames of 1588 shows a barrier and a star-shaped fort at Blackwall, but there is no evidence that the fort was built. Similarly, some large piles running across the river reputedly were discovered in later years, but there is no certainty that the barrier was constructed.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


A permanent structure was planned. A letter sent to Sir Robert Sydney in 1599 states that 'a bridge is to be made over the Thames at Blackwall'. But no bridge down-stream of Tower Bridge was opened until 1991.

It was as an anchorage that spurred Blackwall's development. The moorings were protected by Blackwall Rock, a reef about 300ft long and 150ft wide, which provided shelter for ships anchored offshore. From the 15th century, Blackwall was the place where travelers wishing to avoid the long journey around the Isle of Dogs embarked and disembarked, and it also became a victualling point for outward-bound vessels.

By the late 17th century Blackwall was the most expensive anchorage on the Thames. In 1684 the cost of mooring a ship on one of the three river-chains at Blackwall was 15s per week.

During the 16th century Blackwall was the point of departure for many of the great voyages of discovery, including Frobisher's second voyage in search of the North West Passage.

In 1606, the Virginia Settlers in the ships Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery set sail for America from Blackwall.

Another major element in the development of Blackwall was ship-repairing and later shipbuilding. During the late 15th and early 16th centuries repairs were carried out to both private and royal ships there.

In 1485 the Cely family ship, the Margaret Cely, underwent repairs at Blackwall, and in 1512 the 450-ton Peter Pomegranate (one of the king's ships) was re-decked and caulked there. The materials for repairing vessels of the Henrician navy were brought by barge from London. At that time there were no permanent docks or slips at Blackwall, and so in 1514, 30 laborers and dykers spent four days 'dykynge and castyng' a dock for the Mary Rose when she came to Blackwall for repairs.

It was not until after 1614, when the East India Company's principal shipyard was constructed at Blackwall, that any major building development occurred in this part of Poplar. Although a few inns had already been built beside the river near to Blackwall Stairs, 16th-century Blackwall had not developed as a residential community.

In 1618 William Burrell (the principal shipwright to the East India Company) purchased the causeway at Blackwall for £100. The East India Company wished to buy the eastern side of the causeway which lay alongside its yard, and a battle arose over its ownership. Burrell saw the potential for building of homes for men working in the yard, as he stated that he 'bought the rest with intent to build thereuppon to leave something in certain for the good of his children'.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The Elders of Trinity House were consulted about Burrell's proposal to build seafaring men's housing at Blackwall in case the buildings would be 'preiudiciall unto the Ryver'. They regarded the site as a 'fitt and convenient place for houses and buildings ... in regard to the nearness of the East India workes and the number of ships there continually ryding'.

Development at Blackwall continued throughout the century as both the shipyard and overseas trade prospered and the demand for labor in the area increased.

In 1652 the East India Company sold Blackwall Yard, and the shipwright Henry Johnson became the owner of the premises. Johnson extended the yard northwards and eastwards, altering its physical appearance as the demands of the business grew.

With the prosperity of the yard and the provisioning of ships going to the East Indies, a sizeable community grew up at Blackwall by the late 17th century. In 1688, when the inhabitants were ordered to cleanse the common sewer behind their houses, there were at least 42 residents.

Evidence for houses in 17th-century Blackwall is scanty, although an inventory of a prosperous anchor-smith who died there in 1682 shows at least one house was three storeys high. On the ground floor was a kitchen (with a cellar), a parlor, a hall, and possibly a shop. The dining-room, the children's chamber and the 'best room up' were on the first floor, while there were at least four rooms on the second floor.

The decline in the prosperity of the shipyard in the 1720s caused poverty in Blackwall. The area did not expand again until the revival of the yard's fortunes later in the century and the construction of the East India Docks at the beginning of the 19th century.

A map of 1740 shows the extent of development, with buildings on both sides of Blackwall High Street, and to the western side of the causeway.

Blackwall was the site of an ancient timber-framed house which became known during the 19th century as 'Raleigh's House'. Any association with the 16th century courtier and explorer is tenuous, as is the claim that the same property had been the residence of Sebastian Cabot. Raleigh was at Blackwall on many occasions, waiting to go aboard ship or on naval business. Many letters written by him were signed from Blackwall, but are not proof he was a resident.

A photograph of the house taken in 1873 shows it as a jettied timber-framed building infilled with lath and plaster. Wooden carvings of grotesque heads decorated the facade. The floor of the house was, by the late 19th century, below street level and the main entrance was blocked. In 1856 it was suggested the quaint house should be preserved and turned into 'a little almshouse or school.' This was not heeded, and the development of the area led to its demolition by 1881 for the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

From the 1540s a number of inns existed for travelers.

In 1618, after the arrival of the East India Co., Blackwall Yard was threatened with flooding because of the 'decaye of the wharf by the Taverne' which lay between the yard and Blackwall Stairs.

In 1625 an inn, the 'Signe of the Three Mariners in Blackwall,' was involved in a case about the theft of beef belonging to the East India Co.

By the 1630s 'the signe of the Armes of the East India Company' was run by Zachary Gilby.

The Globe Tavern was built to the north of Blackwall Yard between 1643 and 1656 and was described in 1656 as a 'messuage with stables and hay loft'. The 9 cottages in the tavern yard in the early 18th century had been rebuilt as 12 cottages by the 1840s.

In his will, drawn up in 1683, Sir Henry Johnson, the owner of Blackwall Yard, directed that within a year of his death his son, also a Sir Henry, should build 6 almshouses, at a cost of £300. Each almshouse was to contain 'two rooms and a chimney'. They were to house poor and aged ship-carpenters, each of whom was to receive a weekly allowance of 2s 6d.

Henry Jr. did not carry out the work, but did allow 7 of the 9 cottages in the yard of the Globe Tavern to be occupied rent free 'in the nature of almshouses'. The 6 almshouses were not erected until 1755.

Blackwall Yard stimulated other maritime-related developments. From the early 17th century the west side of Blackwall Causeway was occupied by a ropeground, over 1,200ft long and some 200ft in width.

In 1678, on ropemaker John Bennett's death, it was valued at £40, including sheds and warehouses. Gascoyne's map of 1703 shows a single ropewalk. In 1728 the ropewalk's dimensions were given as 1,122ft by 28ft.

Apart from Blackwall Yard, ship-building and repair were done at a smaller yard next to the Plough Inn.

Also on the 1703 map is a shipyard called Johnson's Upper Dock. This was a small yard with a single dry dock. During the 17th century it was called Coldharbour Dock and Henry Johnson held it on lease from William Stevens, the East India Company's shipwright.

In 1678 Henry Johnson and his partner William Christmas applied to the Conservancy Court for permission 'for a wharf incroached into the river of Thames at Coleharbour nere Blackwall'. An earlier tenant was James Avery, who made repairs for the Navy in 1671.

To the east of Blackwall Causeway, beside Blackwall Yard, was a wharf, which is shown on the map of 1703.

By 1887 Blackwall was described as, "all the houses were condemned and that it was a wretched place inhabited by very poor people, except for 'a doubtful character at the coffee house'. Another man had the dubious occupation of selling 'opera glasses on race courses'." Much of old Blackwall was cleared for the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel, and the river wall was extended several hundred feet into the river creating a new riverfront by 1893.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.


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