British photographic history

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Exploring the Port of London archive

ARCHIVES chronicling 250 years of riverside history are set to go on display.

The Port of London Authority (PLA) archive, which includes more than a kilometre of documents and records, will be catalogued in a programme expected to last three years. Work will begin at The Museum of London Docklands, situated near to Canary Wharf, compiling the data electronically so that on completion it will be accessible via the internet.

Claire Frankland, museum archivist, said: "The PLA archive collection is unique. It covers everything from the initial grand development schemes through to the details of day-to-day life in the docks. A special talk to explore the archive has been scheduled for this Friday (23rd April) - see Events section.

"It is an archive of international significance, an invaluable resource for social, economic and maritime historians, as well as those pursuing interests in local and family history. "The archive is massive and we are really excited about what the cataloguing process is going to reveal."

A panorama of the river dating to 1937, covering both banks between London Bridge and Greenwich was recreated by three photographers, Charles Craig, Graham Diprose and Mike Seaborne and the PLA will add this to the archive.

Historic photographs
The historic photographic archive is one of the most heavily used segments of the collection, and runs to over 40,000 images, mostly black and white but some colour. The earliest images date from the late 1850s and the latest are views of the Docklands today. The bulk of the images cover the enclosed docks of London and the River Thames.

Every aspect of cargo-handling operations for each and every commodity once common in the port is represented in the collection. Dozens of the different trades carried out in the Port are depicted including Dockers, Stevedores, Lightermen, Police, Office Staff, Riggers, Coopers, Samplers, Deal Porters, even a Rat Catcher with his dog. There are special collections on:

* the Port during the 1939/45 war
* bridges
* dock construction and dock warehouses
* dock trades
* the Silvertown Explosion of 1917
* ships, sailing vessel and Thames barges
* river reaches
* hundreds of aerial views of the docks and river.

Publications and reproduction of images
The quality and scope of these images has formed the basis of several highly successful publications produced by Docklands staff. Over three hundred were chosen for the best-selling book ‘Dockland Life’: A Pictorial History of London’s Docks 1860-1970.

Images of the banks of the Thames from London Bridge down to Greenwich were used to produce the top-selling ‘London’s Lost Riverscape’.

On a daily basis prints are supplied to a wide range of customers including the media, book publishers, film makers, academics, companies relocating to Docklands, pubs and restaurants, as well as to many private individuals.

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