An urban view — 04 April 2014

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building which you might have passed without noticing. It seems hardly credible now that this late Georgian gem was, in the 1960s, saved from redevelopment.

The nearby St. Catherine’s Dock was the first of London’s docks to be gentrified, Dockmaster’s House was used by Taylor Woodrow as their site office for that project.

Lord Snowdon, who was living across the River in Rotherhithe campaigned vigorously for its preservation, helped by the support of Raine Legge of the GLC. Peter Drew the project manager for Taylor Woodrow, realising the quality of his ’office’ building would later use Dockmaster’s House as his home.

Dockmaster’s House and Customs Offices were designed by D. A. Alexander in 1811-1813 were intended for senior dock officials of The London Docks which had opened in 1805.

Originally overlooking the main maritime entrance between the River Thames and Wapping Basin. Wapping Pier Head as it was known was closed and with its closure the waterway was filled in and is now a garden.

The Dockmaster was responsible for running the dock on a day to day basis and so living next to the dock was essential. The position involved: directing the movement of cargo and vessels; keeping accounts of quantities and types of goods; recruitment and paying staff; inspecting the dock; and ensuring the safety of workers. The building was designed with its occupant’s responsibilities in mind. It has a room which was used as an office facing the entrance to the dock from where the Dockmaster would oversee and supervise activities. The house also has a bow front facing the river which allowed the Dockmaster sight of passing river traffic.

Pier Head is approached from Wapping High Street, built in 1570 it once had 36 pubs catering for sailors, dockers and assorted trades linked to the thriving shipping industry. The Dockmaster’s House, like the dock is an important reminder of the international prominence of London’s docks and the Thames as a busy commercial thoroughfare.

Close by to Dockmaster’s House is the Town of Ramsgate public house which was formerly called the Red Cow. Renamed after the Kentish fishermen who landed their catches at Wapping Old Stairs behind the pub.

Here convicted pirates bodies were taken after execution and tied to the stake at the bottom of the stairs, and left for three tides to wash over them. Captain Kidd, the naval officer turned pirate, suffered exactly that fate here in 1701. In 1688 ’Hanging’ Judge Jeffries, he of the Bloody Assizes was captured in the pub’s cellar trying to escape after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

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