The Port of London in the 18th Century

We are absolutely thrilled to welcome a new guest to our blog – Regan Walker, bestselling author of historical romance. Regan has another new book due out on the 9th May 2015  – To Tame the Wind. Regan is sharing with us some of her research that has helped her in writing her latest book, which is available from Amazon.

Regan Walker profile pic 2014

In To Tame the Wind, my new Georgian romance, the hero, an English privateer, adroitly maneuvers his schooner through the traffic on the Thames to moor in the Pool of London. That’s the area just downstream from London Bridge where London’s port was originally centered. And it was a very busy place!

During the 18th century, both the city of London and its international trade went through a great expansion. The Thames became a huge traffic jam, or as one of my characters described it, ““There are so many ships in port just now, the Thames is like a kettle of stew on the boil.”

Pool of London, painting by John Wilson Carmichael
Pool of London, painting by John Wilson Carmichael

 Thousands of coastal sailing ships entered the port each year bringing coal or grain to the capital. These ships competed for space in the crowded river with vessels carrying goods like sugar and rum from the West Indies, tea and spices from the East Indies, wine from the Mediterranean, furs, timber and hemp for rope from Russia and the Baltic and tobacco from America.

As you might expect, the rate of increase in the volume of the trade fluctuated with the alternating periods of peace and war. Between 1700 and 1770 the commerce of the port nearly doubled, and from 1770 to 1795 (only 25 years) it doubled again. In 1751, the Pool of London handled 1,682 ships in overseas trade. By 1794, this had risen to 3,663 ships. By 1792, London’s share of imports and exports accounted for 65% of the total for all of England.

The heavy congestion in the Pool resulted in damage to goods and ships, theft and delays. Merchants complained loudly about the effect this had on their costs and profits, and in the 1790’s the merchants of the highly profitable West Indies trade began to campaign for better port facilities, which they eventually got.

Shipping on the Thames, painting by Samuel Scott
Shipping on the Thames, painting by Samuel Scott

Some idea of the state of congestion that existed in the river can be gathered from the fact that in the Upper Pool, 1,775 vessels were allowed to moor simultaneously in a space adapted for about 545. A ship of 500 tons was thought of as a ship of exceptional size and this partly explains the state of congestion. The great increase in the volume of trade resulted in the addition of a large number of ships of relatively small carrying capacity. The situation was aggravated by the large number of these smaller craft, estimated at about 3,500, employed to convey cargoes from the moorings to the wharves.

Ships did their best to sail up or down the Thames, but being unloaded was another matter. Until the end of the eighteenth century, there were no docks built for unloading ships (as opposed to dockyards that repaired them). Instead, cargo that couldn’t be carried from a ship to the wharf would be ferried by smaller craft.

The Port of London was the busiest port in the world.

To Tame the Wind by Regan Walker.



All Claire Donet knew was the world inside the convent walls in Saint-Denis. She had no idea her beloved papa was a pirate. But when he seized Simon Powell’s schooner, the English privateer decided to take the one thing his enemy held most dear… her.


The waters between France and England roil with the clashes of Claire’s father and her captor as the last year of the American Revolution rages on the sea, spies lurk in Paris and Claire’s passion for the English captain rises.

Discover Regan on her website, blog, on Twitter (@RegansReview) or on Facebook.

Regan also has a Pinterest storyboard of all her research for the book.


12 thoughts on “The Port of London in the 18th Century

  1. Thank you, Regan! Fascinating, and very informative, in-depth research which is likely to make me consider buying the book despite the sartorial iniquities of the cover. You must be so disappointed to be let down by someone who knows no better than to have a shirt opening all the way down the front. It’s always good to read blogs like this and know that an author really does know her stuff, even when the artist does not!


    1. Regan Walker

      Thanks so much, Sarah. I’m glad you appreciate in depth research. I even include an Author’s Note in my books with more of my research just for those who love to know more.


  2. caseykelly3

    And, this is one of the many reasons your books are so good. The extensive historical research adds so much to the story line. Very interesting read on the Thames shipping “traffic jam.” 🙂
    Carolyn Hughes


    1. Regan Walker

      Wow…thanks so much Carolyn. I do try to bring the history to life while still telling a love story that must remain front and center. And I do hundreds of hours of research so it’s nice when someone like you notices.


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  4. Raymond Matthews

    This is very interesting and informative. Thank you for all your hard work. I am writing my second novel that takes place mostly at sea and in the ports of the 18th century world.


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