Many people who live in SE16 know the area has been dominated by the Surrey Docks since about 1750. Rotherhithe became the centre of trade with the Baltic and so much of the timber that built the industrial supremacy of the UK was imported though this area. Whilst Rotherhithe was mostly under water, Bermondsey supplied the men – and they were mostly men – who worked there. The hard graft of the docker families has become a part of legend but what has often been overlooked is that with the timber and other produce from Scandinavia came whales. What is now Greenland Dock – then the Great Howland Wet Dock – was a major location for the landing and processing of whale carcasses.
“…the UK and many nations across the world fought battles at sea and on land to gain the upper hand in the slaughter of these wonderful beasts…
Changing attitudes to Whales
Whales today are internationally protected. Their products are no longer consumed and their world is conserved to allow their numbers to recover from our pillaging. Today their extraordinary evolutionary tree has been drawn up and each species is studied with increasing depth. When the whaling industry was at its height, the UK and many nations across the world fought battles at sea and on land to gain the upper hand in the slaughter of these wonderful beasts. The profit to be made from each carcass was extreme and we can only wonder at the contribution whales made to our civilisation and continue to make to our worldview today.
“…Greenland Dock – then the Great Howland Wet Dock – was a major location for the landing and processing of whale carcasses…”
Andie Byrnes – at the excellent A Rotherhithe Blog – offers a history of whaling at the Great Howland Wet Dock in her fourth piece on the history of Rotherhithe. If you watched Adam Nicholson’s recent BBC4 documentaries – Britain’s Whale Hunters: The Untold Story – about the rise and fall of the whaling industry, will recognise many of the aspects of whaling reflected in our local heritage. And of course if you visit the Ship and Whale or the Moby Dick you can be one up on the next pub quiz!
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