The best books on maritime London

Margarette Lincoln Author Of Trading in War: London's Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson
By Margarette Lincoln

Who am I?

I was formerly Deputy Director of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and am now a visiting fellow at the University of Portsmouth. I can safely say that I have spent some years of my life walking along the River Thames. The fascinating thing about maritime London is that our understanding of it is always advancing and changing – much like the riverscape itself.


I wrote...

Trading in War: London's Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson

By Margarette Lincoln,

Book cover of Trading in War: London's Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson

What is my book about?

Nominated for the 2019 Wolfson History Prize and named London Historians’ Book of the Year, this is a vivid account of the forgotten citizens of maritime London who sustained Britain during the Revolutionary Wars. In the half-century before the Battle of Trafalgar the port of London became the commercial nexus of a global empire and launch pad of Britain’s military campaigns in North America and Napoleonic Europe. The unruly riverside parishes east of the Tower seethed with life, a crowded, cosmopolitan, and incendiary mix of sailors, soldiers, traders, and the network of ordinary citizens that served them. Harnessing little-known archival and archaeological sources, Lincoln recovers a forgotten maritime world. Her gripping narrative highlights the pervasive impact of war, which brought violence, smuggling, pilfering from ships on the river, and a susceptibility to subversive political ideas. It also commemorates the working maritime community: shipwrights and those who built London’s first docks, wives who coped while husbands were at sea, and early trade unions. This meticulously researched work reveals the lives of ordinary Londoners behind the unstoppable rise of Britain’s sea power and its eventual defeat of Napoleon.

The books I picked & why

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London's Docklands: A History of the Lost Quarter

By Fiona Rule,

Book cover of London's Docklands: A History of the Lost Quarter

Why this book?

This book is carefully researched and gives fascinating insights into the area around London’s docks. Rule begins her account in Roman times and takes the story through into the twenty-first century. She is committed to explaining how London’s docks, which employed around 100,000 men some sixty years ago, could so quickly have been swept away, and she shows huge sympathy for the people who lived and worked in the area. What I especially like is the range of sources she uses, from archaeological records to personal interviews.


Dockland Life: A Pictorial History of London’s Docks 1860–2000

By Chris Ellmers, Alex Werner,

Book cover of Dockland Life: A Pictorial History of London’s Docks 1860–2000

Why this book?

This volume explores all the major aspects of the Port of London, from warehousing and ship repair to the quayside and dock trades. The 2000 edition takes the story right up to the redevelopment of what is now called London Docklands, including Canary Wharf and the Millennium Dome. The many well-chosen illustrations help to convey the drama and mystery of the docks but also the daily grind and danger of some of the work that went on there.


London and the Georgian Navy

By Philip MacDougall,

Book cover of London and the Georgian Navy

Why this book?

This book focuses on the myriad ways in which Georgian London and the Royal Navy were intertwined. Thousands of Londoners contributed to work that helped to keep the navy at sea; all understood that the navy protected maritime trade, on which London’s prosperity depended. MacDougall looks at bureaucratic links between the navy and the City, and at the practical business of supplying the fleet; he explores key geographical locations in detail and uncovers colourful personalities.


The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations

By Peter Stone,

Book cover of The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations

Why this book?

Stone looks specifically at the evolution of the Port of London from Roman times to the present day. His enthusiasm for London’s history is evident on every page. The book is well-paced, accessible, and combines a broad chronological sweep with interesting side-stories which help to bring the pages to life. Clear maps showing trade routes and the growth of London’s dock complex greatly help the reader.


London's Sailortown, 1600-1800

By Ken Cozens, Derek Morris,

Book cover of London's Sailortown, 1600-1800

Why this book?

Morris and Cozens have written a series of books that look at the history of East London. These books are a rich resource for historians and offer many points of interest for general readers. In this volume they look at Shadwell and Ratcliff, and chiefly focus on the period between 1700 and 1800, analysing hundreds of archives including land tax records and insurance policies. Their research allows them to up-end the traditional view of a deprived East London to show that actually the population in this period was mixed and included many wealthy families.


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