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By David Rooney on

Docks, Yachts And More Than One Box

I’m off to the London boat show tomorrow. It’s being held at an exhibition centre beside an old dock in east London, so there’s plenty of water to show off  the yachts.

I truly love that part of London. Not so long ago, the docklands area was teeming with maritime activity, but now it’s mostly pleasure craft occupying the spaces left behind when the working docks moved down-river to places like Tilbury. But just fifty years ago, Londoners were much closer to their ships, as were the residents of other port cities.

I’ll not dwell on that story right now. Instead, let me show you this terrific painting. It’s one of a set made in 1963 to hang on the end walls of our then-new Shipping Galleries, and they’re still in place if you’d like to see them in the flesh. They’re huge! This one shows mechanical handling at the dockside, 1960s-style:

Mechanical handling at the docks, 1963 (Science Museum / Science & Society)
'Mechanical handling at the docks', 1963 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

That was the height of modernity back then, but in the subsequent half-century, everything’s changed. Here’s your homework. To dip your toe into the modern maritime world, grab a copy of Marc Levinson’s recent book, The Box: how the shipping container made the world smaller and the world economy bigger. Believe me, it’s a very interesting story.

More on all this another day, but in the meantime, if you’re interested in a rather left-field take on rivers, docklands and the future, you might like this free event I’m involved with on 1 February at our Dana Centre, called ‘Time and the Moon’. I’ll be talking with others about how the Moon is a common thread linking places, people and periods. Maybe see you there?