Analysis of historical maps show that the sites were heavily used for shipbuilding and manufacturing, and featured many wharfs and docks.
Before the building of the docks, the wharves made up the port of London. Thanks to steam power, trade was booming, taking place on the increasingly busy river Thames. As trade expanded, the wharves and quays became too congested, which led to the building of the first enclosed docks in the 19th century. By 1899 there were over 300 wharves in London, dealing with both high-value goods and specialist items. The wharves further towards Greenwich often served the industrial companies in the area, such as the gasworks, and frequently dealt with items of specialist machinery.
The maps from the 1860s show that Greenwich town centre did not have much industrial activity, which instead was located in surrounding sites. Towards Deptford and along Deptford Creek there were numerous wharves, as well as large iron shipbuilding yards, and several manufacturing sites, including soap works and engine works. Two gasworks were also sited in this location.
Across the river on the Isle of Dogs, the situation was much the same, with a high proportion of wharfs. Earthenware, varnish, iron, chains and anchors and cement were amongst the items manufactured, that would have been distributed via the wharves. The Cubitt Town side of the site had a high number of ship building yards.
Across the river at Greenwich Marshes, now Greenwich Peninsula, there was a stronger precedent of manufacturing, again with soap, cement, iron, steel and chemical works.
With the closure of the docks in the late 1900s was a great decline in industrial activity in the area, and a mass transformation into the high quality residential and commercial use seen today. However, the area still has a distinctive ‘docklands’ identity associated with its past, reinforced by the original riverside wharf buildings that remain. Through the redevelopment of the former industrial sites, a new ‘dockland vernacular’ has emerged.