Wednesday 6 November 2019

Billingsgate Dock


A number of articles published in previous issues of this newsletter have drawn attention to Billingsgate Dock in Greenwich.  There is a lot more to this story than appears at first site – Billingsgate still has a role to play today.

Thanks to Nick Raynsford MP I have been able to discover a great deal about its present status – although to most passers by it appears to be just another bit of the frontage on Cutty Sark Gardens, it is in fact still a dock with rights and privileges attached to it.

In 1850 an Act of Parliament was passed to 'enable the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital .. 'to enlarge and improve the Billingsgate Dock and widen Billingsgate Street in Greenwich'. 

This was a strange and obscure Act of Parliament. It is described as a 'Public Act of Local Application' – and as such does not appear in the normal reference lists  like 'Chronological Table of Local Legislation', 'Halsbury's Statutes' or the 'Index to the London Government Act 1963 and orders made thereunder'.   At the same time there is no sign that it has ever been repealed. It is understood that Acts of this type remain in force unless evidence can be brought forward to show that it has been repealed.

What does the Act say? First of all it makes clear that Billingsgate Dock is to be used by the public in the place of Ship Dock and Ship Stairs (near what was the Ship Pub sited where the Cutty Sark Ship now stands) . It was for the 'Use of Watermen and other Persons resorting to and using the same' .. and as a 'great Accommodation and Improvement to the Town of Greenwich .. and Persons using the said Dock' Billingsgate Street was to be widened and improved.   Billingsgate Street ran roughly down the eastern side of what is now Cutty Sark Gardens.  This all means that Billingsgate Dock is a public dock for the use of Greenwich people and others.

If the dock went into the ownership of the Greenwich Pier Company in due course then under the Thames River Steam Boat Service Act of 1904 the London County Council took responsibility for it.  However the owners should have given notice in writing to the LCC before 1907. Did they ever do this? Was there ever an agreement with the LCC to transfer it  to them?

What does all this mean?  What we probably need is a clever lawyer to sort it all out.  But it may mean that Greenwich people and 'watermen' have some rights that they never knew about.

Please can we have some comments – or some more information?

Reg Barter

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