BLACKWALL belongs to the hamlet of Poplar, in the extensive and populous parish of Stepney, in Middlesex. It is seated on the Thames, between the eastern extremity of Poplar and the mouth of the river Lea, which is here the boundary between the counties of Middlesex and Essex. By land, it is not above two miles from the eastern extremity of the metropolis; but by water it is not less than seven miles from London Bridge, on account of the circuitous navigation by the Isle of Dogs.
Blackwall is remarkable for the ship-yard and wet-dock made here by John Perry, esq. The dock, which is is the most considerable private one in Europe, contains, with the water and embankments, near nineteen acres. It can receive twenty-eight large East Indiamen, and from fifty to sixty ships of smaller burden, with room to transport them from one part of the dock to any other.
On the spacious south quay are erected four cranes, for the purpose of landing the guns, anchors, quintaledges, and heavy stores of the ships.
On the east quay, provision is made for landing the blubber from the Greenland ships; and, adjoining, are coppers prepared for boiling the same, with spacious warehouses for the reception of the oil and whalebone; and ample conveniencies for stowing and keeping dry the rigging and sails of the ships.
On the west quay is erected a building one hundred and twenty feet in height, for the purpose of laying up the sails and rigging of the East Indiamen; with complete machinery above for masting and dismasting the ships; whereby the former practice of raising sheers on the deck, so injurious to the ships, and extremely dangerous to the men, is entirely avoided. The first East Indiaman masted by this machine was the Lord Macartney, on the 25th of October 1791; her whole suit of masts, and bowsprit, being raised and fixed in three hours and forty minutes, by half the number of hands usually employed two days in the same service.
At each end of the north bank, are erected houses for the watchmen, who have the care of the ships night and day; with cook rooms, in which the sailors dress their provisions, perfectly sheltered from the inclemency of the weather.
The basins without the dock-gate are so prepared, that ships are continually laid on the blocks, and their bottoms inspected, without the necessity of putting them into the dry docks; whereby much time and expence are saved.
In the latter end of the year 1789, and in all 1790, people came from far and near to collect the nuts, and pieces of the trees, which were found, in digging this dock, in a sound and perfect state, although they must have laid here for many ages. They seem to have been overset by some convulsion, or violent impulse, from the northward, as all their tops lay toward the south. About four feet under ground was found a shilling of king James the first.
Not far from this dock, Mr. Perry has a copperas work, situate on the river Lea, near the Thames, in the parish of St. Leonard Bromley, and which, although not so large as his copperas works at Whitstable in Kent, and Walton-on-the-Naze, in Essex, is allowed to be the most complete work of the kind in England.
Poplar, we have already observed, is a hamlet to Stepney, a parish of such extent, and so much increased in buildings, as to produce the parishes of St. Mary Stratford, at Bow; St. Mary, Whitechapel; St. Anne, Limehouse; St. John, Wapping; St. Paul, Shadwell; St. George, Ratcliffe Highway; Christ Church, Spitalfields; and St. Matthew, Bethnal Green. Poplar obtained its name from the great number of poplar trees that anciently grew there. Here is a chapel, which was erected, in the year 1654, by a subscription of the inhabitants, the ground having been granted by the East India company; since which time, that company have not only allowed the minister a convenient house, with a garden and field containing three acres, but twenty pounds per annum during pleasure. Here is an hospital belonging to the company, in which are twenty-two pensioners (some men, but more widows) who have a quarterly allowance, according to the rank which they, or the widows' husbands', had on shipboard; and chaldron of coals annually. There are also many out-pensioners belonging to the company.
Poplar marsh is reckoned one of the richest spots of ground in England; for it not only raises the largest cattle, but the grass it bears is esteemed a great restorative of all distempered cattle. Part of this marsh is called the Isle of Dogs, although it is not an island, nor quite a peninsula. It is opposite Greenwich in Kent; and when our sovereigns had a palace near the site of the present magnificent hospital, they used it as a hunting-seat, and, it is said, kept the kennels of their hounds in this marsh. These hounds frequently making a great noise, the seamen called the place the Isle of Dogs.