Extracts from Daniel Defoe’s Account of London

Selected by Pat Rogers
Introduction and Contents


There is one great work yet behind, which, however, seems necessary to a full description of the City of London, and that is the shipping and the Pool; but in what manner can any writer go about it, to bring it into any reasonable compass? The thing is a kind of infinite, and the parts to be separated from one another in such a description, are so many, that it is hard to know where to begin.

The whole river, in a word, from London-Bridge to Black Wall, is one great arsenal, nothing in the world can be like it: The great building-yards at Schedam near Amsterdam, are said to out-do them in the number of ships which are built there, and they tell us, that there are more ships generally seen at Amsterdam, than in the Thames.

As to the building part, I will not say, but that there may be more vessels built at Schedam, and the parts adjacent, than in the River Thames; but then it must be said;

  1. That the English build for themselves only, the Dutch for all the world.
  2. That almost all the ships the Dutch have, are built there, whereas, not one fifth part of our shipping is built in the Thames; but abundance of ships are built at all the sea-ports in England, such as at New Castle, Sunderland, Stockton, Whitby, Hull, Gainsborough, Grimsby, Lynn, Yarmouth, Alborough, Walderswick, Ipswich and Harwich, upon the east coast; and at Shoram, Arundel, Brighthelmston, Portsmouth, Southampton, Pool, Weymouth, Dartmouth, Plymouth, besides other places, on the south coast.
  3. That we see more vessels in less room at Amsterdam; but the setting aside their hoys, bilanders and schoots, which are in great numbers always there, being vessels particular to their inland and coasting navigation; you do not see more ships, nor near so many ships of force, at Amsterdam as at London.
  4. That you see more ships there in less room, but, perhaps, not so many ships in the whole.

That part of the river of Thames which is properly the harbour, and where the ships usually deliver or unload their cargoes, is called the Pool, and begins at the turning of the river out of Lime-house Reach, and extends to the Custom-house-Keys: In this compass I have had the curiosity to count the ships as well as I could, en passant , and have found above two thousand sail of all sorts, not reckoning barges, lighters or pleasure-boats, and yatchs; but of vessels that really go to sea.

It is true, the river or Pool, seem’d, at that time, to be pretty full of ships; it is true also, that I included the ships which lay in Deptford and Black-Wall reaches, and in the wet docks, whereof, there are no less than three; but ’tis as true, that we did not include the men of war at the king’s yard and in the wet dock there at Deptford, which were not a very few.

In the river, as I have observed, there are from Battle-Bridge on the Southwark side, and the Hermitage-Bridge on the City-side, reckoning to Black-Wall, inclusive,


Three wet docks for laying up
Twenty two dry docks for repairing
Thirty three yards for building
} merchants ships.


This is inclusive of the builders of lighters, hoys, &c. but exclusive of all boat-builders, wherry-builders, and above-bridge barge-builders.

To enter into any description of the great magazines of all manner of naval stores, for the furnishing those builders, would be endless, and I shall not attempt it; ’tis sufficient to add, That England, as I have said elsewhere, is an inexhaustible store-house of timber, and all the oak timber, and generally the plank also, used in the building these ships, is found in England only, nay, and which is more, it is not fetched from the remoter parts of England, but these southern counties near us are the places where ’tis generally found; as particularly the counties of Berks and Bucks, Surrey, Kent, Sussex, Essex and Suffolk, and very little is brought farther, nor can all the ship-building the whole kingdom are able to build, ever exhaust those counties, tho’ they were to build much more than they do.

But I must land, lest this part of the account seems to smell of the tarr, and I should tire the gentlemen with leading them out of their knowledge.