Blackwall was first recorded in 1377. It takes its name from the Old English “blaec”, meaning black, and “wall”, in reference to an artificial embankment put up here to hold back the waters of the Thames.
The Virginia Settlers
The Citizen and Cordwainer Captain John Smith (1580-1631) set sail aboard the Susan Constant from Blackwall in 1606 to establish the first English colony in the Americas, at Jamestown in Virginia, “from which began the overseas expansion of the English-speaking peoples”.
There is a memorial to the Virginia Settlers on Virginia Quay in Blackwall, and a plaque to Captain Christopher Newport, who commanded the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery, on Limehouse Causeway in nearby Limehouse, where he was born in 1560/1.
John Smith is commemorated by a statue in the churchyard of St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside in the City of London, and by a stained glass window in the church of St Sepulchre on Newgate Street, where he was buried in 1633. Incidentally, the Algonquin Princess Pocahontas, who famously saved Smith’s life in the Americas, later visited London, staying at the Bell Savage on Ludgate Hill, and died at Gravesend on her way home.
The East India Company
The East India Company established a shipyard and docks in Blackwall in 1614. The docks came to be owned by the East India Dock Company, which considerably extended them in the nineteenth century; and in turn by the Port of London Authority, in the twentieth. They have been disused for nearly fifty years now, although some interesting structures still survive.