On this day: 17th January 1842

IMT Image Archive: ship passing through the old lock into the Cut, c1850.
The largest Wet Dock in Britain opened in Ipswich on 17th January 1842.

The Ipswich Dock Act 1837 received Royal Assent on 30th June 1837, just ten days after Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne. And after many years of planning and construction (plus ҫa change), the largest Wet Dock in Britain opened in Ipswich on 17th January 1842. It was not a good day. The Mayor, chief engineer, dock commissioners and onlookers arrived, despite the gloomy weather, to watch the lock in operation. Unfortunately, no one had made arrangements for a ship to come through! Eventually, a grain carrier heading for Rochester was persuaded to use the lock and thus mark its opening.
Then a brig full of coal turned up. It was low water and the crew did not expect to go into the lock. But on being given the go-ahead, they failed to make the awkward turn required to come in through the gates from the New Cut. They crashed into a side wall and damaged it.

The Ipswich Journal, never a fan of the project, observed rather unsportingly: “After no inconsiderable delay and bungling, the Town may be considered to enjoy the advantages of a wet dock.”
Despite this inauspicious start, the advantages of the Wet Dock were quickly realised by shipping, and by the 1850s, the number of vessels passing through had quadrupled.

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