Virginia Street, E1W

Place Name

After the colony which later became the ninth US state. The first expedition to the colony of Virginia set out from nearby Blackwall in 1606 and many of the pioneer settlers came from hereabouts. However, it was what was being imported that led to this street’s name, for this leads down to Tobacco Dock, a once considerable 70-acre site where tobacco, brought over from Virginia was stored. It was also the dropping off point for wool from Australia, rum, wine, molasses, brandy and animal skins. At full capacity, the Great Tobacco Warehouse could accommodate 24,000 hogsheads of tobacco. Tobacco was introduced into England from Florida by John Hawkins in 1565 and became popular in court under Sir Walter Raleigh. It was only from the 1590s that tobacco became popular with Londoners – although still a relative luxury – having been claimed by medics of the time to be a cure-all for numerous ailments, including ripped-off fingernails. By the time James I was on the throne tobacco had taken hold, although there were growing concerns that it was bad for your health even then. Initially James tried to put an end to the craze by raising tax on tobacco by 4,000 per cent, but such a move only enriched smugglers. In the end he relented, allowing the new English colony to thrive. By 1605, 25,000 lb of tobacco was being imported via Customs House, by 1628 that had reached 370,000 lbs, and by the turn of the century a staggering 38,000,000 lbs was recorded. Tobacco Dock was completed in 1812, designed by John Rennie.


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