Mammoth tusks from Siberia arriving at the London docks in 1924. Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

By Alyce Collins

 

INCREDIBLE images show the devastating amount of ivory that was once transported to London’s docks to the aptly named Ivory House when the capital was a key importer of the valuable elephant tusks.

Ivory poaching is still a large threat to Africa’s wildlife.
Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

 

In what is now a highly controversial trade, the fascinating black and white images show 1920s ivory merchants at their London warehouse, weighing and measuring the sizeable tusks which were to be later sold at auctions.

The London warehosue was inundated with tusks from Africa.
Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

 

Other images show a large expanse of the warehouse floor which is filled with row after row of poached ivory. During its peak in the 1870s, Ivory House was taking in 200 tonnes of ivory in a year, which as a result meant it housed the tusks of up to 4,000 dead elephants.

Two men holding a large tusk before it is sold.
Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

 

The shocking photographs indicate the mass scale of ivory poaching, which still occurs to this day, as merchants use large weighing scales to measure three tusks at a time before they were sold.

A tusk being carved.
Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

 

The larger tusks were sold to carving centres across Europe where they were delicately carved into ornate decorations, which can be seen in some of the photographs.

Ivory being weighed in 1922.
Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

 

The elephant ivory was transported to St Katharine’s Dock in London, as well as other valuable cargoes, which were taken to Ivory House, a large warehouse overlooking the docks.

London Authority’s ivory store in the London docks.
Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

 

Until the end of the nineteenth century, 500 tonnes of ivory were imported into London every year, making London one of the most powerful ivory importers there was.

Tusks being weighed before they were cut up for further use.
Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

 

The ivory that was brought to Ivory House was sold across the globe and to merchants within the UK who turned the ivory into other products such as billiard balls, piano keys and cutlery.

A giant tusk being measured in 1922.
Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

 

Following its key role in the poaching and transportation of elephant ivory during the 1920s, the docks were one of the many heavily bombed areas in the Second World War. Ivory House however managed to survive the onslaught of bombings and it has now been turned into numerous high-end apartments along the dock after ivory poaching ceased to lead such a vital role in the UK market.

 

Ivory House was built in 1858 and is the only original warehouse to still be standing in the St Katharine Docks in the present day. In 1973 it underwent a restoration which transformed the warehouse which was once a hub with ivory poaching, into a complex with apartments, shops and restaurants now filling the space.

At teh Messrs and Meyers & Co. ovry merchants in 1922.
Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

Ivory hunting has dramatically affected the elephant population throughout Africa, which is estimated to have decreased from 26 million elephants to less than a million in Africa. The illegal poaching of elephants for the precious ivory is the largest threat to elephants in present day.

 

There are various charities and campaign groups seeking the protection of elephants in the wild, many of which constantly survey areas including Botswana which is a large target for ivory hunters.

Ivory being measured and weighed in the Ivory House on the London docks.
Retronaut / TopFoto / mediadrumimages.com

Earlier in 2018, Theresa May recognised ivory hunting as a problem which needed addressing and she announced that the UK would soon introduce a ban on all ivory sales. This comes after China, who was once one of the biggest importers of ivory, closed its ivory market in 2017.

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