After the establishment of the naval docks at Deptford and Woolwich in the 16th century the lower Thames increasingly became a centre of ship-building. Until the end of that century merchant ships were constructed in the Netherlands but increasingly began to be built on the Thames from the first decades of the 17th century. A large community of workers employed in the shipping industry grew around Stepney, particularly at Wapping.
With superior ships the Dutch controlled long distance trade routes to the Far East. When they raised the price of pepper the Mayor of London chaired a meeting of merchants that agreed to create a new joint stock company to fund voyages in competition. The first ships of the East India Company set sail in 1601. The company grew in size during the 17th century, establishing a large dock at Blackwall, downriver from the Tower of London.
There had been previous unsuccessful attempts to set up a British colony in North America and an area there had been named Virginia. In 1606 King James issued royal charters that established the Virginia Company of London and the Plymouth Company, both joint stock companies whose shares were traded in London. The following year three London Company ships set sail from Blackwall to establish Jamestown, the first permanent British colony in North America. In 1620 a group of puritans hired the Mayflower – based at Rotherhithe – that took them to New England where they founded the town of Plymouth.
King James based himself at Whitehall and gave the palace at Greenwich to his wife. In 1616 she began the construction of a ‘House of Delights’ in the park, that became known as the ‘Queen’s House’. Designed by Inigo Jones it was the artist’s first important commission following his studies of Palladian classical architecture in Italy. The work on the house was still incomplete when Anne died in 1619, eventually restarted in 1629 by Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, and completed in 1635.