St Katharine Docks was one of the commercial docks in London which opened in 1828, the docks were built on the site of the former hospital of St Katharine’s by the Tower which dated back to the 12th century.
The decision to build the docks was controversial with around 11,000 people losing their homes and some 1250 houses demolished. The area was known for centuries for the medieval hospital of St. Katharine was originally founded in 1148 by Matilda of Boulogne and was the recipient of many gifts from kings and queens over the centuries.
Due to its favourable position next to the Tower of London, the decision for redevelopment was confirmed by an Act of Parliament in 1825, with construction starting in 1827. The project was undertaken by famous engineer Thomas Telford and was completed remarkably quickly with the docks opening in 1828.
The docks were designed in the form of two linked basins (East and West), with access to the Thames through an entrance lock. Steam engines designed by James Watt and Matthew Boulton kept the water level in the basins to an acceptable level. The cost of building the docks was estimated to be around two million pounds.
The docks were popular for a time with produce being bought into the centre of London, however as time moved on the inability to accommodate large ships began to limit their commercial success. In the 19th century, St Katharine Docks were amalgamated with the nearby London Docks. In 1909, the Port of London Authority took over the management of almost all of the Thames docks, including St Katharine.
The St Katharine Docks suffered considerable damage by German bombing during the Second World War and the docks were finally closed in the 1960s.
A number of commercial buildings were built in the 1970s including the Tower Hotel, however it was not until the 1990s that wholesale development took place that led to offices, public and private housing, a hotel, shops and restaurants, the Dickens Inn pub and a marina for small to medium-sized boats.
Since the 1990s, St Katharine Docks have become a popular location for those visiting the nearby Tower of London and workers from the surrounding offices.
The redevelopment has paid tribute to the history of the site with some of the old warehouses used for offices and retail. There is a wide range of ships and boats in the marina from superyachts to Thames sailing barges.
Famous boats regularly moored in the docks include the royal barge Gloriana and MV Havengore which is best known for carrying the body of Sir Winston Churchill as part of his State Funeral.
St Katharine Docks is little known to many visitors but offers a fascinating glimpse into London’s maritime and medieval history.
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