Little Bits of History

St. Katharine Docks

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 25, 2014
St. Katharine Docks

St. Katharine Docks

October 25, 1828: St. Katharine Docks open in London. The docks were located on the north side of the River Thames in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. They served London’s commercial interests and were just east of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. They were part of the Port of London in an area today called the Docklands. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century. All shipping along the river was handled by the Port of London. All cargoes had to be delivered there for inspection and assessment by Customs Officers, leading locals to dub the area the “Legal Quays”. Between 1750 and 1796, trade increased and the docks became overcrowded. Both the number of ships and amount of cargo nearly tripled from 1,682 ships to 3,663 and 234,639 tons of goods mid-century to 620,845 by the end of the 1700s.

The St. Katharine Docks took their name from a former hospital of the same name which had been built in the twelfth century. St. Katharine’s by the Tower was also a church founded in 1147. The buildings were torn down to accommodate the increased need for more docks in the area. Twenty-three acres was earmarked for redevelopment by an Act of Parliament in 1825 and construction of the docks began in 1827. About 1,250 houses were torn down along with the church/hospital and 11,300 inhabitants were evicted from shabby, slum housing. Most of these were port workers and they received no compensation for their losses. Property owners (slumlords) did receive some compensation.

Thomas Telford was the engineer responsible for the project – his only major project in London. The docks were built from two linked basins in order to provide as much quayside as possible. Both basins were accessed via a lock from the Thames. Because of the new steam engines, the water level was kept about four feet higher than the tidal river. In order to minimize the activity on land, Telford built warehouses as close as possible. These, designed by Philip Hardwick, were filled directly from ships rather than with a way station.

The docks were officially opened on this day. They were not a commercial success. Larger ships were not able to access them. They were amalgamated in 1864 with the nearby London Docks. In 1909, the Port of London Authority took over management. The docks were severely damaged during World War II from the German bombing of the city. Because of their restrictive size limitations, they were among the first of London’s docks to be closed in 1968 and the site was leased to developers. Most of the warehouses were demolished and replaced by modern commercial buildings and the docks themselves have been turned into a marina.

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable. – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

To reach a port, we must sail – sail, not tie at anchor – sail, not drift. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

It is not the going out of port, but the coming in, that determines the success of a voyage. – Henry Ward Beecher

I’m like a ship captain: I have a woman in every port. – Henrique Capriles Radonski

Also on this day: Who Blinked? – In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis confrontation between Adlai Stevenson and Valerian Zorin took place.
George, George, George – In 1760, George III began his reign in England.
Nuke It – In 1955, microwaves became available for home use.
Fox River Grove – In 1995, a train hit a bus stopped at a red light.

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