St Katharine Docks in London

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St Katharine Docks, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, were one of the commercial docks serving London, on the north side of the river Thames just east (downstream) of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. They were part of the Port of London, in the area now known as the Docklands, and are now a popular housing and leisure complex.


St Katharine Docks took their name from the former hospital of St Katharine's by the Tower, built in the 12th century, which stood on the site. An intensely built-up 23 acre (9.5 hectares) site was earmarked for redevelopment by an Act of Parliament in 1825, with construction commencing in May 1827. Some 1250 houses were demolished, together with the medieval hospital of St. Katharine. Around 11,300 inhabitants, mostly port workers crammed into insanitary slums, lost their homes; only property owners received compensation. The scheme was designed by engineer Thomas Telford and was his only major project in London. To create as much quayside as possible, the docks were designed in the form of two linked basins (East and West), both accessed via an entrance lock from the Thames. Steam engines designed by James Watt and Matthew Boulton kept the water level in the basins about four feet above that of the tidal river.

Telford aimed to minimise the amount of quayside activity and specified that the docks' warehouses be built right on the quayside so that goods could be unloaded directly into the them (designed by the architect Philip Hardwick).

The docks were officially opened on 25 October 1828. Although well used, they were not a great commercial success and were unable to accommodate large ships. They were amalgamated in 1864 with the neighbouring London Docks. In 1909, the Port of London Authority took over the management of almost all of the Thames docks, including the St Katharine.

The St Katharine Docks were badly damaged by German bombing during the Second World War and never fully recovered thereafter. Because of their very restricted capacity and inability to cope with large modern ships, they were among the first to be closed in 1968, and were sold to the Greater London Council. Most of the original warehouses were demolished and replaced by modern commercial buildings in the early 1970s, with the docks themselves becoming a marina. The development has often been cited as a model example of successful urban redevelopment.

There was at one point a plan to open a St Katharine Docks tube station on the proposed Fleet Line. It would have been between Fenchurch Street and Wapping. An eastwards extension was eventually built as part of the Jubilee Line but this took a different route south of the Thames. The closest station to the Docks today is Tower Hill.

The docks today

The area now features offices, public and private housing, a large hotel, shops and restaurants, a pub (The Dickens Inn, a former brewery dating back to the 18th century), a yachting marina and other recreational facilities. It remains a popular leisure destination.

The east dock is now dominated by the City Quay residential development, comprising more than 200 luxury apartments overlooking the marina. The south side of the east dock is surrounded by the South Quay Estate which was originally social housing. The dock is still used by small to medium sized boats on a daily basis.

Notable residents

  • Ruth Kelly, former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
  • David Mellor, broadcaster and former politician

St Katharine Pier

St. Katharine Pier is close to the St Katharine Dock, providing river transport services managed by London River Services. The main service from St Katharine Pier is a circular river cruise operated by Crown River Cruises which goes non-stop to Westminster Millennium Pier before returning via the South Bank arts centre, as well as a Westminster-Greenwich express service run by Thames River Services.

The nearby Tower Millennium Pier, located on the other side of Tower Bridge, now provides the main commuter river boat services to Canary Wharf and Greenwich in the east and the West End in the west, and a fast visitor service to the London Eye.

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