St Katharine’s

St Katharine’s, Tower Hamlets

A revitalised part of the former London docks, located between Wapping and the Tower

St Katharine Docks - East Dock - geograph-4223129-by-Colin-Smith

In 1147 Queen Matil­da estab­lished a church-cum-hos­pi­tal that adapt­ed and sur­vived here until the com­ing of the docks. Dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages the bog­gy land was fre­quent­ly inun­dat­ed when the Thames wall was breached, but in the ear­ly 16th cen­tu­ry the marsh­es were drained by Cor­nelius Van­derdelft, allow­ing water­front devel­op­ment to begin.

The busy set­tle­ment that grew up here was torn apart after Par­lia­ment passed the St Katharine Docks Act in 1825. Over 11,000 peo­ple were dis­placed by the works, which swept away slums like Dark Entry, Cat’s Hole and Pil­lo­ry Lane. Con­struc­tion was led by the great rail­way builder Thomas Telford, in his only major project in Lon­don. Some 2,500 men were employed to move rub­ble and soil (includ­ing the remains from the church­yard) into barges that were then tak­en upriv­er by the con­trac­tor Thomas Cubitt and used as foun­da­tion mate­r­i­al for prop­er­ties in Bel­gravia and Pim­li­co. Telford cre­at­ed the docks around two con­nect­ed basins, giv­ing an excep­tion­al­ly long quay­side for such a small area of enclosed water.

Ware­hous­es were erect­ed on the dock­side, with road­ways run­ning direct­ly behind – anoth­er inno­va­tion, which reduced han­dling and pil­fer­age. St Katharine Docks opened in Octo­ber 1828 and the last of the ware­hous­es was com­plet­ed the fol­low­ing year. Addi­tion­al ware­hous­ing was con­struct­ed in the 1850s.

Masts at St Katharine Docks

With its tight secu­ri­ty, St Katharine’s spe­cialised in high-val­ue exot­ic goods such as ivory, indi­go pow­der, shells and feath­ers, as well as han­dling sta­ples like tea and wool. The docks were wrecked by wartime bombs but limped on until their final clo­sure in the late 1960s.

In the 1970s and 1980s St Katharine’s was rede­vel­oped in a pio­neer­ing mixed-use project that cre­at­ed pri­vate and pub­lic hous­ing, offices and leisure facil­i­ties. The Dick­ens Inn was fab­ri­cat­ed in antique style around the innards of a relo­cat­ed ware­house, and a retract­ing foot­bridge was added at the entrance to the cen­tre basin in 1994. With its yachts, cob­bled cause­ways, cafés and shops St Katharine’s is a tourist attrac­tion by day, while the bars and restau­rants draw City work­ers at night.

Like many oth­er Dock­lands quar­ters, the neigh­bour­ing hous­ing dis­plays a great dis­par­i­ty in wealth between its new­com­ers and the more estab­lished inhab­i­tants. The area’s rank­ing on the ‘depri­va­tion index’ is falling, but some res­i­dents remain in dis­ad­van­taged cir­cum­stances.

Postal district: E1
Population: 12,411 (St Katharine’s and Wapping ward, 2011 census)
Riverboat pier: St Katharine’s
Website: St Katharine Docks


* The picture of St Katharine Docks (East Dock) at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Colin Smith, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.