A guest post by London Historians Member, Christopher West.
Entering the Docks from Tower Bridge Road, you will see the cast-iron grey Tuscan Columns which adorn International House- these were saved from the original Hardwick warehouses built for the Telford Docks, opening in 1828. Walk along the new waterside pathway and notice the original wall, complete with mooring rope rings, looking up at the grey columns and at the nearby historical Thames Barges.
Back in the 10th century, King Edgar gave this land to a group of knights who traded here, then in c 1147 the Royal Hospital of St Katharine was founded, on the orders of Queen Matilda, by the then proprietor, an Augustinian Priory at Aldgate, governed by a Master, three Brothers and three Sisters. Later, a Church was added and a community that became known as St Katharine’s Precinct developed. Some of the land was sold to allow the Tower Of London to build the East side of its moat and the precinct developed its own orchards, school, court, prison, factories, breweries and various types of housing. It had a ‘dokke’ at least from the 14th century.
Sadly and controversially, the ancient Royal Hospital, Church and more than four thousand people were removed in 1825, to make way for the new Telford Docks, which was built in a record three years, opening in 1825, trading in luxury items from all over the world. The Royal Hospital and Church were relocated at Regent’s Park, together with splendidly preserved relics, which are still in use at today’s Royal Foundation Of St Katharine at Limehouse. Throughout its history, Royal patronage has remained (usually the Queen) and today’s Master was appointed by the current Queen, continuing the tradition which has survived since the 12th century.
Builders Taylor Woodrow renovated the Docks, following the closure in 1968, first having to clear war damage and demolish derelict buildings. When pulling down the brick walls of a late 18th century warehouse, a grand wooden framework was discovered, so it was moved 70 metres and became the basis for today’s Dickens Inn. Modern offices were built in place of the Hardwick warehouses, including Commodity Quay, which housed two thousand commodity traders and Reuters News Agency. Ivory House (1852) was turned into luxury flats and numerous others were added surrounding the East Dock. Various shops and restaurants were built, creating the ‘Yacht Haven’, eventually becoming the sparkling Marina that we know and cherish. Still on show today are the Telford Bridge, numerous sculptures by Paula Haughney, (representing luxury items such as turtle shells, herbs, spices and exotic feathers), Wendy Taylor’s famous Timepiece and various other treasures.
Starbucks Coffee Shop is on the site of the ancient Hospital. It was built as the Coronarium, an all denomination chapel, again featuring original Tuscan Columns; unfortunately, after 19 years of use, it was closed, to reopen as a coffee shop. The mural in the window depicts a sketch of the intended new Docks c 1823.
Today, St Katharine Docks hosts boats from all over the World, as well as historical vessels which include the Royal Barge Gloriana, Havengore, which carried Churchill’s body in State, Flamant Rose, which belonged to Edith Piaf and the majestic Thames Barges.
Christopher West has written a book, The Story Of St Katharine’s, which chronicles the area from the tenth century to today. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.