St. Katharine Docks dates from at least the 12th century, when Queen Matilda founded a hospital (St. Katharine’s, the dock’s namesake) as a refuge for travellers, the sick and the elderly, and since the mid-13th century was under the patronage of successive queens consort.
In 1825 the St. Katharine Docks Bill transferred ownership of approximately 13 acres of the land to the docks company. Sadly, many neighbourhoods and historic sites – including Matilda’s hospital – were destroyed. However, in the following decades the dock, built by Scottish engineer Thomas Telford (1757-1834) became one of the most successful in London.
The proximity of newly-built warehouses to the waterfront meant imports such as tea from India and wool from Australia, New Zealand and The Falkland Islands could be lifted directly from the ship into storage, faster than before. Only when trading monopolies began to decline, and competitive prices were required to keep in business, did the dock’s trading success decline.
During the Blitz (1940-41), the St Katharine Docks area was heavily bombed, leaving it in ruins. It was officially closed in 1968. However, in 1973 the Tower Gaunt Hotel, built in place of some of the old warehouses, created an attraction with great views of the city, and opened the docks up to public interest once more.
Since that time, the docks have been transformed into a hub of social life near The City. The Dickens Inn, a short walk from Devon House, was converted from an original docks warehouse into a pub in 1976 by Cedric Charles Dickens, the grandson of author Charles Dickens. When asked about the pub’s creation, Cedric stated that his grandfather ‘would have loved this inn’ as ‘his works are stocked with characters and scenes memorably linked with the area’.
Attractions at the dock include regular food markets, numerous boat festivals, and even ‘ye olde’ style Medieval Banquets. There are also plenty of pubs, restaurants, cafes, sports and social facilities, and more in the area. And now of course New College of the Humanities!