Once forgotten St Katharine’s-by-the-Tower now back on the map
PUBLISHED: 16:31 12 May 2014 | UPDATED: 16:41 12 May 2014
Language teacher Chris West is finally getting the chance to put St Katharine’s Docks in the heart of London back on the map—after 1,000 years of history.
He has written a book on the story of the docks next to the more-famous Tower of London which he launched, appropriately, on a barge moored at the quayside.
“The docks are one of the most prestigious sites in the World,” he tells you.
“But hardly anyone knows how they got there. No-one has written a complete history—it’s been forgotten.”
In fact, it’s really more known as St Katharine’s-by-The-Tower .
The once-busy dockyard closed at the end of the 1960s and lay derelict for several years before turning into the yachting marina and top tourist attraction it is today.
“I want to put St Katharine’s back on the map,” Chris explained. “It was once an ugly duckling that has now turned into the beautiful marina.”
Its story goes back 1,000 years, long beforer the docks, when descendants of Saxon noblemen sold the land to Holy Trinity Priory at Aldgate, which had been founded by Queen Matilda in 1108.
But the writing was on the wall by the 1820s with 19th century imperial expansion, the growth of world trade and the need for docks on the Thames.
"St Katharine’s, an ugly duckling that’s turned into beautiful marina"
Yet surprisingly, the new docks were not a commercial success, despite being the nearest to the City.
“It never really made mega bucks,” Chris added. “It was too small for the new ocean-going ships. The entrance lock was never deep or wide enough.”
Chris regularly walks the 23-acres of quays and period Georgian buildings studying the original 1824 plans for the docks that replaced the Medieval priory and 1,250 houses, making 11,300 poor people homeless.
St Katharine’s took a bashing during the London Blitz, when it was set ablaze with its combustible rum and sugar warehouses. It never properly recovered in the post-war years and went into terminal decline, its gates closing for the last time in 1968.
What you always wanted to know
1108 Queen Matilda acquires St Katharine’s for pilgrims’ hostel
1273 Queen Eleanor gives remit to care for the poor, sick and foreigners
1534 Anne Boleyn saves priory when Henry VIII dissolves monasteries
1825 St Katharine’s Docks Act of Parliament
1827 Medieval priory demolished
1828 Docks open
1940 Almost destroyed in German air-raids
1968 Docks close
1973 Marina opens
Yet the closure was the catalyst for the regeneration of the whole of Docklands, including the London, Millwall and Royal docks, leading to the creation of Canary Wharf, London City Airport and the DLR.
The relics from the original monastery including its 33ft entrance can be found today at Limehouse, where the Royal Foundation of St Katharine was re-established.
The tradition of Royal patronage stretching back 1,000 years also continues. The Master of St Katharine’s, the Rev Mark Aitken, was appointed last year by the Queen, a custom started by Queen Matilda in the 12th century.
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