St Katherines Dock key to understanding life in London’s Docklands 19thC

This important dock is key to understanding your family history connections to life in London’s Docklands between 17th to the 19th centuries.

There has been a dock to the east of the Tower of London, for about a thousand years. The area  had a strong community, with a church ( St Katherine’s), a hospital and school.  There was employment connected to river activities, housing was dense and the area thrived through the C17th .

Traffic and trade on the river grew and  more people moved into the area. It became a district of slum housing and low wages and as in other areas, it became notorious for it’s prostitutes and thieves.

In 1827, when Parliament decided that new docks had to be built, to deal with the growing amount of trade, the whole area, a site of 24 acres, was demolished and the slums gave way to an immense dock complex, with warehousing to house some of the worlds most precious cargoes, including, wine, marble, spices, rum and brandy, ivory, indigo and perfumes.

The engineer tasked with the job was Thomas Telford and the architect was Philip Hardwick.  Between them they created a dock, capable of handling more goods, more quickly than any other  in the world.

From demolition to opening, took  little over a year. Nearly 11,500 people were displaced by this clearance, a small market town population in today’s term.

The history of dockworkers in London captures the essence of life in London for poor people, up to 4,000 workers a day fought for work that paid a pittance, 4d an hour, so desperate were they for work.

There are many sources of information available to explore London ancestors who were dock workers, the link is a site that gives a useful overview of the London docks and the people working in them.

The docks provided an essential lifeline to the poor London workers.


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