St Katherine’s Dock

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


Background to the area around St Katherine’s leading up to and through the 17th-18th 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 continued to grow, 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 its prostitutes and thieves.

Parliament decrees slum clearance and building of new docks in 1827

Parliament decided that new docks would be built, to deal with the growing amount of trade:

  • The St Katharine Docks Bill, was passed in 1825.
  • The authorities cleared and demolished  some 24 acres, the slums gave way to an immense dock complex, with warehousing
  • Nearly 11,500 people were displaced by this clearance, a small market town population in today’s term.
  • The engineer tasked with the job was Thomas Telford and the architect was Philip Hardwick. They created a dock, capable of handling more goods, faster than any other docks in the world.
  • From demolition to opening, just over a year.
  • Precious cargo, sourced worldwide,  including; wine, marble, spices, rum and brandy, ivory, indigo and perfumes.

 Tough conditions of life in Londons docklands epitomises, the lives of London’s poor

In dreadful living conditions, up to 4,000 workers a day fought for work that paid a pittance, 4d an hour, so desperate were they for work. Despite the poor pay, the docks provided an essential lifeline to the Londons poor workers.

Intriguing Connections:

  1. How did the worlds valuable cargo get all the way up the Thames to the Port of London?
  2. What was the impact of the canal system and Thames Ring beyond the horse and cart pre-dating the train?
  3. River Thames used with the Canal system to industrialise distribution before the M25 motorway the Thames Ring…
  4. Even in the 1930s this dock was still handling a large proportion of the worlds portable wealth…


Useful resources and sources on London’s Docklands: if you would like to find some further curated resources that will be useful re the docklands, take a look at Resources On Intriguing Family History/resources/historical context, use the links below and related posts suggested below:



Related posts:

  1. St Katherines Dock key to understanding life in London’s Docklands 19thC Ancestors who were London dock workers would have been familiar with St Katherine’s Dock…
  2. The Difficult passage across the Thames in C18th & C19th The growth of London in terms of population and trade demanded the need for more crossing points of the River Thames….
  3. Salford and the Industrial Revolution Salford, Manchester in the UK, was, at the end of the C19th, a small cotton, calico and silk weaving town with a population of about 7000 people. The Industrial Revolution brought great factories and mills to the town of Salford and not only did it become one of the most important mill towns in the……
  4. Manchester Ship Canal 1894 The Manchester Ship Canal was opened in 1894 and was the largest river navigation canal in the world. It took six years to build and cost £15 million. It was 58km long and started at the Mersey estuary in Liverpool and terminated at the dock in Manchester. It allowed the newly created Port of Manchester……
  5. Richard Trevithick and the Rotherhithe Tunnel 1807 The Cornish mining engineer, Richard Trevithick, was asked to undertake the incredible engineering feat of digging a tunnel under the River Thames from the Parish of St Mary Rotherhithe to the other side. The growth in docks, wharves, ship builders and a multitude of other manufacturers made it imperative to build some means of crossing……
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