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Captain's Log

October 2014

A Brief History of St Katharine Docks

A Brief History of St Katharine Docks

A Brief History of St Katharine Docks

Visitors to our store in St Katharine Docks, a peaceful yacht haven close to the City of London, may not realise that they are at a location steeped in maritime history.

Records show a 'dokke' on this site from as early as the 14th century, maybe earlier; it served the ancient precinct and medieval St Katharine-by-the-Tower Hospital which was built in 1148.

The hospital, houses, and more than 4,000 people were swept aside to make way for the famous Telford Docks in 1828, in order to extend the amount of available quayside. Steam engines kept the water level in the basins about four feet above that of the tidal river.

In their heyday, the docks would have been bustling with vessels unloading luxury cargo from around the world, including ivory, tortoise shells, perfumes, herbs and spices, into the warehouses. Our store is actually in Ivory House, named to recall the huge import, used primarily for making piano keys, and billiard balls.

St Katharine Docks, and the surrounding area, suffered heavy German bombardment during the Second World War and many of the warehouses were destroyed. This restricted capacity, coupled with the fact that the Docks were unable to accommodate larger vessels, led to their closure in 1868.

However, from the 1970s onwards the area has been rebuilt to become the thriving marina that we love and share today. The docks are once again home to vessels from around the world, but today mostly leisure craft visit - their crews able to relax in the shops, hotels, and restaurants.

Local historian Christopher West has written a book entitled The Story of St Katharine's about this fascinating place, and it's on sale here at this branch - incidentally, one of our staff members wrote a section for the book about ship's chandlery, including bosun's call, gimballed oil lamp and various other items used in yesteryear, replicas of which are sold in our shops.

Next time you visit our store, we recommend spending a little time exploring the rest of the docks and, for a much more in-depth experience, customers might like to combine their visit with one of Christopher West's entertaining talks. For more information, please visit

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