Inside St. Katharine Docks
St Katharine Docks is situated east of the Tower Bridge, next to the City of London. Opened in 1828, these docks had two connected basins, the east and the west dock. A relatively long but narrow entrance lock (180 feet long, 45 feet wide) facilitated entrance into the docks from the river Thames. St Katharine Docks was among the smallest of the upstream docks, constructed within only 24 acres of land, compared to the 90 acres occupied by the neighbouring London Docks. St Katharine Docks, designed by the great Victorian engineer Thomas Telford, were revolutionary because they involved building warehouses right on the quayside so that cargo could be unloaded directly from the ships and stored. This removed the need for huge quaysides and significantly reduced the amount of time needed to unload and move goods.
Nine warehouses, six storeys high surrounded St Katharine Docks, providing over a million square feet of storage space. The design of the docks and warehousing with it is immediate offload to storage capacity meant that most of the luxury imports that came into London, from African ivory to Japanese silk – were all deposited in the warehouses here. The West dock stored mainly raw materials from all across the globe from indigo powder, linseed oil, a variety of woods and spices to animal skins. The east dock stored mainly finished goods, primarily destined for the overseas export trade. These included beads, cutlers, machinery and food supplies, mainly blankets and cheese, for the British army in India.
Britain amassed vast wealth through trading in raw materials and manufactured commodities, such as these. The goods stacked high in these docks caused many people to describe the enclosed docks as the "world's largest concentration of portable wealth".
These and surrounding docks were developments which grew out of the Industrial Revolution, which began to take shape around 1769. The early 1800s were a time of great activity for Britain and its cities were rapidly expanding. A vast concentration of craft skills and innovative technology had established the capital as the supreme manufacturer. By 1800 London was the grandest city in the world; it had the largest port and it sat at the heart of an expanding and powerful British Empire. In Victorian times, Britannia ruled the waves and docks like St. Katharine were a cornerstone of its Empire. Colonial expansion provided access to great quantities of raw materials from sugar to timber and even wild animals. The building of the enclosed docks played a crucial role in facilitating British urban and overseas expansion by providing the facilities through which trade in both raw materials and manufactured goods could flow.