St Katharine Dock
Toward the end of the twentieth century, because of technological changes in world shipping, the St. Katharine Dock area near Londons Tower Bridge was forced to alter its function after more than a thousand years as a trade center. That adaptation of building use foreshadowed a universal trend in which former warehouses became (usually luxury) apartments. For that reason, and because of the model cargo handling and storage design that it represented in the nineteenth century, St. Katharine Dock is worthy of a place in any list of architectural achievements.
The Saxon King Edgar (reigned 959 975) granted 13 acres (about 5 hectares) on the site to several knights. Because they were permitted to use the land for profit, that gift laid the foundation for foreign trade. In 1125 the property and its small dock passed to a convent and a hospital was established; twenty-five years later Queen Matilda endorsed the Royal Foundation of St. Katharine. Wharves were later built along the tidal inlet, and the area became known as St. Katharine Dock late in the sixteenth century. It was in the eighteenth century that the Thames was changed from a relatively quiet river into the major commercial thoroughfare into the heart of London, center of world trade. Some sources claim that up to 800 vessels at a time were moored in the Pool of London, and market forces generated the 8.5 square miles (22 square kilometers) of the citys Docklands. Made at great social cost, the transformation was empowered by legislation: the West India Dock Act of 1799 authorized the first enclosed docks; the London Dock Act followed, authorizing a dock at Wapping. Between 1802 and 1806, the West India, London, and East India Docks became operational. The St. Katharine Dock Act was passed in 1825, and the following year the St. Katharine Dock was opened between the London Dock and the Tower of London.
The engineer Thomas Telford was commissioned to build the new dock and faced the constraint of a very small site. Assisted by Thomas Rhodes, he designed a unique system of two connected basins the East Dock and the West Dock that provided maximum wharf frontage. They were linked to the Thames through a 180-foot-long, 45-foot-wide (45-by-14-meter) lock with three gates, and steam engines maintained the dock water level above that of the river. One of the largest engineering projects ever seen in London, at times employing 2,500 men, St. Katharine Dock took two years to construct. The neoclassical dock offices and especially the six-story warehouses, designed by the architect Philip Hardwick, were also revolutionary. Constructed virtually at the wharfside, they enabled cargo to be unloaded directly from ship to storage, saving time and reducing pilfering. Because they backed on the access roads, the warehouses also did away with the need for a boundary wall around much of the dock. The West Dock warehouses were completed by 1828 and those around the East Dock a year later. The largest were 470 feet long and 140 feet deep (144 by 43 meters). In all of them, squat, cast-iron Doric ground-floor columns supported vaulted brick and iron floors and the superstructure; the walls were of gray London bricks. The window frames were also of cast iron. St. Katharine Dock was officially opened on 25 October 1828.
Although it was celebrated as an engineering, architectural, and commercial triumph, not everyone would have agreed. The London Times reported that the acquisition and clearing of the land for this magnificent speculation