Sanctioned by an Act of Parliament in 1825, the scheme was designed by engineer Thomas Telford (his only major project in London) and started in May 1827. To create as much quayside as possible, the docks were designed in the form of two linked basins (East and West), both accessed via an entrance lock from the Thames. Steam engines (manufactured to a design by James Watt and Matthew Boulton) kept the water level in the basins about four feet above that of the tidal river.
Telford aimed to minimise the amount of quayside activity and specified that the docks’ warehouses be built right on the quayside so that goods could be unloaded directly into the warehouses (architect: Philip Hardwick).
The docks were officially opened on 25 October 1828. They remained a key commercial centre of activity for over a century, but were badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War. Moreover, ships were becoming bigger and, unable to enter the comparatively small St Katharine basins, they began to use the facilities downstream at Tilbury. In 1968, the Port of London Authority announced the closure of the St Katharine docks, and the Greater London Council invited proposals for their redevelopment.
The area now features offices, public and private housing, a large hotel, shops and restaurants, a pub (The Dickens Inn, a former brewery dating back to the 18th century), a yachting marina and other recreational facilities. It remains a popular leisure destination.