Pictures of Past and Present at St Katharine’s

Written by Andrea Gibbons on 10th December 2015. Posted in: History, House

Going through our archives, I found a series of old photos from 1950, and they are fascinating for what they show of the very earliest days of The Royal Foundation of St Katharine’s return to the East End. Our Georgian house looks much as it ever did, but everything else has changed. Here are the old photos with their titles taken from the writing on their backs, alongside photos from as near the same view as I could manage on this grey and wintry day in a house full of guests:

1950 (otherwise untitled, but obviously the house):

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Hall in Rectory, 1950

This is very little changed, really.

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Mural in Dining Room, 1950

— this is now the Queen Matilda room, and full of comfortable chairs and book shelves.

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Mural in Sitting Room

This is now the Chapter Room, sometimes used as a dining room, but mostly as a meeting space over a beautiful table. The old chest of drawers is recognisable as the one that used to be in the Matilda room, and missing a drawer.

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Chapel in the School Room, 1950

– The chapel was initially set up in an old school building on the site, so this is very different now in the new chapel built in 1952, with its modern stone altar.

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But the old carvings brought from the original site flooded to build St Katharine’s Docks to Regent’s Park to our current home in Ratcliff are still the same:
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St James’ Church, site of present chapel

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The plaque to show where the old parish church of St James Ratcliffe was situated.

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Looking out across garden from St James Church to bombed factory now site of guest house

— This is perhaps the most intriguing of the pictures, though at first glance not much to look at. I didn’t look twice until reading the back and realising that I could actually see the rubble and ruins of buildings behind the tree.

Looking out from St James Church 1950
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I thought first it must be this view from the current chapel — now fully blocked off by the new buildings — as I am fairly certain there used to be a factory at one time on that side of the site.

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But there are two trees, and the first picture in this series shows a wall where I think these buildings would be, so it might very well be looking in the other direction — out across what is now St James Park and the approach to the Rotherhithe Tunnel. Where now is only a view of a wall.

It’s a fascinating process, reconstructing the history of St Katharine’s growth — both what was here before our arrival and what has come into being over the decades we have been here. As we go through the archives, we hope to find much more!