Bradshaw’s Hand Book, PART II, Third Day’s Route, District I, Limehouse and the West India Docks (no.10)

The Limehouse Cutjoined the Limehouse Basin, and the Thames, with the River Lea and was the first navigable canal cut in London.

The Limehouse Cut
The Limehouse Cut
The lock at the Limehouse basin
The lock at the Limehouse basin
Boat leaving the Limehouse Lock, swing bridge opened
Boat leaving the Limehouse Lock, swing bridge opened
Limehouse Basin
Limehouse Basin

The Limehouse Basin was built in 1820 for the transfer of goods to barges for the Cut, and thence to The Regent’s Canal which led out of the Limehouse Basin (and the Thames) to Little Venice. There it joined the Grand Union Canal, linking London to Liverpool. The Grand Union Canal supplied coal to northern districts, the coal having been delivered to London from Newcastle via coastal steamer. (Walking The Regent’s Canal would be a good warmer weather activity – I must add to the list!)

Narrow Street leads me to the West India Docks past The Grapes and some Georgian buildings. Apparently Sir Walter Raleigh set out from just below The Grapes on one of his voyages to the New World.

The Grapes public house
The Grapes public house
Georgian houses next to The Grapes pub in Narrow Street
Georgian houses next to The Grapes pub in Narrow Street

The West India Docks opened in 1802 and closed in the 1980s to be developed as the current Canary Wharf development.

West India Docks, 1890
West India Docks, 1890

Mr Moggs, 1844, tells us that ‘..The West India Docks .. are formed of two grand divisions; the northern one, for unloading the ships arrived from the West Indies, covering thirty acres, and capable of accommodating three hundred West Indiamen ; and the southern, for loading outward-bound ships, covering twenty-four acres, and capable of holding upwards of two hundred West Indiamen. The former was begun February 3. 1800, and opened August 27. 1802, being only two years and a half; it is surrounded by an extensive range of warehouses, in which the goods are deposited until the duty is paid. The dock of twenty-four acres was opened in 1805.’

West India Docks, early 1800s
West India Docks, early 1800s

I think this is the same line of warehouses, now housing a museum and restaurants and cafes.

Last warehouses on the West India Docks, with Museum of London, Docklands
Last warehouses on the West India Docks, with Museum of London, Docklands

But if he turned round Mr Bradshaw would not recognise the area –

The Pele Tower and the DLR
The Pele Tower and the DLR

But, if you look carefully, the reminders of the past can be found:

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The dockmaster's house
The dockmaster’s house
The entry from the Thames
The Limehouse entry from the Thames

The export section of the West India Docks is clear –

The Export division of the West India Docks
The Export division of the West India Docks

But the corners and sights are far removed from the dirty or bustling docklands trade –

The park between the Export  Docks and the South Basin
The park between the Export Docks and the South Basin

DSCF6028The Import Docks (the northern docks) are linked to the Blackwall Basin, which has a secondary basin, the Poplar Basin –

The Poplar Basin
The Poplar Basin
The lock linking the Poplar Basin with the Blackwall Basin
The lock linking the Poplar Basin with the Blackwall Basin
The remains of the lock gate
The remains of the lock gate
The Blackwall Basin, with the exit to the Thames at the top right
The Blackwall Basin, with the exit to the Thames at the top right

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The South Docks, the export docks, are clear, although usage is different!

Action in the South Docks!
Action in the South Docks!

The canal linking the South Docks to the North Docks –

The canal looking from the South Docks to the North Docks
The canal looking from the South Docks to the North Docks

And the South Docks lead to the Millwall Docks which opened in 1868, and are in an L-shape –

The N-S arm of the Millwall Docks
The N-S arm of the Millwall Docks

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The E-W basin of the Millwall Docks at the end of a wonderful day
The E-W basin of the Millwall Docks at the end of a wonderful day

Blackwall gives us a ‘..fine view of the reach of the river and the pleasant uplands towards Shooter’s Hill..’. There are large taverns here, but we are too early for the whitebait (May to August) which Mr Bradshaw recommends should be eaten with punch, not beer. (Here is a fine view from Shooters Hill towards Canary Wharf.)

Blackwall was an important sea port in the past, and apart from trade in 1576 Martin Frobisher set out from Blackwall to find the North West Passage;  Walter Raleigh had a house at there, and in the early 1700s ‘  the port was the main departure point of the English colonization of North America and the West Indies launched by the London Company..’

There is shipbuilding in the area, and, surprisingly, the Blackwall Yard only closed in 1987.

SS Great Britain at Brunswick Wharf, mid 1800s
SS Great Britain at Brunswick Wharf, mid 1800s

It is also the terminus of the London and Blackwall Railway. This railway ran from Minories to the Docks and through Stepney; much of the infrastructure was used for the DLR. The Wharf, together with the East India Export Dock survived into the 1940s when it was developed into the Brunswick Wharf Power Station, itself now under redevelopment. Apparently this was a very popular Sunday excursion and 25,000-30,000 visitors were common. The Gravesend steamboats arrived and departed from Brunswick Wharf too, so it was very busy.

The Steam Packet Wharf at Brunswick Wharf 1840
The Steam Packet Wharf at Brunswick Wharf 1840

And the East India Docks at Blackwall, opened in 1806, and closed in 1967, the first docks to close. Now they are filled in apart from a small section which is a wildlife refuge.

East India Docks, 1806
East India Docks, 1806

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