Today we took a little walk around Limehouse and, in particular, the Limehouse Basin. Below is shown a map of the area and you can link to the interactive Google map here. Limehouse was so named after the lime kilns that used to operate here in the 14th century to supply the building trade.
The reason for the marker indicating Three Colt Street is explained by the following. Where Lowell Street meets Commercial Road (just above the basin) there is a railway bridge and underneath it we discovered this drinking fountain.
The fountain is rather sober in design and has long since ceased to function but what attracted my attention was the inscription, whose gilded letters are still perfectly legible. It runs as follows:
FOUNTAIN & CATTLE TROUGH
AS AN AFFECTIONATE TRIBUTE
TO THE MEMORY OF
THOMAS & DANIEL BARRETT
FORMERLY OF STEPNEY GATE
& THREE COLT ST LIMEHOUSE
BY THEIR SISTER
Sadly, there is now no sign of the trough mentioned in the inscription. Either it is buried in the masonry of the railway bridge or it has been lost altogether. Perhaps when the bridge was built, the front of the fountain with its inscription was preserved and affixed to the wall and the rest carted away. Will we ever know who the Barretts were or is this the only remaining trace of three Victorian lives?
Weaving a sinuous path across country to Islington and then through Mile End, the Regent’s Canal makes a southward dash into the Limehouse Basin which it meets here at the Commercial Road Lock.
It is crossed by a modern footbridge and by a brick viaduct of the Docklands Light Railway. Despite the graffiti, the lock is still in working order and serves a traffic of canal boats.
Built by the Regent’s Canal Company and originally called Regent’s Canal Dock, the Basin was an important cargo handling dock from the 1820s to about the Second World War. You might not guess that from looking at its tranquil aspect today.
Here, however, is a clue to that past: the Accumulator Tower, a central element in the then advanced hydraulic system that drove the cranes and swing bridges, enabling work to be done in hours that would have taken days by traditional methods.
These days, the vessels in the basin are more likely to be yachts and houseboats passing through on their various peregrinations. (Note the Welsh flag in the above photo.)
The cranes have gone, the dock is railed off to stop people falling into the water and instead of warehouses there are now blocks of flats. It is a quiet and pleasant place for a stroll and I wonder whether it is also pleasant to live here.
The calm and peaceful atmosphere has attracted wild life. A notice board informs us of a wide range of fish and aquatic creatures living here, while the most obvious are the water fowl like these ducks and coot.
There were ducks and coots in abundance, and all were ready to accept a donation from passers-by. The ducks were not too keen on seed (I’m not sure they recognized it as food) but the coot was happy to gobble up anything Tigger gave him.
So was this small crow. He (or she?) would shovel up as much as he could cram into his beak and fly away. Then he would come back for more. We guessed he was either storing the seed somewhere (crows are very wily birds) or feeding it to young.
There was also a pair of Canada geese with a single gosling. Though tiny, he seemed quite vigorous and active, paddling away to keep up with the adults.
This heavy-duty lock is the Limehouse Basin Lock and it protects and facilities the Basin’s (and the Regent’s Canal’s) connection with the Thames.
A few yards beyond the lock lies the relatively open water of the Thames, giving access to the sea.
Looking to the east where the river bends, we see the now famous cluster of buildings around Canary Wharf in the redeveloped Docklands.
We walked along the river to Wapping and stopped for refreshments at one of London’s most famous pubs. It claims to be the oldest riverside pub and whether or not it is, it has a long and colourful history which is sketched here.
In contrast to the brash new built environment of Canary Wharf, in Wapping, a self-conscious effort has been made to preserve – or restore or reconstruct – the old wharfs and warehouses, refurbished as office and apartment blocks. There is something eerie about the hoists and drop boards that no longer serve their purpose but haunt the sides of buildings like ghosts.
Here and there between the close-packed buildings are narrow alleys, often accessed by steps, with the word “stairs” in their names. These are old access points to the river and often bear colourful names.
The Thames here is tidal, something that has to be taken into account when travelling or moving goods by boat. The tide was even used to execute convicted criminals who would be chained on the beach and drowned as the water rose – gruesome note on which to end our walk!