Home » Art Life » Narrow Street, Limehouse in the Sixties with Trevor Wayman

Narrow Street, Limehouse in the Sixties with Trevor Wayman


Woodward tugs 1393

Limehouse and The  Panorama of Limehouse Reach / Lower Pool

Recently I was contacted by Trevor Wayman who lived in Narrow Street in the 1960s, he is a talented artist and particularly was intrigued by the lighters owned by the Woodward – Fishers in Limehouse.

Trevor kindly sent some of his memories of his time spent in Limehouse  and reminds us of the changes that have taken place in the area.

 I started this painting sometime in 1965 & worked on it on and off until late 1967, so it’s really a composite as regards all the lighters and tugs moored offshore outside Woodward –Fishers repair yard in Narrow Street (now a bar)

From left to right; the Council refuse chutes can just be seen where it was discharged into lighters for disposal down-stream at Rainham marshes. They’re on the far side of Limekiln dock, sometimes known as Limehouse Hole —the home of Rogue Riderhood in ‘ Our Mutual Friend’. The large lighter poking out at right angles is on the near side of this short inlet. In the background, the Isle of Dogs stretches away downstream towards Greenwich, which is out of sightline at the far end. This entire shoreline has been redeveloped. Just to the right of the string of lighters in the river heading downstream is Cuckold’s Point on the south side of the river (where unfaithful wives were reputedly ducked).


A couple of the Woodward Fisher Lighters by Trevor Wayman

On this side of the river, as mentioned, lighters are awaiting repair at W.J. Woodward-Fishers—presided over by the formidable Mrs Dorothea (Dolly) Woodward-Fisher (affectionately known as Mother Thames!) – her tugs included ‘Otazel’, ‘Ikangoit’ and the larger vessel ‘Duke Shore’ (No.576 –still afloat at Fresh Wharf in Barking Creek) all in the painting, as well as ‘Opabout’, ‘Ikanopit’ and others from a total fleet of 200 vessels. The lighters (some named after fish ) would bang into each other at high tide – not conducive to a good night’s sleep!


The Duke Shore in front of the Grapes

The large lighter in the centre ‘ Marane ‘, behind the tug ‘Ikangoit’, was there for years as it wasn’t load-worthy. In the foreground foreman George from Woodward – Fishers is repairing ‘Ikangoit’s’ rudder. Behind ‘Marane’ across the river to the right of Cuckold’s point are various warehouses; above the right hand lighter moored up are the chutes for the rubbish from Southwark Council. The factory with the chimneys was H.V. Enthoven’s lead foundry and next to it a fire station—siren just visible on its metal tower. Further along was the Castrol refinery (logo just visible)— Castrol fuel bowsers are moored up slightly downstream from the refinery. Between them is the narrow entrance of Lavender lock(not the main one) to the Surrey Commercial docks, which was used chiefly for timber importing. Once I climbed up the tower of St. Anne’s church with the vicar and Magnus, an old pal who also lived in Narrow Street, and could see across the river into Surrey Commercial docks, by then disused, and a profusion of lavender had taken hold across the wharves.

At the right hand end of the south shoreline, the river curves away as the Lower Pool round the bend up towards the Upper Pool with Tower Bridge visible at an angle above the warehouses—The ‘ Prospect of Whitby ‘ is just below the left -hand tower. On the river is a police launch, with a Port of London Authority (PLA) launch ahead of it moving upstream to the left of Stepney Power Station pier. This is where the colliers from Wales would moor up and have their cargoes emptied by the cranes onto the conveyor belt rigs (shown) which crossed Narrow Street to the power station, the tall chimney of which was known locally as ‘Limehouse Lil’. The freighter moored below the conveyor structure is the ‘Aegir’ which was one of those that brought newsprint and other paper to Hough’s ( Limehouse Paperboard Mills) a little further up Narrow Street. Scrap paper from the building escaped to the street and swirled like snow when windy.

The building materials in the right foreground were where the reconstruction of the houses in Narrow Street was taking place– at the far end is the bowed riverfront wall of the ‘Grapes’ above the wooden screen, which is the side of the riverside bar there. Residents in those days were David Owen in No. 78, the future foreign secretary, Magnus Bartlett, previously mentioned, in No. 80, with his partner Sophie and son Kasyan , but now in Hong Kong, Marcus Morris ( creator of the Eagle comic and chairman of the National Magazine Company ) at No. 82, Mr. Borthwick of the meat company in No.84 and Mike and Jenny Barraclough in No. 86. Mike was the kidney man at St. Thomas’s; Jenny made documentaries for the BBC. They sold No. 86 later on to the actor Ian Mackellen.  Andrew & Marianne Sinclair owned No. 88 itself– they travelled extensively whilst I looked after the place during their absence. Andrew was a well- known author and history professor and Marianne was a writer as well. They eventually sold No.88 to Dick and Rozelle Raynes who still live there. Down the street at various times lived Dan Farson, Polly Devlin, Janet Street- Porter, and Jeremy Jeffries (who had a flat above Woodward-Fishers). Jim Page-Roberts built a studio at the end of Limekiln Creek but I only got to know him after I’d left Narrow Street.

The ‘Grapes’ in those days was run by Jack and Renee Phillips—- crew from the colliers would come in and swap leeks from South Wales for pints. Other local characters included Tommy Trouble, an acquaintance of the Kray twins, Alistair ‘Jock ‘ Charles, a Samurai sword fan , and notoriously Lenny Phillips ( definitely no relation of Jack’s !) and his mate Big Sid. These likeable larcenous rascals ‘worked’ the river at odd times in a narrow boat ‘acquired ‘ from Germany– don’t ask–and would liberate anything not nailed down—timber, rope, loose cargo, boxes of tea which Big Sid could pull up from a flush fit cargo- you name it. The river police were always alert when these two appeared—one time Lenny and Sid had some dry timber on board and frantically splashed water from buckets over it so then it could be claimed to be flotsam instead of obviously filched goods. Lenny to the river police who came alongside “ How about damp, then? “ in an attempt to avoid apprehension ! They would lurk in the canal system inland from Limehouse lock in between appearances on the river. Ever opportunistic, Len & Sid rapidly realised there were customers for their ‘liberated ‘ timber amongst the rebuilders of the Narrow Street houses. The only stipulation on delivery was that the tell-tale ends of the timber (a red stencil which betrayed their provenance) were sawn off.


Ironbridge Tavern

Other local pubs were the King and Queen in Three Colt Street and the Black Horse in Ropemakers Fields. In Pennyfields was the Rose and Crown, tenanted by Slim and Queenie Watts, a talented singer of the blues. Another was the Ironbridge Tavern, hosting hilarious drag shows. The renowned Charlie Brown’s was nearby and the famous Waterman’s Arms was further afield on the Isle of Dogs which Dan Farson owned, also famed for evening entertainment. Also on the far side of the Isle of Dogs was the ‘Gun’ in Coldharbour visited on rare occasions.

I had a folding canoe in those days and would paddle up and down the river somewhat hazardously – being a poor swimmer and with no life jacket! Furthest downstream was a trip to Greenwich and once upstream to the Pool of London, where there was moored a large white yacht named ‘Kalizma’—drinking on the stern was Richard Burton who unexpectedly raised his glass to me in silent salute. After raising my paddles in return, I headed back under Tower Bridge homewards. I’d take advantage of the tidal flow on these trips as otherwise it was hard work against the tide- wash from the passing traffic needed watching too. The canoe is in the painting where I would board it at low tide- by the piling on the foreshore this side of the coaling pier.


The Kalizma

Without realising it at the time, this painting captures the dying days of the Thames in the East End as a working river—- the PLA were in the process of shifting the incoming containerisation revolution to Tilbury. Virtually all of the buildings in the painting have gone now as redevelopment took hold of Docklands. Other memories include seeing foreign warships heading for the Pool on ceremonial visits and once the sight of a Thames sailing barge under full sail en route upstream (probably to St. Katherine’s dock)- an evocative memory of the past.

The painting was drawn through my tripod mounted bins ( Beck 11x80s ) to get the  far off details accurate through the double windows of my room in the white house in the colour print. Drawing conditions required decent weather and the right state of the tide (low water) and plenty of uninterrupted time. The foreshore was littered with large quantities of flotsam and other debris and one chilling sight was a team of police combing the exposed areas at low tide for evidence during the ‘Torso’ murders. Other than that, Happy Days!



  1. Nicholas Walt says:

    What are the dimensions of Mr Wayman’s wonderful painting?

    • Hi Nicholas,

      It is roughly six feet by three feet , the picture do not do it justice. I will posting another article about the area and Trevor’s involvement in the near future.

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