Home » Dock Life » Remembering the City Canal – The Story of the Limehouse Lock Entrance

Remembering the City Canal – The Story of the Limehouse Lock Entrance


Early 19th century view of West India Docks and City Canal on the left hand side.

One of the interesting aspects of Docklands is the way that history is all around us but is often difficult to recognise. A prime example of this is Limehouse Lock entrance which is situated just below Westferry Circus.

Most of the walkers, joggers and cyclists who cross the bridge over the lock would have no idea about the lock’s historical importance and how its creation was inextricably linked to the ill fated City Canal in the 19th Century.


Last week a cleaning crew was hard at work cleaning  the lock which allowed a clear view of the still predominately 19th century dock.

The idea of building a canal across the top of the Isle of Dogs had been often raised but it was not until the plans for the West India Docks were finalised that plans for building the canal were discussed seriously.

1817 map

The scheme was funded by the Corporation of London who were confident that the short cut would be popular with ship owners, however excavation was slow due to lack of finance.
When the excavation was finally completed in 1804, it was just a case of waiting for the locks to be completed which was expected in 1805. Hopes were dashed of reaching completion when there was a breach in the east end of the canal that need extensive repairs. When the Canal was finally open for business in 1806 it was 3,711ft long between the lock gates, 176ft wide at the surface of the water and 23ft deep at its centre, It cost £133,850 to build.

It quickly become clear that the small savings in time for ships using the canal was not enough to attractive a large amount of business, therefore the Corporation began to let plots near the canal to raise some finance. Ultimately the decision was made to sell the canal to the West India Dock Company in 1829 who renamed the City Canal, the South Dock and stopped all transit passages and connected the dock to other parts of the West India Dock system.


Limehouse  Lock  entrance  or South Dock West Entrance (Impounding) Lock has it became known were designed as the west  City Canal entrance locks.  Of all the docks entrances  built in the 19th century The South Dock west entrance lock is the only survivor with some of its original features.

It remains basically  unaltered because it was never heavily used,  it has not been used for shipping since 1891.


Since 1929 it has provided an inlet for water to an Port of London impounding station that maintains the water level in the West India and Millwall Docks. It is now predominately known as the Impounding Dock entrance.

When the  lock was permanently closed in 1928 , the outer gates were removed  and a concrete dam, 15ft thick was built between the gates, containing three pump-discharge pipes and two sluicing-culverts.

It is interesting when you walk past the lock to try and pick out the older sections that formed the original City Canal entrance. The east entrance to the canal , although greatly modified is still in use for ships entering the West India Docks.





  1. Hazel says:

    I was there recently on a guided walk and was lucky enough to see this mother and child: https://www.flickr.com/photos/moley75/14842619393/

    • Hi Hazel,

      You have got some lovely photo’s on your Flikr account, the Mother Duck and duckling are the recent celebrities of the dock. A lot of people were concerned when the duckling was very small but mother seems to have done a great job.
      When I was taking photo’s of the lock, I did ask the cleaners what they had done with the ducks but they said they go on to the river and come back again!
      Many thanks for the comment

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