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Paintings of Limehouse

(c) Margaret Thomas; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Limehouse Reach, London by Margaret Thomas
(Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge) 1949

Limehouse covers a relatively  small area in London’s East End, however it has been often portrayed in paintings and books. One of the reasons for this is that it occupies an important stretch of the riverfront before the sweep around the Isle of Dogs.

It was this  riverfront that was first developed in the 17th  century  and  from the Prospect of Whitby down to South West India Dock (Impounding) entrance lock  was known as Limehouse Hole or Limehouse Reach. From the 17th century the area became dominated by shipping enterprises including shipbuilders, barge-builders, boat-builders, ropemakers, sailmakers, mastmakers, blockmakers, ship-chandlers and general wharfingers.

Little of these enterprises remain but to give an idea of the area I have bought together a number of paintings that illustrate its connection with the river and the sea.

One of the earliest drawings of the riverfront in detail was done by John Boydell in 1751.


Already at this time, there were a number of substantial houses  and  a busy waterfront. By the 19th Century, shipbuilding had began to develop and the next picture is of Fletcher’s Yard on 1840.

(c) National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Fletcher’s Yard, Limehouse by Charles Deane (National Maritime Museum) c.1840

Fletcher had set up a shipbuilding business at Shadwell in the eighteenth century. They moved to Limehouse in 1818. As Fletcher, Son and Fearnall, they became pioneering steamship builders, but eventually  switched to ship repairs.

Later in the 19th century, Barge builders tended to dominate the waterfront and two pictures by Charles Napier Hemy show workers aboard the barges.


London River, the Limehouse Barge-Builders by Charles Napier Hemy (South Shields Museum and Art Gallery)  1877

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Limehouse Hole by Charles Napier Hemy (Glasgow Museums)  1910

The end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century was  a time when this picturesque stretch of water became popular with artists.


James McNeill Whistler, ‘Limehouse’
Etched 1859, printed and published 1871
(Victoria and Albert Museum)

Whistler was one of a number of artists from overseas that were fascinated by the riverfront and its various activities.

(c) Stephen Bartley; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation The Lower Pool and Limehouse Reach, London by Arthur James Wetherall Burgess
(Bank of England)

(c) National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Limehouse Reach by Edmund Aubrey Hunt
(National Maritime Museum)

A more  unusual view was painted by the well known First World War painter Christopher Nevinson.

(c) BRIDGEMAN; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Limehouse by Christopher Nevinson (Atkinson Art Gallery Collection) 1913

The line of early Georgian terraces on Narrow Street are one of the few reminders of the character of this small stretch of riverfront that had inspired artists for hundreds of years.


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