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The Story of the Limehouse Pier

limehouse pier

Many of the posts on the blog are the outcome of research suggested by contributors, Eric Pemberton often sends one of his interesting postcards which engages my curiosity and makes me determined to find out more about the subject. Eric sent a postcard recently which was a reminder that certain parts of the river have an intriguing history all of their own.

Historically, The riverside district from the South West India Dock (Impounding) entrance lock up to Dunbar Wharf was known as Limehouse Hole. The name was in use by the seventeenth century, this was one of the first parts of the parish of Poplar to be developed, but almost nothing survives of its earliest 17th century development, In the 18th to 20th century, Limehouse Hole was developed with a number of shipping-related enterprises. There were shipbuilders, barge-builders, boat-builders, ropemakers, sailmakers, mastmakers, blockmakers and ship-chandlers.

1908map

1908 Map

Due to its location on the river, Limehouse Hole was a popular place for watermen to ply their trade, which they did successfully from the seventeenth century. In the ninetieth century, watermen were losing business to steamboats and tried to encourage trade by erecting a floating pier at Limehouse Hole Stairs. It was erected in 1843 but did not have the required effect and was gone by 1860. However it was the first pier in Limehouse Hole, but not the last because when a passenger steamboat service to the locality was proposed, a new floating pier was erected at Limehouse Hole Stairs in 1870. This pier, a walkway on three pontoons, was designed by Stephen William Leach  was removed in 1901 for the building of Dundee Wharf. The postcard sent by Eric dates  from the early 20th century and features another Limehouse Pier, this construction  was built for the short lived  ‘Penny Steamer’ service in 1905 but managed to survive until 1948.

stairs limehouse

Other views of the pier are from Thames Riverscape  and the Britain from Above photographs. In 1937 the Port of London Authority commissioned Avery Illustrations to document both banks of the Thames between London Bridge and Greenwich/Island Gardens. This Thames Riverscape now provides an invaluable record of the Thames from this period.

1928limehouse

The aerial picture from Britain from Above shows the pier in 1928 and clearly shows how far it extended.

The pier was not the most successful ever but it did feature in a 1927 poem by Helen Markham

At Limehouse Pier, the tide is strong,
And there are curious things adrift,
But the wind hath a nobler song,
Salt with the sea’s sharp kiss, and swift.
A flowing fire is on the river,
Like wine outpoured, wine-gold, wine-red,
or purging of her piteous dead.
The great crane engines swing and quiver.
And the lost sea-birds wheel and cry,
The long, slow barges, dreamfully,
The little brown-sailed boats, go by
Intent to find the sea.

To a large extent, Limehouse Hole has now disappeared underneath Westferry Circus and  the Riverside developments, this  stretch is now known as part of the longer Limehouse Reach but for centuries the name of Limehouse Hole and to a lesser extent Limehouse Pier were known all around the world.


7 Comments

  1. Leonard West says:

    From 1945, I lived and grew up in Limehouse/ Polar and spent inumerous days playing with friends in and around Limehouse Pier. Limehouse Pier or water front, was never referred to as Limehouse Hole. It was called Limehouse Pier or “The Pier”. We played on the moored up barges, swam in the Thames, even swimming between the barges dodging the m oving barges as they ‘boomed’ together when waves from passing river craft pushed them together with some force. Happy and exiting days, with each day being a learning experience without us knowing it. Some times,not frequently someone would attempt to swim across the river at low tide. Thankfully this dangerous practice was rare. I will always remember”LimeHouse Pier.”

    • Hi Leonard,

      Thanks for your memories, although the antics sound a bit dangerous now !!!
      It is interesting that you say that nobody called it Limehouse Hole, that seems a more historical name for the area that is not really used anymore.

  2. Leonard West says:

    Thank you.

  3. Leonard West says:

    Thanks again. Are there any more historic memories around Limehouse Pier and surrounding areas. These would be so interesting provoking vivid images of years gone by. Stories emerging from the experiences are priceless, so lets share these and build up a library of East End folk from 1941- 1971 etc etc ..Leonard

  4. Leonard West says:

    Memory data to assist creative minds; Charlie Browns – PLA police with speakers calling the kids to get off the Barges – Boys hanging on back of lorries for a ride – Lorry drivers acceleratng so the boys couldnt jump off, so were carried miles away – Boys building camps on derilict building sites – children collecting coal for jewish folk on Saturdays- repelling gangs from outside estates – making skooters / barrows out of wood using ball bearings for wheels- Saturday morning pictures, sing along and musical organ – Chips in newspaper – “Roods” Ice Cream cycle barrow- Roasting potatos on bonfire- Knock Down Ginger (sorry lady in number 8) -Salvation Army all gone barmy – Penny back on empty bottles- Beano men dishing out coins to kids open hands outside pubs- Swimming at open air Lidos etc etc etc etc xxx priceless

  5. Charles crocker says:

    Hello ,my grandfather and his son my uncle both ran various parts of the docks and particularly Aberdeen wharf
    There name was the same Charles crocker , senior / junior , and my grandfather held a quite serious managerial position and dealt with the ships captains and (his) team of loader/unloaders also the various lighter men
    We have as a family all moved away but still have lots of great stories and interesting history of the same
    And we would appreciate anyone who may have had a past relative who new them and or could pass on some history??
    My grandfather was running Aberdeen 1920 to 1945 /55 ?? And my uncle was still involved right up until 1960 ish
    We wish all who read this well and hope to read some more history and information as time goes by
    God bless and stay healthy charles crocker the 3rd !!!

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