Recently I wrote a post regarding the joy of walking around Millwall Dock, this week my journey take me a short distance away from Canary Wharf to Limehouse Basin. Although now the basin is quite sedate and full of narrow and leisure boats, It is hard to imagine that in the past the dock would have full of sailing ships, steam colliers, lighters and full of activity with people dealing with various cargoes. However if you know where to look, there is evidence of its illustrious past.
Regent’s Canal Dock 1823
Limehouse Basin or Limehouse Dock as it is sometimes known was previously called The Regent’s Canal Dock because built by the Regent’s Canal Company and it connected the Regent’s Canal with the River Thames at Limehouse. The idea behind the Regent’s Canal Dock was that the basin was to be built large enough to admit sea-going vessels and cargo could be transferred to and from lighters or narrow boats.
Photo – A G Linney 1933
The Regent’s Canal Dock was considered a commercial failure following its opening in 1820, however by the mid 19th century it had become very successful because in the trade in coal and its role as the principal entrance from the Thames to the entire national canal network. The rise of the railways led to some decline but the system was still used extensively in the First and Second World Wars.
On the north side of the basin is a viaduct that was originally built for the London and Blackwall Railway in the 1840s and is now used by The Docklands Light Railway.
Behind a viaduct arch is the tower of a hydraulic accumulator from 1869, The Regent’s Canal Dock was one of the first to use hydraulic power using a system was developed by William Armstrong.
The Basin today is full of narrow boats which is a reminder of its glory days, but other vessels can be spotted including a couple of Thames barges. Many people live on the narrow boats which are permanently moored here.
The connection to the Regent’s Canal is still there, enabling boats to go inland or onto the Thames.
There is also a connection onto the Limehouse Cut which links the basin to the Lee Navigation at Bow Locks. The Limehouse Cut used to be connected directly to the River Thames. From 1854, the Regents Canal took control of Limehouse Cut and built a connecting link into the Regents Canal Dock. However the link was short-lived and in 1864, it was filled in.
In the 1960s, the lock that connected Limehouse Cut to the Thames needed to be replaced. So the decision was made to reinstate a link to the Regents Canal Dock. This connection was opened in 1968 and as you walk around the dock you can follow Limehouse Cut as it makes its way north.
Limehouse Basin suffered decline in the 1970s and 80s like the docks but redevelopment of the Basin was considered in the 1980s. Over the next 20 years, residential development took place on the derelict land surrounding the basin.
Now it is possible to walk all around the basin and enjoy the various attractions, there is plenty of birdlife and even a community book exchange which I noticed had a book by Carol Rivers who we often feature on the website.
The Island and Limehouse are great places to understand some of the remarkable history of the area. Limehouse Basin and the Docks were important transport hubs that for centuries created important trade connections with Britain and the rest of the world.