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The Return of the Waterman’s Arms

Recently I received information about the redevelopment of the Island’s most famous pubs. In January, The Great Eastern pub on Glenaffric Avenue will be closed for a major £587,000 refurbishment and will reopen in early April as the The Waterman’s Arms.

The Heineken owned Star Pubs and Bars are hoping 15 new jobs will be created on the back of the investment which will see the community pub and hostel being transformed into a top-quality neighbourhood bar with ensuite accommodation, offering high quality food, drink and service.

The new licensees, Laura Lythall and Sam Hawkes have extensive knowledge of the area after running The Ship Inn on the Island for four years. The interior is being opened up to provide seating for 70 and the bar extended through the pub’s two main rooms, with a raised snug created at the back of the pub.

Upstairs there will be seven luxurious individually styled ensuite boutique bedrooms. And outside, a courtyard garden is being created with a firepit and festoon lighting.

The Waterman’s Arms will open from 10am for a late breakfast, cakes and snacks followed by lunch and dinner. Barista style, artisan coffee will be served throughout the day. The aim is to make the pub a focal point of the community and a destination for top quality food and drink.

The pub has a fascinating history, it originally began life as the Newcastle Arms, built by William Cubitt and opened in 1853. However it was in the early 1960s that the pub changed its name to the Waterman’s Arms and it was taken over writer and broadcaster Dan Farson who became licensee in 1962. Farson made his name on television by presenting documentaries about various subcultures like the teddy boys. After he made a documentary about East End pub entertainment, he was determined to run his pub with a music hall atmosphere. Farson lived in Narrow St in Limehouse and was fascinated by the local characters and East End life.

Due to his high profile on television, the pub was an instant success with well-known performers on stage, and the rich and famous making their way to the Isle of Dogs. Clint Eastwood, artist Francis Bacon, Brian Epstein, Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey were just a few of the celebrities that visited the pub.

Farson’s talents as a broadcaster and writer were not matched by his business acumen and he quickly managed to lose a considerable amount of money in a relatively short time. By 1964, the party was over and the pub returned to being a neighourhood pub although there were still the occasional coach party that turned up for the live entertainment at the weekend. As the docks declined, so did the interest in the pub from outside of the Island, although it did feature in a number of films and television, most notably in The Long Good Friday.

More recently, the pub changed its name to the Great Eastern and was converted into a pub and backpacker’s hotel. The building is one of the few remaining original public houses on the Island and we wish the new owners and licensees the best of luck in restoring the pub to its past glories.


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