st-katharine-docksThe name for this dock, located just to the east of Tower Bridge, comes from a 12th century established to help the poor known as St Katharine’s Hospital which was once located in the vicinity.

The hospital, which was named at St Katharine – whom tradition holds was martyred in the 4th century by the Roman Emperor Maxentius – was founded by Matilda, the wife of King Stephen, in 1147, for the maintenance of 13 poor people.

It was supported by various English queens over the ensuing centuries, including Eleanor, beloved wife of King Edward I, who granted it a new charter in 1273, and Queen Philippa, wife of King Edward III, who drew up new regulations for the running of the hospital in 1351.

Having survived an attempt to have the hospital abolished by Puritans in the 17th century and an attempt to burn it down during the late 18th century Gordon Riots, in the early 19th century demand for new docks brought about the old hospital’s final demolition.

In 1825, the hospital relocated to Regent’s Park. Now known as the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, it is currently located in Limehouse, having moved there in 1948 (we’ll take a more in depth look at the history of St Katharine’s Hospital in an upcoming post).

The docks, meanwhile, was opened in 1828 following the removal of more than 1,200 homes and a brewery as well as the old hospital – works carried out despite a public outcry and, apparently, no compensation. Designed by Thomas Telford (of the Iron Bridge fame – this was apparently his only London project), the docks occupy a 23 acre site and featured a central basin opening to two docks lined with brick warehouses.

The docks were closed in 1968 and in the years since, the warehouses have been converted into shops, eateries, offices and residences while the waters are now used as a marina for luxury yachts.

Limehouse

This part of East London is believed to take its name not from lime trees nor from a house bearing that name. Rather it owes its origins to the process by which chalk shipped from Kent was converted into lime.

The process of ‘lime burning’ – which took place in these parts on the northern bank of the River Thames – involves heating the chalk in a bottle-shaped kiln, also known as an oast. Hence ‘lime oast’ became corrupted into Limehouse.

St-Anne's-LimehouseThe earliest reference to the name comes from the early medieval era but in later centuries the area was noted not so much for its lime-burning but its links with shipping – particularly following the opening on the Limehouse Cut in 1770 which linked the Thames with the River Lea and allowed goods to taken from the north of London directly to ships on the Thames without the need to navigate around the Isle of Dogs (see our earlier post on the Limehouse Cut). Limehouse Basin (pictured above, from the Limehouse Cut) opened in the early 19th century.

The area, which became increasingly industrialised as a result, is also known for its links to the Chinese community – and this included, in the Victorian era, opium dens, but the association ended around the 1950s by which time the Chinese community had largely moved to Soho (where Chinatown still stands today).

Among the area’s most prominent buildings are the Nicholas Hawksmoor-designed church, St Anne’s Limehouse (pictured), and the historic pub, The Grapes.

London’s oldest canal is one that perhaps doesn’t immediately spring to mind when considering the city’s waterways – the Limehouse Cut in the city’s east.

Authorised by an Act of Parliament passed in 1766, the Cut was built in 1770 to link the River Lea (or Lee) – which it joins at Bromley-by-Bow – to the Thames at Limehouse.

It was designed to enable sailing barges coming down the Lee to avoid navigating the rather difficult curves in the lower reaches of the river at Bow Creek (and waiting for the tide to come in to the Thames so the barges could then go around the Isle of Dogs to the docks).

In 1968, the exit lock which led from the cut directly to the Thames was replaced by another short section of canal which linked it to what is now known as Limehouse Basin and was previously known as Regent’s Canal Dock.

The cut these days features an innovative floating towpath which leads under the A12, the northern approach road of the Blackwall Tunnel, and the old factory buildings which once lined it are giving way to modern apartment complexes and office blocks. Pictured is a section of the Limehouse Cut near the Limehouse Basin end.