It is well known that there were once many pubs on the Island, but I still come across old pubs that I’ve never before heard of. One of those is the West India Dock Tavern, which was once at the southern end of Cold Harbour (very close to The Gun). Before talking about the pub, though, a little historical context…..
In 1800, the City of London Corporation completed the construction of a canal across the Isle of Dogs, with the intention of shortening sailing times between the City and the sea. Known as the City Canal, it ran from just north of the future City Arms (hence the pub name) to the location of the future Blue Bridge.
The City Canal was a financial failure, however. The need to negotiate locks at both ends meant sailing times were not significantly reduced. This, along with the fee to use the canal, made it unattractive to ship owners. A few years later, the West India Dock Company purchased the canal from the City of London Corporation, eventually combining it with the Timber Dock to form the West India South Dock.
In order to build the City Canal in the first place, the City had purchased land across the Island, some of which was no l0nger needed when the canal was completed. One such plot of land was at the southern end of Cold Harbour. It was here that Samuel Lovegrove built his tavern, completing construction in 1830.
Note that the path of Cold Harbour road in this map differs from the present-day route. Today, the west-east section, close to the Gun, is further north. The bridge over the lock is also in a different location today. Here is a combination of the old and new, to help with visualisation:
In this only known image of Lovegrove’s West India Dock Tavern, the artist was looking west along the City Canal entrance lock. The bridge in the distance has just cleared the lock, and the lock bridge is visible on the left.
The tavern was large and attractive, and – one would have thought – in a perfect location for attracting trade. But, it was not a success, and after Lovegrove died in the 1840s the tavern could not be sold. After years of dereliction, it was demolished in 1854. Timber firm, Lenantons took over the site in 1870s and used it for storage and boat-building.
This photo, taken by Peter Wright not so long ago, shows approximately the same view. Approximately, because precisely the same view today would be obscured by the Blue Bridge, and Peter Wright would be in the river (the entrance to the lock is much wider these days).
A row of houses was built on the site of the tavern in 1890, a row that is still standing (quite remarkable by Island standards). I took this photo of the row almost a year ago, after Con Maloney and I had enjoyed a couple of pints in the Gun (we couldn’t afford more than a couple).
The West India Dock Tavern has a very short history, but now I’m going to have to update my Island pub article at:
And the pub map at:
As well as finding out more about other recently-discovered Island pubs and beer houses: Glendower, Highland Mary, King’s Arms, Waterman’s Lodge and Black Boy……