Limehouse Hole

The origins of the name Limehouse Hole are not certain. This 1745 map mentions Limekiln Holes, in the plural, and possibly referring the stretch of river, rather than a place on dry land. My own theory is that a hole was a small harbour, a place to lay up ships, as in Mousehole in Cornwall (mind you historians debate the origin of this name too). This area was, after all, from the 17th century a plying place for watermen and it later became densely filled with shipyards and other dock-related industries.


With a name like Limehouse Hole, it would appear to have no place in a blog about the Isle of Dogs. However, it streteched from Limekiln Dock in the north to the Poplar Breach in the south (which I described in a recent article) – just north of the present-day Westferry Circus.

Survey of London:

As London’s riverside was developed, and Limehouse spread eastwards in the seventeenth century, Limehouse Hole was built up with shipping-related enterprises. These characterized the area into the twentieth century. There were shipbuilders, barge-builders, boat-builders, ropemakers, sailmakers, mastmakers, blockmakers and ship-chandlers, as well as general wharfingers.

The eight acres of riverside land immediately south of the boundary between Limehouse and Poplar, empty save perhaps for a few small houses behind the river wall, were leased by Sir Edward and Sir John Yate to John Graves in 1633. Graves was a shipbuilder at the yard on the north side of the boundary, later known as Limekiln Dockyard and then as Dundee Wharf. In 1664 Samuel Pepys visited Margetts’s ropeyard and apparently decided to use it to supply the Navy.

In 1662 Margetts acquired the freehold of Graves’s eight acres, with an additional 2½ acres to the east. The estate subsequently passed by marriage to Cornelius Purnell, a Portsmouth shipwright. His son sold part of it in 1717 to Philip Willshire, who acquired the remainder in 1723.  The estate passed through Willshire’s family to Edward Emmett, whose heirs retained the property until 1809, when it was sold off in parcels.

Limehouse Hole, 1768, looking south east toward Batson’s Yard. Painting by John Hood

The foreshore of Robert Batson’s Yard is full of timber, imported for the construction of ships (mostly warships and East Indiamen). Batson was a substantial Island landowner – the first residential streets in Millwall were built on his land: Robert and Alfred Street named after his sons, and later renamed Cuba and Tobago Street respectively. At the end of Cuba Street was formerly Batson’s Wharf (absorbed into Lenanton’s Yard), while there was once a a Batson’s Street off Three Colt Street.

Hood’s painting shows Limehouse Hole Stairs on the left. These were at the river end of Thames Place, which connected with Emmet Street, and which disappeared not that long ago. Also notable is the public house at the top of the stairs; possibly known as the White Lion at the time, it would later be named the Chequers, and then the Horns and Chequers.

Curling & Young’s Shipyard in 1825

Survey of London:

In 1843 watermen attempted to recover business lost to steamboats by erecting a floating pier at Limehouse Hole Stairs. This had evidently gone by 1860, when the Thames Conservancy erected new stairs projecting on to the foreshore. Representations calling for a passenger steamboat service to the locality persuaded the Conservancy Board to erect a floating pier at Limehouse Hole Stairs in 1870. The pier, a walkway on three pontoons, was designed by Stephen William Leach, the Board’s engineer. It was removed in 1901 for the building of Dundee Wharf. In 1905–6 the LCC constructed a pier, consisting of two lengths of lattice-girder walkway to a pontoon, as one of several river piers erected for the ‘Penny Steamer’ service. It was removed by the PLA in 1948, but the stairs and Thames Place, though closed off in 1967, survived until 1990.

Embed from Getty Images

Limehouse Pier, 1900

Embed from Getty Images

Limehouse Pier, 1900

In 1800 Batson’s yard was transferred to Cox, Curling & Company, shipbuilders, previously based at Duke Shore, Limehouse, and across the river. They enlarged the dry docks and demolished the house. The company was controlled in the early nineteenth century by Robert Curling and William Young. William Curling (c1770–1853). Jesse Curling and George Frederick Young succeeded them and from c1820 the firm was known as Curling, Young & Company. They built East and West Indiamen and, from the late 1830s, large merchant steamships, all of them of timber, not iron. The yard became known as Limehouse Dockyard, and the management as Young, Son & Magnay from about 1855, by which time at least one of the slips was covered with open-sided shedding. The firm continued to build large timber ships, but this was a declining section of the shipbuilding industry.


John Garford (c1772–1850) was a prominent figure in Poplar, active in the formation of the parish and the building of All Saints’ Church. The road that ran from his wharf to the Commercial (West India Dock) Road still carries his name (see below). Until 1877 his family produced oilcake at what became Garford Wharf, with A. E. Burrell & Son using the eastern part of the premises as a paint factory from 1874. The main buildings were sold to William Taylor & Company for use as a paint factory called Taylor’s Wharf, and the long warehouse (215ft by 21ft) was used by R. J. Hanbury for storing rice, wheat, tapioca and hops, and was known as Limehouse Wharf. These wharves were combined as Venesta Wharf from 1900 to 1921 under the occupation of the Venesta Company, packing-case makers. The Royal Oak public house was rebuilt in 1878 and No. 12 Emmett Street, just north of the long warehouse, was the United Brothers’ beerhouse from the late nineteenth century until 1935.

In 1874,  Aberdeen Wharf was established by the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Company, and was used mainly for the storage of goods brought from Scotland.


1937, and as with the other photos it’s worth clicking on this to see the full-sized version

P. R. Buchanan & Company, tea merchants, acquired Venesta Wharf in 1921, to replace a wharf at Wapping. The eighteenth-century warehouses were extended towards Thames Place in 1924 and 1928–9 with fourand six-storey blocks, and the Horns and Chequers was demolished. The old warehouses and the Royal Oak were replaced in 1935–7 with six-storey brick warehouses designed by Charles Dunch & Son, architects and wharf specialists. Buchanan’s Wharf was severely damaged in the Blitz. The south-east corner block survived, but the other buildings on the rectangular site were reinstated in 1950–2 as a six-storey warehouse, with A. J. Thomas and G. Hartley Goldsmith as architects. The building was brick with reinforced-concrete internal construction, rather than the timber and iron used in the 1935–7 buildings. It was similar in appearance to those lost; plain and bulky, with a touch of Classicism. Towards the river there were full-height pilaster strips beneath a continuous cornice. The eight divisions provided more than 1,250,000 cu.ft of storage for tea and rubber.

Thames Place from Limehouse Pier during WWII

This 1950 map reveals a lot of empty space where warehouses once stood.


Year unknown, but possibly 1948


The remains of the damaged riverside warehouses were cleared in 1948–9 and the remaining 1870s warehouses were demolished in 1971–2. Aberdeen Wharf was cleared in the late 1980s for use by contractors working on Westferry Circus and other parts of the Canary Wharf site.



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7 Responses to Limehouse Hole

  1. Pete Norris says:

    Really interesting details on Limehouse Hole as I always thought it must be some kind of lost basin. That area can be confusing as later maps seem to move the names around quite a bit. I have been researching a John Satchell of Limehouse Hole a timber merchant there in 1780s who was a member of a political reform & anti slavery group the “Society for Constitutional Information”. John’s father, also John, was a victualler of Lime Kiln Hill in 1740s which as the 1745 map shows, lay along south side of the Lime Kiln dock. Confusingly by 1875 OS map that name has been moved to be attached to the road running around the end of the dock that is now the southern part of Three Colt Street.

    • Thanks Pete. I know what you mean about the maps, especially of that area. Yesterday I was looking at a 1799 map which placed Emmett Street (not sure if that was the name then) a good couple of hundred yards south of its actual place. I tend to trust OS maps, but many maps made before the arrival of the OS I treat with a pinch of salt. I’ve got maps of the Island which have roads that were never built.

      I don’t know if you know this map:

  2. Pamela Johnson says:

    Thank you for your interesting blogs. I believe one of my ancestors John Wallis once had a small yard on Aberdeen Wharf. It seems from the tax rolls that he was there from about 1781 to 1798. His eldest son William Wallis established yards in the Orchard area and Pitchers yard (in partnership for a while)near the old City Canal. The family also appear to have had houses in the Coldharbour area.

  3. Leonard West says:

    From 1945, I lived and grew up in Limehouse/ Polar and spent numerous 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.
    Memory data to assist creative minds; Charlie Browns – PLA river 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 couldn’t jump off, so were carried miles away – Boys building camps on derelict building sites – children collecting coal for Jewish folk on Saturdays- repelling gangs from outside estates – making scooters / 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 potato’s 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 – I will share more when memories become clearer.

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