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.

Limehouse Pier c1900

Limehouse Pier c1900, with Thames Place at the start of the pier, and the pub to the right.

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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