Welcome to Limehouse

 

welcometolimehouse

Welcome to the neighbourhood everyone! Today I want to introduce you all to Limehouse, the little section of London I’ve called home for the past two and a half years.

Straddling the line between the glossy skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and The City of London, Limehouse is a cosy community wrapped around a small basin full of canal and leisure boats.

Limehouse Basin

Limehouse Basin with Canary Wharf in the background.

Canal in Limehouse

Canal in Limehouse looking towards Canary Wharf

We Limehousians (that’s what I’m calling us) get our own little DLR station that connects us to Canary Wharf to the east, Greenwich to the south, and Tower Bridge and Bank to the west. These transport connections make the neighbourhood especially popular with finance folk (my other half included), who enjoy an easy 10-minute commute to the offices in either Canary Wharf or The City.

Among Limehouse’s many charms is its maritime heritage. The architectural aesthetic in this part of London, which extends out to the Docklands, Greenwich, and Wapping, is decidedly different from the prim and proper Victorian and Georgian town homes of West London.

In contrast to the leafy residential streets that sprung up during the height of Britain’s imperial might, Limehouse was a gritty rough and tumble area where ships docked to offload goods from far away lands. Narrow Street, a pretty thoroughfare running parallel to the River Thames, keeps much of this hearty history alive through its well preserved facades.

Narrow Street

St. Dunstans Wharf, Narrow Street

Narrow Street

Sailmaker House, Narrow Street

Limehouse Wharf, Narrow Street

Limehouse Wharf, Narrow Street

While the stevedores, sailors and opium dens (this was the site of London’s original Chinatown) are long gone, Limehouse still boasts one pub that can trace its origins back over 500 years. The Grapes, a watering hole teetering on the banks of the River Thames, is one of the city’s oldest pubs and was even mentioned in a Dickens novel. It’s front door almost entirely obscured by overflowing flower pots in summer, I’ll admit to slipping in for a weekday lunch here and there.

Limehouse, of course, isn’t without its flaws. Some would probably argue that the hodgepodge of modern apartment buildings takes away from the charm of the area. Others point to the lack of amenities in the area. Aside from The Grapes, there are only one or two other pubs in the area and very few cafes. There is only one major supermarket here, one dry cleaner, and not much else on the shopping front.

As a neighbourhood to call home, Limehouse doesn’t fit the London stereotype. It’s not as chic as Kensington, not as trendy as Camden, and not as artsy as Shoreditch. With easy transport links, water views, and quiet residential streets, Limehouse is, however, just right for me 😉

The Narrow

Gordan Ramsay’s pub ‘The Narrow’ on Narrow Street

The Grapes: Where Alcohol and History Collide

 

The Grapes Exterior. Image courtesy of www.thegrapes.co.uk

Narrow Street is an interesting little slice of London.  Running alongside the Thames, its humble collection of crooked brick buildings stand in stark contrast to the towering skyscrapers standing behind it in neighboring Canary Wharf.  Local Limehouse residents cherish their little historic street, which was once the heart of London’s mighty maritime trading empire; home to boisterous pubs, Chinese opium dens and a colorful cast of seamen, writers, artists and dreamers.

Much of East London was destroyed in the Blitz, which subsequently helped give rise to the mammoth financial centre that is located there today.  Narrow street, however, survived the Nazi onslaught relatively unscathed. In fact, one little pub in particular has quietly thrived on this street for nearly 450 years.

The Grapes Interior View

A pub has stood at The Grapes (76 Narrow Street) since 1582.  To put things into perspective, seamen and Londoners were throwing back ale and other alcoholic concoctions here almost 200 years before America declared its independence.  In fact, Christopher Columbus had only ‘discovered’ America 90 year prior and the Portuguese were only a generation or two into their colonization of Brazil.

I stepped into The Grapes for a quick lunch today, 431 years since its opening. Breaching the flower-filled facade transported me to a pub lost in time.  Scarcely 15 feet wide and dimly lit, the first thing I noticed was a strange sweet smell — the smell of wood that had been continuously soaked in beer for hundreds of year.  At the center of the narrow pub was a small bar and at the end was a small deck that looked directly out onto the Thames.

The Grapes Interior

The interior was rough and worn with uneven floors and furniture from at least the previous century.  The light of midday shot through to its center where it was then blocked by a tiny staircase leading to a dining room.  The walls were adorned with drawings of Charles Dickens, who knew Limehouse well and was probably a patron here at some point in the first half of the 19th century.  In fact, according to The Grapes’ landlord Sir Ian McKellen (yes, that Sir Ian McKellen), Dickens made reference to the riverside pub in the opening chapter of his novel ‘Our Mutual Friend’.

“A tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.” — Charles Dickens, ‘Our Mutual Friend’.

I’m happy to report that The Grapes remains, nearly 200 years later, just as Dickens described it. Sitting on torn upholstery and enjoying a decidedly modern BLT sandwich over a glass of merlot, I couldn’t help but think of London’s remarkable history and how amazing it is that little places like these have survived as almost a sort of living time capsule or museum.

View of The Thames and modern East London from The Grapes