Limehouse, or Limehouse St Anne, was originally an extra-parochial area associated with the parish of Stepney. It became a parish in its own right in 1725. In 1889 it was transferred from Middlesex to the newly-created County of London and in 1900 became part of Stepney Metropolitan Borough. Stepney Metropolitan Borough was abolished in 1965, and became part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in Greater London.
Limehouse is a district in the East End of London, now in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is on the northern bank of the River Thames opposite Rotherhithe and between Ratcliff to the west and Millwall to the east.
Limehouse stretches from Limehouse Basin in the west to the edge of the former Chinatown in Pennyfields in the east; and from the Thames in the south to the Victory Bridge at the junction of Ben Jonson Road and Rhodeswell Road in the north.
The name relates to the local lime kilns or, more precisely, lime oasts, by the river and operated by the large potteries that served shipping in the London Docks. The name is from Old English līm-āst "lime-oast". The earliest reference is to Les Lymhostes, in 1356.
The name 'Limehouse' is sometimes mistakenly thought to be derived from the nickname for the seamen that disembarked there, who had earned the name Lime-juicers or limeys after the obligatory ration of lime juice the Royal Navy gave their sailors to ward off scurvy.The name is found used in 1417:
Inquisicio capta sup' litus Thomisie apud Lymhosteys pro morte Thome Frank.
From its foundation, Limehouse, like neighbouring Wapping, has enjoyed better links with the river than the land, the land route being across a marsh. Limehouse became a significant port in late medieval times, with extensive docks and wharves. Although most cargoes were discharged in the Pool of London before the establishment of the docks, industries such as shipbuilding, ship chandlering and rope making were established in Limehouse.
Limehouse Basin opened in 1820 as the Regent's Canal Dock. This was an important connection between the Thames and the canal system, where cargoes could be transferred from larger ships to the shallow-draught canal boats. This mix of vessels can still be seen in the Basin: canal narrowboats rubbing shoulders with seagoing yachts.
From the Tudor era until the 20th century, ships crews were employed on a casual basis. New and replacement crews would be found wherever they were available - foreign sailors in their own waters being particularly prized for their knowledge of currents and hazards in ports around the world. Crews would be paid off at the end of their voyages and, inevitably, permanent communities of foreign sailors became established, including colonies of Lascars and Africans from the Guinea Coast. Large Chinese communities at both Limehouse and Shadwell developed, established by the crews of merchantmen in the opium and tea trades, particularly Han Chinese. The area achieved notoriety for opium dens in the late 19th century, often featured in pulp fiction works by Sax Rohmer and others. Like much of the East End it remained a focus for immigration, but after the devastation of the Second World War many of the Chinese community relocated to Soho.
On 12 February 1832, the first case of cholera was reported in London at Limehouse. First described in India in 1817, it had spread here via Hamburg. Although 800 people died during this epidemic, fewer than had died of tuberculosis in the same year, cholera visited again in 1848 and 1858.
The use of Limehouse Basin as a major distribution hub declined with the growth of the railways, although the revival of canal traffic during World War I and World War II gave it a brief swansong. Today, Stepney Historical Trust works to advance the public's education in the history of the area.
Limehouse Basin was amongst the first docks to close in the late 1960s. By 1981, Limehouse shared the docklands-wide physical, social and economic decline which led to the setting up of the London Docklands Development Corporation. In November 1982, the LDDC published its Limehouse Area Development Strategy. This built on existing plans for Limehouse Basin, and offered a discussion framework for future development, housing refurbishment and environmental improvements across the whole of Limehouse. It was based on four major projects: Limehouse Basin, Free Trade Wharf, what was then known as the Light Rapid Transit Route (DLR) and the Docklands Northern Relief Road, a road corridor between The Highway and East India Dock across the north of the Isle of Dogs.
However, it was not until the mid-1980s with the abolition of the Greater London Council that the impetus for improvements to the infrastructure was provided. The key to development in Limehouse lay next door in the Isle of Dogs. Initial development plans on the island had been modest: light industrial development and a low rise business park. The Limehouse Studios were an early development on the island; despite the name the studios were located in South Quay, not Limehouse.
By 1984, 8 million sq it of potential commercial development was predicted. In 1985 proposals for a 10-12 million sq it development on the of Canary Wharf were being considered. The sheer scale of the Canary Wharf proposals, and in due course the rapid implementation of the first phase of development, provided the impetus to the transport improvements which completely altered prospects for Limehouse as well as for the Isle of Dogs.
Significant events in politics
On 30 July 1909, the Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George made a polemical speech in Limehouse attacking the House of Lords for its opposition to his "People's Budget". This speech was the origin of the phrase "To Limehouse", or "Limehousing", which meant an incendiary political speech.
From 1906 to 1909, Clement Attlee worked as manager of Haileybury House, a club for working class boys in Limehouse run by his old school. Before this, Attlee's political views had been conservative, but he was shocked by the poverty and deprivation he saw while working with slum children, and this caused him to become a socialist. He joined the Independent Labour Party in 1908, and became mayor of Stepney in 1919. At the 1922 general election, Attlee became MP for the constituency of Limehouse, which he represented while Deputy Prime Minister. After WWII he moved constituencies to Walthamstow West.
On 25 January 1981, MPs Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins, William Rodgers and David Owen made the Limehouse Declaration from Owen's house in Limehouse, which announced the formation of the Council for Social Democracy in opposition to the granting of block votes to the trade unions in the Labour Party to which they had previously belonged. They soon became leading politicians in the Social Democratic Party.
Today, Limehouse is part of the constituency of Poplar and Limehouse and has been represented in the House of Commons since 1997 by Jim Fitzpatrick MP (Labour), and in the London Assembly since 2000 by John Biggs AM (also Labour).