Leamouth, Tower Hamlets

An isolated pair of peninsulas, together resembling a boot, formed by the meanderings of the River Lea (here called Bow Creek) as it approaches the River Thames

Leamouth - Container City - looking up on a sunny day

Although there are records of ships being unloaded here as early as 1297, there was little human activity besides some farming and fishing until the late 16th century, when a house was built, with an orchard and a moat. A second incarnation of the house became a pub early in the 18th century.

The creation of the East India Dock in 1803–6 made road access to Leamouth even more difficult but encouraged industrial development and the construction of homes for workers. The northern peninsula – known at first as Godelockhope and later as Goodluck Hope – was home to a plate glass factory from the 1830s and subsequently to a galvanised ironworks.

Orchard House remained a licensed premises until the 1860s, with ancillary buildings including a bakehouse and a cowhouse, and a skittle ground in front of the premises. The pub was demolished in the early 1870s, after a survey had reported that it was “in such an utterly tumble down condition that there is no alteration except to pull it down,” and its site was turned into a boatyard.

An old lightship moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf
An old lightship moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf

By the late 19th century the vicinity of Orchard Place had become “a deprived area, inhabited by rough, very poor people, living in overcrowded conditions,” according to the Survey of London: Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. “Largely cut off from outside influences … this was a closed and closely knit community, inward-looking and inbred, or as the LCC Education Officer politely put it, ‘many families have the same rather uncommon names’.” Almost all Leamouth’s homes and shops were demolished in a slum clearance project in the mid- to late 1930s – and some 300 intimately related residents were moved out of the area.

Galvanised iron manufacture continued at Goodluck Hope until the 1960s, when a vegetable oil refinery took possession of nearly all the peninsula. The refinery operated until the early 21st century. Its site is presently being transformed into London City Island, a residential scheme that was stuck at the planning stage for some while but finally got off the ground in 2014, with property developers Ballymore claiming “record-breaking phase I sales values.”

West of Goodluck Hope, the Bow Creek ecology park (previously the Limmo Peninsula ecological park) is a wildlife haven occupying a former industrial site. Large areas of mud are exposed at low tide, attracting flocks of wading birds.

Leamouth’s most enduring employer was the Corporation of Trinity House, the body established in the 16th century to maintain beacons, marks and signs of the sea “for the better navigation of the coasts of England.” From 1803 to 1988 the corporation’s Thames-side workshop occupied the tip of the eastern peninsula, making and deploying navigation buoys and sea marks, and later also testing maritime lighting equipment and training lighthouse keepers.

The corporation’s Trinity Buoy Wharf is now a centre for arts and community projects (some operating from colourfully converted shipping containers, like those shown in the photo at the top of the page), while the restored chainstore – complete with London’s only lighthouse – hosts leisure and cultural events. There’s also an American-style diner and a container-based café.

In February 2015 Ballymore submitted a planning proposal to Tower Hamlets council for Leamouth Peninsula South, a scheme that includes the demolition of existing buildings on Hercules Wharf, Union Wharf and Castle Wharf and the construction of 16 new blocks, ranging from three to 30 storeys in height. A total of 834 residential units are planned for the development, of which 107 will be affordable. The homes would be in a mix of studio, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments, with the majority of residences having two bedrooms or fewer. The planning statement said the proposal would “achieve a wide range of substantial regeneration benefits for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in general and more specifically the Leamouth Peninsula communities.”

London City Island - CGI vision

Shown in the CGI picture above, London City Island will boast the new headquarters of the English National Ballet as the centrepiece of what the developers are calling a “mini-Manhattan on Leamouth Peninsula.” The facilities will include a theatre-sized studio space, eight studios for rehearsals and teaching, a dedicated music room for the English National Ballet Philharmonic and open spaces that will give the public access to English National Ballet and English National Ballet School’s archives, and encourage engagement with local communities. It’s all a far cry from inbreeding and galvanised iron.

Postal district: E14
Web page: History of Trinity Buoy Wharf
Blog post: Paul McAuley, The Trinity Effect
BBC article: How to live on an island just 20 minutes from Bond Street