Lea Valley 5: Three Mills to Limehouse Basin
Adapted from TfL's Lea Valley Walk
Section start: Three Mills, Bromley-by-Bow.
Section finish: Limehouse Basin (Swing Bridge).
Section distance: 2 miles (3.2 kilometres).
This final full section includes attractive and historic Three Mills as well as the Limehouse Cut canal. The towpath goes close to Limehouse Church before reaching Limehouse Basin and the end of the walk, joining up with the Walk London Thames Path route here.
There are cafes and a supermarket at Three Mills and pubs at Limehouse Basin. Walkers wishing to access to the mouth of the Lea, can do so by walking the additional section six — the meridian alternative. However section six is mostly through streets and is not fully signed.
To reach the start from Bromley-by-Bow station: turn left out of the station and at once go under the underpass. You will come up to pavement level on the far side of the main road. Go right to walk north, then turn right down Three Mill Lane.
Having come up the towpath ramp onto Three Mill Lane, turn left to cross the canal, and then turn right down another towpath ramp. There was a mill here in Saxon times, in fact at one stage four mills were here, driven by sea and river water which came up the Lea at high tide. The clock tower dates from about 1750. The mills produced flour until the mid 1700s, after which the owners became involved in the manufacture of gin, calling themselves 'millers and malt distillers'. The House Mill (GTL00030) is open to visitors on Sunday afternoons in summer (admission fee).
The former Victorian bottling plant (at the far end of the cobbled street) is now a film studio, the first 'Big Brother' set was alongside to the east.
Join the towpath again, this time on the other side of the canal. Water is on both sides of the towpath. Go under the railway bridge and pass the closed footbridge (which crosses over the tidal River Lea to the gasworks). Bromley-by-Bow gasworks (GTL00025) was originally the site of a rocket factory founded in 1809, before becoming a gasworks. Gas production was run down in the early 1960s, leaving seven of the eight Victorian gas holders, which are now used for storing natural gas xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.
Keep going forward to cross the white concrete Bow Locks footbridge, to reach the entrance to Limehouse Cut. Limehouse Cut is 1½ miles long and took three years to dig before opening in 1770. It enabled navigation to reach the Thames by avoiding the tidal Bow Creek where the River Lea meets the Thames.
The industrial buildings give way to housing, one example being the former Stanton rubber and plastics factory (GTL01526) ?????????????????????????????), which was replaced in 2005 by new flats called Abbotts Wharf, complete with new inlet dock.
Pass the lock houses, and just before the gates, bear right on to the floating towpath. Go under the Blackwall Tunnel Approach. The canal runs in a straight line in a southwest direction. It passes under the Docklands Light Railway and two road bridges to go round the tiny Abbotts Wharf dock.
After that, the path runs under Burdett Road. The waterway narrows at Britannia Bridge, which carries Commercial Road (A13) along the north side of the Limehouse area. Soon after the bridge, there are gates on the left. These give access to St. Anne's passage — for an optional diversion to visit St. Anne's Church. The Limehouse area is named after the lime kilns that were near the Thames. Commercial Road was built in 1803 to link the West India Docks and the East India Docks with the City of London. This new toll road, as was, reduced the size of St Anne's Churchyard.
Soon after Britannia Bridge, the Limehouse Cut bends to the right, to pass under a footbridge and enter Limehouse Basin itself (GTL00063). Limehouse Basin opened in 1812, only to be enlarged eight years later. It was subsequently reduced in 1985.
First it was known as Regent's Canal Dock as it was also the entrance to Regent's Canal (which links in turn to the Grand Union Canal). At that time the Limehouse Cut joined the Thames in a different place. The dock was much used by barges carrying coal inland from ships coming up the Thames from Newcastle. It was only in 1864 that the Limehouse Cut was linked to Limehouse Basin.
The Limehouse Link now runs under the north side of the Basin. At just over one-mile long it is the second longest inland road tunnel in the UK and is Britain's most expensive road-building project.
Keep the basin on the right-hand side. Here the towpath runs along the east side of the Basin to pass the final lock and reach gates at Narrow Street. Cross Narrow Street to see the Basin entrance. Limehouse Basin entrance is crossed at the swing bridge by Narrow Street. The pub here is the former Regent's Canal dockmaster's house, built in 1910. Take the Walk London Thames Path route down river a little way to look for the original Limehouse Cut junction with the Thames, which was closed in 1968. A famous photograph was taken here in 1981 of the SDP 'gang of four' launching the Limehouse Manifesto.
A little further down river with the Thames is the Grapes pub, some 400 years old, which was the inspiration for the pub called 'Six Jolly Fellowship Porters' in Dickens' 'Our Mutual Friend'.
To reach Limehouse station (DLR/Rail): from the end of the walk turn right across the swing bridge at Narrow Street and go right into Horseferry Road. At the end go ahead up the slope to the Basin and turn left at Hurford Salvi Carr. At Branch Road turn right and the DLR station will be found on the right at the railway bridge. For the National Rail station entrance turn left immediately before the railway bridge and then first right.
© GLIAS, 2021