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Cheers! Dan Farson’s old Waterman’s Arms pub makes a comeback on the Isle of Dogs after 50 years

PUBLISHED: 15:05 10 August 2020 | UPDATED: 17:34 10 August 2020

Sam Hawkes and Laura Lythall opening The Waterman's Arms on the Isle of Dogs. Picture: Matt Grayson

Sam Hawkes and Laura Lythall opening The Waterman's Arms on the Isle of Dogs. Picture: Matt Grayson

Copyright (2020) Matt Grayson, all right reserved

Daniel Farson’s famous Waterman’s Arms pub on the Isle of Dogs has reopened with the original 1960s name after its £600,000 refit was delayed by the Coronavirus emergency.

Fit for the Covid era... The Waterman's with its spaced out seating and screened off bar for social distance. Picture: Matt GraysonFit for the Covid era... The Waterman's with its spaced out seating and screened off bar for social distance. Picture: Matt Grayson

The last pint at the writer and broadcaster’s old watering hole in Glenaffric Avenue was pulled on January 17, when it was known for a few years as the ‘Great Eastern’, making way for work on its makeover.

Laura Lythall and Sam Hawkes were ready to reopen in April when the lockdown put a spanner in the works.

For Laura, it’s a return to her roots in Millwall.

“It’s been 19 months from application to opening, but is worth the wait,” she said. “We leapt at the chance when we heard it was available to lease, as it has so much character and history. I know The Waterman’s of old, having grown up in the area.”

The original name comes from the heyday of the docks and Thames barge trade, but switched to the ‘Great Eastern’ after Dan Farson retired at the end of the 1960s.

Farson had bought the Waterman’s in the early days of commercial TV in the late 1950s, having made a documentary about East End pub entertainment that led to the ITV series Stars and Garters.

A tatty-looking Great Eastern before Star Pubs & Bars gave it a �600,000 makeover into the new-look Waterman's Arms in Glenaffric Avenue. Picture: Matt GraysonA tatty-looking Great Eastern before Star Pubs & Bars gave it a �600,000 makeover into the new-look Waterman's Arms in Glenaffric Avenue. Picture: Matt Grayson

He tried reviving old-time music hall in 1963, but the money ran out, then retired and later wrote Limehouse Days in 1991 recalling his disastrous pub venture.

Farson died in 1997, but his legacy lives on with his old pub reverting to its original Waterman’s Arm’s tag — although nothing like the old barge workers’ spit-and-sawdust boozer that now caters for a new generation of Canary Wharf office staffers.

The bar areas have been stripped back to expose brick walls and timber beams, with trendy wooden tables laid out for “social distancing” while 10 seats have had to be removed around the bar where a screen has been installed and a “one-way system” laid out. Hand sanitisers have also been installed.

The river is a bit of a theme with Laura and Sam, who also run The Ship at Canary Wharf. Farson’s pub in its heyday became a magnet for showbiz celebrities like Clint Eastwood, Judy Garland, Francis Bacon, Brian Epstein and Shirley Bassey. It went on to be used in film and TV as a backdrop for The Long Good Friday and The Professionals.

Its East End pub tradition is being preserved, however, with draft ale stored in the cellar and pub quiz nights. Dan Farson would approve.


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