Limehouse Cut gets a ‘makeover’ by canal volunteers and scouts after 250 years

A young volunteer ready to clean up the Limehouse Cut [photos: Dave Cornthwaite from The YesTribe

A young volunteer ready to clean up the Limehouse Cut [photos: Dave Cornthwaite from The YesTribe - Credit: Canal & River Trust

London’s oldest canal has been swamped by volunteers rolling up their sleeves to give it a thorough clean up.

The Big Clean up at Limehouse is launched

The Big Clean up at Limehouse is launched - Credit: Canal & River Trust

Some 50 volunteers turned up to the Limehouse Cut in London’s East End to get rid of rubbish dumped in the water, clear weeds, spruce up the towpaths and bring back the 250-year-old waterway to its former glory.

It was one of the biggest ever one-day volunteering projects organised by the Canal and River Trust, which looks after 2,000 miles of waterways in Britain—including 100 miles in London alone.

“The Limehouse Cut is one of the more under-used of our waterways,” Canal Trust’s Jeannette Brooks said.

Volunteers tidy up the Limehouse towpath

Volunteers tidy up the Limehouse towpath - Credit: Canal & River Trust

“But there is passionate support among people in east London and the new ‘adoption group’ we set up is testament to that.


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“These old canals can be transformed when people get involved in looking after them.

“The clean-up was one of our biggest ever one-day volunteering events so far in London.”

Volunteers in action on the canal towpath

Volunteers in action on the canal towpath - Credit: Canal & River Trust

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The operation brought together volunteers from organisations and support from 60 local scouts on Friday who helped out as part of National Scouting Week.

They took to canoes and paddleboards to pick floating debris, while teams also vacuumed up litter and cleared buddleia from the towpath.

The Trust set up a Limehouse ‘adoption group’ in September which is made up of organisations along the three mile line of the Cut between Limehouse and Bromley-by-Bow.

Chopping back the weeds along the Limehouse Cut

Chopping back the weeds along the Limehouse Cut - Credit: Canal & River Trust

The group is led by Poplar Harca Housing in partnership with other organisations such as London Canal Volunteers and Lower Regent’s Coalition which is doing a similar sprucing up of the nearby Regent’s Canal through Bethnal Green and Mile End.

Scout groups who turned up at the Limehouse Cut included 2nd East London, 4th Poplar, 9th Tower Hamlets and 23rd Poplar.

Other bodies making up the adoption group are London Youth Rowing, Moo Canoes, British Dragonboat Association, Stratford’s House Mill museum, Docklands Sailing & Watersports centre, Factory East youth group, Queen Mary University, Thames 21 environment charity, Bow Boat Company, London Legacy Development Corporation,Tryangle CIC, Watertrek, Riz Boardshorts, Lee & Stort Boat Company, The YesTribe, Watertex, Active 360, Leaside Planning authority and London Waterways projects.

Clearing the Limehouse waterway

Clearing the Limehouse waterway - Credit: Canal & River Trust

The Limehouse Cut linking the Lee River to the Thames at Limehouse Basin was first opened in 1766 as a short route for traders from Hertfordshire to reach the Port of London, saving a day’s sailing by having to ‘barge’ down to Bow Creek and along the dangerous river bend round the Isle of Dogs.

But over the years it has begun silting up with weeds and anti-social rubbish-dumping since the decline of east London’s regular industrial canal traffic.

So the ‘adoption’ group volunteers have started regular activities to keep the historic London waterway flowing freely.

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