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Dan Farson's old Waterman's Arms pub on Isle of Dogs gets £600k makeover

PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:52 09 January 2020

How Dan Farson's original Waterman's Arms will look when it reopens on the Isle of Dogs at Easter. Picture: Star Pubs

How Dan Farson's original Waterman's Arms will look when it reopens on the Isle of Dogs at Easter. Picture: Star Pubs

Star Pubs & Bars

Building work starts this month on a £600,000 refurbishment of 1960s' TV documentary reporter Daniel Farson's once-famous Waterman's Arms pub on the Isle of Dogs.

Sam Hawkes and Laura Lythall, new licensees of the Great Eastern, soon reverting to its original Waterrman's Arms name. Picture: Matt GraysonSam Hawkes and Laura Lythall, new licensees of the Great Eastern, soon reverting to its original Waterrman's Arms name. Picture: Matt Grayson

The last pint is being pulled on January 17 at the old watering hole in Glenaffric Avenue, which became known as the 'Great Eastern', before new managers Laura Lythall and Sam Hawkes move in with the builders.

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

"I know The Waterman's of old, having grown up in the area," she recalls. "We leapt at the chance when we heard it was available to lease, as it has so much character and history.

"It's so different to anything in the area, yet still retains a neighbourhood pub ambience."

The original name from the heyday of the docks and Thames barge trade makes a revival when the pub reopens in April with 15 jobs created by the Star Pubs & Bars group.

The Great Eastern in Millwall, getting a £600,000 makeover and a name change back to the Waterman's Arms. Picture: Matt GraysonThe Great Eastern in Millwall, getting a £600,000 makeover and a name change back to the Waterman's Arms. Picture: Matt Grayson

It became known as the 'Great Eastern' only after Dan Farson retired at the end of the 1960s, the name borrowed from a famous Limehouse tavern in West India Dock Road that in turn was renamed 'The Londoner', long since closed.

Farson bought the old pub after a TV career as an investigative reporter in the early days of commercial television in the 1950s and 60s.

He made a documentary in 1962 about pub entertainment in the East End called Time Gentlemen Please, a title that led directly to the ITV series Stars and Garters.

Farson tried to use the Waterman's Arms to revive old-time music hall in 1963, but the money ran out.

He quit the East End and retired to his native West Country where he wrote Limehouse Days in 1991, recalling his disastrous pub venture. One of his last books was about artists Gilbert and George from Spitalfields going to Moscow in 1991.

He died in 1997, but his legacy lives on with his old pub reverting to its original name—although nothing like the old barge workers' spit-and-sawdust boozer.

The snug area is having plants and oversized hanging lampshades, catering for a new generation of Canary Wharf office workers. The bar areas are being stripped back to expose brick walls and timber beams, furnished with trendy wooden tables, benches, stools and upholstered armchairs, while an outside courtyard garden is being created with a firepit.

East End pub tradition is being preserved, however, with draft ale, pub quiz nights, wine and craft beer tastings and even whisky masterclasses. Dan Farson would approve.

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