GEORGE SHAW | Unloading at Limehouse Reach

GEORGE SHAW | Unloading at Limehouse Reach


24" x 36" / 61cms x 91cms
Oil on canvas


Shaw’s work depicts the frenetic activity of the Limehouse docks in the late Victorian period when the Thames was one of the busiest commercial waterways in the world. Situated below the Upper and Lower pool (see Keith Snow’s work) Limehouse became a centre of maritime industry, with a density of chandlers, ropemakers, and shipwrights established there. The area was to become so associated with the sea that an etymological legend sprung up that Limehouse got its name from the limes given to sailors to ward off scurvy. Among the first of London’s docks to fully close, Limehouse is today a focus for urban renewal, although the memories of its commercial heyday still remain.


Limehouse Basin was constructed in 1820 as the link between the Thames and the Canal system, and consequently the area well known for the eclectic mix of ships, from river barges to canal boats to ocean going vessels. It was here that goods were most routinely transferred from ships to shallow river craft. Shaw’s image captures this eclecticism, with steamers, tugboats and sailing vessels competing for space in the churning waters. The painting gives some indication of the sensory assault of smoke, wind, spray and noise that would have permeated Limehouse for over a century. The range of vessels depicted also mirrors the fact that Limehouse was home to probably the most diverse population in the world during the 19th century. As the location where crews would routinely disembark and then stay on in Britain, the area was the locus for Britain’s earliest Chinese and African communities and the centre of sailor recruitment in the capital.

  • George Shaw was born in Glasgow in 1929. In 1947 Shaw abandoned a future in the merchant service when he earned a place at the Wimbledon College of Art, at that time a primary school for painters. Four years at the School provided a good grounding in academic painting from which Shaw launched career.
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