Wapping is an area steeped in history, with strong links to its maritime past. This history is evident in the cobbled streets, waterman’s stairs and historical public houses.
Here we take a closer look at the pubs and drinking houses that have been a part of Wapping for hundreds of years.
Prospect of Whitby
A public house has been located here since Henry VIII ruled the country, and the Prospect of Whitby still has the 400-year old original stone floor. Previous names have included The Pelican and the Devil’s Tavern (due to its poor reputation at the time with patrons made up of sailors, smugglers and cut-throats). In the 17th century it is rumoured that criminals were tied to posts at the riverside at low tide and left to drown.
Unfortunately the building was damaged at the start of the 19th century by a fire. After it was rebuilt the pub was renamed The Prospect of Whitby, after a cargo ship that would dock beside the pub.
These days the pub is a popular stop for locals and visitors alike offering a large range of drinks, decent food and gorgeous views over the Thames.
Address: 57 Wapping Wall, Wapping, London E1W 3SH
Town of Ramsgate
The original public house on the site of what is now the Town of Ramsgate is thought to have been called The Hostel, and was likely built in the 1460s. By 1533 the pub had been renamed The Red Cow after one of its barmaids. In future years it became known as the Ramsgate Old Town and eventually The Town of Ramsgate that we know today. It got its name from the fisherman who avoided the taxes further up the river by unloading their catches on the Wapping Old Stairs next door to the pub.
Wapping Old Stairs have their own rather interesting history. They’re where pirates were chained to a post and left to drown, and you can still see the remains of this post at low tide. Captain Bligh first inspected the Bounty here before their disastrous voyage, and many sailors returning from their own voyages would meet their wives and girlfriends on the steps.
The Town of Ramsgate now offers fine wine and beers and an excellent menu of tasty pub food classics, seafood and handmade pies.
Address: 62 Wapping High Street, E1W 2PN
Turner’s Old Star
Turner’s Old Star dates back to the 1830s when the artist Joseph Turner inherited two homes in Wapping. Turner converted the two buildings into a tavern called The Old Star, and installed Sophia Booth, his widowed mistress, as the proprietor. Turner was incredibly secretive and went by her surname ‘Booth’ in the pub. However he eventually became known to the pubs’ regulars as ‘Puggy Booth’ due to his short stature and plump frame.
In 1987 the building went through a refurbishment and was renamed ‘Turner’s Old Star’ in honour of the famous British painter who once owned it.
Address: 14 Watts St, St Katharine’s & Wapping, London E1W 2QG
Not strictly a Wapping pub, more of a neighbour, but we felt that The Mayflower just across the river in Rotherhithe was worth a mention.
The Mayflower is claimed to be one of the oldest pubs on the Thames and was the docking place of the famous Mayflower Ship which set sail to Southampton with Captain Christoper Jones and then on to what we now know as the United States of America in 1620. Captain Jones returned to Rotherhithe a year later and died there soon after. The Mayflower was moored here for a further two years, no longer usable. Historians are unsure what happened to the ship after this but it is likely she was demolished.
Quirky fact – The Mayflower is the only pub in the UK who are still able to sell stamps! This originates from the 1800s when sailors docking in the area had little time to spare so could stop at local public houses for a drink and to buy stamps to write home. They also have a ‘Mayflower Descendants Book’ where if you can prove you are descended from the pilgrims who travelled to America in 1620 you can sign your name and leave your details.
A fantastic place to stop for a drink and something to eat, enjoy the cozy interiors or enjoy the view over the river from their outdoor terrace, you can even still see the pace where the Mayflower was moored.
Address: 117 Rotherhithe Street, Rotherhithe, London SE16 4NF
Wapping is one of our favourite areas of London, so we thoroughly recommend you pop down and discover its hidden history, and visit a few pubs along the way.
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