Walking from Tower, Bridge, the first inn you’ll encounter is the Town of Ramsgate. This ancient bar (said to date from the 16th century, though the present building is Victorian) is named after the Kentish fishermen who would land their catch at the adjacent pier. It’s a charming place, with very friendly staff and a good ‘locals’ feel. A small terrace area out back is a calm and pleasant place to enjoy one of the real ales on tap. Perhaps a tot of rum might also be in order.
The pub sits close to the old ‘Execution Dock’, where smugglers and pirates such as Captain Kidd met their unenviable end. A pirate’s fate was to be publicly hanged over the Thames and left dangling until three tides had washed over his bloated body. A probably apocryphal legend has it that the word ‘whopper’ derives from the brine-filled bodies that once dangled from the watery scaffolds of Wapping.
If I haven’t put you off, it’s possible to walk down to the foreshore by taking the alleyway to the side of the pub. Here, Old Wapping Steps lead down to the edge of the Thames. Keep your eyes peeled for ancient potsherds and clay pipes – easier to find than you might think.
Our next stop is just a short stroll eastward along Wapping High Street. The Captain Kidd, named after the already mentioned pirate, is a typical Sam Smiths pub. Darkly painted wooden beams, an outdoor seating area and relatively inexpensive drinks make this a great place to linger, although it’s nothing like as historic as the name and decor suggest. The best seats in the house get sweeping views of the Thames, from Tower Bridge to Canary Wharf. And there’s a restaurant upstairs for those in search of a hearty meal.
Head further East, following the Thames, until you pass Wapping Overground station. Wapping Wall will then take you to the Prospect of Whitby pub, perhaps the most famous of the three. A plaque above the door dates this drinking hole to 1520, when Henry VIII was still a young man, though the actual building has been remade several times over. Of our three stops, the Prospect has the largest and most agreeable beer garden, with views of the Thames so good that both Whistler and Turner set up canvas here. It is, however, a bit of a tourist hotspot, so prepare to stand if you visit on a busy day. Watch out for the noose, hanging out over the river. This is another reference to Wapping’s one-time function as a hanging place for pirates.
Jolly Rogers can now head further round the bend into Limehouse, where The Grapes offers a slightly more cramped (but highly Dickensian) variation on the Prospect of Whitby. Otherwise, you can reach Wapping Overground station by retracing your steps.
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