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HOME AT FIRST'S

ADVENTURE

LONDON-


THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN JULY, 2003.                                                    MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014.

 

 

 

EAST LONDON:
        The
City of London — i.e. the old, original, walled Roman city of Londinium that has become today’s financial center — ends at Tower Hill, where they used to mete out medieval justice on the enemies of old England. The 2,000-year-old Roman wall extends to the moat of the Tower of London, itself 1,000 years old and also the construct of invaders — this time the Normans of William the Conqueror. Here at this historic corner of London is also one of the world’s most easily misidentified landmarks — Tower Bridge — that great symbol of London that for the last century has been confused with the London Bridge of nursery rhymes.
        East of the three towers — Tower Hill, the Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge — is
East London, home to East Enders and Cockneys, and to the revitalized region called the Docklands.
        During the 19th century the docks of East London brought in goods from all over the empire and employed

The Thames Path at St. Katharine's Dock by the Tower of London. Photo © Home At First.
The Thames Path at St. Katharine's Dock by
the Tower of London.

Photo © Home At First

thousands of workers who lived in the boroughs north of

 

the wharves, including Wapping, Whitechapel, Shadwell, and Limehouse. These neighborhoods were overcrowded, smoky, noisy, and not unfamiliar to crime, vice, disease, and political unrest.
        The area was home to a strange mixture of the famous and infamous:

Capt. James Cook, the great world explorer who brought Australia and New Zealand into the realm, lived here when not sailing around the world.

Jack the Ripper — the first great serial killer — preyed on the prostitutes of low class Whitechapel. The traditional foggy, mysterious, dangerous imagery we associate with East London comes from The Ripper and the fictions of Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu that were set here.

A Whitechapel freak show theatre exhibited "The Elephant Man", Joseph Merrick, until the London Hospital—opposite the freak show venue—discovered the exploited man suffering from the rare Proteus Syndrome and took him in as a ward until his death.

Russian Bolsheviks — permitted the freedom to pursue their revolutionary aims in liberal Victorian Britain — convened various gatherings in the same Whitechapel neighborhood. Young Joseph Stalin was one of the Russian revolutionaries of Whitechapel, living on Fieldgate Street. His home was near an ancient bell foundry that had cast the great bells for Big Ben and the Liberty Bell for Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

 

THE THAMES PATH EAST:
        An excellent orientation to the much altered, but still historic East London neighborhoods along the north side of the River Thames east of the three towers is to walk an hour along the
Thames Path. The Thames Path is a 180-mile-long walkway from the river’s eastern tidewater at the Thames Barrier to the river’s source spring in the Cotswolds, about 7 miles from Home At First’s cottages at Tetbury. In London, the Thames Path follows the winding river whenever possible, but must occasionally turn inland to circumvent an obstacle like a building

Start your walk in front of your Home At First London apartment at St. Katharine's Marina. Photo © Home At First.
Start your walk in front of your
Home At First  London apartment
at St. Katharine's Marina.

Photo © Home At First

or an old wharf. In the hour east of the Tower

 

Bridge are several historic, atmospheric pubs that invite stopping for a pint and a poke-about, guaranteeing at least a half-day of soft, high adventure chasing the ghosts of Charles Dickens, Captain Kidd, and other famous and infamous characters real and imagined. First of these hospitable haunts is:

 

 The Dickens Inn at St. Katharine's Marina. Charles Dickens never sang nor drank here. Photo © Home At First.
The Dickens Inn at St. Katharine's
Marina. Charles Dickens never
sang nor drank here.

Photo © Home At First

Dickens Inn (St. Katharine's Dock; TEL: 0207 488 2208). Just east of the Tower Bridge, the Thames Path crosses the entrance lock where St. Katharine’s Dock meets the Thames. Home At First guests at its St. Katharine’s Marina will find the path on the river side of the cobbled courtyard in front of the Dickens Inn. The first of our historic pubs of East London, therefore, is just footsteps away from Home At First's St. Katharine's Marina apartments. The Dickens Inn, while historic, is a newcomer to the marina. Originally a 18th century brewery, then part of a spice warehouse along the docks, it was moved brick by brick to its current location when 

 

redevelopment first came to the Docklands.

The large barn of a building now rests on the East Dock of the complex. It is festooned with flowers from the courtyard to its upper balcony. Inside is a traditional pub on the first floor, and a popular restaurant and pizzeria on the upper floor.

Open Mo-Sa 11AM-11PM; Su 12N-10:30PM.

        Walking the Thames Path east from St. Katharine’s Dock leads into this largely unknown and quite entertaining region, no longer seedy and impoverished, and not quite all yuppies and redeveloped townhouses. Our walk stays close to the river, an area which would have had few residences a century ago. Starting in the 1980’s the disused warehouses and wharves of East London were replaced with neat, upscale housing developments. A number of historic pubs have been saved from demolition, and now serve an area that is home to some traditional East Enders and some nouveau Cockneys. Several of these pubs serve meals. Our walk leads us past some of the best of these as well as past several new restaurants that are worth trying.

 
WAPPING:
        Starting at the St. Katharine’s Dock Thames inlet, find the sign pointing the way of the Thames Path east into Docklands. The path exits St. Katharine’s Dock onto St. Katharine’s Way. In a couple of minutes you pass through an area of redevelopment and St. Katharine’s Way becomes Wapping High Street, the main street of the London Borough of Wapping, which borders the Thames. Along the river (right) side of street you will pass a number of pub/restaurants, including:

 

Town of Ramsgate (62 Wapping High Street; TEL: 0207 481 8000), a friendly pub serving traditional food at modest prices. Located next to an alleyway known as Wapping Old Stairs, leading down to the riverside where fishermen from Ramsgate, Kent, formerly sold their daily catch. There has been a pub here continuously since the 15th century. The current pub witnessed the centuries when Wapping was a bustling warehouse district and men were press-ganged into serving on ships. The building dates from 1758, and is set on the exact location of Execution Dock, where Captain Kidd was hanged for piracy 300 years ago and where his body was thrice

Town of Ramsgate Pub, Wapping. Photo © Home At First.
Town of Ramsgate Pub, Wapping.
Photo © Home At First

washed over by the tidal Thames. The Town of

 

Ramsgate is said to have served Captain Bligh and his mutinous subordinate, Fletcher Christian, prior to their round-the-world voyage on the H.M.S. Bounty.
        Pleasantly decorated, the pub/restaurant has an unusual wooden ceiling, a patio seating area overlooking the river, and a mock gallows.

Open: Mo-Sa 12N-12M & Su 12N-10:30PM (serving food daily 12N--9PM).

Sign at the Captain Kidd Pub, Wapping. Photo © Home At First.
Sign at the Captain Kidd, Wapping.
Photo © Home At First 

Captain Kidd (108 Wapping High Street; Tel: 0207 480 5759), restaurant and bar featuring upscale British and American style food with small beer garden overlooking the Thames. The pub — on the ground and second floors of a converted warehouse — is named after the famous pirate who was hanged — it took two tries — nearby on May 23, 1701. (The gallows had been moved to Wapping from St. Katharine’s Dock 100 years earlier.) On the first try to hang Kidd the rope broke. After a successful second hanging, the pirate’s body remained tied to the wharf at the Wapping Old Stairs until the three tides of the Thames had washed over it, then it was hung in chains along the river as a warning to would-be pirates.

Open: Mo-Sa 11AM-11PM & Su 12N-10:30PM;
Serving food Mo-Fr 12N-3PM & 6:30-9:30PM, and Sa-Su 12N-6PM.

 

SHADWELL:
        Shortly after passing Town of Ramsgate pub, you will pass
Wapping tube station with both Underground and bus (route 100) connections back to Tower Hill. Immediately after the tube stop, Wapping High Street ends, as does Wapping. Continuing on the street called Wapping Wall, you enter the Shadwell neighborhood. But Wapping’s unofficial ‘Restaurant Row’ continues around the corner with the wonderful:

Prospect of Whitby (57 Wapping Wall, Wapping; TEL: 0207 481 1095), London’s oldest riverside pub with a large bar menu and a restaurant with a greater offering. Once known as "Devil’s Tavern", the Prospect of Whitby dates from 1520. During the seventeenth century it earned its unsavory reputation as a meeting place for smugglers and villains and was known to hold bouts of bare knuckle and cock fighting. The Prospect of Whitby attracted some famous Londoners as well. Among its regulars were Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, and James McNeill Whistler. Its broad river views attracted numerous artists — including J.M.W. Turner and Whistler — who sketched the Thames from here.

 

        After a fire destroyed the tavern in the

Prospect of Whitby Pub, Shadwell, with an interior reminiscent of a sailing ship's cabin. Dickens drank here. Photo © Home At First.
Prospect of Whitby Pub, Shadwell,
with an interior reminiscent
of a sailing ship's cabin.
Dickens drank here.

Photo © Home At First

eighteenth century it was rebuilt and renamed Prospect of Whitby, after a ship that was moored nearby. Old photographs on display in the pub show how seedy and rundown the pub and its surroundings had been. Today the pub’s main room has a flagstone floor, a long bar with barrels built into it and a distinctive pewter counter. The ceiling has exposed beams, and the room’s wooden pillars are sections of a ship’s mast. A small balcony overlooks the Thames. A second bar has a serving area for bar food and an elevated no-smoking dining area with river views. A furnished outdoor terrace provides seating in good weather. Upstairs is the restaurant, into several delightful paneled rooms with river views. Another terrace, with iron garden furniture, overlooks the river.
        The Prospect of Whitby has a very popular

 

restaurant attracting the famous (Kirk Douglas,

Prince Rainier, Princess Margaret) and the anonymous alike. Reservations are recommended.

Open: Mo-Sa 12N-11PM; Su 12N-10:30PM. Food served daily 12N-9:30PM.

 

LIMEHOUSE:
        After crossing the canal entrance to the Shadwell Basin, the walkway follows the river into Limehouse, once London’s
Chinatown, with all the incumbent mystery and danger of fiction’s Fu Manchu. As you walk along the broad riverside promenade that serves as the Thames Path in this area, London’s second skyline, the modern glass and steel towers of Canary Wharf, stands as the horizon.
        Alas, Limehouse, like Wapping and Shadwell and other river-hugging neighborhoods

Canary Wharf from the Thames Path, Limehouse. Photo © Home At First.
Canary Wharf from the Thames Path, Limehouse.
Photo © Home At First

of East London, have undergone the great

 

makeover into modern — many say sterile — upscale bedroom communities for City of London workers. Fortunately, one little bit of old Limehouse survives, a classic and historic pub called:

The Grapes Pub, Limehouse: Dickens sang here as a boy. Photo © Home At First.
The Grapes Pub,
Limehouse:
Dickens sang here
as a boy.

Photo © Home At First

The Grapes (76 Narrow Street, Limehouse; TEL: 0207 987 4396). This may be the very pub Charles Dickens — who as a lad sang to pub patrons from the tabletops here — writes about in Our Mutual Friend. When built in 1720 on the site of a previous pub, the Grapes was a working class tavern, serving the dock workers of the Limehouse Basin. Stories are still told of drunks being smuggled from the pub to be drowned in the Thames, that their bodies might be sold as cadavers to medical students. The narrow pub’s traditional décor includes dark paneled walls, unmatched wooden chairs and tables and bare floorboards. The back bar has an open fire and steps leading to a deck overlooking the Thames. Narrow stairs lead up to the small restaurant (room for about 20 diners) with a small balcony that overhangs the river.

 

        The small restaurant has earned big awards for its

seafood dishes (editor's comment: well-deserved awards for superb fish). As a result, it is important to make advance reservations.

Open with bar food: Mo-FR 12N-2:30PM & MO-SA 6:30-9:30PM. 
Fr 12N-3PM and 5:30-11PM; Sa 7-11PM; Su 12N-3PM and 7-11:30PM.
The restaurant serves Mo-FR 12N-2:30PM & MO-SA 6:30-9:30PM; Su 12N-3PM.

   

 
RETURNING TO TOWER HILL FROM LIMEHOUSE:
        Returning from Limehouse to Tower Hill (near St. Katharine’s Marina) means walking two blocks north (stay west of the Limehouse Basin) to the
Docklands Light Railway Limehouse station at Commercial Road. Take a westbound DLR train two stops west to Tower Gateway station. From here it’s a traffic-free 5-minute walk back to the Apartments at St. Katharine’s Marina or a 12-minute walk across the Tower Bridge to The Brewery Apartments.
 

Plan your own journey of discovery
to London with Home At First.
 
This walk is one of the many suggested walks and other activities
included in Home At First's exclusive "London Activity Guide".

 

The "London Activity Guide" is the accompanying guidebook keyed to Home At First's
London travel program. It is issued only to all Home At First London guests.
Get yours by traveling to
London with Home At First.

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