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The Gentle Author’s Wapping Pub Crawl

January 15, 2014
by the gentle author

Four-hundred-year-old stone floor at The Prospect of Whitby

Tempted by the irresistible promise of bright January sunlight, I set out for Wapping to visit those pubs which remain in these formerly notorious riverside streets once riddled with ale houses. Yet although there are pitifully few left these days, I discovered each one has a different and intriguing story to tell.

Town of Ramsgate, 288 Wapping High St. The first alehouse was built on this site in 1460, known as The Hostel and then as The Red Cow from 1533. The pub changed its name again, to the Town of Ramsgate, in 1766 to attract trade from Kentish fishermen who unloaded their catch at Wapping Old Stairs adjoining. Judge Jeffreys was arrested here in disguise, attempting to follow the flight of James II abroad in 1688, as William III’s troops approached London.

The Turk’s Head, 1 Green Bank. Originally in Wapping High St from 1839, rebuilt on this site in 1927 and closed in the seventies, it is now a community cafe.

Captain Kidd, 108 Wapping High St. Established in 1991 in a former warehouse and named after legendary pirate, Wiiliam Kidd, hanged nearby at Execution Dock Stairs in 1701.

Turner’s Old Star, 14 Watts St. In the eighteen-thirties, Joseph Mallord William Turner set up his mistress Sophia Booth in two cottages on this site, one of which she ran as an alehouse named The Old Star. In 1987, the current establishment was renamed Turner’s Old Star in honour of the connection with the great painter. Notoriously secretive about his lovelife, Turner adopted Sophia’s surname to conceal their life together here, acquiring the nickname ‘Puggy Booth’ on account of his portly physique and height of just five feet.

The Old Rose, 128 The Highway. 1839-2007

The last pub standing on the Ratcliffe Highway

The Three Suns, 61 Garnet St. 1851 – 1986

The Prospect of Whitby, 56 Wapping Wall. Founded 1520, and formerly known as The Pelican and The Devil’s Tavern.

What does a cat have to do to get a drink around here?

Sir Hugh Willoughby sailed from The Prospect of Whitby in 1533 upon his ill-fated attempt to discover the North-East Passage to China.

The Grapes, 76 Narrow St. Founded in 1583, the current building was constructed in 1720 – it is claimed Charles Dickens danced upon the counter here as a child.

Anthony Gormley’s sculpture visible from the balcony of The Grapes

You may like to read about my previous pub crawls

The Gentle Author’s Pub Crawl

The Gentle Author’s Next Pub Crawl

The Gentle Author’s Spitalfields Pub Crawl

The Gentle Author’s Dead Pubs Crawl

The Gentle Author’s Next Dead Pubs Crawl

16 Responses leave one →
  1. January 15, 2014

    You went to each of these fascinating hostelries and came home upright and able to write? Well done!

  2. January 15, 2014

    An excellent tour!
    Loved learning about Puggy Booth & Dicken’s dancing 🙂

  3. January 15, 2014

    My Wordly Wisdom: There’s nothing like a “gemütlich” Pub …!

    Love & Peace

  4. Greg Tingey permalink
    January 15, 2014

    Drunk in the Grapes, the Prospect, the Town (of Ramsgate) & the Turk’s Head.
    There used to be a really good one, by the locks at Regent’s Canal Dock/Limehouse Basin… called: “The Barley Mow”
    Still looks like a pub (Bing maps air-view) … is it a restaurant/wine bar, now?
    Love the cat, though – a superior grade of sneer.

  5. January 15, 2014

    The Barley Mow got a bit ruined by Gordon Ramsey Greg. He reworked and renamed this former dock office turned pub and went substantially over to food not beer as the main attraction. It wasn’t great and suffered a blow to it’s credibility when it was revealed that many of the meals served then were pre-prepared and boiled in the bag!

  6. Sarah Correia permalink
    January 15, 2014

    Loving the black mouser. Bar down the hill used to have one too. Immense, must have weighed a good 18 pounds and lived to be 22. Would nap at the end of the bar during the evening occasionally getting petted by various customers too bombed as we say here in the states to realize that he was real causing him to rear up & hiss.

  7. David Whittaker permalink
    January 15, 2014


  8. Pete permalink
    January 15, 2014

    I was lucky enough to have a pint in The Old Rose on the ( Ratcliffe ) Highway shortly before it shut for ever, Incredible given the area’s history that there’s no PH’s down there at all now !
    My great grandfather ( a German immigrant like many of the licenced victuallers round that way at the time) used to run The Crooked Billet just down the road from there.
    The Highway was called St Georges St from sometime in the later 1800s until post WW2 I believe, they were trying to lose the ‘bad rep’ of the old Ratcliffe Highway by changing it’s name !
    So sad to see the Old Rose all boarded up 🙁

  9. Shirley Lile permalink
    January 15, 2014

    We lived in Wapping before we moved to France ….Pier Head…in the 70s my daughters Grandfather Phil Marks use to deliver fresh fish to a couple or so Pubs on a Friday evening in Wapping and the Isle-of-dogs …his van was out of action for awhile so he asked me if I could drive him so as not to let down his customers …I had a Mini at the time and old Phil was a barrel of a man when he finally maneuvered his way into the seat the minis wheels on my driving side was of the ground…of we would go with the box of fish on the back seat..Every one loved him so landlords and customers would ply him with his pints and maybe a chaser ….this took up most of the evening….of course he always ended up very merry, he sang in the car all the way home……and the rest of the week my car stank of fish…..but he was a great character

  10. Helena permalink
    January 15, 2014

    I used to live a few doors from The Grapes when it was run by the fabulous ex original bunny girl, Barbara. She had some stories as did the pub itself. Tiny but great fish restaurant upstairs too. Happy days.

  11. Stephen Barker permalink
    January 16, 2014

    That cat looks very scary!

  12. January 16, 2014

    Great story Shirley!

  13. Jon Dennis (@JonDennis) permalink
    January 17, 2014

    Here’s a picture of the Beatles in Wapping:

  14. Pauline Taylor permalink
    May 3, 2014

    This is a wonderful site. I am a country girl but all my father’s family came from London, Wapping, Limehouse, Bethnal Green, Hoxton, Hackney and south of the river too, and this all brings it to life for me. Some kept pubs so does anyone know what became of The Old Dundee Arms, 51 High Street, Wapping? Edward Yates Denton was there from 1839 to about 1853 but I have never found a picture of it of any kind.

  15. Tricia Wyeth Bing permalink
    October 21, 2016

    Great photos. I lived in the Highway opposite “The Old Rose” in a flat over St Georges Church Hall from 1946 to 1963 ish when I moved to another flat in “The Old Rectory” Cannon Street Rd.
    Haven’t been in the all but some of them. Surprisingly my parents didn’t drink!!!

  16. Alan Adams permalink
    July 31, 2020

    I was interested in your article on Wapping pubs. I found out recently that an ancestor of mine mentioned apprehended a young thief in Wapping Wall stealing from a shop. Punishment was a whipping.
    Jonathan Adams at the time aged 14 was employed at the Wheatsheaf victuallers at King James stairs. I can find no info on the Wheatsheaf perhaps one of your readers can oblige.
    Many thanks, Alan

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