travel guide

Pubs on the River Thames

On both banks of the river you will see several old inns that have been standing there for hundreds of years. The Mayflower at Rochester, The Angel at Southwark, Captain Kidds at Wapping, The Grapes at Limehouse, The Prospect of Whitby at Wapping and the Town of Ramsgate at Wapping Stairs all hold within their walls the secrets and tragedies of the River.

Mayflower pub

mayflower pub

The pub currently known as the Mayflower has had this name only since the 1960s. However, the pub has stood here, very close to St. Mary’s church, since around the middle of the 16th century and has gone by the name of The Shippe and then later the Spread Eagle and Crown.

It is cosy and warm, with exposed beams and open fireplaces in winter. This pub is unique too as being one of the few public houses that is licensed to sell postage stamps, including American ones.

There is a good restaurant upstairs and a riverside veranda that looks across to the Captain Kidd pub on the opposite bank.

Captain Kidd pub on the river Thames

captain-kidd pubAcross the river on the opposite bank is the Captain Kidd public house. This 17th century building has been a pub for only around 100 years. Previously it was a warehouse for boat builders and sail menders.

From the Wapping High Street entrance the pub is not very impressive but once past this facade it is enchanting. Great outdoor terrace overlooking the river with all the wonderful views. Captain Kidd himself was a Scottish ship-owner in New York during the end of the 17th century. After spending some time as a privateer (hunting and capturing pirates) he turned to the trade himself. He was arrested and charged with piracy and executed in 1701 at Execution Dock, Wapping. During the execution the rope broke and he was hanged on the second attempt. Afterwards, his body was left until it had been washed by the traditional three tides. After tarring his corpse was taken to Tilbury Point on the Essex side of the Thames, and hung in chains as a deterrent to other pirates. From the river, Execution dock is marked with a large ‘E’ on the building at the site of Swan Wharf.

The Angel pub

angel-pubThe Angel is one of the oldest public houses in Southwark. There were many warehouses built behind the pub, which were used for tobacco. They have since been pulled down and the foundations of Edward III’s palace have now been revealed. The Angel dates back to the 15th Century when the Bermondsey Monks built the first inn here as a resting point for travellers journeying to London from the south.

The Monks used to bury their dead where they lived and although the original inn is long gone, the remains of several Monks still lay within the foundations of the present building as a reminder of its origin. The current pub is fairly rundown but it is still worth a visit on a good day as there are tables outside and the views of the river and tower bridge are excellent.

The Grapes pub at Limehouse

the grapes-pub on thamesAfter a day visiting Canary Wharf, any of these are great to go to for a meal and a drink. Nearest to the London Docklands is Captain Kidds or, alternatively, The Grapes Built in 1720 this tiny, narrow pub managed to survive the massive development of the Docklands.

It was an early, favourite watering hole for riverside working men and has many grisly tales associated with this. It was also a place where Charles Dickens went and he immortalises it in his novel, Our Mutual Friend. However, it is very small and difficult to get a seat during busy times, especially on the tiny veranda that overlooks the river. The food is excellent and the pub has won prizes for its fish dishes. Worth going to but best to book beforehand if you want to eat there. Also, sadly, the pub does not welcome children, so not a place for families.

Prospect of Whitby pub

prospect-of-wilbyA little further along the river is The Prospect of Whitby, probably one of the most famous pubs in London and dating back to around 1530.

It was here allegedly that the famous ‘Hanging Judge Jeffreys’ tried to escape to France in the footsteps of the deposed Catholic King James II and here, too, both Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens sated their thirst.

The pub still has lots of charm but its recent refurbishment has resulted in some of its character being lost. Although busy in summer, The Prospect of Whitby is bigger than The Grapes and children are welcome.

Town of Ramsgate pub

town-of-ramsgateThe Town of Ramsgate located a little down river at Wapping Stairs is another ancient pub. Less well known than the Prospect of Whitby down the road, The Town of Ramsgate has a more pubby feel to it. It also seems to be the pub where the locals of the area drink and although a little bit more pricey it seems less touristy. Its location is very close to where Execution Dock stood .

At this site condemned men were chained to posts in the river and drowned. A mock gallows in the pub is a grisly reminder of this. From the river this pub is surrounded by some beautiful old Victorian and Georgian houses, one of which was a former Dockmastert’s house and is next to Oliver’s Wharf an old warehouse now converted into luxury apartments and has, so rumour has it, the singer Cher as one of its most famous residents.