Wapping : Captain Kidd's Riverside London

Visit four historic taverns in London's East End, as we wander along this famous stretch of Thames riverside

Where and what is Wapping ? Wapping is a well-known district in East London, a short walk away from Tower Bridge and The Tower of London. Wapping's proximity to the river has given it a strong maritime character, which it retains through its historic riverside public houses. 

Wapping was first settled by Saxons, from whom it takes its name, although it was predominantly marshland until it was drained in the 16th century.

Many of the sailors of Charles II's navy lived in Wapping and by the 18th century it was described as "a poor waterfront district inhabited chiefly by dock hands, casual labourers, sailors of all nationalities and petty criminals". Dr Johnson recommended exploring Wapping "to see such modes of life as very few could even imagine".

In the 19th century the lively maritime character of Wapping began to disappear as the chandlers, mastmakers and lodging houses gave way to the London docks and the giant warehouses which towered above the narrow streets.

Wapping was devastated by German bombing in World War II, and then the post-war closure of the docks and many of the riverside wharves and warehouses led to the area becoming run-down and derelict. This all changed from the 1980s, when Wapping was redeveloped into luxury warehouse apartments.

More recently in 1986, Wapping is famous for Rupert Murdoch's "moonlight flip", when he surreptitiously moved News International's printing operations from Fleet Street to Wapping overnight. "The Battle of Wapping" ensued.

Who was Captain Kidd ? William "Captain" Kidd (1645-1701) was a Scottish sailor who was tried and executed for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean. Kidd was a privateer captain in British service in the late 17th century, sent to capture pirates and their booty for the British Crown and to pillage French settlements in the West Indies. However, during a voyage which left London in 1696 he was deemed to have turned pirate himself. Whether he actually did so is still debated amongst historians, but nevertheless he was sent to Newgate prison and later tried and hanged at Wapping.

About this Trail. It wasn't that long ago that more than 30 taverns stood on this one mile stretch of Wapping riverside, frequented by sailors, boat-builders, stevedores and victuallers. Today, only 3 taverns remain, of unimaginable charm, nestled between the luxury converted warehouse apartments of modern Wapping. We visit each of these 3 taverns, plus another beauty hidden away in the back streets, waiting to be discovered. 

This is the land of Execution Dock, where pirates were condemned to the gallows in the 15th-19th centuries. The most famous hanging of them all was that of Captain Kidd, executed  in 1701. We visit the tavern named in his "honour". We visit the ancient public house where Hanging Judge Jeffreys of the 17th century "Bloody Assizes" was captured whilst trying to flee the country dressed as a sailor. We also visit an East End boozer named after Joseph Mallord William Turner, the famous English landscape artist, who drew inspiration amid the dockside taverns of Wapping. And we visit one of the most famous  pubs in London,  previously known as the Devil's Tavern because of its associations with river theives and smugglers.

Where to meet ?  Meet just outside the entrance to Wapping Railway station, which is on the East London Line of the London Overground (which runs from Highbury & Islington in north London to New Cross in south-east London). The East London Line can be accessed on the London Underground via Whitechapel  (on the Hammersmith & City Line and District Line) or Canada Water (on the Jubilee Line). Note : if travelling via Canada Water, when changing from the Jubilee Line at Canada Water to the East London Line, follow signs to "Overground Northbound".

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