It is strange that when the Royal Mail came to create a new postcode for the Olympic Park they christened it E20 when the highest numbered E postcode was E18. It was even odder when one considers that the BBC had chosen to locate the soap opera Eastenders in the fictional district of Walford and gave that the postcode E20.
Why is there no E19? Who knows?
But in the absence of a proper E19, I thought I might do a little walk around E1W which is a sub division of E1 – the W substitutes for the 9 if you see what I mean.
We start our walk at Wapping Post Office which is at 52 Wapping Lane. Turn left out and walk along Wapping Lane. Our first stop is ahead on the right..
Stop 1: St Peter’s Church
This church has an unassuming street frontage, and you might almost miss the fact there is actually a church here.
But the signs on the outside give a clue that this is no ordinary church.
There is a clergy house, as well.
The entrance to the church is via a small courtyard. Do go inside, if you can.
This is high Victorian and high church. Although it is a Church of England it is almost more catholic than a catholic church.
This church was begun in 1865 and architectural expert Pevsner says this was important in the rise of Anglo-Catholicism. It originated as a “mission” church of St George in the East in Stepney.
But all is not what it seems. In fact the west end of this church, although designed in between 1884 and 1894 was not actually completed until 1939. And then it was badly damaged by bombing so what we see today is a post war reconstruction.
Pevsner describes the church as having “A muscular exterior” and “The atmospheric interior is equally muscular”.
Now continue along the street and you will see a green with a bus stop. This is our next stop.
Stop 2: The Wapping Health Centre bus stop and its role in a mini movie
This bus stop features in a little YouTube video dating from 2013.
This was to promote the Freedom Pass, London’s concessionary travel pass for older and disabled people. It featured the Ladies who Bus who were travelling on every London bus route using their Freedom Pass. They were by the way the inspiration for my project of walking London one postcode at a time.
So here is a link to YouTube where you can watch this masterpiece. At the time (Summer 2013) I was responsible for managing the Freedom Pass scheme, amongst other things. I pop up in the video in three ways. You will see my signature at the start, I am a passenger on the bus (if you know where to look) and I did the narration!
It was mainly filmed with a hired bus on the streets of Wapping on a Sunday morning. It was fun to do, even though it was a long day!
Strangely this did not lead a flourishing media career for me.
Now continue walking along Wapping Lane. Our next stop is ahead a little way on the left.
Stop 3: Tobacco Dock
Having gone over a bridge you will see the entrance to what is today called Tobacco Dock.
This was part of the London Docks built between 1799 and 1815. London Docks specialised in high value luxury commodities such as ivory, spices, coffee and cocoa as well as wine and wool. The actual bit called Tobacco Dock was a small linking pool between the much larger western and eastern docks. Much of these docks have been filled and most of the buildings have been demolished. But on the north side some impressive buildings remain. These were part of a Tobacco Warehouse dating from the early 1810s.
They were converted into shops in the 1980s – the idea was to create a kind of Covent Garden style attraction. This predictably failed given the location. Today the site is used for corporate and commercial events and there is some space for start up businesses. But it could perhaps be so much more.
Now walk along the waterside.
Looking ahead you will the Shard.
Follow the waterway. It is hard to believe you are so close to the City. You could almost be Holland.
The waterway turns to the left. As it turns look back and you can see the tower of St George in the East in Stepney which I mentioned in connection with St Peter’s Church. St George was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and consecrated in 1729.
Then the waterway turns to the right. Ahead you will see the Shard, again.
And behind is Canary Wharf
Keep walking ahead and go under the roadway. Ahead you will see our next stop.
Stop 4: Hermitage Basin
This basin was added to the London Docks between 1811 and 1821 to create a second entrance. Pevsner says it closed in 1909. It now has a row of modern housing and a sculpture called “Rope Circle” and is by Wendy Taylor. This sculpture dates from 1997 and is made out of ships hawsers which have been shaped and stiffened to keep their form. The Sculptor’s studio was in the old pump house at the other end of the Basin.
The brick building on the far side is was a pumping station which was used to maintain the water level in the dock basin.
It has a Port of London Authority marker with the date 1914.
Now go back to the road and go down towards the river where you will see a garden in front of you. This is our next stop.
Stop 5: Hermitage Memorial Riverside Garden
This was part of the site of the Hermitage Wharf which was destroyed in a firebomb raid in December 1940. When the land came up for redevelopment there was a requirement to keep some of the river front accessible to the public.
And fittingly the garden which was built here commemorates the civilians who died in the London blitz which commenced on 7 September 1940 and ended on 10 May 1941.
You get a great view of towards Tower Bridge and the Shard from here.
There is a sculptural memorial here with a bird shape cut out. And if you stand in the right place you can see the Shard through the bird.
But the overall effect is a little uninspiring. This south facing site has such potential. But I guess we have to be grateful that it was not all built over.
Now exit the gardens as if you are walking away from the City and head down the street paralleling the river. Our next stop is ahead on the right.
Stop 6 Wapping Pier Head (and the Town of Ramsgate pub)
This group of early 19th century houses on either side of a garden is called Pier Head even though there does not appear to be a pier here. The garden was in fact where the original main entrance into London Docks ran from the Thames. Pevsner says the garden was created in the early 1960s on the filled in dock.
Just past the Pier Head is the one of Wapping’s riverside pubs – The Town of Ramsgate.
It is an atmospheric pub, long and thin, with delightful old fittings – eventually leading to a river terrace.
Following is the story of the pub as told on their own website (please excuse their grammar and punctuation):
“The first pub on the site probably originated during the Wars of the Roses in the 1460s and was called The Hostel.
During more peaceful times in 1533 it became known as The Red Cow, a reference to the bar maid working at the time. The notorious Judge Jeffreys was caught outside the ale house as he tried to escape disguised as a sailor on a collier bound for Hamburg after the Glorious Revolution of 1688; which overthrew King James II. Presiding over the Bloody Assizes after Monmouth’s unsuccessful rebellion against James II, Judge Jeffreys had taken great pleasure in sending hundreds to their execution, and in abusing their attorney’s, which was a costly mistake as one of them recognised him resulting in his capture.
In 1766 the pub became known as Ramsgate Old Town and by 1811 it had again took on a new identity known as The Town of Ramsgate. The reference to Ramsgate became about after the fishermen of Ramsgate who landed their catches at Wapping Old Stairs. They chose to do so as to avoid the river taxes which had been imposed higher up the river close to Billingsgate Fish Market. Ramsgate harbour of 1850 features in the pub sign and is also etched on the mirror near the entrance to the pub.
As for the Wapping Old Stairs next door, they also have a bloody history.
If you visit during low tide, you can still see the post to which condemned pirates were chained to drown as the tide rose. The Stairs were made famous in Rawlinson’s cartoon and Dibden’s poems. John Banks came here, with Captain Bligh to inspect the Bounty before purchasing it for the ill-fated voyage to Tahiti. More happily, many returning sailors were met by their sweethearts on the Old Stairs at the end of a voyage. The silent question that must have been on many sailor’s lips is answered by a verse on the wall of the pub.
“Your Polly has never been faithless she swears, since last year we parted on Wapping Old Stairs.”
Here is a link to the relevant page: http://townoframsgate.pub/?page_id=13
The street here still has the feel of it being a warehouse area, with the metal bridges going over the street.
Keep walking along the High Street.
Stop 7: Metropolitan Police – Marine Policing Unit
Just along here are some property belonging to the Police. First you come to this modern building.
And just here you can go down towards the river and see the pier which is used by the police boats. If you closely you might just spot the traditional Metropolitan Police blue lamp on the pier. Also note ahead you can see Canary Wharf.
And then there is this older building with a blue plaque.
Note the date of founding is 1798. This predates the creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. The Marine Police Force is considered the first preventive police unit in the history of policing in England and it was originally financed by shipping companies to address the theft of cargo from London’s docks. It merged with the Met in 1839.
Today the Marine Policing Unit is responsible for waterborne policing of the 47 miles of the Thames between Hampton Court in the west and Dartford Creek in the east.
Now cross the road and go though the little park. This was the former churchyard of St John’s church which we shall see shortly. The park was created in 1951 and is bounded by high walls which were in fact the walls of the London Docks.
There is an intriguing little green sign up on the far wall.
This commemorates an event in the mid 17th century during the time of the English Civil War. The area had wharves then but this was before the building of the docks.
Go through the archway and turn right. Our next stop is straight ahead on the corner of a street called Green Bank.
Stop 8: The Turk’s Head
This former pub dates from between the wars according to Pevsner.
It is now a cafe, as explained on the little plaque at the front.
This has an interesting stone on the first floor level by the corner.
It says “Bird Street Erected Anna Dom 1706” and below there is a rider which says “Rebuilt 1766 and 1927”
Our next stop is just a little way down the street from the Turk’s head.
Stop 9: former St John’s Church
This church was built in 1756, but it was largely destroyed in the Blitz. The tower was restored in the 1960s and later flats were created within the outer walls in the 1990s.
Walk to the end of the street and turn left and continue along the High Street. Our next stop is a little way along on the right.
Stop 10: Wapping Station
This does not look much of a station and it isn’t.
Go downstairs and you find these really narrow platforms which feel rather unsafe even when no one else is there.
The walls feature a number of drawings of the area round the station and telling some of the history..
The one shown below is particularly significant as it shows a cross section of the tunnel as it was being built.
And this of course is no ordinary tunnel and there is something rather interesting which you can just about see from the platforms – the original tunnel mouth – or rather mouths.
This is in fact the first tunnel known to have been constructed successfully underneath a navigable river. It was built between 1825 and 1843 using a newly invented tunnelling shield technology, by Marc Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The tunnel was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages, but the money ran out and the ramps to get down the carriages to the tunnel were never built. It became a pedestrian tunnel and then later a railway tunnel.
On occasion in the past, when the railway has been shut for various reasons it has been possible to walk the tunnel.
I did this a couple of years ago and wrote about it on my other blog:
Now back on the surface, turn right out of the station and keep on walk along the High Street and then follow it round as it becomes Wapping Wall, where our next stop is on the right.
Stop 11: The Prospect of Whitby pub
No visit to Wapping is really complete without a visit to the venerable Prospect of Whitby pub.
This is one of those great riverside pubs. It claims to be London’s oldest riverside pub dating back to 1520 (but who really knows – note the Town of Ramsgate claims to have an even older origin). It is called the Prospect of Whitby after a ship which brought coal from North England and which was frequently moored nearby in the early 19th century.
This is what the pub’s website says:
“The Prospect Of Whitby is London’s oldest riverside pub dating back to 1520. The original flagstone floor survives and the pub also has a rare pewter-topped bar as well as old barrels and ships masts built into the structure. Most areas of the pub have spectacular views over the River Thames, including the beer garden and first floor balcony and terrace. The pub was originally frequented by those involved in life on the river and sea and it was a notorious haunt for smugglers, thieves and pirates.
Other notable customers have been Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, Judge Jeffries and artists Whistler and Turner. In more recent history the Prospect was a favourite during the 1960’s with celebrities and royalty including Kirk Douglas, Paul Newman, Glenn Ford, Rod Steiger, Princess Margaret and Prince Rainier. The public house features briefly in an episode of Only Fools And Horses. When Uncle Albert goes missing in one episode, Del Boy and Rodney travel around London looking for him. Nicholas Lyndhurst is shown in one scene walking out of the pub. There is also a scene from the 1956 film D-Day the Sixth of June starring Robert Taylor and Richard Todd where Taylor’s character is seen with Dana Wynter’s character having drinks together during the Second World War in London.”
It was originally called the Pelican which explains the name of some steps on the right hand side which lead down to the river.
If you go down here you will see an odd sight when you get to the river.
Yes you can see a hangman’s noose (and of course Canary Wharf).
Why you may ask. Apparently it is a reminder that this was the hostelry of choice for “Hanging” Judge Jeffreys who lived nearby. He was chased by anti-Royalists into the nearby Town of Ramsgate, as we just heard.
Our next stop is just over the road.
Stop 12: Wapping Hydraulic Pumping Station
This impressive red brick structure was built by the London Hydraulic Power Company, and has the date 1890 on the side.
Hydraulic Power was a 19th century solution used to run lifts, cranes and workshop and theatre machinery before electric motors were powerful enough. This system avoided the need to have individual steam engines at each location. Basically each site was hooked up to a pressurised water main which could be used to power machinery. And this required pumping stations – initially run by steam and later by electricity.
The London company provided hydraulic power across central London north of the Thames and at its height had five pumping stations. Wapping was the last to be built and was the last to close (in 1977).
It has been used as an exhibition and restaurant space but now seems to be closed, which is a shame as it has quite a lot of the original equipment inside apparently.
Just here is Shadwell Basin and from the bridge over the water you can look east and see Canary Wharf.
And to the west you can see the City.
We are now at the end of our Wapping walk. This is a fascinating area of old and new and it is sometimes hard to believe you are so close in to central London. Sometimes it is even hard to believe you are actually in England.
Just here you can get a D3 bus to Limehouse or Shadwell station, or else it is a short walk back to Wapping station on the Overground.