Travel Great Britain. Wapping walking tour: Poverty, sailors, slaves, pirates and pubs

Whenever I am in London I think it is a shit hole of a place, my hands are constantly dirty, it is loud and it is grubby, there are too many drunks at night, using public transport at rush hour feels like a fight, one has to queue for literally everything from money to coffee, but weirdly, I love London so much. London, the capital city of the United Kingdom is worth a trip at any time of the year, no matter why or when you visit, you surely are going to love it. In 2014 a whopping 17.4 million visitors from overseas made their way to London for a reason.

Travel Great Britain. Wapping walking tour Poverty, sailors, slaves, pirates and pubs

After your visit to London’s top attractions like the British Museum, London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern and the Tower of London right next to the Tower Bridge, keep on walking along the Thames, deeper into the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Friends were so very sweet to show me around Wapping, a part of town I hadn't visited before. 

St Katharine Docks

First you will reach St Katharine Docks a former working dock named after a hospital that used to be here. Here you will find many of the for London usual chain restaurants, like Café Rouge, Slug and Lettuce or Strada. Keep on walking along the Thames and you will soon be in a quite enchanting area with a gruesome history. Visit Wapping to discover stories about poverty, sailors, prostitutes, pirates, hangings and slave trade next to fancy redevelopments of wharves that can often cost around GBP 5,000,000. Start on Wapping High Street. To this day walls of warehouses still line the streets.

St Katharine Docks

Wapping was heavily destroyed in WW2 and up until 25 years ago it was everything, but certainly not the sought after location that it is today. Due to its maritime heritage Wapping has the feel of a small town by the sea. You wouldn’t know that it is almost right in the middle of the UK’s biggest city.

Wapping Old Stairs

The worn and mossy stone steps are hidden; you reach them following a narrow alley towards the Thames. In the old days, during London's seafaring days, this place must have been so very busy with all sorts of sailors, shipwrights and watermen. If you visit at low tide, remember the Thames is subject to tides, you can wander the pebbly beach and search for fossils. Why not check the tide tables of the Port of London Authority before you visit?

Wapping Old Stairs at low tide

Oliver’s Wharf

In the 1870s, long before this wharf in Tudor Gothic style was converted in the 1970s into luxury flats, this was a place to handle tea and other cargo. Stand on the beach by the Thames and think of these times. You can almost smell the tea.

Oliver's Wharf

Town of Ramsgate in Wapping

This pub built in the 17th century has a long and narrow bar that seems to follow the shape of the long and narrow alley that brings you to the Wapping Old stairs. Its next door neighbour is Oliver's Wharf. It is named after fishermen from the seaside town of Ramsgate in Kent, who were landing their wares here to avoid city taxes.

The Town of Ramsgate. 62 Wapping High Street, London E1W 2PN. Hours: Monday to Thursday 12pm to 4pm, 5pm to 9pm. Friday/Saturday 12pm to 10pm. Sunday 12pm to 9pm.

Town of Ramsgate in Wapping

Ramsgate in Kent

St John’s Church and Churchyard in Wapping

A small chapel was built in 1617, and in 1694 it became the parish church of Wapping. During WW2 it was almost completely destroyed and only the tower remained. Opposite the church is a churchyard that is the home to a few remaining tombstones, I remember to have counted 20 or so. Today the churchyard is a cute little park.

St John's Church in Wapping

St John of Wapping School

This school was founded in 1695. The statues of a boy and a girl wear blue costumes and that was the fashion of the time for children that were enrolled at charity schools, also called blue coat schools. The school was operated by the church next door and founded to educate the children of the poor for free. Fascinating that people back in the 17th century already knew that education is the key to a better future.

St John of Wapping Charity School (also called Blue Coat School)

St John of Wapping Charity School

Captain Kidd in Wapping

You probably heard of this infamous Scottish sailor who became a pirate? He was executed for piracy in the Indian Ocean. With strong ties to the British government he started out as a privateer to attack French ships in the West Indies, but ended up looting a ship. When he was set on trial his contacts had forgotten all about their close bonds and he was hung in a cage in London along the Thames. Fairly recently somebody thought to have found the treasures of his piracy in Madagascar but it was later dismissed as false. The pub, a conversion of a former warehouse to store Australian wool bales and coffee next to dried fruit, opened its doors in the 1980s but you would never guess that.

Captain Kidd. 108 Wapping High Street, London E1W 2NE. Hours: Monday to Saturday 12pm to 11pm. Sunday 12pm to 10.30pm.

The Prospect of Whitby, the oldest riverside inn in London, dating to 1520, was once the meeting point of pirates and sailors. People loved to come here after they watched hangings at nearby Execution Dock, a place where sailors also landed slaves. As I walk towards the entrance of the pub an elderly lady asks whether I can take a photo of her and her family. She giggles and says her last visit to this pub was 50 years ago. Thunderous smiles break over the group's faces when I say the ubiquitous "cheese" as I tap the camera button. I try to imagine the times when Charles Dickens and J. M. William Turner were among visitors. As gruesome as the history of the area indeed is; the terrace has amazing views all the way up stream to Canary Wharf.

The Prospect of Whitby. 57 Wapping Wall, E1W 3SH. Hours: Monday to Thursday 12pm to 11pm. Friday/Saturday 12pm to 12am. Sunday 12pm to 10.30pm.

The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping

View from The Prospect of Whitby

Info Wapping walking tour: Poverty, sailors, slaves, pirates and pubs

Take the tube (Circle or District line) and get off at Tower Hill station, from there it is a short walk of ten minutes to St Katharine’s Dock. The complete (return) walk from Tower Hill tube station is 4.2 kilometres long. If you would walk it all at once it would probably not take you too long, approximately 50 minutes. Allow yourself five to six hours to stop at all mentioned places, and to complete the tour in a relaxed manner. If you plan to eat at one of the pubs it is best to book a table in advance, especially on weekends. 

Wapping sunset

From Berlin with love