Tag Archives: Wapping

New Deal For East London – Whitechapel To Limehouse

A couple of weeks ago I started exploring East London using the map published in the Architects’ Journal from the 19th January 1972. The map was part of a feature article titled “New Deal for East London” and covered the considerable changes expected to take place across East London and the fate of a number of sites that the Architects’ Journal considered essential for preservation.

Sites across the map were categorised by how they were part of East London’s development. In the past two posts I covered Category A – Areas that were developed as overflow from the City of London.

In today’s post I start on Category B – Linear development along the Rivers Thames and Lea due to riverside trades.

The map below is an extract from the larger map published in the 1972 article and covers the next set of locations, those marked from 17 to 25, running from the southern edge of Whitechapel to Limehouse along the Thames. The sites along the River Lea will be the subject of a later post

The following map shows the same area today with the same locations marked.

The Architects’ Journal introduces this area as follows:

“And now the route east from the City can be followed by tracing the riverside developments. While land east of the City still consisted of fields dotted with small, independent villages, the riverside was already lined with a continuous strip of workshops, wharves and houses. As England’s trade and empire increased in the 16th and 17th centuries, riverside villages grew in size, not inland, but along the river, and eventually became an almost independent naval town stretching from the Tower to Limehouse. This independence from the rest of London astonished even 18th century Londoners. John Fielding wrote in 1776; ‘When one goes to Rotherhithe or Wapping, which places are chiefly inhabited by sailors, but that somewhat of the same language is spoken, a man would be apt to suspect himself in another country.’ And Boswell was recommended by Johnson to explore Wapping to see ‘ wonderful extent and variety of London.’ When Boswell did go to Wapping, almost 10 years later, he was disappointed and supposed that standardisation in building had destroyed its character. “

There is so much to be written about this area, however my posts are often getting rather long, so today I will concentrate on finding the sites, and write more about the history of this fascinating area in some future posts.

I always enjoy a walk in East London and when I walked this route the weather was perfect, although bright sun can cause problems with the contrasts between sunlight and shadow in some of the narrow East London streets. Starting off, I walked to the first point:

Site 17 – All that remains of Wellclose Square and 1850 GLC owned Wilton’s Music Hall in Grace’s Alley

I started off walking along Royal Mint Street, then Cable Street before turning off down Ensign Street where the entrance to Graces Alley can be found. It is here that Wilton’s Music Hall can be found.

The buildings that now house Wilton’s have a long history. Originally individual houses from the late 17th Century they have since been through many alterations and changes, a 19th century Music Hall, a Methodist Mission and a warehouse for rag sorting.

During the 1960s the London County Council planned to demolish the whole area including the nearby Swedenborg and Wellclose Squares along with the buildings that housed Wilton’s Music Hall. Whilst the other areas under threat of demolition did not survive, the buildings along the northern edge of Grace’s Alley, including Wilton’s Music Hall were spared, but fell into dereliction. Campaigns during the last few decades raised the funding to restore Wilton’s and it is the restored building that we find today. There is a full history of the building and the restoration on the Wilton’s web site which can be found here.

Wellclose Square is a different matter. The square is found at the end of Grace’s Alley:

In the 1972 article, the Architects’ Journal describes Wellclose and the adjacent Swedenborg Square’s:

“Off Cable Street were two early 18th Century squares – Swedenborg and Wellclose Squares – neither of which descended into the slum that Cable Street had become. Both escaped serious war damage but, although unique, were not spared by wholesale demolition that occurred in the last decade. Swedenborg Gardens now stand on the site of the square, no trace of which has remained. Wellclose Square (where Dr. Johnson’s friend Dr. Mayo lived – and which at that time was the residential centre for Scandinavian timber merchants and boasted a Danish Church) has not even been rebuilt, but lies as the demolition men left it. Sites of original houses are used as car parks. The East End as an area could not afford to lose these houses; their demolition destroyed vital community memory and identity.”

The last sentence in the above paragraph is a consistent message throughout the 1972 article. It is not just the buildings that are being lost, but also the loss of a community that had long considered East London as home.

I was not sure what I would find in Wellclose Square. The Architects’ Journal listing states “all that remains” which is not very specific. The article also includes the following photo of some of the houses in Wellclose Square but does not make clear whether there were still remaining in 1972.

The buildings on the right of the above photo with the panels above the ground floor windows were originally the Danish Embassy.

A quick walk around Wellclose Square confirmed that all the buildings of the original square have been demolished, with new building from the later decades of the 20th century now running along the sides of what remains of the square.

The only buildings of any age that are now within Wellclose Square are those that form part of the central square (the original location of the Danish church). One of which is this building:

It appears to be within the grounds of the school that occupies the central part of the square so I hope that the windows and door facing the road are covered in this way to prevent access from the road rather than that the building has been abandoned.

The plaques on the wall provide some background to the building. The plaque on the left reads “St. Paul’s Mission Room” and that on the right “St. Paul’s Church for Seamen Infant Nursery”.

The building was constructed in 1874 and is currently Grade II listed.  As this was a mid-Victorian building I suspect it was not what the Architects’ Journal was referring to and that all the buildings were demolished.

To get to my next location, I needed to retrace my steps to Cable Street and at the junction with Royal Mint Street turn left down Dock Street:

Site 18 – Late 18th Century Houses in Dock Street

The Architects’ Journal map shows three locations in Dock Street. One a short distance down on the left, one further on the right then one at the junction with The Highway, and it here that I will start.

The following photo shows the house in the location marked on the map, so what appears to be a fine survivor, although I am not sure whether the full house survives. If you look at the new building to the left, it appears to carry on into the original building and checking an aerial view it looks that the new building on the left extends across the rear of the older building and that whilst the front and part side facade looks to have survived this may well be a case of the body of a building being gutted and rebuilt as part of a new, larger construction.

Although nothing could prepare me for what I would find next. This is the building on the site marked on the left of Dock Street.

This has to be the worst reconstruction of a pretend 18th Century house that I have ever seen. The building also has a distinctly industrial feel with the metal door, air vents and pipework down the side. Openstreetmap has this building labeled as a mobile phone company so I suspect it houses equipment for their network, but why build the front facade to possibly resemble the 18th Century house that once stood here in such a superficial manner?

Walking back up Dock Street towards Cable Street there was some considerable building work underway. Here all the buildings to the right of the Sir Sydney Smith pub have been demolished.

The full site is in the photo below. This building site will soon become the Ordnance Building where “no expense has been spared in curating a collection of residences that live up to the development’s prime location”. The Ordnance Building will also feature a “Quintessentially (online) concierge service” whatever that is.

It seems that almost anything these days is “curated”. You can read more about the Ordnance Building here.

The final location in Dock Street appears to have survived intact. A fine three floor house. Note the way that the size of the windows reduce from ground to top floor.

From Dock Street it was then a walk down towards the River Thames, to the next location:

Site 19 – Wapping conservation area enlarged to take in early 19th century pair on river to east

Site 19 covered a number of buildings around and to the east of the Wapping basin entrance to the London Docks. The docks are long since closed, however the buildings remain, some much restored and rebuilt, however the area does retain the character of when the docks were in operation.

I have already written about this area in my post on The Gun Tavern, so as this is a rather lengthy post I will not repeat here.

At the time of the 1972 article, the restored buildings along Pier Head shown in the photos above and below were for sale with prices of:

Houses: £22,500 to £37,500

Flats: £13,500 to £42,500

A quick check for recently sold prices, found that in 2012 a terrace house at Pier Head sold for £2,550,000 and in 2011 a flat sold for £1,300,000. That is quite some investment in 40 years.

Looking across to the old St. John’s Church and the Charity School next door.

The next stop on the Architects’ Journal map was reached after walking along Wapping High Street, up Wapping Lane then turning into Raine Street to find:

Site 20 – 1719 School in Raine Street

Apart from the nearby church of St. Peter’s London Docks, the old school building, or Raine House as it is now named is the only survivor among an area of redeveloped 20th century housing.

The building was originally a charity school founded by Henry Raine, owner of a Wapping brewery with the traditional blue coated school children standing in alcoves on the front of the building, very similar to the charity school in the Wapping Conservation Area.

The plaque above the door confirms the date of 1719 and states “Come In & Learn Your Duty To God & Man”.

In 1972 the old school building looked to be at considerable risk. The Architects’ Journal states: “The 1719 school in Raine Street, owned by the GLC, this school is for sale – a sale that had better be quick if it is to survive attacks from the local children”. The article includes the photo below to demonstrate the poor condition of the building. Note also that the two statues are missing, hopefully moved to preserve them. The article then goes on to state “Since this picture was taken all first floor windows have been broken. What will become of this building if action is not taken soon?”

The last sentence sums up the concern that is a theme throughout the article. There were a whole range of important 18th century buildings across East London being left to decay, helped in that decay by vandalism. If the authorities did not apparently see the importance in these buildings no wonder the local children could see no reason why they could not use these decaying buildings for stone throwing and other general damage.

Fortunately the school buildings have survived and now rather suitably are home to the Pollyanna Training Theatre and Studios, rather than expensive flats.

From Raine Street, it was then a walk up Wapping Lane to The Highway to reach the next location:

Site 21 – Early 19th Century Rectory and Church of St. Paul’s Shadwell

The Highway is a really busy road and it took a while to get a suitable break in the traffic to take the photo below showing the Rectory on the right and the church on the left.

The current church is the third that has occupied the site. The original church was built in 1656 as a Chapel of Ease. This was rebuilt in 1669 as the Parish Church of Shadwell.

The 1669 church (the middle picture in the top row in the print below) was demolished to make way for the current church which was built in 1820.

St. Paul’s Shadwell has been traditionally associated with Sea Captains and Captain James Cook was an active parishioner at the church.

An information panel at the entrance to the church also records that John Wesley preached at the church and there were a number of notable baptisms including Jane Randolph, the mother of the US President Thomas Jefferson, and James Cook, the eldest son of Captain Cook.

If you look back at the maps at the start of this post, the church is just north of the Shadwell Basin and when this easterly part of the London Docks was constructed, part of the church yard of St. Paul’s was lost to make way for the new docks.

From here, I continued along The Highway, almost to the entrance to the Limehouse Link Tunnel, before turning left into Butcher Row to find:

Site 22 – late 18th Century Rectory in Butcher Row

Butcher Row is a really busy road. It links Commercial Road, Cable Street and The Highway and is at the point where The Highway disappears below ground as the Limehouse Link. The late 18th century Rectory was easy to find, but I had to wait sometime before I could get a photo not obstructed by traffic.

This is a lovely building, built between 1795 and 1796, not originally as a Rectory, but for Matthew Whiting, a sugar refiner and director of the Phoenix Assurance Company.

There was originally a church behind the Rectory building. St. James, Ratcliffe was the first church built by the Bishop Blomfield Metropolitan Churches Fund and consecrated in 1833. It was badly damaged during the war and demolished in the 1950s.

The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London shows the pre-war area with the church in the centre of the map with Butcher Row just to the left. The map also highlights the changes in the area. Today, Butcher Row is a much wider road and has taken over the part of Cable Street where it runs up to Commercial Road.

The Rectory and the area once occupied by the church is now the home of the Royal Foundation of St. Katherine.

On the front of the rectory is a blue plaque to the Reverend St. John Groser, an East End Priest during the first half of the 20th Century who took part in the General Strike and was injured in the Battle of Cable Street. There is a fascinating history of St. John Groser to be found here.

Hard to believe that this house is facing one of the busiest sets of roads in East London.

Leaving the traffic of Butcher Row, it was time to head to the next location:

Site 23 – Early 18th Century Group in Narrow Street

This group of buildings are still looking in fine condition and include The Grapes pub.

the Architects’ Journal provides a view from 1972 of how this type of house could survive and the social changes that this involved:

“In Narrow Street a few much restored early 18th century houses give foretaste of the social pattern that might soon develop along the whole riverside. the fronts are well painted, but generally anonymous, the backs, have picture frame windows and motor boats. Their original inhabitants have been moved into council flats behind. 

Significantly these houses survive only because they have been bought by people able to restore and maintain them. Tower Hamlets had planned to demolish them for open space, but relented when it was agreed that they would be restored privately.”

After a quick stop in the Grapes, it was on to the next location:

Site 24 – 18th Century Terrace in Newell Street

This terrace of houses is a surprise. It is reached from Narrow Lane by turning into Three Colt Street, then turning left into Newell Street. (Newell Street was originally Church Row, but changed name, I believe, in the late 1930s) Both these streets have housing blocks from the later half of the 20th century, however as soon as you pass under the bridge carrying the Docklands Light Railway over Newell Street you find yourself in a street lined with these 18th century houses.

At the end of the terrace is St. Anne’s Passage which provides access to the church of St. Anne, Limehouse. The following photo is taken by the passage which is running to the left and shows the full length of the terrace. In the photo of the site in the Architects’ Journal, the building with the curved facade is only two storey so the top storey looks to be a later addition which the different type of brick confirms.

If you look down St. Anne’s Passage you find the final destination for the walk:

Site 25 – St. Anne’s, Limehouse

St. Anne’s Limehouse is a wonderful church and visiting on a sunny February day was perfect. Although you can enter the churchyard from the Commercial Road, the best way to approach the church is through St. Anne’s Passage which provides this view of the church:

The article in the Architects’ Journal included the following photo from the same position. Note how the house on the right was originally two storeys.

The building on the other corner was the office for a building company in 1972 however it was originally a pub which is still reasonably clear from the building today, which does not look as if it has changed much since 1972.

The pub was the Coopers Arms and occupies a good location at the entrance to the passage to the church. I wonder how may participants of a Sunday morning service walked the short distance to the pub at the end of the service?

There are so many closed pubs across East London and looking at these buildings now it is easy to forget that they were once the hub for so much of the life of the community. Most East London pubs also had sports teams and ran sports events, and despite its relatively small size the Coopers Arms was no exception.

19th Century issues of the Sporting Life tell of the events held at the Coopers Arms.

From the issue of the 22nd February 1890:

“Cooper’s Arms, Church Row, Limehouse: There was a good muster present at this establishment on Tuesday evening to witness the opening bouts of the 9st competition for a silver cup, promoted by W. Turner, the well known boxer of Limehouse. Details:

Bout 1: W. Brown beat T. Tabbits – The latter retired at the end of the first round.

Bout 2: A. Smith beat W. Potts – There was little to choose between these men, Smith receiving the verdict.

Bout 3: J. Bennett beat H. Cooper – This was a grand affair for two rounds when Cooper retired.

Bout 4: D. Hudson sparred a bye with G. Painter

Exhibition boxing by the following also took place: Willits v. Perkins, Paver v. Pointon, Walmer v. Daultry, Hall v. Barnes, brothers Campbell. Wind-up, Bill Turner v. Buffer Causer

The judges were H. Watson and H. Perry, referee T. Baldwin, timekeeper, Sporting Life representative, M.C.  The finals take place on Tuesday next.”

The Cooper’s Arms also had a very active Quoits team with the Sporting Life referring to the team as “those well known East-End quoiters.”

Remove the yellow lines on the street, the street lamp and the blue sign on the gates and you could be walking to church in the 19th Century.

If you look just to the left of the blue plaque in the photo above, there is a much older stone plaque in the narrow gap:

If I have read this correctly, the plaque from 1757 gives the dimensions of the passage and confirms that the passage is the property of St. Anne’s Church.

St. Anne’s Limehouse is a magnificent church. It was one of the 12 churches built following the 1711 Act of Parliament to build additional churches across London to cater for the expanding population of the city.

Built between 1714-1727, the church was rebuilt after a serious fire in 1850 and there was further restoration work in the 1980s and 90s.

St. Anne’s, Limehouse was permitted by Queen Anne to fly the White Ensign of the Royal Naval Service, a tradition which continues to this day. The proximity of the church to the River Thames also meant that the church was a Trinity House navigation mark for those travelling on the river.

In the churchyard is a strange pyramid structure. It was originally planned that this would be installed on the roof of the church, however this did not happen so the pyramid continues to sit in the churchyard looking up at the church roof where it should have been located.

This was a fascinating walk, rounded off by finishing in the churchyard of St. Anne’s on a sunny February afternoon with the church yard full of crocuses.

On this third walk to visit the sites of concern in the 1972 Architects; Journal, I was pleased that the majority have survived well, the main exception being the rather strange modern mock Georgian fascia of the building in Dock Street.

The next stage will be the route from Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs up along the River Lea to finish of the category B locations. That is a walk for another day.

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Wapping High Street And Wapping Wall

For New Year’s Day, can I suggest a walk along Wapping High Street and Wapping Wall to explore a fascinating area of London where many features can still be found that date back to the time when these streets were lined with working warehouses, wharves, pubs and all the associated life that went with the proximity of Wapping to the River Thames.

Starting off from St. Katherine Docks and walking the length of Wapping High Street before turning onto Wapping Wall, there are still many of the original stairs down to the river, warehouse buildings and pubs.

The streets are now much quieter and the only goods being pushed along the streets today are likely to be Ocado deliveries to the expensive apartments that now line the river, rather than goods being transferred to and from the ships that once lined the river and headed inland to the London Docks.

Starting in St. Katherine’s Way and the first steps to the river are Alderman Stairs. As is common with the river stairs in Wapping, a narrow alley leading to a set of steps down to the river. High warehouse buildings on either side. Water, mud and growths of algae on the steps make them rather dangerous to climb down to the foreshore.

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Reading newspapers from the last couple of centuries and there are frequent reports of drownings happening from the stairs that line the river. A report from the 28th August 1933 reads:

“On Saturday evening a five year old Italian boy – Denno Mendessi, of Wapping – was playing on Alderman Stairs, Wapping when he fell into the Thames, and was drowned.”

Two lines in a newspaper column that report one of many such tragedies.

All over Wapping there are the remains of the original buildings and docks that once covered the area from the River Thames to The Highway (the A1203 running from East Smithfield to Limehouse). I have an ongoing project to find and photograph all these remnants.

Here is an original entrance to the western most basin that led in from the river to the London Docks.

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On walking into Wapping High Street, on the right are the Hermitage Memorial Gardens, built in memorial of the East London civilians who lost their lives during the bombing of this area during the last war.

In the photo below we are looking across the gardens to the entrance to St. Saviour’s Dock on the south side of the river.

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Wapping has always been associated with the Thames, along with the trades and people who worked on the river, in the warehouses, the sailors who would arrive in Wapping up one of the many steps leading to the river in search of a diversion whilst their ship was being unloaded and loaded.

Wapping was portrayed in a number of different prints and pamphlets that all tended to dwell on the seedier side of Wapping. Typical is the following from 1818 (©Trustees of the British Museum).

The British Museum description to this print reads:

“A jovial sailor bestrides a mis-shapen horse with panniers, a foot in each basket. In each basket sits a bedizened prostitute, each holding one of his arms. He grins amorously towards the one on his right who is immensely fat, with a patched face and coarse features. She wears long gloves, holds up a parasol, and a reticule dangles from her arm. The other, who is less repulsive, drinks from a bottle; from her pannier dangles a jar of ‘British Spirits’. Both wear feathered hats and low-cut dresses with very short sleeves, necklaces, and ear-rings. They are in a wide cobbled street leading to the Thames, which resembles the sea; behind a corner shop (left), inscribed ‘Dealer in Maritime Stores’, appears the stern of a ship flying an ensign”

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The section of Wapping High Street up to the junction with Sampson Street is mainly new developments. Looking west along Wapping High Street, and rather than the original warehouses, new blocks of flats line the space between river and road.

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Walking on, and here the road crosses over the entrance to the Wapping Basin and the London Docks. Now long filled in, the entrance is still very clear when looking left and right as you walk along this part of the road.wapping-high-street-5

This Aerofilms photo from 1922 shows the entrance when these docks were still in operation. The narrow channel leading from the Thames to Wapping Basin is shown on the left of the photo with Wapping High Street crossing the entrance at the half way point.

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Stopping on Wapping High Street and looking inland towards where Wapping Basin was once located provides this view. The channel is still clearly visible with the original walls still on either side.

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I have written more about this small immediate area in a post on the Gun Tavern, which can be found here.

We now come to the Town of Ramsgate pub, possibly the site of a pub dating back to the 15th Century. Known from 1533 as The Red Cow, then the Ramsgate Old Town and finally from 1811 as the Town of Ramsgate.

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The Town of Ramsgate was allegedly where the notorious Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys was captured whilst trying to escape by boat. Jeffreys had been the judge during the trials of those who participated in the Monmouth Rebellion in the west country. The Monmouth Rebellion was an attempt to overthrow the Catholic James II who had become king after the death of his brother Charles II. The rebellion was led by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth who was an illegitimate son of Charles II.

During 1685 Judge Jeffreys presided over the Autumn Assizes in Winchester, Dorchester, Taunton and Wells. Hundreds of people were tried for various offences as part of the rebellion and the majority were sentenced to death, although many of the sentences were later changed to transportation. It is estimated that as many as 250 people were still hanged, including an elderly woman Alice Lyle whose only offence was in helping two of the rebels, she did not participate in the rebellion.

James II was in turn overthrown by William of Orange during the Glorious Revelation of 1688 and it was this event which caused Judge Jeffreys to attempt to escape the country, having lost the king he did so much to support.

In Old and New London, Walter Thornbury describes the capture of Judge Jeffreys in Wapping using a description from Macaulay:

“A scrivener who lived at Wapping, and whose trade was to furnish the sea faring men there with money at high interest, had some time before lent a sum on bottomry. The debtor applied to equity for relief against his own bond and the case came up before Jeffreys. The counsel, for the borrower, having little else to say, said that the lender was a trimmer. the chancellor instantly fired. ‘A trimmer! where is he? Let me see him. I have heard of that kind of monster. What is he made like?’ The unfortunate creditor was forced to stand forth. The chancellor glared fiercely on him, stormed at him, and sent him away half dead with fright. ‘While I live’ the poor man said as he tottered out of court, ‘I shall never forget that terrible countenance.’

And now the day of retribution had arrived. The ‘trimmer’ was walking through Wapping when he saw a well known face looking out the window of an ale-house. He could not be deceived. The eyebrows, indeed had been shaved away. The dress was that of a common sailor from Newcastle and was black with coal-dust; but there was no mistaking the savage eye and mouth of Jeffreys. the alarm was given. In a moment the house was surrounded by hundreds of people, shaking bludgeons and bellowing curses. The fugitive’s life was saved by a company of the Trainbands; and he was carried before the Lord Mayor.

The mayor was a simple man, who had passed his whole life in obscurity, and was bewildered by finding himself an important actor in a mighty revolution. The events of the last twenty-four hours and the perilous state of the city which was under his charge, had disordered his mind and body. When the great man, at whose frown, a few days before, the whole kingdom had trembled, was dragged into the justice room begrimed with ashes, half dead with fright, and followed by a raging multitude, the agitation of the unfortunate mayor rose to the height. He fell into fits, and was carried to his bed, whence he never rose. Meanwhile, the throng without was constantly becoming more numerous and more savage. Jeffreys begged to be sent to prison. An order to that effect was procured from the Lords who were sitting at Whitehall; and he was conveyed in a carriage to the Tower.

Two regiments of militia were drawn out to escort him, and found the duty a difficult one. It was repeatedly necessary for them to form, as if for the purpose of repelling a charge of cavalry, and to present a forest of pikes to the mob. The thousands who were disappointed of the revenge pursued the coach, with howls of rage to the gate of the Tower, brandishing cudgels, and holding up halters full in the prisoners view. The wretched man meantime was in convulsions of terror. He wrung his hands, he looked wildly out, sometimes at one window, sometimes at the other, and was heard, even above the tumult crying, ‘Keep them off, gentlemen ! For God’s sake, keep them off !’. At length having suffered far more than the bitterness of death, he was safely lodged in the fortress, where some of his most illustrious victims had passed their last days, and where his own life was destined to close in unspeakable ignominy and terror.”

Judge Jeffreys died of kidney disease while being held in the Tower in April 1689. He was originally buried in the Tower but in 1692 his body was moved to the City church of St. Mary Aldermanbury. The church was badly damaged during the Blitz when Jeffreys tomb was also destroyed. The remains of the church were shipped to the US and the site of the church is now a garden. See my post on St Mary Aldermanbury which can be found here.

The following print (©Trustees of the British Museum) from the time illustrates the arrest of Lord Chancellor Jeffreys.

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At the side of the Town of Ramsgate is an alley leading to Wapping Old Stairs.

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The view from the top of the stairs. Fortunately my visit coincided with a low tide so I could make my way down to the river, although this was somewhat precarious as the steps were covered in a thin layer of very slippery mud and water.

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The view from the foreshore looking back up at Wapping Old Stairs.

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Wapping Old Stairs were one of the many stairs providing access to the river to reach the ships that would be moored, to get transport along the river or to load / unload cargo and passengers. The print below (©Trustees of the British Museum) from 1807 and titled “Miseries of London” shows a potential passenger at Wapping old Stairs being accosted by a group of watermen after his custom. The badge on their arms identifies them as Thames Watermen. They are calling out “Oars, Sculls, Sculls, Oars, Oars.”

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The foreshore at Wapping Old Stairs, looking towards Tower Bridge. The large white stones are lumps of chalk. These can be found all along the foreshore in central London as chalk was used to provide a flat layer on which barges could settle. Chalk would be pressed into the foreshore to provide a flat and relatively smooth bed. The remains of some of these are still visible, however for most, the chalk has now washed away and can now be found as individual lumps of chalk, washed smooth by the tides, along the foreshore.

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In the above photo, the break in the river wall can just be seen which once led into Wapping Basin and the London Docks. There is also a smaller entrance in the river wall. Within this was a long out of use, rusted and silted up outflow from somewhere inland, into the river.

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Back in Wapping High Street and these buildings were once the Aberdeen Wharf. The entrance to the right leads to Wapping New Stairs.

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At the top of Wapping New Stairs.

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View from the top of Wapping New Stairs looking east towards the pier belonging to the river police.

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The building of the Marine Policing Unit, the original Thames River Police.

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Theft from boats moored along the river was a very serious problem, a small boat could moor alongside and cargo stolen whilst the crew were onshore or asleep. This was such a problem in the 18th Century that in 1798 the Thames River Police was set-up specifically to police the river.

Much of the theft that occurred was petty pilfering of part of a consignment of goods in transit between ship, warehouse and onward distribution. A typical case reported in the Evening Mail of the 27th April 1842 records that a prisoner was found with a number of small bottles of brandy and one of Champagne in his house. Whilst it was not possible to prove where this had come from it was reported that there were 2,000 to 3,000 casks of brandy and wine on the quays, from which, in the darkness of the night, any quantity could be abstracted. Two or three casks had brandy missing in the warehouse in which the prisoner worked, but again it was not possible to prove that the brandy was the same as in the bottles found in the prisoners house. Due to the lack of evidence, the judge could not send the accused to the Old Bailey, however the judge did impose the maximum penalty he could which was two months imprisonment with hard labour.

I suspect that although there was a lack of evidence, the judge wanted to impose the maximum penalty in his power mainly as a deterrent to others who might think about taking a small quantity of the goods that were found in every warehouse and wharf along Wapping.

Print showing the original Thames Police building on the right.

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Looking east past the Captain Kidd pub, not an old pub as it dates from the 1980s. The tall warehouses that line the river casting Wapping High Street into a deep shadow on a sunny day.

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The only area along here that has not been redeveloped in some way.

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Walk off Wapping High Street, a short distance down the narrow Bridewell Place and this pillar is still in place that would have been part of the original entrance and wall around the warehouse that once stood here.

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Phoenix Wharf. There were plans dating from 2013 to redevelop Phoenix Wharf, into eight private flats along with building on the empty land opposite as shown in the photos above. I am not sure of the latest status of these plans, but over three years later and work does not appear to have started.

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The entrance to King Henry’s Stairs in the photo below. These stairs now seem to be private property and there has been a pier here from many years. There is a report in the East London Observer from the 14th July 1860 that states:

“Thames Conservancy – New Pier at Wapping. By order of the Conservators of the River Thames a new landing pier has been placed at King Henry Stairs, Wapping. This landing station is near to the Thames Tunnel, and fixed in lieu of the old Tunnel Pier, which has been removed altogether. The new pier is of elegant design, and when completed will no doubt contrast very favourably with the old pier, which for years has been declared unfit for its purpose. At the opening of the new pier several of the Conservators were present, but not any public demonstration was made.”

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The photo below shows Phoenix Wharf and the building to the left of the photo is King Henry’s Wharf which was also included in the development plans mentioned above, with 27 private flats planned for King Henry’s Wharf. The plans included using the original large loading doors for a main entrance and boarding up the remaining entrances.

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Original door and signage on King Henry’s Wharf. i wonder how long this will still be there?

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Further along, we then come to Wapping Station, which although part of the Overground network, at this point is below ground, as this station is at the northern end of Brunel’s original Thames Tunnel which now carries this section of the Overground below the Thames. See my post here on walking through the Thames Tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping.

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At the end of Wapping High Street is New Crane Wharf, all converted into apartments.

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Adjacent to New Crane Wharf are New Crane Stairs shown in the photo below. There were many accidents at night at these stairs resulting in drowning which was put down to the lack of lighting.

There is a letter in the East London Observer dated the 1st March 1873 from a Mr Saxby Munns who has been trying to get additional lighting installed at New Crane Stairs for a number of years. Saxby Munns writes:

“Having applied to the Board for sufficient light to prevent accidents, and that, after five years, not having been provided, I felt the right method would be to bring it publicly before their notice. There is a lamp which has been removed from one side to the other of the street frontage of the landing, and utterly useless as regards the stairs and landing. Of whom could the surveyor have complained that he should have been unable to hear of people being drowned at these particular stairs. Did he ask the water police, or the watermen at the stairs? or did he inquire of the coroner’s officer and the sergeant of police? who on occasion of the last person drowned had to grope their way early in the morning, by aid of the sergeant’s bull-eye – although conducted by myself through the arched-over passage. This was the second body I picked up within two months, and both by evidence drowned from New Crane Stairs, and not ‘turned up’ by any particular eddy.

The surveyor thanked Mr Hopson for bringing the subject to his notice. I also thank him, and am certain that if these two gentlemen will take the trouble, on any dark night, to approach the stairs, either by river or road, their recommendation to the Board will have the desired effect of causing a necessary precaution to be taken, viz., a light on the river frontage, like that at Horslydown, and adopted at many other stairs of a similar dangerous character, and thus largely decrease the number of fatal accidents that occur at New Crane Stairs.”

Even on a bright sunny day it is easy to see how dangerous these stairs could have been in the dark.

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Wapping High Street now turns inland for a short distance before becoming Garnet Street with Wapping Wall turning off to the right. Here we find the old Three Suns pub. Still serving alcohol, but now a wine bar and shop.

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The pub was built in 1880 and closed in 1986. The building still retains some fantastic decoration from the time when the building was the Three Suns pub.

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We now turn into Wapping Wall and a familiar wall of warehouses line the street, adjacent to the river.

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Wapping Wall takes its name from the original defensive wall built to prevent the river from spilling over onto the marshland that once covered most of this area of Wapping. Drainage of the marshland and construction of defensive walls had begun around 1327. Breaches of the wall continued to be a problem until the late 16th Century when the construction of wharves started between the river and the wall which had the impact of strengthening the defenses.

Wapping Wall follows the eastern part of this original defensive wall.

Wapping Wall is today a row of warehouses converted into flats until we reach the Prospect of Whitby pub, which I covered a few weeks ago in my post on  the Prospect of Whitby and Shadwell Basin which you can find here.

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Pelican Stairs running alongside the pub…..

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…..down to the river:

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From here, the walk can continue on towards the Isle of Dogs, but for now it is a good opportunity to enjoy the view of the river from the Prospect of Whitby and perhaps reflect on the long history of this fascinating area which retains so much despite the onslaught of development.

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The Gun Tavern – A Tale Of Two Wappings

I find it fascinating to track down the locations of the photos my father took in the late 1940s. They all tell a story and highlight the changes that have taken place across London over the last 70 years. Sometimes, I can put a pair of photos together that sum up the change, not just at that specific place, but across a whole area of London, and that is the case with today’s post -The Gun Tavern – A Tale Of Two Wappings (with apologies to Charles Dickens).

The Gun Tavern and Hotel was on the corner of Wapping High Street and Dundee Street. Wapping is the area to the east of the Tower of London. An area of high density housing, warehouses and docks. Nearly all activity that took place in Wapping was driven by the River Thames. Ships moored alongside the warehouses or lighters transported goods to and from ships in the river. Steps leading down to the river provided access for those who worked out on the river. Housing provided very basic accommodation for the workers and the many pubs provided almost the only escape from work.

I will not put any text in between the following two photos so they can be compared. The first is the original photo taken by my father of the Gun Tavern and Hotel. I easily found the location today and the second photo shows the same scene today. Look at the building on the left which is the same in both photos. The pattern of the brickwork is the same and in the lower left of both photos, set into the pavement is a fire hydrant in the same position over 69 years.

The major change is the building that now occupies the site of the Gun Tavern.

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This is now a Foxtons Estate Agents and these two photos sum up the changes to Wapping over the past 70 years.

Walk along Wapping High Street and the majority of the old warehouses and wharf buildings have now been converted to apartment buildings, forming a barrier between the river and the street. There are some access areas and walkways, however considering how close this is to central London, Wapping High Street feels strangely quiet. It is almost a dormitory street for those who work in the rest of London, or apartments that get occasional visits from their remote owners. It has to be a wasted opportunity as with a more mixed use approach and more affordable housing this could be a much more vibrant area.

Wapping High Street is one of the few streets in London where you can walk a distance and not find the usual Starbucks, Costa or Pret which I assume the lack of local business or passing trade cannot justify. I last walked along Wapping High Street a few years ago and the site of the Gun Tavern was then a cafe, however either it could not make enough money, or the new development now occupied by Foxtons was a more profitable change for the owners.

The same road surface as in my father’s photo showing underneath later surfacing.

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The map below is an extract from the 1893-1895 series Ordnance Survey map. This shows the area around Dundee Street and the Gun Tavern including some of the many street name changes. The River Thames is at the bottom of the map, and Wapping High Street is running left to right across the map.

At the time of this map, Dundee Street was called Upper Well Alley and can be seen running vertically from Wapping High Street just to the right of centre. The Gun Tavern is the building labelled PH at the junction of Upper Well Alley with Wapping High Street.

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The considerable number of pubs across Wapping can be seen just by the sample in this one small area. Including the Gun Tavern, there are seven Public Houses marked. Today, there are hardly any pubs across the whole of Wapping. The only inland pub is Turner’s Old Star on Watts Street. The other pubs are the riverside pubs, Town of Ramsgate, The Captain Kidd and The Prospect of Whitby. The Town of Ramsgate is shown in the above map as the PH just above Wapping Old Stairs. At the end of the 19th century, there were roughly 29 public houses along just Wapping High Street.

I have been unable to trace when Upper Well Alley changed named to Dundee Street. At the end of Upper Well Alley in the above map, facing on to the river is New Dundee Wharf, so the new name must have come from the name of the Wharf and as it has “New” at the start of the wharf the name of the wharf must have been relatively recent.

In the 19th century, the Gun Tavern was often used as a location in which to hold an inquest. Reading accounts of these from newspapers of the time provides a fascinating insight into life in Wapping and London.

The following is from the London Daily News of the 30th January 1846, the headline was “Heartless Conduct. Mysterious Suicide”:

“At a late hour last evening Mr. Baker held an inquest at the Gun Tavern, Gun Wharf, Wapping on the body of Mrs. Lucy Robinson, alias Hawker aged 36 years, who was found drowned. William Adamson, a fisherman, said that on Tuesday forenoon, whilst in his boat, grappling off Wapping in sixteen feet of water, his grappling iron brought up the body of the deceased. She had a long Cashmere scarf twisted tightly around her waist, and her bonnet strings were tied in nine knots close under the chin. Mr. Henry Lambert, proprietor of the Caledonian Arms, Pentonville, identified the body as that of his sister; she some months kept the Vine Tavern, Kentish Town; she was then a widow.

A man named William Hawker, an omnibus conductor, used to frequent the house. He soon after professed an attachment to her; he represented himself as a single man; the correspondence was carried on for some time, and he ultimately induced her to cohabit with him as man and wife. Witness, hearing of this fact went to her, for the purpose of expostulating with her on her conduct, when words ensued between Hawker and witness. Hawker struck him several violent blows, and knocked him down, the next day witness went to the house again, his intention being to get a warrant for the assault. when he went he found the house shut up, and that Hawker and deceased had gone to France; they soon after returned, when he heard they had been married and that Hawker had drawn about 900s of deceased’s money, from a bank in which she had deposited it. He had never seen her since.

Martha Gaylor of Vine-cottage, Kentish-town, deposed that she had been a tenant of the deceased’s, and on terms of intimacy for the last eight years. After deceased and Hawker came from France, they went to live at No. 11 Marylebone Street. She told witness she was married; and that since she had found out that he had a wife living. Witness knew that there was a woman called Mrs. Hawker, and had seen her call at the house since Hawker’s return from France. Deceased had often complained to witness of the ill-usage she received at the hands of Hawker, showing bruises on her wrists, face and other parts of her person; and that he was in the constant habit of drinking, and ill-using her since she had obtained her money. On Tuesday week he thrust her out of doors violently on to the pavement. She took drink occasionally.

On Saturday night last, at ten o’clock witness called upon her. She was then intoxicated; did not see her again alive. Was told subsequently that she suddenly left the house at twelve o’clock at night, and was not heard of again until her body was found. There being no other evidence to show by what means she came into the water, the jury said they should not be satisfied until the man Hawker was before them, to hear his statement. Marshall, the beadle, said he had summoned him, but he was not in attendance. The inquiry was therefore adjourned for his attendance, and the production of other evidence as to how the deceased came into the water.”

As well as many murders and suicides, the Gun Tavern also held inquests into the frequent accidents on the river. The following is from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper from the 25th August 1878 and has the headline “Fatal Boat Accident”:

“Yesterday evening Mr. Collier held an inquiry at the Gun Tavern, High-street, Wapping, touching the death of a young man named Charles Wicks. Deceased was a telegraph-wire worker, and on last Sunday he and several others went for a rowing an out-rigged four-oar cutter on the Thames, all being said to be used to rowing. When off Blackwall-point they were caught in the swell of a Newcastle boat, and the craft in which the deceased was, becoming filled, they had to jump out. Only two out of the five could swim. A witness threw him an oar, but it did not reach him. He and another man went down, the other three being picked up by the waterman’s skiff. the body was found off Wapping on Friday. The jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death.”

Reading the newspaper accounts of the numerous inquests held at the Gun Tavern covering suicides, murders and accidents quickly dispels any romantic view of life in Wapping by the River Thames in the 19th century.

As well as the inquests held in the Gun Tavern, the residents of Upper Well Alley were involved in many crimes, including murder. The following is from the Morning Post on the 26th August 1896, with the headline “The Wapping Tragedy”:

“James Jones, ship’s fireman, of 8, Upper Well-alley, Wapping, was charged yesterday on remand before Mr Dickenson, at the Thames Police Court, with the murder of Edward White by stabbing him in the neck with a knife. Further evidence was taken. That of the medical men who made the post-mortem examination showed that there were nine external wounds and 10 internal wounds. They were both incised and punctured, and all, with the exception of a small one at the back of the head, might have been caused by the knife produced. the most serious one was at the back of the neck, which divided the spinal column and vertebral artery. the wound which severed the spinal cord was a fatal one. Mr. Dickinson remanded the prisoner, and the witnesses who had given evidence were bound over.”

Another newspaper article from the 18th December 1894 had the title “Not sober for 4 years” and told the story of the death of a woman from number 8 Upper Well Alley, Wapping who had not been sober for over 4 years. The wife of a waterside labourer, she would not get up until 4 in the afternoon and had already taken everything in the house to the pawn shop to fund her drinking. When she could no longer move, she managed to get rum brought to her bed and after her death a bottle of spirits were found hidden underneath the pillow.

Upper Well Alley, or Dundee Street of today is very different to the days of the 19th century newspaper reports and is under going further change. The photo below taken in Dundee Street shows the St. Patrick’s Social Club building which I believe will soon be demolished.

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Dundee Street and along Green Bank was once home to St. Patrick’s Social Club, School and Church. Today only the church remains.

On the corner of Dundee Street and Green Bank is an old bollard dated 1899 and stating Limehouse District. In the late 19th century, the district of Limehouse extended from the main land area around St. Annes Limehouse, along a narrow strip of river side land in Wapping to a short extension inland here around Dundee Street. This bollard was the only remaining marker I could find around Dundee Street, Green Bank and Scandreet Street.

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Looking down Dundee Street, or as it was Upper Well Alley, from the junction with Green Bank.

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At the end of Green Bank, on the corner with Scandrett Street (or Church Street as it was on the 1895 Ordnance Survey map) is the old Turks Head pub (the PH at the very top, centre of the above map). Closed as a pub in the late 1970s, the Turks Head was restored by a charitable trust in the 1980s providing a community cafe for the local area.

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On the Scandrett Street side of the building is the original 1706 street name plaque, confirming that this was originally Bird Street.

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The following extract from John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the area in the right hand lower quarter. Bird Street is clearly marked as is Green Bank (about the only street in the area to retain its original name). Comparing with the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows that New Dundee Wharf was originally Gun Dock and leading north from here was Gun Alley and across Green Bank Lower Gun Alley. This explains where the name Gun Tavern came from although whether the street or the pub was named first is a good question.

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What appears to have happened over the last almost three hundred years is that Gun Alley was probably the original name, following by Upper Well Alley and then Dundee Street which remains the name today. Fascinating why names change so much and in this small area of Wapping only Green Bank retains its original name. (It is tempting to think that as Green Bank dates from at least 1746, the name may refer to an embankment along here that held the river back from further encroachment inland, much like the original street name of Narrow Wall on the South Bank, although I have not found any proof of this).

the following print  (©Trustees of the British Museum) shows the view of Gun Dock from the river in 1850. The church tower in the background is that of St. John’s which we will come to next.

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The original 1756 parish church of St. John’s is on the corner of Green Bank and Scandrett Street. The church was badly damaged during the war with only the tower and the shell of the rest of the church remaining. The building was later rebuilt as apartments so apart from the tower, the rest of the building is a new construction. To blend in with the surroundings much of the external walls were built using materials from other buildings destroyed during the war.

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Next to the church are the buildings of the St. John’s School. Although founded in 1695, the school was established by voluntary subscriptions in 1704, with old buildings on the west side of church street purchased to provide accommodation for the school. The site of these original buildings were included in a later expansion of the churchyard, so in exchange, a plot of land was given to the trustees of the school and the buildings that we see now constructed in 1756 to 60.

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The school appears to have been in a reasonably financially stable position. The 1819 the second report by the Commissioners on the Education of the Poor reported that the school held £2,000 in stocks and the dividends from these, as well as an annual £10 rent from the lease of a small parcel of land provided much of the income that the school needed. There was also a separate fund of £384 which had been raised by subscription among the inhabitants of Wapping in 1725. This money was used to purchase some land and buildings and at the time of the report a rent of £60 10 shillings was being generated for the school.

At the time of the report, the annual expenditure of the school was £480. The main costs were:

  • Clothing about £200
  • Schoolmasters and schoolmistress’s salary with coals, and etc. about £100
  • Repairs, about £40
  • Stationary, about £50

This was in excess of the dividends and money from rents received by the school, with the gap being made up from voluntary subscriptions.

Above the doors to the school, statues of school children in their blue coat uniforms. gun-tavern-11

Opposite the church and the school is the original churchyard.

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A plaque set into the wall of the churchyard, dated 1855 states that the wall belongs to the Parish of St. John of Wapping and is the boundary of the churchyard.

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The churchyard wall, plaque and old headstones lined up against the wall.

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One of the few remaining pubs in Wapping is the Town of Ramsgate – a pub which deserves a dedicated post. The pubs on the river almost certainly have a long-term future, their river facing location provide a reliable stream of custom which ensures their profitability and the history of pubs such as the Town of Ramsgate and the Prospect of Whitby should also hopefully also protect their future. The entrance to Wapping Old Stairs is down the alley to the right of the pub.

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If you walk a very short distance back along Wapping High Street towards the City, you cross the old entrance to the Wapping Basin and the London Docks. This has long been filled in following the closure of the docks, however stand on the Wapping High Street and look in land and the entrance to the Wapping basin is still visible with the walls of the entrance channel still either side of what is now a paved area.

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The buildings on the western side of Pier Head.

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The original buildings from when this was a working dock line the entrance at Pier Head either side of Wapping High Street.

The following photo is looking back towards Dundee Street from Pier Head. This was originally a swing bridge allowing the channel to be opened up whenever a ship needed to cross between the river and the Wapping Basin. This must have been really impressive to watch.

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When I travelled down the Thames last October I took the following photo from the river showing the entrance to the Wapping basin and the buildings of Pier Head on either side.

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Leaving Pier Head, i headed back to central London down a relatively quiet Wapping High Street until reaching the bustle of St. Katherine’s Docks which, on a busy Friday lunchtime was crowded with people.

The area around Dundee Street has so much history. I have not even touched on the River Police, or the stories associated with Execution Dock, but the area runs the risk of being turned into a quiet suburb of silent apartments lining Wapping High Street. This will be such a loss.

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