HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – The Prospect of Whitby

THE PROSPECT OF WHITBY

WAPPING / TOWER HAMLETS                                                                   

57 Wapping Wall, London

LOUISA CORNELL

 

 

The Prospect of Whitby is one of London’s oldest pubs and it is believed to be the oldest riverside pub on the Thames. There has been a pub on this site since 1520 which means it existed during the reign of Henry VIII. In fact, the original flagstone floor is still visible in the pub today. Four hundred year old craftsmanship endures.

The four hundred year old flagstone floor and pewter bar make the Prospect of Whitby one of the most authentic historic pubs in London.

The first pub on the site was called the Pelican. Because of its proximity to the river it quickly became a den of cutthroats, pirates, thieves, highwaymen, and many other unsavory denizens of the area. Larger ships had to berth in the middle of the river and goods were ferried to shore in smaller boats by men called lightermen. This made it easy for criminals to steal from the ships, and The Pelican often served as a base for these felons to disperse their stolen goods. In spite of the name on the sign, because of the constant nefarious activity the tavern eventually became known as the Devil’s Tavern. Of course, with this sort of clientele the local prostitutes congregated here as well.

Naturally with the large criminal contingent in attendance, the tavern also claims its proximity to the execution dock used to hang those condemned to death by the Admiralty Courts. To this day there is a scaffold and hanging noose outside the tavern. Wapping Old Stairs next to the tavern was where some of those sentenced to death – usually pirates – were chained to posts to await the incoming tide and death by drowning.

Like the Town of Ramsgate pub, the Prospect of Whitby was a favorite of the Hanging Judge George Jeffries (1645-1689) (see the Town of Ramsgate post.   http://numberonelondon.net/2021/05/historic-pub-crawl-town-of-ramsgate/) Once he began to frequent the establishment, the criminal element moved their activity elsewhere, or at least conducted their activities out of his sight. He had a special window built in the tavern that overlooked the execution dock so he could watch those whom he had condemned die. To this day people have reported seeing a man’s face gazing out the window where Jeffries used to sit. In an interesting side note, Jeffries supposedly had the bodies of those hanged dumped into the Thames. The body snatchers hid out in boats along the river’s edge to fish out the bodies and sell them to local medical schools.

The most famous criminal hanged at the execution dock at the Prospect of Whitby was Captain William Kidd. Ironic, as the Scottish sea captain was originally appointed by the Crown to hunt down pirates. He discovered piracy was much more profitable than hunting down pirates. He did quite well for a while. Unfortunately, in 1698 he captured The Quedagh, which was sailing under a French pass. The captain, however, was an Englishman and the rich cargo Kidd took was property of the East India Company. Kidd was eventually captured and brought back to London where he was sentenced to death for piracy and for the murder of one of his own crewmen (in 1697) who had dared to cross him.

It took three tries to execute Captain Kidd. The first two ropes broke. The third one held and once he was dead his body was dipped in tar and hung by chains on the banks of the Thames as a warning to other pirates.

After a fire in the early nineteenth century the tavern was rebuilt and renamed. As the owners had tried everything to disassociate their tavern from its dangerous reputation, for a while they had removed all signage. Those who wished to direct someone to the tavern would say “You want the tavern across from the Prospect of Whitby. The Prospect of Whitby was a collier that berthed next to the tavern. The ship hauled coal from Newcastle on Tyne to London. Eventually the directions were shortened to the Prospect of Whitby and the owners of the newly rebuilt establishment decided to adopt the name permanently. Much more amiable a name than The Devil’s Tavern. Even with the new name a few of the tavern’s more lucrative activities continued. The cock fighting pit and the bare knuckle boxing arena were in use well into the nineteenth century.

Of course the pub claims its more upstanding celebrity visitors as well. The diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was said to have had supper at the tavern quite frequently. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was known to visit as well. The artists J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and James Abbott MacNeill Whistler (1834-1903) both visited and made sketches of views from the pub.

Is the pub haunted, you ask?

According to customers from the eighteenth century forward, the Prospect of Whitby is the grand central station of riverside hauntings. To name just a few:

Supposedly one is often accosted walking to the pub at night by the waterlogged ghosts of the men hanged or drowned at the execution dock in search of their bodies taken by the body snatchers. Other similar ghosts are said to be in search of Judge George Jeffries to exact revenge.

The ghost of a young woman dressed in a doublet, breeches, and smoking a pipe is often seen sitting in the dark corners of the pub watching guests drink. Supposedly, she was a moll cutpurse – a woman who would sidle up to unsuspecting (translation:drunk and in search of feminine company) men and cut their purses from their belts. She is believed to have been caught by one of her marks before she could get away and the gentleman beat her to death in the back of the tavern. One wonders if she is visiting the pub these days in search of her next mark.

Oh, and remember that fire in the early nineteenth century? The cobblestone streets around the tavern all but guarantee it is shrouded in fog at night. The cobblestones retain heat and the cold night air pulls that heat out as fog. The fog was even thicker in the nineteenth century when horse and foot traffic kept the roads heated at all times. As a result it was not unusual to see shapes, but nothing clearly, if one happened to stroll by the tavern after closing time. However, people began to say they saw lights in the Prospect of Whitby long after the owners had closed up and gone to bed. Not just lights, but lights enough to see clear through the pub to the river. And in those lights they saw a figure moving about the tavern. A figure very like that of Captain William Kidd. Eventually the owners decided they did not want people coming to the pub after closing in an attempt to see the mysterious figure. So one night they decided to leave the lights on in the tavern. Big mistake. That very night a fire broke out in the back of the tavern and burned nearly to the execution dock. If not for the newly inaugurated fire brigade the fire might have spread throughout the dockside buildings. Needless to say once the tavern was restored the lights were left out after closing. Just in case. A vengeful Captain Kidd is not to be trifled with.  

 

 

 

These days there is no need to imagine what the pub might have looked like when pirates, cutthroats, and thieves occupied the tables there. From the rickety stairs to the stone-flagged floors to the crooked doors and heavy rum flagons the Prospect of Whitby looks very much as it did then. For a trip back in time to the swashbuckling days of yore, this pub is definitely worth a visit. Just pay attention to sudden chills and the hairs on the back of your neck!

 

 

 

 

HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – The Grenadier – aka The Most Haunted Pub in London

THE GRENADIER

BELGRAVIA / KNIGHTSBRIDGE

18 Wilton Row, London

LOUISA CORNELL

 

 

The building that houses The Grenadier was originally built in 1720. It served as the officers’ mess for the senior infantry regiment of his His Majesty’s Army, the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards. The building was, in fact, located in the courtyard of their barracks. This particular regiment played an important role in the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. And after they defeated the emperor’s French Imperial Guard they felt the need to adapt the Imperial Guard’s bearskins as their regimental trademark and they changed their name to the Grenadier Guards. Apparently when one whoops the derrieres of Napoleon’s elite one can do that.

It is understandable then that when the building was repurposed as a tavern called The Guardsman in 1818 that many of its customers were members of the regiment still housed in the nearby barracks. In honor of their success at Waterloo it wasn’t long before the tavern changed its name to The Grenadier. Because of its rather out of the way location, the Duke of Wellington and even King George IV are said to have stopped by for a pint or two.

 

 

The upper rooms of the tavern were used by the more urbane customers. The common soldiers used the cellar as their personal haven to drink and wile away the hours playing cards. It is said on a September evening in 1818 a young Grenadier guard named Cedric was caught cheating at cards. His fellow card players punished him with a beating so brutal he died, right there in the cellar of The Grenadier.

And apparently, Cedric never left. Whilst his presence is felt in various ways throughout the year, for some reason the month of September still gets Cedric stirred up. During September a solemn, silent spectre is said to be seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms. Objects have been known to disappear or to be moved during the night. Unseen hands rattle tables and chairs. Footsteps have been heard in empty rooms. Low moans can sometimes be heard from the cellar when there is no one down there. At times rooms in the pub become icy cold and can remain so for hours, days, or even an entire month at the time.

A Chief Superintendent from New Scotland Yard was having a drink at The Grenadier one evening when he noticed puffs of smoke swirling around him. He reached out to try and detect the source of the smoke and snatched his hand back in pain. He’d been burned by a cigarette. The thing was, there was no one there.

Another even more recent event involved a barman who went down into the cellar to fetch some cigars for the bar. Cigarette breaks were hard to come by, especially when The Grenadier was busy. He stopped for a moment to have a cigarette. The landlord’s cat appeared in the cellar, an unusual event in and of itself as the cat wasn’t ever allowed out of the owner’s flat over the pub. Suddenly the cellar turned icy cold. The barman’s crystal ashtray flew across the room into the wall. The cat bowed up and sank his teeth and claws into the barman’s ankle. Needless to say the barman shook off the cat and shot up the stairs out of the cellar and back into the pub.

The Grenadier is still hard to find if you don’t know exactly where it is. The building is surrounded by lovely cottages and one must weave in and out of various cobblestone lanes and narrow private side streets to reach the beautiful Georgian building beneath the shade of a magnificent tree. The distinct red and blue accents against the whitewashed walls gives the pub a distinct pop.

 

The Grenadier is the typical old pub with random objects on the walls and sturdy wooden furniture. The Boot Room is where the general public imbibes as it has more of the common touch. Which includes a ceiling papered with pound notes. Why? To pay Cedric’s gambling debts, of course. If one doesn’t want to incur his wrath or have him light up a cigarette next to one it is best to do one’s part.

 

 

 

 

The Wellington room is a bit more elegant with ornate mirrors and leather Chesterfield seating. Which creates an atmosphere that has been called spooky. Be forewarned.

 

 

 

 

 

For a more personal visit to the most haunted pub in London, check out this post by our very own Kristine Hughes-Patrone and her travel companions!

http://numberonelondon.net/2015/07/the-wellington-tour-dinner-at-the-grenadier/

HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – The Lamb and Flag

THE LAMB AND FLAG                                                           

COVENT GARDEN

33 Rose Street, London

LOUISA CORNELL

 

 

The name of this pub is derived from the Bible verse John 1:29, where John the Baptist sees Jesus and exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The flag is the flag of St. George. The symbolism was long associated with the Knights Templar and the Fleet Street entrance to the Middle Temple of the Bar has a sculpture of the Lamb and Flag on its keystone with the date 1684.

Known as the oldest tavern in Covent Garden, the basic building for this establishment was built in 1623 during the reign of James I, although the specific association of the site with an inn or tavern is less certain. The structure has undergone a great many renovations and rebuilds, but the original timber frame remains. Over the years the rebuilds and alterations have sought to keep the original details of the building. This includes a parapet that runs the width of the top of the building. There is even a carving of the Lamb and Flag at the center or the parapet.

Parapet of the Lamb of Flag

The spot has a connection to a number of poets and writers, even before any recorded history of its use as a tavern. Poet and satirist, Samuel Butler (1613-1680) did live on Rose Street (formerly known as Red Rose Street) in the area of the narrow alley where the Lamb and Flag is now located. If there was a tavern there he is said to have been a patron. Dickens was a customer there in his youth as he worked at a boot blacking establishment nearby when he was in his teens. The playwright, Richard Sheridan frequented the tavern at this location and even fought a duel on the corner of nearby Bedford Street in 1772 over an insult printed in the Bath Chronicle.

A more documented link to the poet John Dryden (1631-1700) is associated with what was called Rose Alley where the present day entrance to the saloon bar of the Lamb and Flag is located.

Rose Alley aka Lazenby Court

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today from Rose Street to Floral Street down the side of the Lamb and Flag is a very narrow alley, Lazenby Court, so narrow that in order to pass people must turn slightly sideways. The event that took place on December 18/19, 1679 was called the Rose Alley Ambuscade. John Dryden was attacked and nearly killed by a group of masked ruffians. He was supposedly on his way home from Will’s Coffee House on the corner of Russell Street and Bow Street. Dryden wrote a great many poems and essays vilifying the elite of London and the royal court. Rumor has it the thugs were hired by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (author of some very naughty poetry himself) and / or the Duchess of Portsmouth, mistress of King Charles II at the time – two of Dryden’s targets. The culprits, however, were never made known, in spite of a handsome reward offered for their names.

 

“Whereas John Dreyden, Esq. was on Thursday the 18th instant, at night, barbarously assaulted and wounded in Rose-street, in Covent-Garden, by diverse men unknown: if any person shall make discovery of the said offenders to the said Mr. Dreyden, or to any Justice of the Peace, he shall not only receive fifty pounds, which is deposited in the hands of Mr. Blanchard, goldsmith, next door to Temple-Bar, for the said purpose, but if he be a principal or an accessory in the said fact, his Majesty is graciously pleased to promise him his pardon for the same.”

London Gazette, No. 1472, 29 December 1679

It was first recorded as a tavern in 1772 when it was known as the Cooper’s Arms. During this era the establishment gained its second name – The Bucket of Blood – due to the bare knuckle fights that took place in the room upstairs or in the courtyard outside the tavern on a weekly basis. This nickname continued to hold true even after it finally became the Lamb and Flag in 1833.

 

 

 

 

 

These activities made the Lamb and Flag a popular spot for the bruisers, bucks, and gentlemen of the Georgian Era. It also provided the pub with its current ghostly resident, George. But, I’ll let someone who works there tell you about George.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8V52ynVYdM

The Dryden Room – The Lamb and Flag

Interior the Lamb and Flag

The bouts of bare knuckle fighting are over at the Lamb and Flag these days. Although rumor has it one might have to put up one’s “fives” to access Sunday roast in the Dryden Room upstairs as it is a very popular spot for Sunday dinner with the locals. Just don’t take any bets with a French sailor named George. Nobody likes a gentleman who doesn’t pay his bets. And if you write poetry poking fun at the nobility it is best to stay clear of the alley next to the pub.

HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – Town of Ramsgate

TOWN OF RAMSGATE

WAPPING

62 Wapping High Street, London

LOUISA CORNELL

 

 

The first pub on this site was established during the War of the Roses (1460’s.) It was called The Hostel. The street numbers changed over the years, but the site was always home to a pub under various monikers. In 1533 it became known as The Red Cow, supposedly in honor of a barmaid with flaming red hair who worked in the establishment. At some point it was the Prince of Denmark, no idea why. In 1766 it was renamed the Ramsgate Old Town and eventually in 1811 it acquired its present name – the Town of Ramsgate.

Why the Town of Ramsgate, you ask? Good question, and I have a slightly nefarious answer. Sailors from Ramsgate in Kent landed their catches at the Wapping Old Stairs, next to the pub, in order to avoid the river taxes charged further up the river at the Billingsgate Fish Market. It is debated whether the pub was named to attract the fishermen or if the fishermen named the pub after their own safe harbor. Either way the harbor at Ramsgate as seen in 1850 graces the pub sign now and is etched into the mirror at the entrance to the pub today.

Now about those stairs.

Wapping Old Stair

Those stairs led up to the execution docks where prisoners of the Admiralty Courts were hanged on short ropes for their crimes. Why short ropes? Because short ropes took longer to finish the deed and patrons of the Town of Ramsgate often stood outside the pub to watch and cheer. Most of these prisoners were convicted of smuggling, mutiny or piracy. Not all pirates were hanged. If one looks today one can see the chains where pirates were locked on the stairs waiting for the rising tide to come in and drown them.

Old Wapping Stairs as the tide comes in

The stairs were depicted to great fame in the works of Rawlinson (cartoons) and Dibden (poems.)

Wapping Old Stairs – Thomas Rawlinson

Many returning sailors arranged to meet their sweethearts at the Wapping Old Stairs when they returned from the sea. This aspect of the history of the pub and the stairs is commemorated by the verse on the wall of the pub.

“Your Polly has never been faithless she swears, since last year we parted on Old Wapping Stairs”

The Town of Ramsgate shares a great deal of its history with the lives of England’s sailors. Many a drunk would wander from the safety of the pub to be pressed into service in the King’s Navy.

A press gang at work.

 

 

 

 

 

The pub’s cellars served as jail cells for convicts who were set to be deported to Australia.

Legend has it Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian had their last drinks before setting sail on their ill-fated trip to Tahiti at the Town of Ramsgate in 1789. Likely true, as it is documented this is where Bligh and his voyage sponsor Sir Joseph Banks met at the pub to inspect the Bounty before purchasing it for the voyage.

These days the pub is only known for lively arguments on quiz night.   

 

 

 

 

 

Should you decide to explore the alleyway to the side of the pub that leads to the Wapping Old Stairs you might encounter the local ghost, a ghost the Thames Police have reported seeing to this day. Judge George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys, (15 May 1645 – 18 April 1689) rose to prominence during the reign of James II. He became Lord Chief Justice and eventually Lord Chancellor. His loyalty to the king was without question. However, after Monmouth’s Rebellion in 1685 he was sent to the West Country to conduct the trials of those rebels who participated in the rebellion. He gained a reputation for his abuse of the attorneys of the accused, his sometimes biased application of the law and his tendency to hand out death sentences like drinks at a political rally. He became the most feared and hated judge in England.

After James II fled England and William and Mary ascended the throne, Jeffreys waited to long to follow his king to the Continent. In 1688 he disguised himself as a sailor, shaved his distinctive bushy brows, and waited at the Town of Ramsgate to catch a ship. Unfortunately, a victim of his cruelty – either an accused rebel or an attorney for same recognized the judge. He was captured by a mob at the Town of Ramsgate and narrowly missed being hanged at the top of the Wapping Stairs. He was taken to the Tower of London and died there of kidney failure in 1689.

It is said his ghost can be seen leaving the pub and trying to take the stairs down to the docks to meet the ship he missed, ever looking over his shoulder in search of the angry mob that captured him so long ago.

 

HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – The Cock Pit

THE COCKPIT                                                                                 

BLACKFRIARS

7 St. Andrew’s Hill

LOUISA CORNELL

 

 

 

The first thing one might notice about The Cockpit is the odd shape of the building. It looks rather like the prow of a ship sailing up the alleyways at the juncture of Ireland Yard and St. Andrew’s Hill.

    

There has been an inn, tavern or pub on this site since as early as 1352 when the first mention of The Oakbourn Inn is recorded. This inn was actually situated on the eastern edge of Dominican friars, or Blackfriars, monastery.

Although Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1530, most of the buildings of the Blackfriars Monastery were left intact. Interestingly enough, in 1613 the gatehouse to the old monastery was purchased by a young actor and playwright and several of his acting friends for the sum of 140 pounds to be used as a theatre and makeshift lodging for members of the troupe. The actor’s name? William Shakespeare.                                              

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst the Blackfriars Gatehouse was eventually torn down a number of establishments were built on the site.  In 1787 a tavern called The Cockpit was recorded as opening there. The building was completely renovated in 1842, but the name remained.

As the name declares, the tavern was once one of the major venues for the “sport” of cockfighting in London. Two roosters, bred and cared for as athletes, were thrown into the ring together, sometimes with knives or spurs attached to their feet, and their natural aggression towards each other was allowed to play out while crowds of gentlemen bet and bayed for blood. The match was deemed over and a victor declared once one rooster was either dead or maimed to the point he could not carry on the fight.

19th century cockfighting

When one enters the pub today one is actually walking into the combat ring. Look up towards the eighteen foot ceilings and the original balustrades of the balcony denote where the spectators stood to observe the cockfights.

Interior The Cockpit
Balcony of The Cockpit

 

Fortunately, cockfighting was made illegal and banned in England and Wales in 1849. At some point the tavern was refurbished and renamed either The Three Kings of The Three Castles. Research sources diverge on this subject. It went through another refurbishment in 1865 and sometime between then and 1984 retained the name The Cockpit once more.

The decor of the present pub pays homage to the pub’s heritage with 19th century prints of fighting cocks and even a stuffed rooster to greet visitors at the door.

     

 

 

 

 

 

As with all tales of gambling and blood sports, it is rumored The Cockpit is visited from time to time by the ghost of a lady who is seen wringing her hands over her lack of money because of her husband’s gambling debts. The story is she made the mistake of following him to The Cockpit to prevent him from placing yet another bet. Unfortunately the man was in serious need of anger management. He supposedly beat her to death in the cellar of the pub or in the alley just outside the cellar doors and went back to the cockfight as if nothing had happened. On dark and quiet nights one is said to be able to hear their final confrontation and to catch the poor lady bemoaning her fate.