Tuesday 2nd February – fifth meeting of 2016
We met at Lewisham to catch the DLR to Tower Gateway, but the day did not start well as we managed to catch the wrong train twice and then had to wait for the third train. Once at Tower Gateway we met up with the leader and a few other walkers on the platform but were wrongly led down the stairs to the street! A large group assembled for the walk and so we followed the leader out of the station and along past the Tower of London.
Crossing the road proved difficult as with such a large group you had to be very quick to get across before the lights changed!
We entered St Katharine’s Dock and admired the boats in the three basins which opened in 1828 after a hospital, medieval church and over 1000 houses had been demolished to make way for the dock. Tea, rubber, wool, marble, sugar, tallow and ivory were all unloaded here and stored in the adjoining warehouses. Some of these have now been turned into Dickens Inn – an old wooden three storey warehouse and the Ivory House – an ivory warehouse built in 1854 of brick and cast iron has now been turned into flats. We saw the steps used in Dickens time and the former Dock Masters House.
We then walked across to the riverside and walked by the dock walls to Wapping High Street, which is a very long street reaching almost to Limehouse. It was built around 1570 to link the legal quays in the City to the new storage warehouses downstream at New Crane Wharf. People settled along the road, sailors, victuallers etc and thus begun the maritime community of the East End.
We saw several of the new housing developments built over the London Docks after they closed in 1960’s after over 100 years of work. We saw the double row of Georgian houses around a railed garden at Wapping Pier Head, which were built for the Dock officials the gardens now covering the entrance to the docks. Down the side of the Town of Ramsgate pub a narrow alleyway led to Wapping Old Stairs and we all tried to see across to Butlers Wharf and The Tower. Judge Jeffries (hanging judge) tried to flee from here in 1688 on a collier but was captured.
The group then walked down Scandrett Street to see the outside of an 18th century former charity school with the figures of a boy and a girl on the front of the building and these are now homes.
We then came to the boatyard of the River Police which were set up in 1798 and are now part of the Metropolitan River Patrol. Looking across the river from the adjacent gardens we had fine views of the Angel pub and Canary Wharf on the South side of the river. We continued passing the River Police Station, Captains Kidd pub and Swan wharf and came to the King Henry Stairs where in the 16th century a cannon foundry made guns for Henry V111’s navy. This later became the traditional execution spot for convicted pirates – Captain Kidd was hanged here in 1701. The hangings were usually carried out at low tide and then three high tides were allowed to wash over the body before it was cut down and buried! Last hanging here at Execution Dock was 1830. We were all keeping up and passed Wapping Station where the tube runs under the river which was the first underwater tunnel engineered by Brunel which opened in 1843 after 20 years of tunneling. We walked round to Pelican Wharf where the old London Hydraulic Power Company’s pumping station supplied hydraulic power for the cranes and lifts for the docks and also theatres and offices as far as Earl’s Court from 1893 to 1977. From 2000 it is now a cafe and art gallery.
We were supposed to enjoy a ‘loo break’ here but I’m afraid the facilities in the basement had no lights, locked doors and a pervading ‘aroma’ that our group took against so we abandoned the walk and adjourned to the Prospect of Whitby pub opposite for use of the facilities, coffee and snacks. The pub has roots going back to 1520 and is atmospheric with a higgledy piggledy dark interior, flagstone floors, varnished wood panelling and a lovely balcony on the first floor where we sat which overlooked the river views. Very welcoming.
After a short time we were joined by several others from the walk who had finished the walk just around the bend and had come back for refreshments.
After a pleasant break we made out way back to the station and managed to return home with no hitches!