This is my third and final post on our stroll along a tiny section of the Thames Path in east London. You will recall we began by the Gold Grasshopper, and in part two got as far as Wapping High Street. Well today we begin with Captain William Kidd, a ‘pirating’ legend. Born in Scotland in 1645, Kidd spent most of his life in the Americas. In the mid 1690s he was commissioned by a number of English lords to attack other English pirates. The venture did not quite go to plan for Kidd and by 1698 he was a wanted pirate. Eventually imprisoned in America in 1699 his trial took place in the House of Parliament in 1701. Deserted by his English patrons Kidd was convicted of murder and piracy. It took two attempts to execute him at Execution Dock in Wapping as the rope broke on the first attempt. His body was then gibbeted on the banks of the Thames at Tilbury for a number of years as a warning to other ‘would be pirates’. The manner of death, the uncertainly over his guilt and the belief that he had left buried treasure has created many pirating legends. It has also led to the naming of a pub after him – Captain Kidd – located not far from where he would have been executed and where we stopped for a Birthday drink.
Once a warehouse the Captain Kidd is a fabulous place to stop for a drink because of its terrace and bow windows over looking the Thames. You can easily past a hour or more (as we did!) watching the occasional river traffic. It is from this point you would have observed in 1620 the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ boarding the Mayflower captained by Christopher Jones. Whilst Plymouth is believed to be the last port of call before they set sail for America, the ship began its journey in London. In fact the pub opposite has been renamed The Mayflower as rumour has it the pub’s mooring point (then known as The Spread Eagle) was the ‘London’ mooring point for the Mayflower. By the way if you are intrigued by the sign for Charles Hay & Son 1789, they were Barge Builders. You can find out more about them here.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away from Captain Kidd’s terrace and continued our journey. Initially down Wapping High Street and then beside the river with helicopters overhead as we made our way towards the Prospect of Whitby apparently the oldest riverside pub in London. I say apparently as the Mayflower also claims to be the oldest pub on the Thames so clearly there is some uncertainty! What is known is that both Samuel Pepys in the 17th century and Charles Dickens in the 19th frequented this pub, and that executions once took place on the beach it overlooks at low tide. As we had timed our walk well and it was low tide I had to go down of course to stand on the beach and enjoy the views of the wharves and docks further down stream. As well as peering up stream to see how far we had walked – not far!
Across the road was a lovely red brick Victorian building. This was once the power house of Wapping and in fact much of London. Through a series of underground pipes it provided hydraulic power for the docks cranes and lifts, including lifts in private premises until the 1970s. Returning back to the river we make our way round Shadwell Basin, over the disused bascule bridge and into King Edward VII Memorial Park. My second park honouring King Edward VII this year, you’ll have to visit my Portuguese blog in a couple of weeks for more on the first. For now though lets focus on this London park, created in the early 1920s on the site of Shadwell Fish Market. It was from here that Sir Hugh Willoughby, then a few later Stephen and William Borough and later still Sir Martin Frobisher set sail to explore the Northern Passage. Only Sir Frobisher made it as Sir Willoughby was ‘frozen unto death’ and the Boroughs were thwarted by ice. It seems Shadwell was a favourite for Captains as in later centuries it was the home of Captain James Cook and the local burial register notes the deaths of 75 captains and their wives. It was also the birthplace of Jane Randolph – mother of Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s Founding Fathers. So much history in just one place, and history I never knew about until this walk.
Leaving Shadwell Park we found ourselves on the Free Trade Wharf, built by the East India Company in the 18th century. The stunning warehouses, now apartments, date from 1870. This was once an extremely rough area surrounded by slums and frequented by sailors. These days it all feels rather elegant and expensive. Beyond these converted flats is a more modern block, which whilst not as elegant as the warehouses, does work. Just a shame no-one is caring for the wharf. The views though across the river are lovely even on a grey albeit warm September day.
The Thames Path moves away from the river for a short distance at this point, and we found ourselves on a very narrow street called Narrow Street with warehouses either side. Four of the warehouses, Sun Wharf, were once the home of Sir David Lean, film director and behind these walls exists apparently a stunning house and gardens. However we were on the wrong side of the walls to see what was on the other side, and at the time it was the crane that caught my eye. A few steps further on and we had reached the entrance of Limehouse Basin and the end of our walk. The basin may no longer be home to commercial shipping but it is still a much used area and the entrance to the Regents Canal. Now that’s another story and walk!
We may have got to the end of our stroll but I have been left with a desire to explore more of the Thames Path. Not sure when we will be able to fit it in as we return to Portugal in a few weeks, but it will happen one day. For now though why not make a note in your diary to return here next week and join me for another Monday walk.