Explore both sides of the river east of the Tower of London, visit some historic riverside pubs and see other historic places such as Brunel’s Engine House.
This is a great walk to do on a weekend, and there are plenty of opportunities for eating, drinking and resting along the way.
This walk was written and first published in 2012.
The walk starts from Rotherhithe station and ends at St Katharine Docks
exit Rotherhithe station, turning left, and very shortly turn left again along a small alleyway leading to Railway Avenue.
After passing Brunel Museum and Brunel Engine House, turn left at the end of Railway Avenue, along Rotherhithe Street. Soon you will see The Mayflower pub on your right.
As its name suggests, the Mayflower pub is a London pub with a very important link to American history. It was from this pub in Rotherhithe in 1620 that the Mayflower ship set sail for America, carrying a group of Protestants fleeing religious persecution. These passengers were to become the Pilgrim Fathers.
The Mayflower and its crew returned to Rotherhithe in 1621. The Captain, Christopher Jones, died a year later and is buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard, near the pub. Sadly, his grave is unmarked but a plaque records his fateful journey.
The pub was originally called the Shippe. A century later it was rebuilt and renamed the Spread Eagle and Crown. In 1957 the Spread Eagle and Crown was restored. In recognition of its historic connection with America, it was renamed the Mayflower.
Brunel Engine House was part of the original infrastructure for the nearby Thames Tunnel, which was built in 1825 by Brunel. (It housed machinery for draining the tunnel.) The tunnel was the first in the world to have been successfully built beneath a river.
The tunnel was designed for horse-drawn carriages but only used by pedestrians, and was unprofitable until it was purchased in 1865 for use as a rail link between Wapping and south London. The tunnel’s disused original entrance shafts in Wapping and Rotherhithe were eventually converted into today’s underground stations of the same names. The tunnel continues to be used by trains today, as part of the London Overground system.
Did You Know?
The Mayflower pub is licensed to sell both US and British postage stamps, having been a post office for the river.
There is another place in London with an important link to American history. It is Pickering Place in St James, which was the location of the Texan Republic’s embassy until the state joined the US union in 1845.
continue along Rotherhithe Street, towards Tower Bridge. (Rotherhithe Street joins into the Thames Path.) Just after you pass King Stairs Gardens, you will see The Angel pub, beside the river.
The Angel pub stands alone on the south bank of the Thames, near the ruins of a manor house (c.1350) built for King Edward III. A 15th century inn built by the monks of Bermondsey Priory once stood on the site.
Christopher Jones, captain of the Mayflower, is said to have hired crew at this pub and Captain Cook prepared for his voyage to Australia here.
Did You Know?
When Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, visited London in the mid 1600s, he would have had a pleasant country walk from the City. However, during the next 200 years London sprawled as the British Empire expanded. Its east-end river banks were developed as docks and wharves, as trade with the British colonies grew.
Bermondsey’s crowded waterfront became one of the worst slums in London, a haunt for thieves and smugglers. In the 20th century, wartime bombing and economic changes left this area a wasteland. However, recent regeneration of the riverside for residential purposes has meant the old wharves have become desirable places to visit again.
return to the Mayflower pub and retrace your steps back to Rotherhithe station. Catch the London Overground line north to Wapping station. Turn right when leaving Wapping station and go along Wapping High Street, turning right again along Wapping Wall until you reach the Prospect of Whitby pub (on your right).
The Prospect of Whitby is possibly London’s most famous pub. It dates from 1543 and was built as a simple tavern in the docks. By the 17th century it had a reputation as a meeting place for smugglers and villains and became known as ‘Devil’s Tavern’.
After fire gutted the Devil’s Tavern in the eighteenth century, it was rebuilt and renamed the Prospect of Whitby after a ship that was moored nearby.
Though rebuilt, the interior of the pub still retains its charm. The main bar has a flagstone floor, and its long bar counter is built on barrels and has a rare pewter top. Above the bar, timber beams and upright pillars were once sections of a ship’s mast.
Did You Know?
From the balcony at the back of the Prospect of Whitby pub, you will see a hangman’s noose swinging over the river. This is a nod to one notorious customer of the pub, Judge Jeffreys, who was known as the ‘Hanging Judge’. He infamously ordered the execution of the leaders and men of the failed Monmouth Rebellion (1685), which was an attempt to overthrow Catholic King James II. (Over 200 men were hanged.)
According to legend, Jeffreys was always either drunk or in a rage. When James II fled to France, Jeffreys tried to follow but was caught at nearby Wapping Old Stairs (next to the Town of Ramsgate pub), and taken to the Tower of London where he became ill and died.
when exiting the Prospect of Whitby pub, turn left and retrace your steps back to Wapping station. Continue past the station and along Wapping High Street until you reach the Town of Ramsgate pub on your left.
This area has various links with seventeenth century pirates and seafaring criminals. One of the better known pirates was Captain (William) Kidd, who was born in England around 1645.
Originally employed to capture pirates, he soon became one. One of his greatest “achievements” was capturing a ship called the Quedagh Merchant, which landed Kidd with one of the greatest pirate treasures ever. Unfortunately, the ship belonged not to other pirates but to the British East India Company.
Kidd was captured in New York, sent back to England and was sentenced to death. He was hanged at Wapping (at Execution Dock, which is near the Town of Ramsgate pub) in 1701. The hangman’s rope broke twice before finally holding. His body was then covered in tar and left to rot in a cage overhanging the river.
The Town of Ramsgate pub is a long narrow pub next to an alleyway known as Wapping Old Stairs. The stairs lead down to the riverside where fishermen from Ramsgate, Kent, sold their catch. The pub was formerly called the Red Cow, supposedly because a barmaid who worked there had red hair.
Hemmed in by its neighbours, a former warehouse and an elegant merchant’s house, this little pub was once part of a lively and bustling port. It also has a dark and brutal past.
Men pressed ganged into serving on ships and convicts destined for transportation to the Colonies, were held in cellars at the pub. Execution Dock was situated nearby. Men were hanged then chained to posts in the river, the tide rising over them three times before their bodies were removed.
Did You Know?
It was on Wapping Old Stairs, in 1688, that Judge Jeffries (the Hanging Judge) was captured whilst trying to flee the country dressed as a sailor.
on exiting the Town of Ramsgate pub, turn left and continue along Wapping High Street for about 10 minutes.
When you reach a roundabout, veer left and go along St Katherine’s Way (walking parallel with the river). You will eventually arrive at St Katharine’s Dock and should see the Dickens Inn ahead of you, to your right.
Though these days it is a relaxing outdoor dining and entertainment marina, where you can enjoy a drink on a sunny afternoon surrounded by luxury yachts, St Katharine Docks was once a very busy industrial site.
There has been a dock here since 1125, and in its history it has housed both a hospital and monastery.
The Dickens Inn is a restyled and reconstructed wooden warehouse building thought to have housed tea or to have been owned by a local brewery. It certainly existed at the turn of the 18th century and may well have been born in the 1700’s. The building is original but it has been moved 70 metres from its original site.
Did You Know?
St Katharine Docks took its name from the former on site hospital of St Katharine’s by the Tower.
you have now completed this walk.
to join the Underground system, the nearest station is Tower Hill. Follow signs to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge and from there, to Tower Hill underground.