Ahh pubs. Is there any more fitting a symbol of London’s understated energy than a good old boozer? For many, the answer is no. Pubs have been there to cushion us through heartbreaks, to toast our health on anniversaries, and to help us pass the time between appointments. They are a sacred space to meet our oldest friends, to make new ones, to remember, to forget, to feel invincible, and vulnerable, but most importantly, they don’t discriminate. Your local doesn’t pub doesn’t care about your family heritage, what you do for a living, or how refined your palette is; everyone is welcome. Our venue for the afternoon, The Prospect of Whitby, is certainly testament to that stance, with a historical clientele which spans the entire social spectrum for better or worse. So, won’t you join us for a pint, while we soak up the rich tapestry of this ancient pub??
Tucked quietly away on the south side of London’s Shadwell Basin, you might be forgiven for missing this spot. The Prospect of Whitby is sandwiched between nondescript modern architecture which punctuate the age of this 1520 establishment, but what its neighbours lack in history, this pub certainly makes up for. On entering, you can immediately feel the weight of the past under your feet. The ceilings are low, the corners are dark, and there isn’t a room in this building in which you don’t need to climb at least one step to enter. If Peter Pan and his ‘lost boys’ were drinkers, not children, this would probably be a world in which they would find themselves quite comfortable. It takes no time for us to find a spot in the upper room which overlooks the river, and we are able to quickly unwind after a woking day, a crucial feature for any pub worth its salt, but an increasingly rare one to find in the capital.
But what about that unusual name? Owing to the pub's questionable early occupants of pirates and thieves, this building earned the nickname among locals of ‘The Devil’s Tavern’. But with a strong desire to distance his business from this, the landlord set to work, and the premises quickly became recognised as “that pub by The Prospect of Whitby”, a ship which had been docked nearby. But is seems that this early reputation wasn’t completely unfair. No small part of this pub’s underworld legend is attributed to its proximity to ‘the execution dock’, a spot in which pirates were regularly hanged because of crimes they didn’t quite get away with, and in fact, the pub boasts a replica gallows which hangs from the back entrance over the murky waters of The Thames river. The 17th Century lawmaker and King James II supporter, Judge Jeffreys, also favoured this bolt-hole, himself charged with taking the lives of hundreds of Catholics who apposed the monarch, and in the process earned himself the nickname of ‘Hanging Judge Jeffries’.
The room that we’re sat in should, on paper, do nothing to ease your mood or make you feel at home, but somehow it works. Directly opposite my seat is a plaque which reminds us that this room used to house bare knuckle boxing matches, and the occasional cock fight, activities designed to excite the spirit of the sailors from Stevenson’s literature, but which seem at odds with the delicately placed china cabinets, and uneven floorboards. But to play with the contrasts of English eccentricity further, we are told that this drinking spot was favoured by revered legends of the silver screen, icons of world literature, and even royalty. Paul Newman, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, Prince Rainier of Monaco, and artists Turner and Whistler have all sunk a pint in the rooms of The Prospect of Whitby, a building drenched in the history of some of the world’s greatest heroes and villains.
In all honesty, we were initially drawn here on the promise of “bloody good chips”, and while Josh and Theresa had visited before, I’m almost ashamed to admit that I hadn’t heard of the place. But then, isn’t that the special thing about this city? That it never fails to show you something new of itself? That just when you feel that you have earned the right to give a stranger directions without consulting your phone, London opens up its coat and invites you on an exciting new adventure, right on your doorstep. The Prospect of Whitby has charmed us, and we’ll definitely be back!
The Prospect of Whitby is located at 57 Wapping Wall, London, E1W 3SH
Open seven days a week.
For this pub trip, Theresa wears: Toys McCoy TMC1934 S/S Military Sweatshirt (Smoky Pink), Warehouse & Co ‘2nd Hand’ Type-I Denim Jacket (Used Wash)
Josh wears: Buzz Rickson’s Tropical Combat Coat (Olive), Full Count 0106 13.7oz Wide Straight Jean, Catch Ball ‘Military Standard x East Harbour Surplus Canvas Sneaker (Anchor Black)
David wears: Warehouse & Co 4088 L/S Stripe Tee (Navy/Off White), Paraboot Michael Marche Shoe (Nut Velours Whiskey), Full Count S0105W 14.4oz ‘WWII’ Wide Straight Jean (Rinsed)