The Prospect Of Whitby is thought to be the oldest surviving public house in London, it can be found to the east of the city centre on the banks of the river Thames at Wapping. Situated within the borough of Tower Hamlets and surrounded by the infamous London Docklands, the pub has what could be considered a long and colourful history.
First built around 1520 during the reign of Henry VIII, the pub’s official name was ’The Pelican’, but as the river commerce increased a more transient population appeared tarnishing the riverside tavern with a dubious reputation. Finding itself host to a nefarious clientele made up of sailors, smugglers, prostitutes, cut throats and footpads the pub would eventually be re-christened the ‘Devils Tavern’ in their honour.
Perhaps the most villainous of the pub’s patrons was the 17th century nobleman ‘Hanging’ Judge Jeffreys. Known as the scourge of the Monmouth Rebellion, he was responsible for the putting to death of over 320 rebel supporters and sentencing a further 800 for transportation to the West Indies.
It was said that the Judge’s visits to the Devil’s Tavern would usually coincide with the hanging of local criminals at Execution Dock. He also enjoyed watching terrified felons being tied to posts on the river bank and left there whilst several tides washed over them. The scene is made all the more macabre by the fact that he was probably the very judge involved in sentencing these people to death.
Not all the pub’s customers were monsters, the famous writer and diarist Samuel Pepys was known to have frequented the establishment, although this was probably for no other reason than to carry out his numerous extra marital affairs in what he might have considered relative secrecy. He would often recount these infidelities in his diaries, as well as making several remarks about disturbances caused by the sailors in the Wapping area.
In 1777, after the Devil’s Tavern had been rebuilt because of damage sustained during a devastating fire, the landlord decided to rename the inn ’The Prospect Of Whitby’ after a square rigged collier called ‘The Prospect’. Built and registered in Whitby, the ship would often be found moored up outside the tavern after delivering it’s intended shipment of coal from the North-Eastern coal fields of County Durham and Newcastle.
In fact the ship became so much of a landmark, that the local people began referring to the pub as ’the one by the Prospect Of Whitby’. So like the Devil’s Tavern before it the name remained, right up until the present day where it is still possible to venture down to the banks of the Thames and buy yourself a pint in what is still considered to be the oldest pub in London.
A victim of The Judge