Tuesday 21 May 2024


The story of this old and atmospheric public house has already been covered in my good friend Richard Locker's excellent article (The Prospect of Whitby 2010), and this post can be seen as a follow up to his research.

Recently, on a visit to London, my daughter Charlotte and I made our way to Wapping to have a pre-booked lunch at this extraordinary watering hole. Stepping from the train and walking through streets of brick faced, characterless dockland buildings, it's easy to think you've taken the wrong road until, after rounding a bend, the Prospect of Whitby is suddenly in front of you solid and permanent. Although dwarfed by the surrounding buildings, it stands out as a psychogeographical link to London's past.

The Prospect, with Pelican Stairs down the right hand side

Before going inside we explored the alleyway down the side of the pub which opens onto the river. Known as Pelican Stairs, this narrow passage ends in steps first rising, and then descending onto a secret beach. Both of us commented on the resemblance to Tate Hill sands at Whitby and the feeling of being on a sheltered, protected shoreline. The Thames here is tidal, and by the time we left after our meal and a few drinks, the sand had been completely covered by lapping waves. 

The 'Tate Hill beach' effect

The beer was excellent and the food was perfect, and not as expensive as you might suppose, but this really isn't an advert for the establishment, it's an advert for the atmosphere. Apparently the painter J.M.W. Turner would stay here under an assumed name to sample the delights of Wapping. Turner's private life is notoriously shrouded in mystery, and the reasons for his visits to dubious dockland pubs can only be guessed at. He made sketches of the river from his vantage point on the Prospect's balcony, although the skyline has changed dramatically since then and is now dominated by the monolithic skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.

The gallows looking over to Canary Wharf

The vicinity of Execution Dock, a grisly place at which for 400 years pirates, smugglers and mutineers were dispatched, is commemorated by a gallows set up on the beach at the back of the pub. The top of the gibbet can just about be reached at arm's length from the pub balcony, and people have placed coins on the wooden beam. An offering of sorts to the ghosts of those sentenced to death by the Admiralty that still haunt the river?

A stunning 3D recreation of The Prospect of Whitby can be explored here: 3D Model by Artfletch


More information:

Historic England

Pelican Stairs

Execution Dock

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