I have walked through a couple of centuries of history during the past week. Venturing along some cobbled walkways that featured in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and sipping wine in the Devil’s Tavern, I feel well and truly steeped in years gone by. Oh, if walls could talk.
Now, if I were a brilliant writer in the league of my friend, Kate Shrewsday, I would recreate some of the history I walked through and keep you rapt throughout the journey. Sadly I’m not, so I will describe my experience of the places, share some photos with you and leave you to follow the links to find out more. This city is truly amazing.
Last week, I went with a friend to a gorgeous little tea shop in Shad Thames, called the Tea Pod. To get there, we walked from our homes to the south side of the River Thames and walked through an area known as Butler’s Wharf and through to an ancient, cobbled walkway known as Shad Thames.
I didn’t have my camera with me, so on Sunday my husband and I retraced those steps so I could capture the image that took my breath away, as we rounded Butler’s Wharf. It is the image that reminds me that – and why – I live in London; this awful, compelling, fearsome, exciting, culturally-rich, historically-steeped, embracing, cold and infuriatingly beautiful city that I currently call home:
We walked along the edge of the Thames before taking a left turn at the Design Museum, which brought us to this, the beginning of the walkway known as Shad Thames:
Despite the modern shop fronts and the ever present sight of a Starbucks at the end of the lane, you can imagine little urchin pickpockets running around, helping themselves to the spoils of the rich. In the delightful Tea Pod, there is a sign that cautions patrons to beware of ill-motivated people who lurk the streets and help themselves to others’ property. Or words to that effect. While I know they don’t mean tax-collectors, they could just as well have written: “Beware of pickpockets. This is Oliver Twist country.”
Walking back south along the river, we came across this community of barges, which I understand is the natural habitat of several local celebrities. We watched for a while, but none of them emerged from their hide-aways. I did, however, dream a little and imagine the romantic life of a boat-dweller in the city. Pretty cold, but I can’t imagine a more authentic view anywhere else in London:
On Friday night, we went to a public house that is known to be the oldest riverside pub in the UK. The Prospect of Whitby, on the banks of the River Thames in Wapping (almost exactly opposite the area we live in), dates back to 1520. Looking at it from our side of the river, you can see that it has defied development and modern architecture; the contemporary buildings on either side, with their straight lines (up and down like a s**thouse door, to quote a famous author) accentuate the wobbly, off-centre facade that characterises this ancient pub:
Known originally as The Devil’s Tavern, it developed a reputation as a meeting place for villains and smugglers, cut-throats and “footpads” (thieves that prey on victims while they walk). The hanging post stands ominously on the beach in front of the pub as a stark reminder of the public end that such criminals met some centuries before:
An upstairs wall bears a wooden plaque, bedecked with the names of monarchs who have reigned on this island since the pub has been open; such history leaves me breathless.
So I’ve added a few more digits to my pedometer over the past week, I’ve walked in the steps of smugglers, villains, pickpockets and kings, and I’ve thankfully not been accosted by footpads or cut-throats. My fascination with this ancient, modern city never wanes.
Sunshine signing off for today!