Walking Through History

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.”

The Shad Thames ends at this point:

This is the view of Tower Bridge if you were to drive or walk across it:

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:

You don’t need to worry with public transport, or walking:

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:

The interior of the pub is warm and cosy, and it is filled with nooks and crannies, broad walls and dark wood surfaces everywhere: 

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!


38 thoughts on “Walking Through History

  1. Beautiful, Sunshine! Thanks for taking us along on the journey. I, too, am having a love affair with London, albeit from the other side of the pond. I am mesmerized by the history and art and literature and architecture. I was there on the cold, snow-covered days at Christmas, and I returned a few days later when the snow was gone and the rain had left a sheen on the entire city. The steam from every breath was a reminder of all the lives lived in that place over so many centuries — all the heartache, happiness, poverty, fanfare, beheadings, cruelty, royalty, theater, intellect, domination, freedom. I love your line, “such history leaves me breathless.” I’m with you.

    1. Thank you so much! I’m so glad you understand my love affair with this city – you should have said hi when you were here! The snow in December was so beautiful – and I just LOVE it. When are you coming back this side of the pond? xx

  2. You have a gift, for sure. Your tours of London bring everything to life. A question: I’m still slogging through transferring my blog to another host. Did you get notice of my last post about Baby Mamas?

  3. I loved this post as well, Sunshine, since history is of particular interest to me…my favourite photo was the one of the pub. I’ve had some of the best meals in pubs!

    Thanks for the tour!


    1. Thanks, Wendy, glad you enjoyed this. I love pubs too, especially the old ones! There are some gastro-pubs over here, that serve more modern cuisine rather than the usual pub nosh. I prefer the latter, I must say! xx

  4. Love your pictures and the tour of London. I’m with you – if only walls could talk! I love reading about history and imagine myself walking down the streets in those bygone times.

  5. Shoo wee, you make me feel all giddy about the memories I have of London. My story about Tower Bridge is a little different…. we had been in London for a few days, and were trying to get the city under our belt and see all we could before our money ran out and we had to start working. On our way to find London Bridge. (Like London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down…….). So eventually we get to a bridge, that everyone tells us is LONDON BRIDGE. And teh sign on teh bridge says London Bridge….. we look around and realise we were not looking for London Bridge at all. We were looking for Tower Bridge.

  6. Thank you for taking me along on your foot tour this morning. I loved all the photography and especially the pictures of the pub, inside and out. Someday I will get there…until then I will have to rely on those willing to share their experiences so freely.

  7. History of America recent. Rest of world has real history. Too few Americans know our own history and could not relate more than 5 minutes of history rest of world. In Miami, Florida there probably not a building left that is older than 100 years.

  8. Sunshine, THIS is why I’m absolutely convinced you’re meant to be a travel writer. You have a talent for picking out the quaint and interesting. These are exactly the aspects I’d want to know about London. Plus, your photos are delightful.

    To me, The Devil’s Tavern looks decidedly more modern than I’d expect a 16th century structure to appear. I wonder, are the ceilings short? GB and I stopped by a small pub in Waterford, Ireland, when we were there for our honeymoon. Every time he stood up, he hit his head on one of the rafters. That pub was built in the 1500s too, I think.

    I hope you’re having a lovely Tuesday! Thanks for recounting your journey!

    1. Thank you, Maura – such a kind thing to say. And I’m so glad you appreciate what I appreciate!
      The pub was rebuilt in the early 19th century after a fire, so it is more modern than a 16th century structure. The ceilings are low, and the doorways pretty mini. I’m not sure if GB would hit his head on one of the rafters, depends how tall he is!
      Lovely Tuesday to you too, lovely Maura xx

  9. What a great photo essay, Sunshine. It brought me back to when I visited London about 4 years ago. I stayed with a friend who was living there at the time. She lived in Wapping and I had the great pleasure of having a beer at The Prospect of Whitby. We sat on the small outside deck (It was July) and just listened to the conversations all around us. I had no idea it was the oldest river pub!
    Thank you for the trip down memory lane!

    1. Thank you so much, jacquelin. I’m so excited you’ve been there too – and now you know that you were sitting deep in the history of Wapping! We also sat on the deck the first time we went there – so lovely to relax there next to the river, isn’t it? xx

  10. What a delightful tour. I haven’t been to London in over 25 years, and this makes me want to go back SOON! I agree with Maura–travel writing would be wonderful for you!
    Hugs from Haiti,

  11. Sunshine-
    I do hope you can’t see my green envy.
    Your post was fun, lovely and engaging.
    yes–you’d be a fabulous travel writer–you have a gift for making us feel we are right there with you.

  12. Thanks for the mention Sunshine 🙂 But you have walked us through London so beautifully. Love it to pieces, and Spring is coming. Have ty come across London The Biography? Fantastic walk through thousands of years of history…I have it on audio tape….

    1. Thanks, Kate – London is amazing. I hope we have some more snow before spring comes (spoken like a true snow rookie)!
      I’ve seen London The Biography at the library … glad to hear your recommendation to read it xx

  13. I’ve only been to London once in my life, in 1989, but I will never forget the experience. I love your posts, especially when they include amazing photos. I love photography, love London and love me some Sunshine!
    Patty xx

  14. Sunshine – I love the way you write. You always take us on an adventure. Footpads, gott love it * iz

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