Visit Wapping in Historic East London

Although badly damaged by bombing raids in the Blitz and affected by the closure of its docks industry, the East End’s Wapping area still has some little historical gems that are worth a visit. Wapping has been inhabited since Saxon times and has played a part in some of London’s more interesting moments.

Places to Visit in the East End of London – Wapping.

Wapping’s name probably comes from the Saxons who first inhabited the area – it is thought that they were led by someone called Waeppa. It runs along part of the embankment of the Thames and much of its trade history has a connection with the water. For many centuries, the locals who worked and lived here served sailors and sea travellers and were involved in businesses such as mast making, boat building, instrument making and victualing. This was a prosperous area for many centuries.

The most famous part of Wapping is one that you may not be able to locate exactly. For over 400 years, it was home to London’s infamous Execution Dock. This was a gibbet that hung over the Thames on a dock, and it was the place of execution for pirates and seagoers who had broken the law. They would be hanged at the dock and their bodies would then traditionally stay hanging until three tides had submerged the bodies.

According to the law, the Admiralty only had jurisdiction over crimes at sea, hence the fact that the dock and gibbet were located beyond the low tide mark. The most famous person to be executed here was the pirate, Captain Kidd.

River Police History and Wapping

River Police in Wapping
River Police in Wapping

Wapping is also supposed to be the place that first invented a marine police force. A local magistrate established a group of police officers in the late 1700s, which was tasked with stopping crime on ships moored in the area.

There was a lot of theft and damage to ships by London criminals and this Marine Police Force evolved into today’s Marine Support Unit. This is still based in Wapping High Street – the building is also home to the Thames Police Museum.

Wapping saw some major changes in the 19th century. It had previously been one of the docklands hubs of the area, but new docks were built in different locations and the area became less pivotal to London’s sea trade. It is estimated that Wapping lost almost 60% of its population at this time, as industry moved out of the area.

Wapping got a bit of a boost, however, in the early 1800s when Marc Isambard Brunel constructed the Thames Tunnel. This ran from Wapping to Rotherhithe on the other side of the river and was the first tunnel running underwater in the world. It is now part of the London Overground network. Although beset by problems, there was a point when the tunnel was a great tourist attraction, which may have benefited some of the locals.

Despite the fact that Wapping was now peripheral in docklands terms, it still suffered badly from bombing raids during the Second World War. The area, like much of the East End also suffered again as London’s docks in the area closed down after the war and moved away. For a period of time, the area was run-down and had few prospects for improvement. It took until the 1980s for regeneration to begin in earnest. Wapping is now coming alive again and is home to some desirable, and usually fairly expensive, waterside homes and businesses.

Battle of Wapping and News International

In recent years, Wapping has become synonymous with the media magnate, Rupert Murdoch. In 1986, his company, News International, built a massive publishing factory in Wapping. The area became the scene of industrial protests, including the “Battle of Wapping” when Murdoch moved production to Wapping from its traditional base of Fleet Street and introduced new technologies that cost 5,000 workers their jobs. This move effectively ended Fleet Street’s traditional role as the base of British publishing.

Hidden Historical Gems in Wapping

Visitors to Wapping today can still find some little historical gems that are not found anywhere else in the capital. The area still has some ancient stairs that give access to the Thames shore. If you dig around in the banks of the river at low tide, you stand a chance of unearthing something pretty old. The best stairs to use for this are Wapping Old Stairs and Pelican Stairs by The Prospect of Whitby pub.

This pub is a must-see for visitors to London. It is supposed to be the oldest pub in London that stands by the side of the Thames. This may or may not be true, but there has been a pub on the site since the time of Henry VIII so there is some history there. There is a replica of the Execution Dock gibbet close to the pub, although this probably was not its exact location.

Buy Wapping Maps, Books, Prints


5 comments on “Visit Wapping in Historic East London
  1. Derek Bailey says:

    My brothers and I lived in Jackman House which is off of Wapping High Street at Watts Street in the the late 1950’s. Jackman was part of what was known as the Wapping housing estate began by the LCC in 1926. Anyone out there who lived on that estate back then? Here’s a link to the history.

    http://www.mernick.org.uk/thhol/wapphous.html

  2. Garry Purnell says:

    Hi Malcolm

    I’m compiling a tour guide of London’s most hidden gems, (not the usual tourist sights) and I am currently working on London Bridge to Wapping. Bearing in mind that readers would ideally be walking, do you have any offbeat items that still exist in this area that I could possibly include?

    Kind regards

  3. Beth Gray says:

    Do you know if there was a Venetian-style building right on the Thames? Or was it trick photography used in the P.D. James TV Dalgliesh mystery, “Original Sin”, with the building called Innocent House? I can’t find any reference to it, except Foscari in Venice, or find any such building ever existing in Wapping. It certainly doesn’t seem to be there now. Thanks for any help.

  4. Miss says:

    Please let me have details of your tours of Wapping. Shall be in London mid April 2015 for a nurses’ AGM at the Royal London Hospital. Thank you.

Please Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Comments

  • Nora 18th March 2019 at 3:50 pm on Hughes Mansions Stepney | WW2 PhotosMy mother lived there and during war lost one of her sisters after last bomb dropped. My mother was a war bride and came to America and would go back
  • Toni hills 17th March 2019 at 12:20 pm on London East End Street NamesHi all I lived at number 27 Murray square my name then was mason I had two sisters Tina and Debbie my mum and dads name was Jim and pat
  • Toni hills 16th March 2019 at 4:24 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonI lived in murrary square number 27 until 1969
  • Toni hills 16th March 2019 at 4:05 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonI lived in murray square aswell we moved to kent in 1969
  • Toni hills 16th March 2019 at 3:59 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonHi hun i went to star lane secondary i also lived in custom house when ronan point fell we watched it fall
  • Anthony Spencer 16th March 2019 at 1:35 pm on London East End Street NamesI am trying to find details of "Rosher Row Stratford" I have found "Rosher Close" but cannot find any references to Rosher Row. I am 99.9% certain it was Rosher
  • James Toone 16th March 2019 at 7:35 am on London East End Street NamesI've only just found this website; hence my late response. Yes, 'The Balloon' was the name of an inn: a member of my family, Hugh Hopley, apparently was, in the
  • Lisa Davies 14th March 2019 at 2:31 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonYes cribbs was across the road, I lived opposite The White House for 25 years on Shirley Street til 2005, I never see coffins in the windows... Still give me
  • Tom Garnell 14th March 2019 at 11:23 am on History of Canning Town East LondonThe White House was really The Hallsville Tavern. It was a triangular pub facing up Raffy. I hated passing Cribbs with all the coffins, empty I suppose, standing in the
  • Tom Garnell 14th March 2019 at 11:21 am on History of Canning Town East LondonI was born in Plaistow, Beatrice Street backing on to Chargeable Lane, moved at the outbreak of war to Dale Road, bombed out in March 1941. My father worked for
  • Valerie Connelly 14th March 2019 at 7:15 am on The Silvertown Explosion of 1917 – WW1 HistoryMy grandmother Nell Greenwood had a ship's laundry in Constance Street, Silvertown where she serviced the ships in the docks. My mother was a small baby at the time of
  • Mackenzie Smith 13th March 2019 at 9:45 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonI remember ian the son who went to a private school when he came home on a school holidays he would call round my house to play I'm not Jewish
  • Mackenzie Smith 13th March 2019 at 9:18 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonYes the white house opposite was cribbs the undertaker
  • Ann Terry 13th March 2019 at 6:00 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonHi Elaine Apparently my father (now deceased) named Lewis (Louis) Terry was fostered to an Aunt in Clarence Road, Canning Town in the 1920s, her name was Fanny Wells and
  • stanley Marshall 12th March 2019 at 9:37 pm on Britannia Theatre Shoreditch | WW2 PhotosHello all, I find these memories amazing. I was born in Bethnal Green 81 years ago. I found out recently that my GGG G D, had a daughter who was
  • Jane 12th March 2019 at 5:46 pm on Britannia Theatre Shoreditch | WW2 PhotosLoving these East London posts, Malcolm! Would be interested in 19th century silk weaving stories. An ancestor who lived on London Street, Bethnal Green (where the rail line goes through
  • Pauline Williams 12th March 2019 at 4:18 pm on White Horse Hotel East Ham | WW2 PhotosMy fathers first wife and son aged 4 were killed in an air raid in Gyledune Gardens in 1944 they were the only casualties in that area that night. The
  • Stan Marshall 12th March 2019 at 3:20 pm on Hughes Mansions Stepney | WW2 PhotosVallence Rd., had some very interesting tenants, especially at 178. Iremmber the address as I also lived at 178 But not Vallence RD. I did go to school with the
  • Tim 12th March 2019 at 3:06 pm on White Horse Hotel East Ham | WW2 PhotosPub was rebuilt (am not sure when), but has now been demolished and new flats being built as we speak.
  • Mackenzie Smith 12th March 2019 at 2:25 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonYes the pub opposite caters supermarket ,before the supermarket I lived in the round top Nisson huts ,I was Born in Howard's road plaistow 1948 I lived in Lawrence street
  • Bry Carling 12th March 2019 at 12:16 pm on History of The East London CockneyMy dad’s people were from Mile End... they came there from Yorkshire in 1820. The family had 22 children quite a number of which survived. 14 to be exact. I
  • Frank Oakley 12th March 2019 at 11:44 am on Hackney a Brief HistoryI also worked in Hackney on and off till 1995,and still ave family living there,if only I could drive in there and park.
  • Malcolm Oakley 12th March 2019 at 10:46 am on Hackney a Brief HistoryWe share a great surname ;)
  • Gerry O'Neill 10th March 2019 at 11:06 pm on The Silvertown Explosion of 1917 – WW1 HistoryMy great, great uncle worked at the plant. He was, as they said at the time, a "bit simple" and he was only employed to sweep floors. On the day
  • Frank Oakley 10th March 2019 at 10:08 pm on Hackney a Brief HistoryI lived in Homerton from 1940 and moved out 1964 to Plaistow when I married.Hackney was a great place too live then.
  • Malcolm Oakley 10th March 2019 at 4:12 pm on Hackney a Brief HistoryThank you for this great story! We really enjoy hearing from people across the globe with East London connections. I only got as far as Ilford to Devon!
  • Joe Clarke 10th March 2019 at 2:20 pm on History of Canning Town East Londonsay 7.30pm? I will be wearing a coat with Saracens on it so you know who I am. Joe
  • Charles sage 10th March 2019 at 2:11 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonHi joe , The Bell pub , what time, Charlie.
  • canadiangal2015 9th March 2019 at 8:01 pm on Hackney a Brief HistoryI was born in the Women's Hospital in Hackney, my parents lived in Leyton until we three immigrated to Vancouver, Canada in 1953 travelling by boat across the Atlantic and
  • Joe Clarke 9th March 2019 at 6:42 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonCharlie - yes that is perfect. Looking forward to it. Joe
  • June Nash 9th March 2019 at 11:24 am on History of Canning Town East LondonHi there I was born and raised in Desford Road, Canning Town, until my family moved to Australia in 1971. Reading the comments here has made so many memories come
  • Charles Sage 9th March 2019 at 10:12 am on History of Canning Town East LondonHi Joe , I can make it on the 26 March how’s that with you , Charlie
  • Vicki Coppell 8th March 2019 at 9:39 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonNo, Lisa, don't remember any Jacksons ( not to say there weren't any) but I do remember a Davies family. They had a german shepherd called Kim that terrified the
  • Lisa Davies 8th March 2019 at 1:12 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonHI B Gee I wonder if you are talking about the Beckton Arms? You used to have the walked along thru back of raffy and past sub way? Or maybe
  • Lisa Davies 8th March 2019 at 12:46 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonI am 38 and Custom house/Canning town is all the same. I know a few families in Murray Square.. A family friends of ours who has been the Decades they

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 206 other subscribers.

Top