Wapping Old Stairs — The Last A Pirate Might See

In his exhaustive portrait of the capital city, Peter Ackroyd described London as ‘the city of gallows’.

The location of one such set was Execution Dock in Wapping. The precise spot is unknown but a good contender is next to the Town Of Ramsgate pub on the high street, down what have become known as Wapping Old Stairs.

Writing in 1598, John Stow described the fate of ‘pirates and sea-rovers’ as being hanged at Execution Dock ‘at the low-water mark, and there to remain til three tides had overflown them’.

That being the case, this would have been the last thing these poor unfortunates would have clapped their eyes on before meeting their maker — albeit without the Shard looming at them in the background.

View From Wapping Old Stairs
View From Wapping Old Stairs

And here, the view back up the stairs.

Wapping Old Stairs
Wapping Old Stairs

The London Encyclopedia says that people living in the late 19th century could recall such riverside hangings.

One recollection was of a pirate hanging by the river with a crow on his shoulder pecking his flesh through the iron netting that enclosed his body.

According to Ackroyd, the last public hanging in London was in 1868 outside Newgate prison. After that, they were held behind prison walls. The last was in 1964.

If you’re in the area, the Town Of Ramsgate is a fine boozer. As is the Captain Kidd a bit further along the street — although we were there in the afternoon so some these comments about service didn’t apply.

Further east, I’d recommend you give The Dickens Inn on St Katharine Docks a miss unless you’re happy paying £4.75 for a pint of Guinness.

If you’re still thirsty, you could catch the East London line south to Rotherhithe and pop into The Mayflower, which is about as fine a place as a pub can be.

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Wapping Old Stairs — The Last A Pirate Might See

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