A trio of East End riverside pubs (Wapping & Limehouse)

We love exploring London on foot, particularly East London. There’s always something to catch your eye in this area of contrasts — the strange mix of the very rich and the very poor, incredibly old buildings poking out between 1960s concrete blocks, five-for-a-pound samosas next to £50-a-pop sea-bass restaurants.

And if you’re interested in beer, pubs and/or brewing history, there’s stacks to see, if not necessarily to drink. About a year ago, we posted these photos of old Truman, Hanbury and Buxton signs. This time, the theme of our walk was riverside pubs. We didn’t plan a particular route or crawl, we just headed for the river around Wapping to see what we could see.

Firstly, we were intrigued to find ourselves on a Brewhouse Lane, just off Wapping High Street, which featured “improved industrial dwellings” from 1864 and Chimney court, complete with chimney. It definitely looks like an old brewery complex, but a bit of internet research hasn’t yet shed much light on which brewery, or when it was in operation. John Rocque’s 1747 map of London shows the street in exactly the same location. If anyone can shed any further light or even suggest where to go to get further information, we’d be grateful.

Our first beer stop was the Captain Kidd, on Wapping High Street, just behind Brewhouse Lane. This Sam Smith’s pub looks like it’s been there for centuries, but apparently only dates from the 1980s. They’ve made great use of the old building in which it’s housed, with big windows looking over the Thames. There’s also a small beer garden/yard. The usual Sam Smith’s selection is available, plus food. All in all, a really nice spot.

Wapping High Street continues east and becomes Wapping Wall. There you’ll find the famous Prospect of Whitby which dates from 1520 and claims to be the oldest riverside tavern. The place just oozes history and has lots of prime riverside views. In the summer,the small beer garden under the massive weeping willow is beautiful; in the winter, it’s a cosy place to look out onto the grey Thames and read your favourite East End Dickens scenes. The beer selection is unexciting (London Pride and Greene King products) but it’s in reasonably good nick.

After the Prospect of Whitby, we kept following the Thames Path eastward. Wapping becomes Limehouse and on Narrow Street we passed “The Narrow”, once the home of the Taylor Walker “Barley Mow brewery”, now a Gordon Ramsey gastropub. Maybe it’s nice, maybe it’s not. We didn’t go in.

The Grapes, further along Narrow Street, is claimed to be the inspiration (or one of the inspirations) for the “Six Jolly Fellowship Porters” pub in Our Mutual Friend. We’ve got no primary evidence to support this, but Zythophile is bold enough to repeat the suggestion. It’s definitely an old place (current building from 1720), with a great atmosphere and nice beers — among them, London Pride, TT Landlord and a guest, this time Bateman’s Valiant.

There’s a deck out the back where you can sit and hear (and occasionally feel) the Thames lapping up against the wall. It almost felt like we were beside the seaside, particularly with the stormy skies and choppy water. Bliss. The first photo in this post was taken there.



The Captain Kidd is at 108 Wapping High Street, E1W 2NE. Further west from here (no. 62) is another old pub, the Town of Ramsgate, which we found out about afterwards. That’s the disadvantage of being spontaneous and not planning.

The Prospect of Whitby is at 57 Wapping Wall, E1W 3SH. The nearest tube station for the Captain Kidd and the Prospect of Whitby would be Wapping, but it’s shut until 2010 for East London Line refurbishment. Try Docklands Light Railway to Shadwell instead. Or have a bit of a walk from the City. You’re bound to see something cool.

The Grapes is at 76 Narrow Street, E14 8BP. Closest public transport is Limehouse DLR station.

We didn’t have this walking guide from the local council yesterday. Might have been nice if we had!

Historical roots of beer vs wine snobbery? A Spanish perspective

Our amigo Chela has posted an interesting entry on the “Compañía Asturiana de Amigos de la Cerveza” blog about the supposed battle between wine and beer. He suggests that in “wine countries”, wine has always been democratic in its appeal to high and low society alike. In traditional beer-drinking countries, on the other hand, we’ve developed a bit of an inferiority complex towards wine over the ages. And from this has recently emerged the trend for trying to make beer “the new wine”, and leading in some cases to a “Manichean battle” between beer and wine, or at least lots of words being written on why beer is superior to wine.

This can be seen from googling “beer is the new wine”, and is a topic that recurs on American beer blogs in particular. Appellation beer, for example, have a whole series of posts about beer and wine, making “beer is not the new wine” one of their rules. Amen to that. There are enough bloody know-it-alls as it is, without making beer into some rarified “interest”. That said, it would be nice if it had a bit more respect, i.e. articles in the weekend papers, the odd nice beer in a restaurant, that kind of thing.

Back to Chela’s post. There were many interesting comments in response about people’s preferences, whether one really was better, and trends in shopping for wine. But what really interested me were the historical reasons put forward for the cultural superiority of wine. Obviously, in the UK, it’s always been a status symbol, as only the rich could afford it, but why should it be considered a superior drink in countries where it’s common, cheap and easy to produce, like Spain? Galguera suggested it has its roots in the Roman empire — wine being associated with the sophisticated Romans, while the barbaric huns drank beer. Cotoya suggests the religious influence is more important — you don’t get communion beer, after all.

I thought these were interesting points. I’ve had the occasional debate with a wine-lover about how sophisticated beer can be, how it can be just as complex as wine, but I’d never really thought about the origins of our cultural prejudices, or how common they were across Europe, despite the differences in drinking cultures.


Chela, Cotoya and Galguera all contribute to Compañía Asturiana de Amigos de la Cerveza. If you don’t speak Spanish, Google translate does a pretty good job these days, but don’t trust it to translate English into Spanish.


Old Combe Brewery — again

Michael D dropped by and commented on this post about the Old Combe brewery on Long Acre in London. He’s provided some interesting family history and pointed out some useful links:

[My] great great grandfather Frank Wilson worked at Combe, as did his father William Wilson. On the census records they are listed as “practical brewers”.

The family lived in Long Acre and then King Street just round the corner. Very convenient.

There is a bit more on the buildings on the camden website http://mycamden.camden.gov.uk/gdw/T/ListedBuildingDetail?LbNo=10200&xsl=ListedBuildingDetail.xsl.

There is an old picture of the brewery workers in Castle St at http://www.photolondon.org.uk/mol/mol_bool.htm

And an interesting story about the history of Combe’s at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22171 , including a reference to very down to earth Royal Brewhouse Dinner in 1807.

But he also has a question:

If anyone has more detail on Combe’s, would appreciate. There’s not much in The Story of Watneys.