For centuries, taverns have lined the banks of the river Thames providing a haven for sailors, dockworkers, fishermen, and other members of the maritime community. Today, these historic inns offer a glimpse into London’s rich seafaring past. This post lists all the old pubs on the Thames in London that are worth a visit.
Old Pubs on the Thames in London
Most of the old pubs on the Thames are found in east London, particularly Wapping, Limehouse, Rotherhithe, Greenwich and the Docklands. This is because in the 18th and 19th centuries this stretch of the river was densely packed with wharves and docks, and the water was crowded with ships. The pubs here were used mainly by members of the maritime community, including sailors, pirates, fishermen, dockworkers, and lightermen.
There are, however, some old pubs on the Thames in west London, but these have a different atmosphere and character than those in the east. West London, particularly Hammersmith, was known more for its industrial and manufacturing activities on the Thames, than for shipping. Industries such as brewing, pottery, and distilling flourished in this area, and the riverside pubs tended to attract artists, writers, poets, actors and intellectuals.
This list below contains 12 old pubs on the Thames in London that are worth visiting.
1. The Prospect of Whitby – Wapping
57 Wapping Wall, London, E1W 3SH.
Dating back to the 16th century, The Prospect of Whitby stands proudly as London’s oldest riverside pub. It still has its original flagstone floor, which is the oldest part of the pub.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the pub was a notorious haunt for pirates, thieves and smugglers, and became known as The Devil’s Tavern, due to its association with criminals. In the 18th century the pub was rebuilt, in the hope that it would improve its image, but activities like bare-knuckle fights continued well into the 19th century.
Some notable customers to the pub include Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens. This historic pub has a great atmosphere, and is a great place to visit if you’re interested in London’s maritime history.
2. Town of Ramsgate – Wapping
62 Wapping High St, London, E1W 2PN
The Town of Ramsgate pub dates back to the 18th century, but the first pub to be built on this site was in the 1460s. The current building was given Grade II status due to its beamed ceilings, engraved glass screen, plank paneling and benches.
The pub is located next to Wapping Old Stairs which once led down to Execution Dock, where, for more than 400 years pirates and other maritime criminals were hanged for their crimes at sea. The last executions took place in 1830.
The pub takes its name from the fishermen of Ramsgate, who used to land their catches at Wapping Old Stairs in the early 19th century, to avoid river taxes. Today this historical pub still has low ceilings and wood-panelled walls, and is a popular meeting place for locals.
3. The Grapes – Limehouse
76 Narrow St, London, E14 8BP
The Grapes pub first opened in 1583, when it was known as The Bunch of Grapes. It was mainly a tavern for the working class, serving the dockers of the Limehouse Basin. The current building dates back to the 1720s, and has been visited by famous writers including Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys.
Charles Dickens even mentions the pub in the opening chapter of Our Mutual Friend:
“A tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.”Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
The current pub is owned by the actor Sir Ian McKellen, the theatre and film director Sean Mathias, and publisher of the Evening Standard newspaper, Evgeny Lebedev.
4. The Gun – Docklands
Docklands, 27 Coldharbour, London, E14 9NS
The Gun is a historic riverside pub dating back to the 17th century. It had many different names in history, but took its current name from the gun that was fired to celebrate the opening of West India Import Docks in 1802. The area around it was also once home to the iron foundries which produced guns for the Royal Navy.
The pub has a long association with smugglers who would land on this site and enter via a hidden tunnel. There is still a spy hole in one of the staircases, that was once used to keep a look out.
As the docks in this area flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries, the pub became a popular place for dockers and boatmen. Today is it a popular pub among workers in Canary Wharf.
5. The Mayflower – Rotherhithe
117 Rotherhithe Street, London, SE16 4NF
The Mayflower pub dates back to 1780 when it was known as The Spread Eagle and Crown, although there has been a pub on this site since 1550. The current pub was named after the Mayflower ship which carried the the Pilgrim Fathers to America in 1620.
The pub has a maritime-themed interior, a beer garden, and great views of the river where you can see the original mooring point of the Mayflower ship. It also has a roaring fire in the wintertime.
6. The Angel – Rotherhithe
101 Bermondsey Wall E, London, SE16 4NB
The current Angel pub was built in 1837, however the original inn was built in the 15th century, and used as a guesthouse by the monks at Bermondsey Abbey.
In the 17th century the inn was surrounded by a hub of maritime activity, and became a popular drinking hole for fishermen, smugglers, pirates and sailors.
The old Thameside inn is referred to by Samuel Pepys as “the famous Angel”, and believed to have been a favourite place for Judge George Jeffreys to watch the hangings at Execution Dock, on the opposite side of the river.
The tavern was also once sited diagonally opposite the moat of King Edward III’s manor house. The ruins of the manor house are still there today, and are shown in the photograph below.
7. The Anchor – Southwark
34 Park St, London, SE1 9EF
The Anchor pub in its current form was built in the 1800s, but there was an inn on this site dating back to the 1600s. It was named The Anchor in 1665, as the owner, Josiah Childs, had an affiliation with the navy.
In the 17th century this part of the Thames was filled with playhouses including, The Globe, The Swan and The Rose. The pub was therefore visited by many actors and playwrights, including Shakespeare. The Anchor is in fact the only riverside inn on Bankside that survived from Shakespeare’s time.
The Anchor is also the place where Samuel Pepys took refuge during the Great Fire of London in 1666. In his diary he wrote:
When we could endure no more upon the water, we to a little alehouse on the Bankside, over against the Three Cranes, and there stayed till it was dark almost and saw the fire grow, and as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the city, in a most horrid, malicious, bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire.Samuel Pepys eyewitness account of the Great Fire of London.
The pub survived the Great Fire of London, but burnt down four years later, and has been rebuilt multiple times over the centuries. It is located close to Southwark Cathedral and London Bridge.
8. The Trafalgar Tavern – Greenwich
Park Row, London, SE10 9NW
The Trafalgar Tavern is a waterside pub that was built in 1837, on the site of an inn called The Old George. Initially, it was a small tavern serving local fishermen, but it grew in popularity due to its prominent position on the river Thames.
The Trafalgar Tavern became the venue for the “whitebait dinners” in the 19th century, where the Liberal politicians met and ate fresh whitebait from the Thames. This became an annual tradition where ministers would travel to the pub from Westminster by barge. The pub was also the venue for the wedding breakfast in Charles Dickens’ novel Our Mutual Friend.
The pub has gone through various transformations over the years. It was used as a home for retired sailors during the first world war, and later became a working men’s club. It underwent significant restoration in the 1960s to restore it to how it was in Victorian times with original artwork and 19th century artefacts.
The menu still offers whitebait fish to honour the tavern’s past. The pub is located close to Cutty Sark and the Old Royal Naval College.
9. The Dove – Hammersmith
19 Upper Mall, London, W6 9TA
The Dove is a quaint riverside pub with a history that can be traced back to the 17th century. It is known for being a popular haunt for actors, writers, artists and politicians.
Some of the historical visitors to the pub included the writers Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas and Graham Greene, as well as the textile designer William Morris, who once lived next door. It is also believed that James Thompson wrote the words for the song Rule Britannia in the pub in 1740.
Today, The Dove is a great spot to watch the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race.
10. The Old Ship – Hammersmith
25 Upper Mall, London W6 9TD
The Old Ship in Hammersmith dates back to 1722. Little is known about the history of the riverside inn, but it was mentioned in the Court Rolls of the Manor of Fulham, as having a porch that dates back to the early 17th century.
Today it is a traditional pub with great river views, and a popular spot to watch the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race.
11. The Black Lion – Hammersmith
2 South Black Lion Lane, London, W6 9TJ
The Black Lion is a Grade II listed pub dating back to the 16th-century. It has a large beer garden with a chestnut tree that is over 400 years old. It also has a painting on the wall of the novelist, playwright, and former MP, Sir Alan Patrick Herbert, who used to regularly visit the pub.
The Black Lion also has a famous ghost. Many local residents claimed to have been attacked by the apparition, who regularly appeared at the pub, and in St Paul’s churchyard nearby. In 1804, so many locals were fearful of the ghost that patrols started being carried out.
An Excise officer, Francis Smith, believed he saw the ghost whilst on patrol. He fired his shotgun in the ghost’s direction but mistakenly killed a bricklayer. The case went to court and Smith was found guilty of murder. The court case set a precedent in UK law, that someone could be held liable for their actions, even if they were a result of mistaken belief.
12. The White Swan – Twickenham
Riverside, Twickenham, TW1 3DN
The White Swan in Twickenham has been on the site since the 17th century, when it was known simply as The Swan. The riverside pub was depicted in a Samuel Scott painting from 1760, that today hangs in the pub bar. The current building dates back to the 18th century and is Grade II listed.
Today, The White Swan is a traditional English pub serving craft beer, and traditional pub food.
Map of Old Pubs on the Thames in London
This Post was a List of Old Pubs on the River Thames in London
Thank you for reading my post about old pubs on the Thames in London. I regularly walk along the Thames path looking for the best pubs. If you know any old London pubs on the riverside that aren’t on this list, please leave a comment below. All of the historic inns in this post date back to earlier than the 19th century.