No, we haven't left for Kent. 'The Town of Ramsgate' is one of Wapping's famous riverside pubs. It is situated on Wapping High Street. It is a long, narrow pub, sandwiched between Oliver's Wharf and Wapping Old Stairs, which descend to the river. Across the road is the site of the old church of St John's - destroyed in the Blitz, its tower is now part of a block of flats.
Go to the back of the pub and you emerge onto a small riverside terrace, with the rather gruesome sight of a noose hanging above. This is because this is the site of Execution Dock, where maritime related felons were executed up until 1830. It should be noted that the site of the Dock is disputed and there are two other locations along this stretch of the Thames which claim to be it - one of them where the River Police are now based, appropriately enough. Most of those executed were guilty of piracy - the most famous at this location being Captain William Kidd. He was executed in 1701. Prisoners were tied to a post at the foot of the stairs and drowned by the rising tide. It was traditional for the corpse to be left until three tides had washed over it, before the body was tarred and then hung up to deter others.
There has been an inn on this site since the 1460's - the first recorded under the name of 'The Hostel'. In 1533 it became 'The Red Cow' - apparently named after the barmaid.
In 1688, when King James II was forced into exile following the Glorious Revolution, the notorious Judge George Jeffreys - the "Hanging Judge" - was arrested here as he tried to flee London in disguise.
Some stories have him caught on the Old Stairs, others whilst sitting in the pub. He was certainly fond of his drink, as that was what killed him in 1689 whilst he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Jeffreys presided over hundreds of trials which mostly ended in hangings, and took delight in belittling and insulting the defence attorneys for the accused. Ironically, it was one of those lawyers who spotted him in Wapping.
The present building dates to 1758. The pub became 'Ramsgate Old Town' in 1766, and finally took on its current name in 1811.
The name comes from the fact that the fishermen of Ramsgate in Kent used to land their catches at Wapping Old Stairs, to avoid the taxes imposed further upstream.
It was at Wapping Old Stairs that Captain Bligh first caught sight of The Bounty. It was for sale and he came to inspect it prior to purchasing it for his ill-fated voyage to Tahiti.
Christopher Lee played Judge Jeffreys in one of those lurid euro-horrors he often appeared in - The Bloody Judge - and Wapping Old Stairs feature in the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang. (The body of a murdered cab driver is fished out of the river here - killed by a homicidal robot ventriloquist dummy and partially eaten by giant rats, bred by a war criminal from the 51st Century. They don't make them like that any more...).
|Wapping Old Stairs - no sign of giant rats, or homicidal robot ventriloquist dummies...|