Thames Tales 2 – Monument to Wapping

Cards on the table – my second Winter Walk wasn’t my top option, but it still proved interesting, particularly if you’re in the business of celebrity stalking.

This time around, we were led by John and Penny, and mercifully had a smaller group – around 30-40 for this one, although that was because they sent another 40 or so ahead as a separate group, such was the interest in finding out how the Thames has gone from Docks to Designer Developments. Handily, that was also the name of the tour.

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We started off at Monument, something I’d never really paid much attention to – I’ve been past it previously, but as it’s set back from the main road a bit, it’s easy to dismiss. Feels like it should have a bit of a square around it, or at least be right on the bank of the river.

When you do give it a good look, you can see Lady London looking a bit upset, atop a crushed London dragon, while King Charles II and the future King James II are shown to be the heroes of the piece – not surprising, as the monarch commissioned it. Cynicism aside, John reckoned that the royals enjoyed heightened popularity for the job they did during the Great Fire of London. Oh, and a fire engine went past while we were there, which was a nice touch.

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Once we got on the move, we passed the spot where the Walkie Talkie melted cars and then on to Trinity Square Gardens, the place to be if you were a duke or archbishop who’d pissed off the king and needed executing. Not good enough for the Tower, but too good for elsewhere, it’s a cracking example of British society’s hierarchical nature.

We got a bit closer to the Tower (and kept our heads – yay) and were informed that it and Baynard’s Castle (long since gone, but near St Paul’s Cathedral) were built by William I to keep Londoners in check, as he never actually conquered the City of London itself.

The Tower didn’t have a monopoly on dead people, back in the day – corpses frequently washed up at Dead Man’s Hole beneath Tower Bridge due to the tides. Such was the regularity, there was actually a mortuary constructed beneath. Before moving on, it was pointed out that when HMS Belfast needed some work doing to it 4-5 years ago, it was actually paid for by Russia, by way of thanks for the ship’s role in guarding Arctic convoys during World War Two.

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St Katherine Dock was the next stop and we learned two noticeable facts – St Katherine was martyred on a wheel, hence the fireworks that share her name, while the harbour itself revolutionised how docks worked by introducing warehouses to the waterfront, rather than letting high value cargo like ivory sit around on the wharf, waiting to be half-inched by ne’er-do-wells.

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These days, the dock is full of modern, personal yachts, although there is a heritage mooring site for vintage sloops on the Thames itself nearby. That’s more than can be said for London Dock in Wapping, which has long since been filled in. You can clearly see where ships entered from the river though, with nearby buildings now apparently inhabited by Helen Mirren and Graham Norton.

Wapping was the end of the line for our walk and a more permanent stopping place for the pirate/privateer Captain Kidd, who was hanged at or around the pub that shares his name. By this stage, my hands were going purple from exposure, so after a cup of tea, I dived onto the Overground and headed home.

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