East London is without a doubt the most historic quarter of the UK capital. The exploits of Jack the Ripper took place in and around the Whitechapel area in 1888, Narrow Street was home to the infamous opium dens in the 18th Century, the docks were the epicentre of trade in London and the SS Great Eastern was built and launched at the south end of the Isle of Dogs peninsula.
What was once the thriving industrial area, rich in international trade and culture fell into disrepair after being heavily bombed during World War II. Much of Wapping and the Docklands district lay abandoned until the 1970s when rebuilding and reinvestment in the area began.
Warehouses were gutted and rebuilt, becoming sought-after residential conversions and huge areas of wasteland were transformed into what is now the heart of London’s financial district. In fact, as the Docklands area was being reduced to rubble and rebuilt, it doubled as the bombed Vietnamese city of Hue in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 movie Full Metal Jacket. Jean Michel Jarre famously played his open air concert here in 1988 and One Canada Square – sometimes just referred to as Canary Wharf – doubled as the restaurant Bruce Wayne impulsively buys in Batman Begins.
The cobblestone streets of Wapping follow the twists and turns of the Thames and here you can find a blossoming community with small, local-owned shops, an almost countless number of historically listed buildings and many £million warehouse apartment conversions. These same cobblestone streets also served as the background to the infamous end credits of the long-running TV drama The Bill. And of course Rupert Murdoch’s UK empire is based in Wapping…and it was here that the worldwide newspaper revolution began in the 1980s as traditional print presses were replaced with Macs and digital DTP following the launch of the Today newspaper by Eddie Shah and subsequent purchase by Mr Murdoch.
The Docklands area itself now resembles a mini Manhattan as you stand on the Thames Path and look East, across the river from Limehouse. This is where people who know come to live and fall in love with East London.
A favourite pastime for many quite like a walk along the River Thames on a cold-but-cloudless winter Sunday afternoon and there’s a number of very nice old English gastro pubs in the Wapping and Limehouse area to stop in and grab a pint and roast lunch.
So, going from West to East, as a four-part special, we present a review of each of the best places to sit, drink and dine in the E1 and neighbouring E14 area – The Narrow, The Grapes and The Gun…but first, The Prospect of Whitby.