62 Wapping High St, E1W 2PN
Nearest tube: Wapping 0.3 miles
Nearest attraction: Tower of London 0.9 miles
Historical interest: 8/10
Cosiness quotient: 6/10
Adjacent to Wapping Old Stairs, The Town of Ramsgate is marooned in a bland sea of Docklands developments (excuse the maritime references). But its Victorian-tiled frontage, unassuming charm and bright blue paint will make you want to enter.
EST 1545. Monarch: Henry VIII
It’s hard to believe that the quiet, respectable Town of Ramsgate was once a hotbed of cutthroats and vagabonds while its cellars were filled with reluctant “sailors” recruited by press gangs when they were too drunk to argue. Meanwhile the crowds would regularly gather at Execution Dock nearby to watch pirates, smugglers and mutineers being hanged to death from a short rope (it took longer that way).
Anyway, it was either on Wapping Old Stairs or in the Town of Ramsgate itself where the notorious Hanging Judge Jeffreys was caught by an angry mob on September 12 1688. Whether the noose-happy judge was having one last tipple at the T of R or escaping from pursuers following a visit to the nearby Prospect of Whitby is a subject of pointless debate. But in any case, he was taken to the Tower of London where he eventually died – not by hanging, as would have been poetic justice, but from kidney problems due to excessive drinking.
Skip forward a century and two other men are now having one last drink together at the Town of Ramsgate before an epic sea voyage: Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian.
Anyone who has seen the Mutiny on the Bounty will recall how the villainous Captain Bligh mistreated his crew to the point where heroic Fletcher Christian was forced to rebel. But the truth is a little less black and white. For one thing, mutiny only occurred after an idyllic sojourn on Tahiti with its welcoming ladyfolk had softened up the crew and made them unwilling to resume their journey with the bad-tempered Bligh. So on April 28 1789, Christian seized control of the ship and then set the captain adrift on a small boat. With him were some of Bligh’s loyal followers and a few crew members who Christian didn’t like very much. So these 19 men were left to float off into the sunset with only five days’ rations to keep them alive.
However, Bligh turned out to be a cracking sailor and managed to steer his crew an incredible 4,000 miles to safety. Back in England he even brought some of the mutineers to justice before dying peacefully in London on December 7 1817.
Meanwhile, Christian and his men returned to the ladyfolk of Tahiti who were a tad less welcoming this time. Anticipating being kicked off the island, Christian tricked some of his cohorts and a few Tahitians – mostly women – on board the Bounty and then cut the rope, sailing away with his captive “crew”. Among them were six elderly women who were considered no use and were unceremoniously dumped on a nearby island. I like to think of them resourcefully cooking up sea-urchin soup over a camp fire and knitting cardies out of island grass, but they were probably killed and eaten. Meanwhile Christian and his captives sailed on to Pitcairn where they created a happy mixed-race settlement – happy, that is, until some disgruntled Tahitians slaughtered Christian after an argument. Apparently his last words were: “Oh dear”. A bit of an understatement there, Fletch.
The Town of Ramsgate is a long, narrow space made cosy with the aid of wood panelling, parlour palms and old paintings. The friendly atmosphere and cheerful Cockney staff give it a touch of the Old Vics – but in a good way.
The other stuff
Brewery: Free house
Open Sunday-Wednesday midday-11pm, Thursday-Saturday midday to midnight
Food Served daily from midday
This is very much a locals’ pub with quizzes and curry nights, and the food is less generic than your average chain pub. More unusual dishes include pizza melt burger, a “sharing sausage plate” and paprika spiced salmon. And in summer the raised terrace out the back is a charming space for boat-watching.
And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.