Great London Pubs No. 2: The Prospect of Whitby



The Prospect of Whitby is London’s oldest riverside pub – the pub site dates back to 1520. The original flagstone floor survives and the pub also has a rare pewter-topped bar, as well as old barrels and ships’ masts built into the structure. The pub has great views over the Thames, from the beer garden to the first floor terrace.

The pub was originally frequented by lightermen, watermen and others who made their living on the river and at sea. It it was a notorious haunt for smugglers, thieves and pirates. Famous customers include Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, ‘Hanging’ Judge Jeffries and the artists Whistler and Turner.

It used to be called The Pelican, but was also known as The Devil’s Tavern. Sir Hugh Wiloughby sailed from here in 1533 in a disastrous attempt to discover the North-East passage to China. Judge Jeffries lived nearby and a noose hangs by a window, commemorating his custom. He was chased by anti-Royalists into the nearby Town of Ramsgate, captured and taken to the Tower. According to legend, criminals would be tied up to the posts at low tide and left there to drown when the tide came in. 

The pub is now surrounded by newbuild flats and bankers’ loft apartments, which take the edge off a bit. The Mayflower is  along this stretch of East London river and probably the better pub.

6 comments on “Great London Pubs No. 2: The Prospect of Whitby”

  1. Vivienne says:

    A great pub. I believe it was so named after a ship named the Whitby that could be seen from the pub. How that one ship was chosen out of the many that must have been in view when the river was busy, it’s hard to understand. A visit to the Mayflower must include a look at the churchyard opposite: contains memorials to the Mayflower captain and also the grave of Prince Lee Boo, prince of a Polynesian island (if I remember correctly) and one of the first of those people to come here.

  2. Jo W says:

    Looks like it has had a considerable clean up in recent years. I suppose the yuppification of the area is responsible for that-so not all bad then. I can remember what it used to be like -a place for ‘ladies’ to avoid, if they wanted to keep that title.

  3. snowy says:

    What follows is all speculation, so beware.

    If it was named after a ship, that would suggest that the vessel was there for a long time and was significant/known to all those that saw it.

    Perhaps the Whtby was a ‘hulk’? A ship in name only, its rudder and masts removed, converted to hold prisioners awaiting transportaton to the colonies. Did those involved in shady activities fear the idea of being so confined and the pub name was a bit of dark humour? Conditions onboard were unpleasant and prisoners would be held for months and months, until there was enough of them to fill a transport ship.

    Tracing ships is a bit haphazard, the Navy then re-used names repeatedly and civilian ships changed their names with each new owner.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I like the ‘dark humour’ derivation of the name. Even if not true, still evokes the feeling of the time, depending on when the name change occurred. How often would you get the generosity implied by the name “Pelican”?

  5. pheeny says:

    Blimey Jo I remember spending a very pleasant afternoon there in the mid nineties and not having any bother – either because it was already gentrified, or because I am not a lady, or possibly because I was drinking with a friend who had more piercings and tattoos than you could shake a stick at 😀

  6. jan says:

    re Vivienne’s entry above the church is also interesting because it contains a chair made from timber retrieved from the “Fighting Temeraire” yes the ship from the Turner painting. Prince Lee Boo’s grave has also been cleaned up and theres a whole interesting story around this guy’s life and how he ended up in Great Britain. One of the times i went to the church there was a massive christening going on. This part of London is amazing because of the many differing communities next to each other

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