How To Get To Pelican Stairs
Pelican Stairs, its London beach and the adjacent pub is a five minute walk from Wapping overground station. Depending on your start-point, here are the three best ways to get there:
(1) Take the Jubilee line to Canada Water and then head two stops Northbound to Wapping.
(2) Take the DLR to Shadwell and then head one stop Southbound to Wapping.
(3) Take the District line to Whitechapel and then head two stops Southbound to Wapping.
From Wapping, exit the station right onto Wapping High Street, then bear left onto Garnett Street. Take the first right onto Wapping Wall and in a couple of minutes you should see The Prospect of Whitby pub on your right. To the right of the pub is Pelican Stairs.
When To Go To Pelican Stairs
Pelican Stairs and the hidden London beach beyond are at their most stunning in the early morning or late evening, between 5am-7am/7pm-9pm on a clear day during British Summer Time. Don't worry if you can't make it this early/late however, this hidden London beach is gorgeous around the clock.
The most important thing to do is to check the tide. If it's high then you'll be swimming, so make sure you go when it's low. You can find the relevant tide chart here.
What To Expect From This Hidden London Beach
Even at low tide the London beach is narrow, adding to its quiet, secluded feel. Its wooden border is streaked in algae, a reminder of how this hidden gem disappears every time the water rises. To the right, the square-beamed underside of a pier creates a psychedelic tunnel of shadowy silhouettes, perfect for pictures. To the left hangs a noose, a reminder of a more sinister past.
The History Of Pelican Stairs
The neighbouring pub, The Prospect of Whitby, dates back to 1520. Most likely, Pelican Stairs does, too. Back then the area had a very different reputation, one hinted at by the pubs old nickname, 'The Devil's Tavern'.
The Thames is now a clean and relatively crime-free river, but this was not always the case. At one time, an estimated 150-200 corpses washed up on its banks every year. Who were these people? Where did they come from? For the most part, we can only guess. In rare cases, however, we do have some details.
The Gruesome History of the Thames
Between May and June, 1887, the remains of a woman were found in the Thames, near Rainham. Everything was there, but the head and the upper torso. Across the next two years, three more victims were discovered along the river, all missing various body-parts. Only one was identified: a woman called Elizabeth Jackson.
The bodies were said to have been divided with some skill, 'not the anatomical skill of a surgeon, but the practical knowledge of a butcher.'
The police filed all four cases as belonging to the same series- 'The Thames Torso Murders', as they soon became known- and there were many others that could have also been connected. Similar remains were found in other parts of London and even in Paris.
The culprit was never found.
Could it have been Jack the Ripper, who was also active at this time? The London Police thought not, but who can say for sure?
Could any of these bodies have been disposed at the Pelican Stairs? Could the murderer have quenched his thirst in the adjacent Devil's Tavern afterwards? It's possible. These places have likely witnessed many such crimes.
Where Art Meets Crime
At the same time, however, 'The Devil's Tavern' was not just a place for murderers and criminals. It also claims to have served some more reputable clients. Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, James Whistler and J.M.W Turner have all reportedly enjoyed beverages within its walls.
Perhaps, they were looking for inspiration...
Whether you are a true-crime addict, an art buff or just on the lookout for a new yoga-spot, Pelican Stairs has something for you. Just be sure to check the tide first, or you might end up with wet feet!
One more thing...
Pelican Stairs has also witnessed a more recent murder, albeit a fictional one. In an episode of BBC's Whitechapel, a body was discovered along the Thames' shoreline, just a stone's throw away.
Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Treasure Hunts in London - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of London.
Want to read more about Victorian waterfront crime, check out our article on Sydney's Justice and Police Museum.