The Angel Pub In Rotherhithe

Last week I went on a reconnaisance trip to scout out a new tour I have been wanting to start offering to my lovely tourists.  As well as the regular tourist hotspots, I really enjoy taking people to the lesser visited parts and judging from the reactions of my tourists, the more authentic an experience, the greater their enjoyment.

As such I took a walk along the the south bank of the Thames through the districts of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.  These are parts of London that even most Londoners never visit, let alone tourists and yet having gone through a certain level of gentrification, what were the aspects that made visiting the area a seeingly stupid and possibly dangerous idea is now what makes it so attractive.

I knew there was a lot to see but even I didn’t quite appreciate just what atmospheric and historic neighbourhood this was and so it seems like a good idea to write a few blog posts about just some of the highlights I came across.  As it is an easy-going Saturday I thought I would start off with historic Angel Pub in Rotherhithe.

The Angel pub sits in splendid isolation in front of the remains of Edward III’s mansion on the Thames Path at the western edge of Rotherhithe and has a history going back to at least the 17th Century though it is likely that in one incarnation or the other, it dates back to medieval times.

At the very end of Bermondsey Wall East, it used to be flanked by a variety of buildings, all crowded together to make the most  of the valuable Thames frontage.

 

Angel c1930
These days though, it stands alone between parks, ruins of a royal mansion house and some tasteful memorials to social reformers of times past.
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In the 15th century an inn and rest house for travellers called The Salutation was kept at or near this site by monks from Bermondsey Priory. In 1682 The Angel was in a position diagonally opposite its present site, and was referred to by the famous diarist Samuel Pepys as “the famous Angel.”
Christopher Jones, the captain of the Mayflower, is said to have hired crew here

Local legend has it that Judge George Jeffreys (the “hanging judge”) used to come here to watch men die at Execution Dock, which was opposite.   It is also believed that the legendary Captain Cook prepared for his journey for which eventually led to his landing in what became known as Australia.

The Angel - Drinks Menu

During most of the 17th and 18th Centuries its busy riverside would have ensured a rich but not always salubrious variety of clientele, from river pirates, smugglers and thieves to sailors and press gangs. In the early 20th Century its reputation and location attracted local artists including Augustus John and James Abbott McNeil Whistler.   Such artists of course were only following in the footsteps of perhaps the most celebrated British painter, JMW Turner who is said to have painted one of the two most lauded British paintings, The Fighting Temeraire either here or at Cherry Tree Park, the small riverside park just a minute away on foot.

The Fighting Teameraire

The Fighting Temeraire

The Fighting Temeraire was painted by Turner and is said widely acknowledged to be one of the most loved British paintings.  It depicts the grand old HMS Temeraire which fought under Admiral Horatio Nelson at the great victory at Trafalgar.  Here, at the end of its life,  it is being towed back to London ready for the breakers yard.  Notable also of course that the small tug is pulling the great old warhip thanks to the power of the steam engine which has latterly rendered the age of the sail to history.

In the 19th century The Angel was in the middle of a very busy stretch of tightly packed Thames-side trade related industrial buildings and slums.  Even now, the area has a reputation that can deter more delicate people from visiting after dark.

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Inside The Angel, Rotherhithe.

It remains decorated in period style and has happily not fallen foul of the trend in many pubs that cater to a younger crowd of having music playing.  Here you can enjoy a drink or a meal whilst looking out at the tremendous views with friendly locals, a smattering of tourists and lively conversation.

 

A room with a view

A room with a view. It’s equally spectacular at night.

In days gone by, the pub was a hotbed of smugglers with tap doors in the lower floor that open up a few feet over the river.  When out on my walk through Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, I got talking to former and slightly elderly smuggler.  I talk to everyone 🙂

Angel-1949

As you can see from the old photo above, The Angel is actually built partially over the river with just enough space for small boats to position themselves underneath.  I would have gone closer to take some photos of the doors but firstly was running a bit late, secondly there was some renovation work going on which made things a little difficult and thirdly, a sudden and slightly surprising high-tide had come in and I doubt anyone would want to open the trap doors up!

 

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Everyone bring their wellies!

If you’d like to tour with me on this trail that will culminate inside the Mayflower pub, constructed out of the actual timbers of the famous Mayflower ship then visit my tour page below:

stephenliddell.co.uk/ye-olde-england-tours-2/our-tours/london-tours/from-shakespeares-globe-to-the-mayflower-the-american-dream/

 

 

 

 

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
This entry was posted in history, Life, London, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Angel Pub In Rotherhithe

  1. Looks like a brilliant place for a pint!

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. Francis says:

    Thanks for reawakening my intetest in this fabulous area of London.

    Like

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