Wapping Escorts is a district in East London, England, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is situated between the north bank of the River Thames and the ancient thoroughfare simply called The Highway. Wapping’s proximity to the river has given it a strong maritime character, which it retains through its riverside public houses and steps, such as the Prospect of Whitby and Wapping Stairs.Many of the original buildings were demolished during the construction of the London Docks and Wapping was further seriously damaged during the Blitz. As the London Docklands declined after the Second World War, the area became run down, with the great warehouses left empty. The area’s fortunes were transformed during the 1980s by the London Docklands Development Corporation when the warehouses started to be converted into luxury flats.Rupert Murdoch moved his News International printing and publishing works into Wapping in 1986, resulting in a trade union dispute that became known as the “Battle of Wapping”.
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The area was first settled by Saxons, from whom it takes its name (meaning literally “[the place of] Wæppa’s people”). It developed along the embankment of the Thames, hemmed in by the river to the south and the now-drained Cheap Wapping Escorts Marsh to the north. This gave it a peculiarly narrow and constricted shape, consisting of little more than the axis of Wapping High Street and some north-south side streets. John Stow, the 16th century historian, described it as a “continual street, or a filthy strait passage, with alleys of small tenements or cottages, built, inhabited by sailors’ victuallers”. A chapel to St. John the Baptist was built in 1617, and it was here that Thomas Rainsborough was buried. Wapping was constituted as a parish in 1694Wapping by James McNeill Whistler
Cheap Wapping Escorts proximity to the river gave it a strong maritime character for centuries, well into the 20th century. It was inhabited by sailors, mastmakers, boat-builders, blockmakers, instrument-makers, victuallers and representatives of all the other trades that supported the seafarer. Wapping was also the site of ‘Execution Dock’, where pirates and other water-borne criminals faced execution by hanging from a gibbet constructed close to the low water mark. Their bodies would be left dangling until they had been submerged three times by the tide.The Bell Inn, by execution dock was run by Samuel Batts. His daughter, Elizabeth, married James Cook in 1762 at Barking, after the Royal Navy captain had stayed at the Inn.The couple initially settled in Shadwell, attending St Paul’s church, but later moved to Mile End. Although they had six children together, much of their married life was spent apart, with Cook absent on his voyages and, after his murder in 1779 at Kealakekua Bay, she survived until 1835.
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Three venerable public houses are located near Stairs. By Pelican Stairs is the Prospect of Whitby, which has a much-disputed claim to be the oldest Thames-side public house still in existence.Be that as it may, there has been an inn on the site since the reign of Henry VIII, and it is certainly one of the most famous public houses in London. It is named after a then-famous collier that used to dock regularly at Cheap Wapping Escorts. A replica of the old Execution Dock gibbet is maintained on the adjacent foreshore, although the actual site of Execution Dock was nearer to the Town of Ramsgate. This also is on the site of a 16th-century inn and is located next to Wapping Old Stairs to the west of the Prospect; by Wapping Pier Head — the former local headquarters of the Customs and Excise.Situated half way between the two is the Captain Kidd, named after the Scottish privateer William Kidd. He was hanged on the Wapping foreshore in 1701 after being found guilty of murder and piracy. Although the pub occupies a 17th-century building, it was established only in the 1980s.
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The “Wapping dispute” or “Battle of Wapping” was, along with the miners’ strike of 1984-85, a significant turning point in the history of the trade union movement and of UK industrial relations. It started on 24 January 1986 when some 6,000 newspaper workers went on strike after protracted negotiation with their employer, News International (parent of Times Newspapers and News Group Newspapers, and chaired by Rupert Murdoch). News International had built and clandestinely equipped a new printing plant for all its titles in Wapping, and when the print unions announced a strike it activated this new plant with the assistance of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union (EETPU).The plant was nicknamed “Fortress Wapping” when the sacked print workers effectively besieged it, mounting round-the-clock pickets and blockades in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to thwart the move. In 2005, News International announced the intention to move the print works to regional presses based in Broxbourne (the world’s largest printing plant, opened March 2008),Liverpool and Glasgow. The editorial staff were to remain, however, and there was talk of redeveloping the sizeable plot that makes up the printing works.