The History of Wapping, East London

Once an essential industrial waterside, Wapping is a lively East London district in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is perched between the northeast shores of the Thames and Ratcliffe Highway, a roman route dating to the 18th century.

Like most districts in East London, Wapping is rich in history, visible on its riverside public houses, stairs, periodic buildings, and warehouses turned apartments through town. Read on for a detailed rundown of its history and some of the sights and sounds in Wapping.

An Overview of Wapping’s History

Wapping was an important area in London from as early as the 1200s. It was first recorded as Waeppa, which is Anglo-Saxon for the settlement of Waeppa’s people, but some argue the area’s name was derived from wapol, meaning marsh.

Despite its early mentions in history, Wapping’s real growth began after the wharf was established in the 13th century. Full-scale growth occurred in the 15th century after the Wapping Marsh was drained, giving way to storehouses, cottages, and other waterfront developments in the area.

The settlement developed along the river to the south and the Wapping Marsh to the north. By the end of the 16th century, Wapping was home to numerous sailors, boat builders, victuallers, mast makers, and individuals from multiple other seafarer trades.

During this time, Wapping also had an execution dock for pirates, mutineers, and other sea criminals. While the exact location of the execution dock is still a mystery, these rebels would be hung, and their bodies left suspended in cages until at least three tides washed over them.

In the 17th century, magistrate Patrick Colquhoun in conjunction with mariner John Harriott, formed the Marine Police Force to tackle theft, looting, and rising crime rates. It was the first marine force in England.

In the 19th century, things took a better turn after the construction of the London docks on high street. It saw Wapping’s population and economy grow significantly, turning it into an important economic hub. Unfortunately, the area’s good fortunes didn’t last long as it was severely damaged in the Blitz. It remained rundown for years until the London Docklands Development Corporation took over and began redeveloping the area while converting the old warehouses into modern apartments.

Sights and Sounds in Wapping

Modern-day Wapping is a lively district full of sights and sounds. Check out some of the most notable below:

  • Prospect of Whitby: a 15th-century watering hole believed to be where Bell Inn, Wapping’s famous pirate execution dock was, and even features replica gallows
  • Wilton Music Hall: one of the world’s oldest surviving grand music halls
  • Tower Bridge: an iconic exhibition featuring glass floors, Victorian engine rooms, and high walkways
  • Thames path: one of Wapping’s few green spaces with river views

Enjoy Visiting Wapping

Wapping is one of the most historically rich districts in East End. It boasts pubs and restaurants from as early as the 15th century and has numerous preserved landmarks. Our list of sights and sounds is just the tip of the iceberg of all the amazing attractions available, but it’s an excellent place to start if visiting Wapping for the first time.