Posted by: Hackney Tours | April 19, 2009

Hanging in London’s historic hostelries

Did this bunch of bankers stick their necks out too far?

This is not the fate that awaits London’s banking fraternity should the economy worsen (is it?) but a super spot on the Thames to watch the river flow and remember that we are but a blip in the grand scheme of things. Historic boozer the Prospect of Whitby takes its name from a ship that used to moor nearby, and had a famous – or rather infamous – clientele. The Hanging Judge George Jeffreys was a regular; it’s sometimes said that cops and villains have more in common than either would like to admit.

The guest ales reflected the fast approaching St George’s Day, and supping a pint of England’s Glory, our thoughts turned to a North Yorkshire lad who would have known the river well. One of Britain’s premier navigators came from a humble background on the colliers that shuttled up and down the east coast bringing coal from the North East to London: the legendary Captain James Cook (BTW, anyone ever made the connection with Star Trek? For “USS Enterprise” read “HMS Endeavour”; for James Kirk read James Cook).

Author Herman Hesse uses a river as a metaphor of timelessness in the cult work Siddhartha. And there’s something very soothing about being near water. Looking at the Thames and remembering that some 2,000 years ago people were going about their business in more or less the same spot, it’s a great way to eat a little humble pie and get back a little perspective in this hectic city of inflated salaries and egos.

The warehouses along here may now be tiny overpriced flats – supply and demand will get you every time in London town – but it’s not hard to imagine trading ships from all over the world tied up; many of them coming from lands where the sun never set, that pink third of the mapped world that denoted the British Empire.

One can picture Conrad watching a mysterious vessel bob gently, and a little light bulb going off as he tried to figure out which obscure and exotic location it had come from. Or Dickens, on one of his many perambulations, surveying the comings and goings like some sort of self-appointed overseer.

And the river is still busy today. Catamaran clippers to and fro at a heady rate of knots, passing the slower sightseeing boats, as commuters escape to Greenwich. But even these sleek new machines are humbled as tourists bounce past them in a RIB (rigid inflatable boat), slewing across their bows: hard a-port in a G-force inducing semi-circle. We come and go; but like Hesse said, the river flows on.

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