On the Thames close to Tower Bridge is the area known as Wapping. Throughout this place, there are remnants of original buildings and docks that have covered the space from the river to The Highway for centuries.
One building on Wapping High Street that we dogs have enjoyed over the years – but sadly no more – is the Town of Ramsgate pub with its beamed ceilings, oak benches, wooden plank panelling and engraved glass screen. For this and its historical associations, it was granted Grade II listed status.
The first pub
The first pub on the site is believed to have originated at the time of the Wars of the Roses in the 1460s. Back then it was called The Hostel. Over the years the name of the pub and the numbering of the street have changed.
In 1533 it became The Red Cow. In 1689 it became famous when the notorious Judge Jeffreys, who, presiding over the Bloody Assizes following Monmouth’s unsuccessful rebellion against King James II, took great pleasure in sending hundreds of people to their execution. In so doing the judge liked to abuse his victims’ attorneys, one of whom caught Jeffrey outside the ale house as he was trying to escape.
He was disguised as a sailor trying to join a coal ship that was bound for Hamburg following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which had overthrown the king, James II.
Change of name
Sometime in the late 17th or 18th century, it acquired the Ramsgate Old Town mantra apparently to attract more trade from Kentish fishermen who landed their catches at Wapping Old Stairs. They apparently chose here to avoid the river taxes imposed on the Thames close to Billingsgate Fish Market.
By 1811 the pub changed its name to its present title: The Town of Ramsgate. Many books about London have featured this waterman’s tavern which is referred to as ‘a notable specimen’.
It is almost forced into a tiny rectangle of space between Wapping Old Stairs, were Jeffreys had been apprehended, and Oliver’s Wharf, a vast Victorian warehouse which used to store chests of Chinese and Indian tea before the building was converted into flats last century.
The title-deed documents show that Joseph Oliver (senior), whose trade was as an ironmonger, granted the freehold of both the warehouse and the tavern to his sons George and Joseph in January 1848.
The narrow steps next door now lead up to some mock gallows in the Thames. This harks back to the age when this was a venue that attracted so many smugglers that ‘Execution Dock’ was set up next door. This included scaffolds for hanging ‘pirates, smugglers and mutineers’ sentenced to death by the Admiralty Courts.
There was a lot of officially sanctioned hostile activity in this place in those unpleasant days. Drunks would get press-ganged into service with the navy here. The pub’s cellars were used as a holding prison for convicts before they were deported to Australia.
Captain William Bligh, who lived in nearby Reardon Street between 1785 and 1790 as
well as Fletcher Christian are both said to have had a drink here before they set sail on the voyage that would culminate in the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. Indeed, this was where Bligh and his sponsor Sir Joseph Banks came to inspect the Bounty before buying it for the fateful voyage to Tahiti.
Today, to the pub’s left are Pier Head’s Georgian houses, built in 1811 for senior London Dock Company employees.
In the beginning, this article indicated that we will no longer be enjoying this pub. This was because of an unfortunate incident when we were visiting with our owners, Roger & Louise Wilsher, and a Shih Tzu Terrier cross called Mashka.
Mashka, who is not large by any stretch of the imagination, was sitting quietly on Louise’s lap when the manager insisted that Mashka got back on the floor. As she had been happily perched for at least 40 minutes, it seemed an odd request.
To cut a long story short here is a copy of the letter Roger wrote to the landlord as a result.
Town of Ramsgate
62 Wapping High Street
London E1W 2PN
Sunday, December 31, 2017
Dear Mr Biddle,
Re. Dogs in the Town of Ramsgate public house
Last night you ordered my wife to leave your pub because she was sitting with a small dog on her lap at one of your tables. You announced that you had instigated a rule that, although dogs were allowed in the pub, they had to remain on the floor. You indicated that you believed this was for reasons of hygiene.
Despite polite attempts at discussing this rule, you acted in a churlish and unfriendly manner and told my wife to leave the premises. She, quite rightly, responded to you that your refusal to discuss the absurdity of your rule meant that we will not be returning to your pub at any time.
I would like to point out that your staff had not noticed the dog sitting on my wife’s lap for at least 40 minutes. If this rule of yours is that crucial surely your team should have been more observant. As it was your petulance ruined the evening.
In the interests of your future customers, however, I would like to point out that to micromanage dogs in your pub to the extent that you have deemed fit is absurd and unnecessary.
There is no legal or environmental restriction preventing dogs from being in areas where food is being served, as long as you have taken measures to prevent dogs from accessing the kitchen and food storage areas. The rules can be found in the Regulations (EC) No 852/2004, Annex II, Chapter IX – Provisions applicable to foodstuffs (4).
What these make clear is that if there is no food being prepared or stored [my emphasis] in the area where dogs are allowed, then there is no restriction preventing dogs being anywhere in the public areas of your pub. It is therefore only your rather odd attitude that means you insist dogs are not allowed to sit on a customer’s lap. This is rude and unhelpful, and it certainly has nothing to do with “health and safety”.
I have not measured your tables, but I doubt they are higher than 30″. Indeed, I imagine they are probably shorter than that. And I would like to point out there are many breeds of dog who would tower over a 30″ tall piece of furniture without sitting on a customer’s lap: Great Danes, Mastiffs, Ridgebacks, Newfoundlands, Wolf and Deer Hounds to name just a few.
At a time when figures from CAMRA show 21 pubs are being forced to close in the UK each week. And with recent research emphasising that 98% of pub owners who welcome four-legged customers have found allowing dogs improves business, it is not sensible to be excluding people because of a misplaced idea that dogs on laps are a danger to health.
You may as well bar anyone who comes in with a sniffle if that’s the way you think.
I hope this letter gives you some food for thought. Your policy needs nourishment – for everyone’s sake.
cc Kathy Butler, Consumer Services Officer, Licensing Committee, London Borough of Tower Hamlets