Possibly London’s most famous pub, the Prospect of Whitby dates from 1543, built as a simple tavern in the expanding docks; by the 17th century it had a reputation as a meeting place for smugglers and villains, and became known as ‘Devil’s Tavern’. Fire gutted the Devil’s Tavern in the eighteenth century; it was rebuilt and renamed the Prospect of Whitby, after a ship that was moored nearby.
The main bar has a flagstone floor, its long bar counter is built on barrels and has a rare pewter top; timber beams and upright pillars appear to be sections of a ship’s mast, seasoned timbers were often used for building when ships were scrapped. There’s a small balcony where you can sit above the river and listen to the rhythmic lapping of the water. Just inside is a comfortable seating area with open fire; a further bar has a servery and a raised dining area.
Outside is a pleasant terrace with tables. Venture up the creaking stairs and find the restaurant, this is divided into several delightful panelled rooms, again enjoying river views. Another rooftop terrace, with iron garden furniture, overlooks the river too. Old photographs show what the Prospect and its surroundings used to be like, ramshackle and seedy, but crowded with vessels from around the world. Nowadays the occasional cruiser or barge passes by the warehouses, which have been converted into exclusive apartments.
A hangman\’s noose swings over the river, a reminder of more gruesome times. One notorious customer was Judge Jeffreys, the ‘Hanging Judge’, a title enhanced by the execution of the leaders and 200 men of the failed Monmouth Rebellion (1685), an attempt to overthrow Catholic King James II. According to Gilbert Burnet’s ‘History of my Own Times’ Jeffreys was ‘perpetually either drunk or in a rage’. The Glorious Revolution saw James II flee to France, Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys tried to follow, but was found hiding in a coal cellar at the tavern dressed as a coal-heaver. He was taken to the Tower of London where he became ill and died. Presumably hanging was too good for him.