As part of our Victorian Fictions module, we had a visit in Week 10 instead of attending a lecture. We were given lots of interesting options, such as the Dickens Museum, the John Soane’s Museum, the Museum of Childhood and the V & A Museum.
However, naturally, I chose to go to a pub in Limehouse called ‘The Grapes’, which is owned by none other than Sir Ian McKellen.
My friends and I took the DLR to Westferry and the pub is just a five minute walk from here. Embarrassingly, we were huddled around my friend’s iPhone, struggling to find the place on Google Maps when a local man took pity on us and pointed us in the right direction. Situated at 76 Narrow Street at the edge of the river, and at nearly five hundred years old, The Grapes pub is one of the oldest pubs in London and has inspired many writers over the years. Indeed, the pub features in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and is described thus:
“A tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.”
I read Dickens’ excerpt after I visited the pub, and I believe that he captures perfectly the rather precarious-looking stance of the public house as it seems as though it could topple into the river at any moment.
As you can see from the rather blurry photograph taken by myself, the pub is quite small, but expands upwards rather than outwards, likening it to the TARDIS as it is actually slightly bigger on the inside, with an upstairs restaurant. We were unfortunately too late to order food, which smelled delicious and looked amazing as I gazed greedily at other people’s plates. So I would definitely recommend having dinner if you visit this pub.
We visited at the best time of the year and at the best time of the evening. There is simply nothing better than walking through a dark, cold street, breath billowing out before you, hands raw and numb with frost, to then take refuge in a warm, cosy pub lit by a real fire. I mean, when was the last time you saw an actual fire in a pub? Perhaps we’re just deprived of pub fires in my home town (and, incidentally, Dickens’ city of birth) Portsmouth, but it was seriously exciting. And satisfyingly toasty.
Evidently proud of the pub’s Dickens connection, the owners have decorated the walls with pictures of Dickens’ most famous characters such as Bill Sikes and the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist and Captain Cuttle from Dombey and Son. There were copies of Dickens’ greatest novels on the bookshelf, giving a welcoming and homely atmosphere and prompting greater enthusiasm in all Dickens fanatics.
This pub is definitely worth a visit. Even if you don’t like Dickens, its cosy ambience and reasonably-priced drinks make it student friendly and welcoming. It is also rather quirky and perhaps not somewhere you would usually visit as it is a bit off the beaten track, so it’s always good to check out new and different places. If it’s good enough for Gandalf, it’s good enough for me!