The London Charles Dickens Knew. The Grapes Narrow Street.
Exit the pub. Turn right, and go almost immediately right onto the paved walkway to follow the Thames Path. Where the semi-circle of the Shadwell Pier Head juts out into the river, go left into:
Shadwell Basin. For an essay in The Uncommercial Traveller entitled ‘Bound For the Great Salt Lake’, Dickens visited the Amazon, an emigrant ship about to set sail for Utah with a large number of Mormons on board. He was most impressed to find everything in order for the long voyage. ‘Two great gangways made of spars and planks connect her with the wharf’ he wrote, ‘and up and down these gangways, perpetually crowding to and fro and in and out, like ants, are the Emigrants…’
Continue ahead, turning left along Glamis Road. Go over the red bridge and turn right again following the signs for the Thames Path. This dark, dismal pathway leads to the King Edward Memorial Park, and passes by the redbrick ventilation shaft from the Rotherhithe Tunnel, which runs under the river to your right. Go through the park and keep going ahead along the Thames Path. At the end of the path, go down the ramp, turn left and go straight ahead along Narrow Street. Continue ove:-
Limehouse Basin, which opened in 1820 as the Regent’s Canal Dock and was London’s main gateway to England’s canal network. The huge lock gates can be seen to your left. In Our Mutual Friend Rogue Riderhood ‘dwelt deep in Limehouse Hole, among the riggers, and the mast, oar and block makers…’.
Continue going straight ahead. As the modern apartments submit to a delightful terrace of 18th-century buildings on the right, you will find:-
The Grapes Pub. This is a genuine survivor from the London Charles Dickens knew. The Grapes (known to Dickens as The Bunch of Grapes) looks out onto a river that was once the main highway into the capital, in an era when tea-clippers and schooners from the ends of the Earth turned the Thames into a thick forest of masts. In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens renamed the pub The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, and his description of it as ‘a tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity…’ with ‘corpulent windows in diminishing piles’ still holds true when viewed from the river. Its bar is cosy and intimate; Dickensian prints adorn the walls and an open fire glows in the back bar. Gazing from the back veranda, you can see how accurate Dickens’s eye for detail was when he wrote: ‘But it had outlasted and clearly would yet outlast many a better trimmed building, 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.’ The landlady of The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, Miss Abbey Potterson, was actually based on Mary Ferguson, who in Dickens’s day kept the Barley Mow pub (now demolished) that used to stand opposite The Grapes.