The Ship & Whale pub is one of the oldest original buildings in the area. The pub first appears in the rate records for 1767, however the present building is believed to have been rebuilt around 1880. To put this date in context, other notable events of 1880 include Australian bushranger and bank robber Ned Kelly being hanged in Melbourne and Gladstone defeating Benjamin Disraeli to become British Prime Minister. Also in 1880 Queen Victoria had reigned for 43 years. We’ve tried to bring the history of the area back in to The Ship & Whale and within the pub you might notice old photographs from the area including a photo of the June 1911 Coronation Parties held for George V on Rotherhithe Street.
The Odessa Wharf building which can be seen from the garden of the pub dates back to 1810, also making this one of the oldest surviving buildings in Rotherhithe. Originally it is thought that Odessa Wharf was used as a mould loft (a large broad, roofed area where moulds and patterns are prepared for the construction of a ship), however it is documented that in the 1800s The Odessa Wharf was used by a Mr Landell, as storehouse for grain. Randalls Rents which runs alongside the pub would have been a narrow passage much the same as it is today but on the other side to the pub would have been tied housing for key employees of Odessa Wharf and the neighbouring shipyards.
Rotherhithe has been a port since the 12th Century and a shipyard since Elizabethan times. It was from Rotherhithe that the Mayflower set sail in 1620 carrying the Pilgrim Fathers to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Christopher Jones, the ship’s captain, lived in Rotherhithe and was buried here on his death in 1622. Greenland Dock dates back to the 17th Century, originally known as Howland Great Wet Dock, it was at that time one of the largest docks in the world. During the 18th Century the main trade of the dock was whaling with many of the ships sailing from London to Greenland to capture whales, hence the name change to Greenland Dock.
Until well after the Second World War, Rotherhithe was among the foremost industrial areas of England. The Surrey Commercial Docks were a thriving area, Nelson Dock (where today the Hilton Hotel stands) was famous for ship repairs and in the 1920s it wasn’t unusual for 14,000 ton steamships operated by the Cunard Line to dock in Rotherhithe. Rotherhithe is inextricably linked to maritime history given its location but it was also an area with a huge number of pubs and at one stage it was recorded that Rotherhithe was home to over 125 pubs, many of which stood on Rotherhithe Street (which was once the longest street in London being over 1½ miles long). During the 17th and 18th Centuries the name Redriff was often used as an alternative name for Rotherhithe and in Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels he named Captain Lemuel Gulliver as a resident of Rotherhithe. It is rumoured that Jonathan Swift even visited the area whilst researching his characters.
Originally The Ship & Whale stood on Derrick Street and photos of the street can be found around the pub. It is also well known that the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret met her future husband, Anthony Armstrong-Jones in an artists warehouse on Rotherhithe Street. It is also rumoured that the Princess would often dress in disguise and join Jones in many of the pubs in the area. Who knows they may have even enjoyed a drink in the very spot you are sitting in?
More history of the area can be found by visiting local projects such as The Brunel Museum and The Pumphouse Educational Museum both located on Rotherhithe Street. Or why not visit Time & Talents or The Rotherhithe Picture Library both located on St Marychurch Street. Our special thanks go to The Rotherhithe Picture Library for their kind permission to display the old photographs on our menus and within The Ship & Whale.