Pelican Stairs

London, England

Part of London's seedy underbelly, Pelican Stairs was once a place of smugglers, crooks and thieves. Enter at your own risk.

Next to a pub once nicknamed 'The Devil's Tavern', Pelican Stairs is a narrow alleyway with a reputation for crime and villainy. The pub (now called 'The Prospect of Whitby') dates back to 1520. Most likely, Pelican Stairs does, too.

During low tide it leads onto a picturesque waterfront, boasting some of the best Thameside views in London. These days, this hidden London beach is a great place for walking, yoga and photography, but centuries ago it would have had a very different purpose.

The Thames is now a clean and relatively crime-free river, but this has not always been the case. At one time, an estimated 150-200 corpses would wash up on its banks every year. Who were these people? Where did they come from? For the most part, we can only guess. In rare cases, however, we do have some details.

- © Chris.Basilio

The Gruesome History of the Thames

Between May and June, 1887, the remains of a woman were found in the Thames, near Rainham. Everything was there, but the head and the upper torso. Across the next two years, three more victims were discovered along the river, all missing various body-parts. Only one was identified: a woman called Elizabeth Jackson.

The bodies were said to have been divided with some skill, 'not the anatomical skill of a surgeon, but the practical knowledge of a butcher.'

The police filed all four cases as belonging to the same series- 'The Thames Torso Murders', as they soon became known- and there were many others that could have also been connected. Similar remains were found in other parts of London and even in Paris.

The culprit was never found.

Could it have been Jack the Ripper, who was also active at this time? The London Police thought not, but who can say for sure?

Could any of these bodies have been disposed at the Pelican Stairs? Could the murderer have quenched his thirst in the adjacent Devil's Tavern afterwards? It's possible. These places have likely witnessed many such crimes.

- © Deep Sane

Where Art Meets Crime

At the same time, however, 'The Devil's Tavern' was not just a place for murderers and criminals. It also claims to have served some more reputable clients. Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, James Whistler and J.M.W Turner have all reportedly enjoyed beverages within its walls.

Perhaps, they were looking for inspiration...

So, whether you are a true-crime addict, an art buff or just on the lookout for a new yoga-spot, Pelican Stairs has something for you. Just be sure to check the tide first, or you might end up with wet feet!

- © Deep Sane

One more thing...

Pelican Stairs has also witnessed a more recent murder, albeit one on TV. In an episode of BBC's Whitechapel, a body was discovered along the Thames' shoreline, just a stone's throw away.

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Treasure Hunts in London - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of London.


What you need to know

Pelican Stairs
57, Wapping Wall, London, Uk
Tips before you visit

Prospect of Whitby Opening Hours:

Mon-Sat: 11am-11pm

Sun: 11am-10pm



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