Little slices of London's history

Pubs, pelicans and the Prospect of Whitby

Pelicans in St James’s Park

I’ve finished watching ‘Whitechapel’, which wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be – in fact, I was strangely deflated when it ended. I think the show was cancelled unexpectedly so there wasn’t any neat wrapping up of loose ends.

Still, the show did thrown out some interesting references to London history – though I was a little taken aback when in one episode the camera kept showing the street sign for Old Peppermill Street, which doesn’t appear to exist. Pinchin Street, which was covered recently in this blog, also made an appearance in the context of unidentified female torsos being found in the river.

Towards the end there was a shot of the Prospect of Whitby pub in Wapping, with Pelican Stairs alongside it. The stairs would have been part of the network of stairs used by watermen to taxi passengers across and along the Thames.

Back to the pub, which dates back to 1520 and lays claim to being the oldest riverside pub in London. Its original name was The Pelican but, because it was the haunt of smugglers and cut-throats.

See what happens when you start wondering about London street names? I then wondered why a a pub in London, even a waterside one, would have been called Pelican. There is a Pelican pub in Gloucester that dates back to the 17th century and one in Wales called, intriguingly, The Pelican in her Piety. That gave me the clue: the pelican is not uncommon in heraldry: a pelican plucking at her breast and letting the blood to fall into the mouths of her chicks symbolises Christ feeding his flock with his blood.

The ship Sir Francis Drake used to sail around the world was originally called the Pelican. When he reached the Pacific Ocean, Drake renamed his ship the Golden Hind to honour both Sir Christopher Hatton, whose coat of arms features that animal.  Hatton was a major investor in Drake’s voyage. That, however, was all after 1520.

There have been pelicans in St James’s park since they introduced were to the park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador.

Oh, yes, the Prospect of Whitby came from another boat name.

4 responses to “Pubs, pelicans and the Prospect of Whitby”

  1. I can’t remember how many times I have been inside The Prospect of Whitby. It was one popular place I always took visitors, especially those from foreign countries. I once saw a pelican in St James’s Park swallow a pigeon alive. Apparently, it is a very common sight. 🙂

    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Thanks, Pete. I hadn’t known about the pelicans in the park before I saw them for myself – I took so many pictures of them! I have family in Florida where they are quite common but I was always thrilled to see them. I have yet to make it to the pub. Cheers, E

    2. I once watched a seagull drown and eat a pigeon in a fountain in Barcelona…

      1. You don’t mess with pelicans, Abbi. That’s for sure! 🙂

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, I kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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