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The Grapes is a public house backing onto the Thames waterfront, located at 76 Narrow Street, London E14 8BP ( ). It is owned in partnership by Evgeny Lebedev, Sean Mathias and Sir Ian McKellen, and managed by Paul Mathias.
The current building was built in 1720 on the site of a previous pub built in 1583, and was a working class tavern serving the dockers of the Limehouse Basin. In the 1930s it sold beer from the adjacent brewery owned by Taylor Walker. It survived the bombing of the nearby Limehouse Basin in World War II, and Docklands redevelopment in the 1980s.
|The exterior of the Grapes public house|
Limehouse was first settled as one of the few healthy areas of dry land among the riverside marshes. By Queen Elizabeth I’s time, it was at the centre of world trade and her explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert lived there. From directly below The Grapes, Sir Walter Raleigh set sail on his third voyage to the New World.
In 1661, Samuel Pepys’ diary records his trip to lime kilns at the jetty just along from The Grapes.
In 1820, the young Charles Dickens visited his godfather in Limehouse and knew the district well for 40 years. The Grapes appears, scarcely disguised, in the opening chapter of his novel Our Mutual Friend:
"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.”
The Grapes has a complete set of Dickens in the back parlour.
Other popular writers have been fascinated by Limehouse: Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray; Arthur Conan Doyle, who sent Sherlock Holmes in search of opium provided by the local Chinese immigrants; and, more recently, Peter Ackroyd in Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.
Narrow Street is also associated with many distinguished painters. Francis Bacon lived and worked at No. 80, and Edward Wolfe at No. 96. James McNeill Whistler painted a Nocturne of Limehouse. On The Grapes’ walls are an oil painting, Limehouse Barge Builders, by the marine artist Napier Hemy; watercolours of Limehouse Reach by Louise Hardy; and Dickens at The Grapes by the New Zealand artist Nick Cuthell.
The Grapes survived the bombing during the Blitz of World War II and it retains the atmosphere of a “local” for Limehouse residents, where visitors are welcome in the bars and upstairs dining room.
- "The Grapes Paul's Blog", thegrapes.co.uk.
- "The Grapes on Pubs.com", pubs.com.
- "The Grapes History", thegrapes.co.uk.