Serving its last customer in early 2011, The Old Rose was a traditional old dockworkers pub situated on the once-notorious Highway in London’s East End.
With redevelopment and demolition leaving the pub standing forlornly alone on the dual carriageway for the last days of its existence, it has a history dating back to the early 19th century.
The pub is located on The Highway, formerly known as the Ratcliffe Highway, a route which dates back to Roman times.
In the 19th century it had acquired an unsavoury reputation for vice and crime, and became infamous as the location of the Ratcliff Highway murders.
The name “Ratcliffe” literally means “red cliff”, referring to the red sandstone cliffs which descended from the plateau on which the road was situated down to the Wapping Marshes to the south
The first publican registered at the pub was Edward Corfe in 1806, with the name has alternated between ‘Rose’ and ‘Old Rose’ over the years.
In later years, the pub no doubt profited from its proximity to “Fortress Wapping” after pension-stealing Rupert Murdoch moved his printing presses to Wapping in 1986 to smash the unions’ stranglehold on Fleet Street.
Here’s how the pub looked around 1920, when it was owned by Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Company Limited, a London brewer with records stretching back as far as 1666.
The brewery finally closed in 1988.
Above the former entrance to the pub can still be seen a stone inscription dating from 1678. Secret London: picks up the story:
‘Chigwell Streate 1678’
This sign on a former pub (The Old Rose) dates back to the Ratcliffe Highway (now The Highway).
Notorious for crime, like many dock areas, a gruesome double murder on two nights in 1811 left seven dead. The alleged murderer committed suicide in prison and his corpse had a stake driven through its heart at Cannon Street Road.
A poster on our forums remembered the pub:
Used to drink in here lunchtimes whenever i was working in the area, which was quite often in the late 90’s as almost every building in wapping was being turned into luxury flats. Not a bad pub as i remember, you could always get a cold lager and a plate of chips for dinner.
Normally had a few old boys in there watching the racing. Remember one summer we were talking to the landlady about how hot it was getting and she told us her teenage sons had spent the summer swimming every day in the Royal Albert Docks.The previous day one of them had dived in and broke his collar bone/ shoulder on a submerged car that had been dumped there.
Although the pub is long gone (and highly unlikely to come back), some of the online reviews from its final years paint a mixed picture.
11th Nov 2005 – Traditional boozer on the Highway. Locals are an odd mixture, literally of local residents and a number of suited folk from the nearby media and newspaper offices. It has potential to be a really nice pub but suffers because of location: so close to such a busy main road, and backing onto a large disused warehouse complex. [—]
A ghostly pub in it’s feel and appearance. All by itself here along the Highway.
Within it was quiet and clean. And the girl behind the bar was pleasant enough.
The only Bitter on service was London Pride at £3, the Young’s was off I was told.
To be truthful, my main reason for going into the place was to use the toilet and then have a ten minute sit down and rest from the freezing sleet falling outside. On tasting it, I found it to be vinegar.
It’s apart of the world that I can honestly say that I shall never ever venture to by desire or accident. And looking at the overwhelming presence in the neighbourhood of 3rd worlders doing their level best to create a 3rd world level to this part of London; it’s a wasteland to avoid. BARONVONBEERBARREL – 30 Jan 2010 09:04
This is a pretty straightforward and ordinary little one-room corner pub. Pride and Young’s bitter on the Pride didn’t look or taste anything like Pride; more like Deuchars IPA but tasted OK though. It is something of a green room, with green walls, green ceiling, and green upholstered furniture. No free drinks though!
There was some pop music being played, there were a couple of TVs but neither were on. This seemed to be a decent enough pub without being anything special that is OK for a pint if you’re passing, but I won’t go out of my way to visit again. RexRattus – 23 Feb 2009
I love the rose! It is one of the best locals I have found anywhere in the world! Well kept beer, a wide range of spirts, friendly staff and clientele, what more could you ask for? Oh and the food is pretty damn good as well! April 2006
On the contrary to the other review. The Rose is a great little pub. Lacks in real ale, though the two bitters on tap are always kept well and fresh. It is the only place to drink around this area and, unlike most things in this area, is open on Saturdays.
Very friendly bar staff. Clientelle consist of Reporters and people who work at News International, regulars propping up the bar and a small contingent of Aussies. Does good standard pub food at lunch times. Packed on Thursday and Friday lunch times. April 2006
This pub used to have a nice central bar island affair but it was ripped out a few years ago and replaced with some carpet that my dear ol’ Nan had in the mid 70’s. You can get an OK Youngs in here but generally it’s pretty bleak. VERY busy road on the door step.
However there is a large terrace and the back which is pretty reasonable on a summers day. You’d only ever go here if you work on Wapping lane or live in Shadwell. Nov 2005
[Reviews from Beer in The Evening]
December 2008 view © Ewan Munro
June 2008 view from Google.