The Man In The River

The East End of London covers a huge area, so much so that it is possible to spend months exploring its streets and hidden places and not go over the same ground twice. How’s that for diversity?

One area that any visitor should venture into is Docklands. You just can’t beat the frisson that come with walking along the streets that line the River, the tang of the Thames constantly assailing your nostrils.


Of course, you’ll want somewhere to rest and, if the time of day dictates, to enjoy a spot of lunch, and there is no better location for this than a traditional London pub.

Docklands is blessed with an abundance of truly historic ones, not least amongst them being The Grapes, located at 76 Narrow Street and owned by no less a personage than Gandalf himself – Sir Ian Mckellen.


In his novel Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens describes The Grapes thus:-

“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.”


Appearance wise, this old hostelry – which dates from the early 1700’s – has changed little since Dickens wrote those words.

It has bags of atmosphere and serves a terrific lunch.


Making your way to the balcony, which juts out over the shoreline of the River Thames, you will behold a man standing on what appears to be a post and, depending on the time of day and the tide, either stranded high above the water, or part submerged in it. He seems to be naked, he seems to be quite rusty (standing in a river can do that to a man), and his head, shoulders and upper back are covered in pigeon droppings.

The figure in the Thames outside the Grapes Pub.


People often puzzle over him and wonder how he came to be standing so precariously and so at the mercy of the rising waters of the Thames and the ceaseless bombardment of the pigeons and seagulls who, let’s me honest, have little or no appreciation for a work of art when they see it.


And he is, very much, a work of art, for he was created by the sculptor Antony Gormley – whose other works include the iconic Angel of the North, which is located, well, er up north.

This particular sculpture is entitled Another Time, and it is rumoured that Sir Ian McKellen actually owns him, or it,  no doubt in order to encourage bemused visitors to his pub to enquire of the bar staff who the figure in the river behind his pub is of.

Either way, it’s a definite curiosity and lends an added element to a visit to The Grapes.

If you want to know more about the pub, and wish to plan your visit, you can visit their website by clicking here.