London’s dock areas teemed with pubs but this is a rare survivor with the building probably dating back to the late eighteenth century and running back on a narrow plot to the Thames which can be enjoyed from a small terrace. There are two bars linked by a short passage with a servery on the left providing drinks to both areas. All this looks authentically old but there have been quite a few changes over the years and much of the woodwork is of fairly indeterminate age. A puzzle concerns the two doors at the front which suggest internal partitioning, yet fixed seating, apparently quite venerable. blocks ingress from the left-hand one. Also a painting in the front bar shows a counter and bar back across the pub, not on the left-hand wall as they are now.
Probably built between 1787 and 1797, when it was known as the Bunch of Grapes, the present façade of this four- storey building is 19th century. The existence of two front doors would indicate a passageway previously existed for access to the rear room.
The front room is now accessed from the right hand door but is more likely to have been from the left hand door? It has a bare wood floor with full height old tongue and groove panelling on the left and bare benches attached which look old; also similar bare bench seating around the small bay window. The seating goes across the left hand door which suggests some re-arranging of the interior in recent years. There is a dado of oldish (possibly dating back to inter-war years?) panelling down the right hand wall and panelled ceiling painted a deep pink. The servery is situated in the middle of this narrow pub and consists of a counter that might be inter-war (the pot shelf is modern) and three sections of back fitting. The left hand part has shelves held up by pillars with a mirrored back which all look old. The middle section has a series of small mirrored panels with a few shelves and this looks genuinely old. The right hand section of shelves attached to tongue and groove panelling is much more modern. Currently owned by Sir Ian McKellen and two others, his staff from the Lord of the Rings trilogy is affixed to the bar back.
A narrow passage alongside the staircase to the first floor leads to a small rear room. The counter front of tongue and grove panelling looks old but the top looks modern as does the door for staff. There is old dado panelling on the left hand wall with a bare bench attached and a 1930s (or 1950s?) brick fireplace but the dado panelling beyond is modern. There is a small balcony overhanging the River Thames and a restaurant room on the first floor overlooking the river (not inspected).
The Grapes is one of several laying claim to being the model for Dickens ‘Jolly Fellowship Porters’ in his book ‘Our Mutual Friend’. The politician David Owen lived next door from which ‘The Limehouse Declaration’, the manifesto of the Social Democratic Party, was issued in January 1981.