Just Kidding

Today the Lady in Malcolm’s Life and the Pert Young Piece headed off to risk their credit cards against London’s mercantile finest. This is what gets called “retail therapy”.

Malcolm was left, bereft, solitary, and told to have a meal ready by seven p.m.

What’s to do?

Well, down to Highbury and Islington, catch the “Overground” to Wapping, and investigate a couple of boozers in Ratcliff(e) Highway. Wapping station, incidentally, is one of the most likely locations of Execution Dock, where we shall look in shortly

Malcolm’s emotional tie here is his Dear Old Dad, who was a Thames Division copper only a year or two before the picture below. That’s the River Thames police, the oldest official police force in the world. Therefore Wapping Police Station is also the oldest in the world. It’s also another possible site for Execution Dock.

In these degenerate days, it’s merely the Marine Support Unit.

Shiver me timbers, matey!

A couple of doors short of Wapping police station is the Captain Kidd.

Now, don’t get carried away here. Curb your romantic propensities. It’s a bit of contrivance. Despite its venerable appearance — and it was carved out of another of those warehouses and counting houses, the pub dates back all of a couple of decades.

It’s hardly prepossessing from the street: you even have to look for the hanging sign to locate it. You enter by an alley-way, and all is revealed. Which is worth waiting for.

For once the pub interior decorators worked with what they’ve got. The result is more than passable. Banquettes around the wall under non-memorabililia of the eponymous Kidd fore-and-aft. Other tables in the space of the room. A peninsular bar. Those fine windows and the magnificent view of the Upper Pool of London. Slip out the side doors, to the terrace, and it’s even better. It’s a Sam Smith’s house, so Old Brewery Bitter at well-below-London prices. There’s the standard pub menu, too (and, it is rumoured, a restaurant upstairs). All plus points.

The really instructive point is the mixed clientèle. Wapping hasn’t forsaken its working-class roots. The river side of the Highway has the seven-figure apartments with full river views. A bit back are the Peabody Buildings and and the local-authority flats. Both sides of the community seem comfortable here.

A very political pirate

The story of William Kidd is well known: the son of the Greenock manse who went abroad to make his fortune, served King (Billy, since you ask) and country

  • and Governor Codrington against the French in the Caribbean
  • and Richard Coote — the earl of Bellomont and newly designated governor of New York and the Massachusetts Bay — against the Dutch in the New York colony.

He had already made some powerful political friends (and, the obverse of that coin, similarly enemies) when he  fell in with another conniving Scot, Robert Livingstone, who owned lands and businesses in New York. Livingstone and Kidd and Coote cooked up a scheme, to get London merchant interests to finance a scheme to clean up the piracy of the Indian Ocean, and turn a pretty profit. So Livingstone, Kidd and Coote had their their names on the prospectus, but behind them covertly were the Whig grandees: the earls of Shrewsbury, Orford, and Romney and John Lord Somers.

In April 1696 Kidd left London, kitted out with the potent Adventure Galley. He sailed first to New York, where he recruited some ninety hardened pirates, and then set sail for Madagascar, which was HQ for Indian Ocean pirates. Rather than take on the pirates, Kidd then went north and raided the pilgrims in the Red Sea. he found the pilgrim convoy protected by an Indiaman, and so his scheme was flushed out into the open. Kidd then took his Adventure Galley to prey along the Indian coast. Those pirates in Kidd’s crew were less than satisfied with the results, so far, of their efforts; and Kidd seems to have been threatened with mutiny. Somehow he laid out and killed a gunner, William Moore, with a metal-banded barrel. This would have consequences.

Back in Madagascar Kidd was in full league with the local pirates. He had a bit of luck taking half a dozen ships — though only two were French, and so covered by his privateering licence. By now the East India Company, under pressure from the Mughals, wanted Kidd’s head. Influence was peddled back in London, and Kidd was an outlaw. Coote, in New York, was told to lay hands on Kidd when he showed up.


Kidd retraced his outward voyage, first via the Caribbean, where he discovered he was on the Most Wanted list, then along the east coast of the Americas, down-sizing his crew and depositing his considerable winnings (just where is one of the great treasure-hunting myths and legends). He retained just enough to tempt Coote into a deal. Coote knew which side his bread was buttered: he arrested Kidd, and sent him (and some remaining loot) to London. The rest of Kidd’s wealth (about £6,000) was requisitioned by Coote as “expenses”, and went to buy land in Greenwich Village.

In London Kidd was approached by the Tories, now firmly in power, to peach on his former Whig backers. He refused (presumably because he wasn’t prepared to annoy anyone at this stage). The Whig lords, who stood too close for comfort to charges of treason, quietly let Kidd go to trial. Kidd was found guilty of piracy, and the murder of William Moore. About all that was remarkable about this stitch-up of a trial is that Kidd’s privateering documents had gone missing, and were turned up only in the last century. Those documents wouldn’t have saved Kidd, but their absence goes to show that someone in authority had his card marked.

At Execution Dock on 23 May 1701 Kidd was swung from the gallows. The rope broke. Its replacement worked a treat.


1 Comment

Filed under crime, History, London, Metropolitan Police, policing, pubs

One response to “Just Kidding

  1. Doubting Thomas

    Sadly there’s no pub named for him but an Orkney man – John Gow also met his end at Wapping for piracy in 1725. Unfortunately for a pirate he wasn’t really very good at it being both soft hearted and incompetent. he was caught raiding a house on Eday (one of the main islands of Orkney), taken, tried and hanged at Wapping. Unusually two literary figures – Daniel Defoe and Sir Walter Scott have written about him, the latter in the Pirate.

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