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Whats in Wapping

Writing the real Wapping into fiction

Writing the real Wapping into fiction

Our local award-winning author Jean Fullerton is proud of her Wapping and Shadwell roots which continually inspire her writing and make Wapping a character in its own right in all her stories.

Living in Anthony Street near Watney until she was six, Jean’s family were rehoused to a council flat in Globe Road as part of the slum clearance before moving to Jamaica Street five years later.

Jean now lives in Stratford near the Olympic park, just three miles away and researches in Wapping at least once a week.

Whilst she’s soaking up the atmosphere of modern Wapping, Jean still clearly remembers the smell of spices as her family used to walk between the tall warehouses in Wapping High Street not so many years ago.

The Town of Ramsgate pub

Jean’s favourite Wapping pub is the Town of Ramsgate in Wapping High Street where she’s a regular, telling us:

“…I’m forever taking people there to show them what a Docklands pub is really like. I love that it’s on the river and serves good home cooking. It’s been sympathetically renovated, with lots of quirky curios and there’s always a friendly welcome.

When I was looking for a pub for my hero Patrick in A Glimpse at Happiness, to sink his end of day pint and as a scene for a gang fight I had to be the Town of Ramsgate”.

Jean Fullerton writes the real Wapping into fiction

Many thanks to Jean for sharing her local roots with us and telling how she brings the Wapping we know and love into fiction.

Hi I’m Jean Fullerton, award-winning author, and like many of you I am very proud of my family’s Wapping and Shadwell roots.

The Fullerton came to Wapping from Rothesay in Scotland in the 1820s and my great-great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Fullerton, is shown on the 1841 census as living in Star Lane at the back of Cable Street.  It was natural then when I started writing nine years ago that I looked no further than my own birthplace for inspiration.  Why would I, when East London has such a rich vein of pageant and spectacle? Add to that the river pirates, the gangs, pubs and musical hall that were a feature of the teaming waterfront and there’s drama enough for any writer.

This is why Wapping is a character in its own right in all my stories.

My first book No Cure for Love features such delights as the White Swan known locally as Paddy’s Goose, which was the notorious public house at the corner of Ensign Street. My character regularly dash along the Highway and up and down Old Gravel Lane or Wapping High Street. They duck behind the Raines Memorial in St George’s-in-the-East’s graveyard, dodge through wagons in Cable Street and shop in Watney Market. In my second book, A Glimpse at Happiness, there was a huge pub fight between rival criminal gangs in the Town of Ramsgate and in the third book Perhaps Tomorrow our heroine finds herself incarcerated in the damp women’s cells under Wapping Police Station.

Of course, I have invented places too, such as the Boatman grogshop where Ma Tugman runs her murderous empire in A Glimpse at Happiness and St Katherine’s Foundation, the school in the fourth book of my Wapping series, Hold on to Hope. But in truth even the events and people created in my imagination probably had their real life counter parts.

As I write I have a map of Victorian Wapping next to me so my stories are set in real time and place.

I love imagining what the area would have been like in the 1840s and 50s with ships anchored ten deep in the Port of London waiting to off load their goods. I can almost picture the light horsemen – the thieves who specialised in lifting cargo from moored ships- watching from the riverside pubs for a chance to slip aboard. And what about the publicans who acted as hiring agents for ships captains who wanted casual labour and who would put a man forward for half a day’s labour only if he spent sufficiently at the bar. Then, as in any port there were the women plying their trade in dark corners and damp alleyways for a couple of coins.

Of course, this is all a far cry from the pleasant residential area that Wapping is today but those times are not such a distant memory as there are many people, myself included, who can remember how the smell of the spices in the riverside wharfs tingled your nose as you walked between the tall warehouses in Wapping High Street’s.

And sometimes, in the dusk or on a foggy night, if you’re quick you might just catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eyes of one of my characters hurrying home.

Image Jean-Fullerton - Perhaps TomorrowJean Fullerton – Fall in Love with the Past

Jeans books published by Orion are:

  • Hold on to Hope (out in February 2012)
  • Perhaps Tomorrow (available now)
  • A Glimpse at Happiness. (shortlisted for the 2010 Romantic Novel of the Year Award)
  • No Cure for Love (winner of the Harry Bowling Prize)

To find out more about Jean’s Wapping roots and books visit www.jeanfullerton.com


  • http://profile.yahoo.com/GEYQFQKOEL633SJQHKMCDXSGEM Jean

    Just an update on my book Perhaps Tomorrow, which is set in Wapping and featured above. It has just been short-listed by the RNA for the 2012 Historical Romance of the Year Award.