47 Aldgate High St, EC3N 1AL
Nearest tube: Aldgate 260ft
Nearest attraction: Tower of London, 0.7 miles
The Hoop and Grapes is directly opposite Aldgate underground station. Yet I managed to miss it – twice – because it looks so out of place nestled in amongst the modern grey buildings of the City’s concrete jungle. It is an ancient, timbered, wonky relic from the 16thcentury. Who wouldn’t want to go in?
EST 1593. Monarch: Elizabeth I
The Hoop and Grapes’ main claim to fame is that it survived the Great Fire of London. But it was a close call: amazingly the fire is said to have stopped just 50 yards from the pub’s door.
Numerous websites explain why the Great Fire broke out in Pudding Lane on September 2 1666. But the real question is: what took it so long?
After all, this was a time when candles were the main form of lighting and open fires were the chief source of heating. Naked flames were always going to spell bad news in a city whose buildings were mostly made of wood with the odd thatched roof thrown in for added flammability.
Then there was the fact that London houses often featured “jetties” – overhanging upper storeys designed to maximise floor space in an overcrowded city. This meant that the top floors of narrower streets would be dangerously close to the houses opposite, making it all too easy for fires to spread.
Substances such as pitch, tar and even gunpowder were in common usage in 17thcentury London and were stored in buildings everywhere. And add to the mix the fact that London was experiencing a severe drought in September 1666 and it suddenly becomes clear that a minor mishap in Pudding Lane was only part of the story.
London’s mayor was of little help when the fire broke out, declaring rather offensively that: “A woman could piss it out”. In fact it was King Charles II and his brother who eventually saved the day (not by taking the Mayor’s advice) but by employing the rather more drastic measure of blowing up houses to create firebreaks.
Anyway, this seemed to work because the fire went out four days later on September 6. Mind you, a change in the wind and the fact that 87 per cent of London’s dwellings had already been destroyed could have had something to do with it.
The role played by the Hoop and Grapes in the Great Fire is undocumented but few people fled the city while it raged on – mainly because they had nowhere to go. So I like to think the locals stayed put and watched the conflagration from the mullioned windows of the Hoop and Grapes. And when the fire stopped just 50 yards from the pub it must have felt like a miracle. Definitely worth celebrating with another pint, anyway.
As soon as you step into the Hoop and Grapes you think: wow, this is what I was expecting: dark beams, wood panelling, leaded-light windows and off-kilter floors. But walk a little further and you reach an airy extension that somehow detracts from the main event. However, this is a warm and friendly pub with fireplaces and the odd wing-backed chair to add to the gentlemen’s club ambiance.
The other stuff
Open: From 11am Mondays to Saturday, closed Sunday
Food: Served from midday Mondays to Saturday
Chops, ribs and sausages are among the specialities on The Hoop and Grapes’ quintessentially British menu. In fact the sausages are so Briitsh that they come in bizarre varieties such as Welsh rarebit and Garstang Blue – an obscure type of Lancashire cheese.
Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.
And follow me on Twitter at: @PubsPoemsPast