The Holly Bush

22 Holly Mount, NW3 6SG

Nearest tube: Hampstead, 0.1 mile

Nearest attraction: Hampstead Heath, 1 mile

Historical interest: 7/10

Cosiness quotient: 7/10

 

The Holly Bush, Hampstead

The Holly Bush, Hampstead

The hook

Tucked away down a side street, at the very top of a leafy hill, flanked by rows of holly bushes – need I say more? Obviously we’re going in.

 

The history

EST: 1643 Monarch: Charles I

Actually, some say the Holly Bush dates from the 1790s. And yes, I know you’ve heard it all before but there was probably a pub on this site for centuries before this anyway. The “Holly Bush” name is actually pretty iconic since it gives a nod to that age-old tradition of hanging a branch or bush above the door of a pub to indicate that a drink could be had here.

The Holly Bush is said to occupy the site of the stables of artist George Romney’s house. George who? I must confess, I’d never heard of him either – but I’d certainly heard of his muse.

Romsey painted more than 60 portraits of Lady Hamilton, famously the mistress of Admiral Lord Nelson and wife of a nobleman. But how Lady H managed to achieve the heights she did with the chequered history she’d had is beyond me.

Emma Hart – also known as Emy Lyon – was a poor kid from Birkenhead who used her beauty to create a comfortable and glamorous life for herself. And there was a man in the picture at every turn.

Emma was a bit of a goer in her early years to say the least. As a young girl she headed down South and after a stint as a nursemaid followed by a short spell in the house of a London brothel-keeper (say no more) she became an attendant at the Temple of Health and Hymen. I know what you’re thinking. And you’d be right.

The “Temple” was run by one James Graham, a self-styled sexologist who used electro-magnetic techniques and musical therapy to teach couples how to procreate. And he charged people £50 a pop for the privilege. You couldn’t make it up.

During the course of a night in Graham’s “Celestial Bed”, couples would conjoin to the scent of stimulating oriental fragrances while actual turtle doves tweeted overhead and an organist played beautiful music in time to their lovemaking, speeding up and slowing down where appropriate. James Graham took on the role of Master of Ceremonies and was aided by a lovely handmaiden – of which Emy Lyon was one.

Before long Emma had caught the eye of an eligible bachelor, Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh, who took her home to his Sussex cottage where she proceeded to entertain his friends by dancing naked on tables. She also gave birth to his daughter. Not on the same night, I’m guessing.

While staying at Sir Harry’s home she met the Hon Charles Greville who was so impressed with her beauty that he decided to cash in on it. He’d recently commissioned a series of paintings by artist George Romney and felt that the lovely Emma would serve as the perfect artist’s model.

Whether Romney ever had an affair with Emma or not is unrecorded. But painting 60 portraits of a single semi-clad woman in an array of romantic poses is a bit of a giveaway in my book. Emma was portrayed as Shakespeare’s Titania and various Greek goddesses as well as a bacchante (a follower of wine god Bacchus). Rather ironic, really, since she died aged 49 of suspected cirrhosis of the liver.

Anyway, back to Romney. After Emma’s marriage to Lord Hamilton on September 6 1791, the artist plunged into a deep depression (perhaps another clue as to his feelings). He moved to Holly Bush Hill in 1797 and stayed there for around two years until his health began to fail. And he then returned home to his semi-forgotten wife in the Lake District who’d spent 40 long years waiting for George’s whimsical artistic phase to burn itself out.

You may have noticed that I’ve completely glossed over the bit about Lady Hamilton’s famous affair with Lord Nelson. That’s because the lovers used to meet in a different pub altogether. I feel another trip to the Docklands coming on.

Famous customers of the Holly Bush pub have included dictionary bore Dr Samuel Johnson and his biographer and fellow drinker James Boswell; actor Jude Law, and musician Liam Gallagher who was thrown out one evening after arguing over whether or not he’d paid for his drinks.

Inside the Holly Bush

Inside the Holly Bush

The ambiance

The Holly Bush was a welcoming sight for us at 5pm on a summer’s day. The inside was relatively cosy but most of the clientele had spilled out on to the pavement and were either seated on the kerb or had cheekily sneaked stools outside (sorry). This made for a chilled atmosphere as everyone enjoyed the sun with a knocking-down drink. However, the management soon came out and corralled us into a much smaller space for fear that we’d disturb the neighbours, so presumably our delightful outdoor experience was atypical. Inside the pub was relatively pleasant, but somewhat run-of-the-mill compared with its promising exterior.

 

The other stuff

Brewery/chain: Fuller’s

Open: From midday to 11pm Monday-Saturday, midday-10.30pm Sundays.

Food: From midday to 11pm Monday-Saturday, midday-10.30pm Sundays.

Chops, pies and steaks all feature on the meat-heavy menu alongside a couple of veggie options at Hampstead prices (macaroni cheese will set you back a cool £15). But this is a pub that takes its food seriously – in fact it runs its own Supper Club where Michelin-starred chefs turn up and serve you exquisite dishes while banging on about their life stories. The Holly Bush also has space for private parties in rooms inevitably named the Romney Room and the Lady Hamilton Room.

https://www.hollybushhampstead.co.uk

 

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The Counting House

50, Cornhill, EC3V 3PD

Nearest tube: Bank, 0.1 miles

Nearest attraction: Bank of England Museum, 0.2 miles

Historical interest: 7/10

Cosiness quotient: 7/10

 

The hook

The Counting House, Cornhill

The Counting House, Cornhill

Despite its Cornhill address, the Counting House is best approached from St Peter’s Alley where it looks for all the world like a cosy, hidden-away boozer. Then it’s an even bigger surprise when you step further inside and enter the cavern-like interior of this rather amazing pub.

 

The history

EST 1998 Monarch: Elizabeth II

Yes I know, Elizabeth II is SO last century. But while the Counting House only became a pub in 1998 it’s a pretty old building nonetheless and operated as a bank for many years. A counting house, if you will. Founded in 1759 under the catchy name of Amyand, Staples & Mercer, it was rebuilt in 1893 as Prescott’s Bank and became part of the Nat West network in 1970.

This part of the City has a long and varied history. Cornhill is London’s highest hill and was probably the site of the Roman Basilica before that highly civilized race began to abandon us to the rough-and-ready Saxons in the 4thcentury AD. Cornhill later became dominated by a medieval grain market, hence the name.

In the 17th century the area became renowned for its coffee houses which were frequented by the likes of Samuel Pepys. And it was also apparently known for its wigs.

These days only the follicly-challenged tend to wear a hairpiece, but wigs were big in the 17th and 18th centuries – and I do mean big. Doorways had to be heightened to allow people to pass through with their elaborate headdresses. Wealthy people would dedicate whole rooms to the storage and powdering of their wigs, which is where the term “powder room” comes from. And the bigger the wig, the bigger the ego of the wearer along with his status and bank balance. Hence the term: “bigwig”.

However, wig-wearing had its downsides. Some hairpieces were so heavy that they caused pressure-sores on the wearer’s temples. They were also prone to lice-infestation, and many were made from a combination of wool and animal fat which made them highly combustible.

And in fact the Cornhill area was the scene of two major fires in 18th century London – both of which began at the premises of wig-makers’. And tragically these fires claimed many lives. And also, some pubs.

The first fire occurred in 1748 and consumed up to a hundred houses and their occupants plus the Fleece, the Swan, the George and Vulture and the Three Tuns. The second fire in 1765 counted the White Lion among its victims – a pub that had only been bought by its new owners the previous evening.

By the middle of the 18th century the wearing of heavy, inflammable wigs teeming with insects began to go out of fashion. I wonder why? But London’s wig-makers responded in a rather extraordinary fashion – they petitioned the king to make it a legal requirement for everyone to wear a wig.

Luckily, Mad King George still had a sufficient number of wits about him at that stage to refuse this bizarre request. Otherwise we might still be going around scratching our long, powdered, lice-infested locks to this day.

Fast-forward a century or so and number 65 Cornhill was now occupied by a firm of publishers named Smith and Elder. One Sunday the men received a surprise visit from their hottest new writers – inexplicably wearing skirts. It turned out that rising literary talents Currer and Acton Bell were none other than Charlotte and Anne Bronte and the unmasking of their true identities took place just up the road from the Counting House on July 8 1848.

 

The ambiance

Inside the Counting House

Inside the Counting House

This pub actually has a number of different ambiances. When you approach via St Peter’s Alley you pass cosy armchairs and snug anterooms before entering an enormous cavern-like room with huge mirrors and dazzling chandeliers dominated by a vast central bar. This is very much a City worker’s pub and one with a bustling, buzzy air.

 

The other stuff

Brewery/chain: Fuller’s

Open: Monday-Friday 8am till 11pm, Saturday 11am till 11pm, Sundays 11am-5pm.

Food: From 8am to 9pm Monday-Friday, 11am-9pm Saturday, 11am-4pm Sunday

The menu is fairly limited but there’s a wide choice of fancy pies at £15 a pop including chicken madras, lamb with apricot and Posh Stargazy featuring salmon, prawns, bacon and quails eggs.The Counting House appears to be all things to all people: you can go in for a full English breakfast, watch the rugby, hold your business meeting and even stay overnight. Sounds like a pretty full day.

https://www.the-counting-house.com


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Golden Lion, St James

25 King St, SW1Y 6QY

Nearest tube: Green Park, 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Buckingham Palace 0.5 miles

Historical interest: 7/10

Cosiness quotient: 8/10

 

The Golden Lion, St James

The Golden Lion, St James

The hook

The Golden Lion is one of those pubs that make you rub your hands in glee when you come across them. Its narrow, attractive frontage boasts the prettiest pub windows I’ve ever seen – stained, bowed and leaded-lighted. All the fancy window treatments. In fact I’d have made a beeline for the Golden Lion on account of its windows alone.

 

The history

EST: 1762. Monarch: George III

People often refer to St James as being “exclusive”, and with good reason. Its shops include a very posh winery and an actual hatters’ – how mad is that – where a St James fedora will cost you £695. And if you pop into Berry Bros and Rudd, a case of Chateau Lafite Rothschild will set you back a cool £25,000. Mind you, let’s not forget that St James is full-on “gentlemen’s clubland” where field-marshals, ministers and Right Hons can be seen swirling their brandy glasses in places such as White’s, Brooks and Boodles. You can’t get much more exclusive than that.

But back in the day, St James had its own illustrious theatre which allowed anyone in provided they possessed the prerequisite few quid for a ticket. And guess what – St James’ Theatre was right next door to the Golden Lion pub whose upstairs bar was actually connected directly to the establishment’s Circle.

Opened in 1835, the playhouse staged works by Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Oscar Wilde plus a Charles Dickens farce (yes. Really). There was also a show featuring performing lions, monkeys, dogs and goats. Among the theatre’s better-known audience members were Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. And its managers were also pretty iconic and included Lillie Langtry –mistress of the aforesaid Edward VII – and Hollywood legends Sir Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.

Olivier was so famous that he played practically every hero under the sun including Darcy, Romeo, Othello and Heathcliffe. As for Leigh, she achieved international fame for her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in the film version of Gone with the Wind, goading Rhett Butler (alias Clark Gable) into “not giving a damn” – a line that outraged audiences everywhere on account of its blasphemy. How tame it seems now. Anyway, the couple were married for 20 years and performed together on many occasions – even doing their bit to help the war effort in 1941.

Leigh played Lady Hamilton to Olivier’s Nelson in a film called That Hamilton Woman, made specifically to arouse pro-British feeling among US audiences. In fact Winston Churchill even arranged a private screening for President Franklin D Roosevelt before America entered the war. The US declared war pretty soon afterwards, however – whether on account of Olivier and Leigh’s stellar performances or because of a little matter concerning Pearl Harbour is unclear. But the actors remained favourites of Churchill throughout the ensuing years and attended numerous dinners at his behest. Sir Winston admired Leigh in particular, once describing her as: ”A clinker”. You could say things like that in those days. Whatever on earth it meant.

Olivier and Leigh took over the management of St James’ Theatre in 1950 but the establishment continually struggled to make ends meet. In 1954 a property developer acquired the freehold and decided to knock it down. And despite several years of intense lobbying and protests by Olivier and Leigh – I like to think of them planning their campaign in the pub – the theatre closed its doors in July 1957 and was demolished later that year.

Olivier lived on until the ripe old age of 82 but Leigh died of tuberculosis at just 53. On the day of her death – July 8 1967 – the lights of every theatre in central London were switched off for an hour in her honour.

 

The ambiance

Inside the Golden Lion, St James

Inside the Golden Lion, St James

The Golden Lion is that rare find – a chain pub that has managed to cling on to its character. The inside is delightfully cosy with its Victorian dark wooden curved bar and exquisite green tiles. One less-than-cosy aspect is the fact that the downstairs seating area is almost exclusively made up of backless stools and high tables, which is not ideal for the small or elderly who are forced to dangle their legs in a void at a great height (yes, I do mean me). But the delightful barman was only too happy to fetch me the only stool with a back to it.

 

The other stuff

Brewery/chain: Greene King

Open: Monday-Friday 11am-11pm, Saturdays and Sundays, midday-10.30pm

Food: Served midday-9pm every day

The theatre bar upstairs offers more congenial seating than the downstairs one and is papered with news cuttings, photos and posters about the former St James Theatre. Food is the standard Greene King menu with a twist – odder items include baked sweet potatoes with duck. But it’s all pretty good value and you can team a main with a side and a soft drink for just £9. Not sure why you’d want to do that, though.

https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/greater-london/golden-lion-st-jamess/

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The Duke

7, Roger Street WC1N 2PB

Nearest tube: Russell Square 0.4 miles

Nearest attraction: Charles Dickens Museum 400ft

Historical interest: 7/10

Cosiness quotient: 6/10

 

The Duke, Roger Street

The Duke, Roger Street

The hook

If you’ve ever watched Goodnight Sweetheart – a UK sitcom where an ordinary bloke walks down a London street in the 1990s and slips through a time portal that takes him back to the 1940s – you will understand the lure of the Duke. It is every bit as authentic as the wartime pub featured in the sitcom. One glance at its understated exterior with its art deco windows bearing the name of long-lost brewery Ind Coope and you will feel as though you’ve blundered into a similar wormhole of history.

 

The history

EST: 1938. Monarch: George VI

The opening of any pub in 1938 seems like a supreme act of optimism since this was a time when the rest of the country was building tanks and warships rather than hostelries. Maybe the architects of the Duke of York (as it was called then) suspected that within a year or so, your average Joe was going to be in desperate need of a drink. And they would have been right.

The Duke of York’s earliest customer base was presumably made up of servicemen, air raid patrolmen and assorted Bloomsbury locals, all of whom had a lucky escape when a bomb fell on Roger Street during the 1940s, miraculously leaving it and its customers unscathed.

A mere stone’s throw from the pub is the site of the former London Foundling Hospital.

Foundlings were a real problem in the olden days when birth control was non-existent and an illegitimate baby could ruin a woman’s life. But what to do with all those unwanted offspring? Answer: Leave them in a handy location where they’d be found by someone with a bit of compassion.

Obviously this approach was rather hit-and-miss, compassion being somewhat thin on the ground in 18thcentury London. But it eventually turned up in the most unlikely of places: in the heart of a sea captain.

One usually associates sea captains of old with press-gangs, mutinies and cats-o-nine tails. But Captain Thomas Coram was a different kettle of fish altogether (excuse the maritime metaphor). In fact he was less of a rollicking sailor and more of a kindly philanthropist who set up schools, established libraries and eventually devoted his life to abandoned babies.

His London Foundling Hospital occupied a sprawling site in Lamb’s Conduit Field and attracted thousands of superfluous children. The idea was praiseworthy: unwanted babies under the age of one would be dumped at the hospital by a parent who would be given a receipt so that he or she could claim back their offspring at a later date if they so wished. Babies would be sent to wet nurses in the countryside and then returned to the care of the Foundling Hospital at the age of four or five. And once they became old enough to work they would be apprenticed as servants or into a trade.

Obviously there were a few hiccups in the system, this being the 18thcentury and all. Some vulnerable orphans were abused or even killed: one notorious case led to the hanging of Fanny Brownrigg in 1767 for beating a foundling to death. But in general the system worked surprisingly well and thousands of orphans were successfully rehabilitated.

The foundling hospital eventually moved to Berkshire and was repurposed in the 1950s when fostering and adoption became more prevalent. The flattened Bloomsbury site is now known as Coram Fields, a seven-acre open space incorporating duck ponds, sand pits, a children’s playground, café and nursery. It sounds delightful – but I have yet to experience it first-hand since adults are only allowed in accompanied by a child.

Literally around the corner from the Duke pub is Doughty Street where none other than Charles Dickens used to live in the 1830s. Dickens was appalled by child poverty and would often walk through the grounds of the Foundling Hospital which apparently inspired several of his works including Oliver Twist, which was written during his tenure in Doughty Street. But perhaps even more of a giveaway to the Foundling Hospital’s influence over the great author is the fact that a character in Little Dorritt is a former foundling-turned-servant nicknamed Tattycoram after the place where she grew up.

 

Inside the Duke

Inside the Duke

The ambiance

The stylised interior of the Duke delivers on the promise of the outside and there’s a bright red piano, wooden window booths, school-dinner-style tables, parlour palms and art deco lighting. In fact it’s all a bit bewildering since the venue doesn’t actually scream “pub”. But presumably this is what pubs looked like in the 1930s, and who am I to quibble with the genuine historic article?

 

The other stuff

Brewery/chain: Free house

Open: Monday-Saturday midday-11pm, closed Sundays

Food: Monday-Saturday 12.15pm-2.30pm and 5.30-9.30pm

The Duke is your typical corner local where you can enjoy a pie, a pint and a chat with the bar staff. The food is exactly what you might expect from a 1930s boozer – traditional British ploughman’s lunches, bangers-and-mash and the inevitable fish ‘n chips are all to be found here. In fact it’s the ideal place for the nostalgic drinker who mourns the olden days when the pub was the hub of the community.

http://www.dukepub.co.uk/?LMCL=Ucwr4c

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The Harp**

One of my top 10 pubs

47 Chandos Place, WC2N 4HS

Nearest tube: Charing Cross, 0.1 miles

Nearest attraction: National Portrait Gallery 0.1 miles

Historical interest: 6/10

Cosiness quotient: 9/10

The Harp pub, Covent Garden

The Harp pub, Covent Garden

The hook

There’s no reason on earth why anyone would ever walk past this adorable little pub without popping in. I’d been inside myself in the past because its floral displays and stained glass windows obviously fit all my parameters. But the fact that it was in plain sight en route to Covent Garden from Charing Cross rather than being satisfyingly hidden down a side street meant it lacked the thrill of discovery. I recently took the trouble to try it out again, however  – and boy, am I glad I did.

 

The history

EST: Circa 1805. Monarch: George III

I confess, I don’t have much to go on as far as the Harp is concerned. It’s one of those pubs that seem to have trundled through life without any notable murders, plot-hatchings or assignations having been recorded. However, everything inside indicates that history must have happened here – albeit in the form of nebulous meetings, forgotten break-ups and long-dead lovers’ trysts.

So, let’s look at what we do know. A pub probably existed on the site of the Harp for centuries past when Chandos Place was called Chandos Street. Seventeenthcentury inhabitants included an apothecary, two tailors, a gentleman of the Inner Temple, a knight, a leather-seller and a cook. That makes for an interesting pub conversation in anyone’s book. Also living a stone’s throw from the Harp was a former King’s coachmaker named Richard Brigham who once entertained Samuel Pepys with julep according to a 1660 entry by the diarist. Being a “former King’s coachmaker” in 1660 probably made Brigham’s chief client none other than Charles I, decapitated in 1649 when Oliver Cromwell took control of the state. A lousy way for anyone to be made redundant.

The pub’s first recorded mention as the Welsh Harp occurred in 1805 and early patrons must have been an eclectic mix seeing that it’s cheek-by-jowl with art galleries, theatres, the ballet, an opera house, a police station and a hospital. In 1815 a medical philanthropist living nearby named Dr Benjamin Golding decided to throw open his house in Leicester Place to treat the deserving poor. Turns out there were rather a lot of them (who knew?) so he expanded his premises into Agar Street opposite the Harp. The facility eventually morphed into the Charing Cross Hospital and gained a reputation for administering to a huge cross-section of the sick including children, eye patients, military casualties and the generally not-very-well. But the hospital outgrew its site and in 1973 moved to new premises in Fulham, after which it became the police station that stands opposite the Harp today.

Chandos Place itself takes its name from the third Baron Chandos, MP and Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire. But why did this obscure 16thcentury politician have a London street named after him? It’s my guess it was something to do with Queen Elizabeth I. She was a bit of a one for her favourites, as we know – just look at Sir Christopher Hatton. He had a garden and an actual robbery named after him.

Baron Chandos was a courtier in Elizabeth I’s reign and one of the few things we know about him is that he entertained the Queen at his family seat of Sudeley Castle in 1592. Why was this little-known fact passed down through the centuries? I initially assumed that “entertaining the Queen” was a euphemism (I know. Shocking) but I’ve since discovered that he actually invited her to his house for a three-day celebration of England’s defeat over the Spanish Armada.

This historic victory was arguably Lizzie’s biggest achievement and earned her an enormous amount of popularity. But the truth is, the Armada’s defeat was more a result of the good old British weather scuppering the Spaniards’ plans than a reflection of Elizabeth’s regnal skills. That didn’t stop her from banging on about it, though – in fact the Baron’s 1592 three-day bunfest was actually held to mark the fourth anniversary of England’s victory. Who celebrates the fourth anniversary of anything anyway?

The reason we know about this right royal knees-up is because archaelogists found items such as a cooking pot, glazed pottery and chicken bones in the grounds of Sudeley Castle as recently as June 2019. It seems that Baron Chandos pulled out all the stops to curry favour with the Queen and besides the feast, his three-day event included jousts, pageants and bear-baiting. But you don’t get many bears for your buck and the revelries were so costly that the baron ended up bankrupt. And ironically, this was again largely due to the British weather because it rained for three days straight which meant the celebrations were a washout. Still, look on the bright side Baron C – at least you have a street named after you.

 

Inside the Harp

Inside the Harp

The ambiance

Well, what can I say? Apart from being a bit on the small side, the Harp is basically my ideal pub. The current landlord has been in situ for only a few years, but he definitely gets it. After rewiring and refurbing the Harp, he replaced everything exactly as it was – even down to the trailing wires that don’t lead anywhere under the seating. And the Harp’s fabulous art collection remains in place, comprising everything from portraits of Hollywood greats to old, nicotine-stained paintings that might be forgotten old masters for all we know. There’s also an impressive collection of beer mats above the reassuringly shabby brown bar. Phone-use is discouraged and conversations among punters are heavily promoted. And everyone is made to feel welcome as soon as they walk in. Magic.

 

The other stuff

Brewery/chain: Fullers, but operates as a free house

Open: 10.30am-11.30pm Monday-Thursday; 10.30am-midnight Friday-Saturday; midday-10.30pm Sundays11am-11pm, Sundays midday till 8pm

Food: Served midday till 2pm

The Harp’s excellent beer and its general pubbiness has won it a string of awards, and deservedly so. But don’t expect a blow-out meal when you come here – food is limited to sausage sandwiches and even those are only served between midday and 2pm (how delightfully uncompromising). There’s an upstairs room accessed via a creaky old stairway that must be a haven when the pub is overflowing with punters – as it often is. And you can even stand outside in the pleasant back alley with your pint on a summer’s day when the bar gets too crowded. A cracking pub – and now in my Top Ten.

https://www.harpcoventgarden.com


For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.

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The Jerusalem Tavern

55 Britton St, EC1M 5UQ

Nearest tube: Farringdon, 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: Museum of the Order of St John, 400ft

Historical interest: 7/10

Cosiness quotient: 7/10

 

The hook

The Jerusalem Tavern, London

The Jerusalem Tavern, London

Britton Street has a pleasantly village-like feel which seems incongruous in this rather drab, grey part of Clerkenwell. And the Jerusalem Tavern is the most attractive building in Clerkenwell’s most attractive road  – so in other words, you’ll be bound to want to go in.

 

The history

EST: 1720 (allegedly) Monarch: George I

Long, long ago in a far-off land, a bunch of monks established a hospital for sick pilgrims. This was in 11thcentury Jerusalem where you could hardly move for religious travellers swarming into the Holy Land to pay their respects, hoping to win themselves a niche in the Hereafter.

Anyway, the aforesaid hospital was set up on the site of the St John the Baptist monastery and was quickly inundated with pilgrims suffering from (I’d imagine) blisters, sunstroke, athletes foot and all the other ailments associated with a long trek. This was in 1023 but it wasn’t long before a much more pressing need for a hospital suddenly arose.

The Crusades began when the Christians decided it was their God-given duty to snatch back the Holy Land from the Muslims (whose Holy Land it also happened to be). All that fighting meant there was an urgent requirement for a hospital – and also, for extra knights to help with the combat. So some bright spark decided that the monks serving in the hospital would make an ideal fighting force.

Despite the fact that healing and killing are an odd skillset, the Knights Hospitaliers did surprisingly well. They formed their own Order, expanded into Europe and set up a London headquarters in Clerkenwell – close to the Jerusalem Tavern whose name echoes down the centuries in memory of those long-ago fighting monks.

In fact a whole series of Jerusalem Taverns have existed in these parts through the ages, but sadly the current one has only been a pub since the 1990s. It is a genuine Georgian building nonetheless, having operated as a publisher’s and a watchmaker’s at various points in its history.

The Knights Hospitaliers remained in existence for more than 500 years before Henry VIII did the inevitable and confiscated their assets during the Reformation. However, their legacy remains – both in the Museum of the Order of St John around the corner and in the reassuring presence of the St John Ambulance Brigade at UK public events.

 The man for whom Britton Street is named is also worth a mention. Thomas Britton was an extraordinary 17thcentury coalman who came to London from Northampton and worked as an apprentice before setting up his own coal merchant’s business. He was a lover of music and a gifted singer but instead of contenting himself with warbling in the bath like the rest of us, he bought himself a harpsichord, a viol and an organ and turned his loft into a tiny concert hall. And it became incredibly successful, attracting performers such as Handel and audience members such as Samuel Pepys.

Britton’s extraordinary life ended in an equally bizarre death.An acquaintance played a trick on him by employing a ventriloquist to throw his voice and tell Britton that his days were numbered and that he should immediately kneel and pray. Whether this was a bona fide prophecy or a fatal shocker for Britton is unknown, but he died within days nonetheless.

 

The ambiance

Inside the Jerusalem Tavern

Inside the Jerusalem Tavern

The tiny Jerusalem Tavern is filled to capacity with office workers, locals and tourists. Its bare floors, bench seating and wooden interior is a bit on the shabby side, but the overall atmosphere is pleasantly olde-worlde. Head for the mezzanine if you can – it’s basically a single table and a couple of chairs on an elevated half-floor. Securing it is a bit like managing to nab the last two seats on top of a London double-decker bus.

 

The other stuff

Brewery/chain: St Peter’s Brewery

Open: Monday-Friday midday-11pm, closed weekends

Food: Served lunchtimes

Food choices are limited but prices are reasonable with most dishes costing between £7 and £9. Freshness is apparently assured on account of the fact that Smithfield Market is just around the corner and meat features heavily on the menu. Sausage of the Day has a prominent listing but I opted for the bacon sandwich – the best I’d had in ages. Pretty ironic given the name of the pub.

https://www.stpetersbrewery.co.uk/london-pub/


For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.

To see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

To narrow down your search click on My Faves.

Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

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King William IV

77 Hampstead High St, NW3 1RE

Nearest tube: Hampstead, 490ft

Nearest attraction: Hampstead Heath, 0.5 miles

Historical interest: 6/10

Cosiness quotient: 7/10

The King William IV, Hampstead

The King William IV, Hampstead

The hook

The exterior of the King William IV is not much to look at with its bland brickwork and modular design. It does have a rather buzzy air about it though – mainly due to the multitude milling around outside. Turns out there’s a hugely popular pancake stand alongside the pub which though not relevant to this blog, still helps to lure in the punters.

 

The history

EST 1721(-ish) Monarch: George I

The King William IV was originally one of London’s many, many “Kings Heads” but it was common practice in the olden days to rename one’s pub in honour of the incumbent royal in a bid to curry favour. So I’m guessing the King William IV was so-named during that monarch’s seven-year reign from 1830-1837.

An often-overlooked king, William IV had no convenient umbrella term on which to hang his hat (excuse the mixed-accessory metaphor). His reign came at the end of the Georgian period when the unimaginative Hanovers spectacularly failed to come up with any alternative names for their heirs for 116 long years. William IV himself was technically a Georgian, but even the Hanovers drew the line of naming TWO of their children George. William succeeded George IV, his loathsome older brother who squandered a fortune, ate his own body-weight in pies and banned his wife from his own coronation. What a charmer.

Anyway, William plugged the seven-year hiatus between Georgian and Victorian Britain which means most of us find it hard it place him. But despite being somewhat forgettable, I think he was probably rather a nice king. He had the common touch and liked to invite random acquaintances to dinner, urging them to come as they were and not to dress up. It wasn’t as though they were dining with the KING or anything. He was also a generous chap who tried to give Buckingham Palace away – twice. Not sure why no-one took him up on it.

William managed to sire ten children with his Irish mistress but none with his wife, which is why the throne went to his 18-year-old niece upon his death. Mind you, young Vicky made a pretty good fist of it in the end.

Back to William IV’s namesake pub: it was once inhabited by a Dr Wyatt, either as a landlord or before the premises were licensed. The good doctor apparently fell out with his wife and despite his medical and surgical training, opted to murder her via the rather crude means of bricking her up in the cellar. Her wailing spirit is now said to haunt the pub, rattling the windows and generally making a nuisance of herself. Good work, Mrs W.

If that weren’t enough on the haunting front, the pub also boasts the ghost of a little girl either from the 18th or 19th century. Apparently her visit to the dentist opposite left her in such agony that she killed herself and her ghost is now said to prowl around the pub, gazing forlornly in through the windows. Not sure why – was the dentist a regular pub-goer? And if so, why wouldn’t she step inside to seek him out? Maybe her spirit is attracted to the smell of the aforesaid pancake stand. Either that or she can’t stand the sound of Mrs Wyatt’s incessant wailing.

Inside the King William IV

Inside the King William IV

The ambiance

Despite it being the least famous of the Hampstead pubs I visited, it was probably also my favourite. It was also the fifth – which might explain a lot. The interior was cosy and welcoming and provided plenty to look at, decorated as it was with photos of famous Hampstead residents and pithy quotes from notable wags. My favourite was Groucho Marx’s: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it”.

 

The other stuff

Brewery/chain: Free house

Open: Monday-Thursday, 11am-11pm, Friday-Sunday, 11am-midnight

Food: From midday to 10pm every day

Like so many pubs, the grub at the William IV is very much of the fish-and-chips, Sunday-roast variety. But the food isn’t the point of this pleasantly buzzing pub with its warm and welcoming staff. The King William IV has long been known as a gay pub and now describes itself as “gay-friendly”. But to my mind, that just means “friendly”.

http://www.thekingwillie.com/home-page

 


For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.

To see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

To narrow down your search click on My Faves.

Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

And follow me on Twitter at: @PubsPoemsPast