101 Bermondsey Wall, SE16 4NB
Nearest tube: Bermondsey 0.4 miles
Nearest attraction: Tower Bridge 0.9 miles
Historical interest: 7/10
Cosiness quotient: 8/10
The Angel occupies an imposing position on the Thames and has the look of a proper Victorian pub. When silhouetted against the river at twilight its appearance is particularly alluring. So let’s step inside, shall we?
EST 1837 Monarch: Victoria
Blah de blah, there was an older pub on or near this site long before this date, etc. But since the Angel had a different name and stood in a slightly different position in the olden days, could it actually be considered to be the same pub? Now there’s a conundrum.
It’s irrelevant anyway, because history was clearly happening close to where the Angel now stands way back in the 14thth century. Directly opposite the pub is a green open space which was once the stamping ground of Edward III back in the day.
Now come on, readers – what do we know about Edward III? Well, he reigned during the age of chivalry when noble knights wrote ardent letters to pointy-hatted ladies before heading off to be killed on the jousting field. And this was the time of the Hundred Years War, the Black Death and falconry.
Having a scary-looking bird perched on one’s wrist was very much de rigueur in 14thth century Britain. Falcons were particularly popular among the clergy, with many a nun apparently receiving a stern rebuke for bringing her pet bird into the chapel and causing a distraction. As you do.
In fact at one time you could hardly walk down the street without spotting this or that medieval person sporting a bird on their wrist. But – pun alert – there was a definite pecking order to falconry and the best of the peregrine falcons were reserved for the nobility whereas the hoi paloi had to make do with sparrowhawks and kestrels.
Falcons were a dab hand at killing hares, rabbits, pheasants and partridges which made them ideal for hunting. Smaller sparrowhawks, on the other hand, were only good for catching insects, songbirds and the occasional mouse or vole. Hardly the ideal Sunday lunch for your average burly falconer. Or nun.
But being at the top of the food chain, Edward III had access to the very best peregrine falcons and was something of an expert in the field. He even allegedly took a bunch of birds with him to France to keep his knights occupied between Hundred Years War campaigns. And his actual falconry (a mansion for birds? How mad is that?) stood directly opposite where the Angel stands today.
The building was surrounded by a moat on three sides, with the fourth open to the river and accessible via a set of stairs. In fact there is still a riverside road called The Kings Stairs commemorating the spot where Ed would alight from his boat. My eldest son used to live there, in fact.
Quite apart from this “on-or-near-this-site” malarkey, the modern incarnation of the Angel actually boasts a pretty cracking claim to fame all of its own. The artist JMW Turner is said to have painted The Fighting Temeraire – one of his most famous works – from the pub’s balcony in 1838. Well, it all stacks up: the pub was definitely open at the time and we all know that Turner liked a drink, even going so far as to convert two Docklands cottages into a pub at one point. But I’m a little sceptical nonetheless because Turner is also said to have painted the Fighting Temeraire from a boat on the Thames, at a Rotherhithe dockyard and in his own studio.
The Victorian-style interior of the Angel is divided into several anterooms painted in dusky pink and filled with parlour palms. The low lights, wall paintings and large sash windows add to the pleasant Victorian ambiance. I’d been to the Angel in the past and remembered it as being a fairly soulless place with a grumpy landlord. But it now appears to have morphed into a delightful pub with a friendly staff and a buzzing atmosphere.
The other stuff
Brewery/chain: Free house
Open: Monday-Friday midday to 11pm
Food: Monday-Friday midday to 3pm, 6pm-9pm; Saturday midday – 9pm; Sunday midday-4pm.
All the usual burger and banger suspects are available alongside a few anomalies such as panko-coated squid rings and liver and onions. I had the lasagne which was very tasty and came with chips and a “salad garnish”. Though I’ve got news for you, The Angel – two bits of cucumber do not a salad garnish make.
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