94, Lamb’s Conduit StreetWC1N 3LZ
Nearest tube: Russell Square: 0.3 miles
Nearest attraction: British Museum: 0.6 miles
Historical interest: 6/10
Cosiness quotient: 7/10
With its bottle-green tiles and etched glass windows, the outside of the Lamb promises an old-school pub experience – and it certainly delivers.
EST: 1779. Monarch: George III
Few of us ever bother to think about where our drinking water comes from. Well, why would we? If the tap works, who cares? But water is essential to our existence, and this meant our forefathers had to devise ingenious methods of sourcing it. If you lived beside a river, all was fine and dandy. But if you didn’t, you had to fetch your own water or rely on others to fetch it for you.
However, piped water became a “thing” as early as 1247 when work began on the Great Conduit. This brought water from a spring at Tyburn (where Marble Arch now stands) via Charing Cross, the Strand, Fleet Street and Ludgate through to a large tank in Cheapside. And as London expanded, other conduits were built as well.
If you lived near a conduit you could apply for permission to have your home connected to it. But heavy users of water such as brewers, cooks and fishmongers had to pay for their supply and wardens were appointed to guard against “unauthorised tapping”. Not everyone could rely on a conduit, either: if you lived too far away from one or were unable to source a gravity-feed you had to resort to water carriers or “cobs” – enterprising tradespeople who would collect river-water and flog it to you.
Of course, nothing was easy in those days. People were always toppling into the Thames and drowning while trying to fill their buckets. And if they did manage to collect water successfully there was always the problem of transporting it across London.
Walking along unpaved roads with buckets of water wasn’t really a viable option, so packhorses were used instead. But have you ever tried transporting an open bucket of water on horseback on uneven ground through crowded streets? (Rhetorical question – of course you haven’t). The result was predictable, however – water would slop on to the road, reducing the cob’s profits and creating large puddles of evil-smelling mud throughout the streets of London.
Enter one cloth-selling philanthropist. William Lamb was a 16th century Bloomsbury resident who decided to build a conduit to help out the locals. And in doing so, not only did he provide them with a ready water supply but he also gave employment to the nearby poor. Lamb’s gift to Blooomsbury included 120 buckets for the needy which allowed them to set up their own water-carrying businesses.
Top bloke, I hear you say – and you’d be right. And while the conduit has long gone, Will’s legacy lives on in the name of the Lamb pub which stands in Lamb’s Conduit Street. It’s also situated near Lamb’s Conduit Passage and a stone’s throw away from Lamb’s Conduit Fields (Okay, Will – you’re milking it now)
The Lamb was once the drinking den of Charles Dickens who lived around the corner, as well as being the meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group- a bunch of influential writers who met up in 1920s London to exchange ideas. And it was also the venue for lovers’ trysts between poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.
Their union was ill-starred from the beginning. The couple met through their mutual love of poetry and were married four months later on June 16 1956. Their only wedding guest was Sylvia’s mother (isn’t there a song about her?). The fact that Mother-in-Law accompanied the couple on their Benidorm honeymoon should have been an early red flag for Ted. During the course of their short marriage the couple lived in Cambridge, the US, Yorkshire, London and Devon – no doubt still trying to shake off Sylvia’s Mum.
Sylvia was plagued with depression and made several suicide attempts, finally succeeding on February 11 1963. Hughes was devastated and in a letter to a friend he wrote: “That’s the end of my life. The rest is posthumous”. He then went on to write children’s works and pen classical translations, books, essays and several more poems before remarrying in 1970 and becoming Poet Laureate in 1984. Quite an impressive afterlife, in fact.
Obviously I visited the Lamb re COVID-19, so one can only cross one’s fingers and hope that it will reopen in 2021. Understated Victorian is how I would describe the Lamb. Its low-lit, wood-panelled interior offers plenty of cosy corners plus walls covered with photographs of musical hall stars. Infuriatingly the barman didn’t know who any of these people were nor why the pictures were there. But he did mention that one female customer had insisted in occupying a particular corner of the pub where she could sit beneath a photo of her grandmother.
The other stuff
Open: Closed for COVID
Food: As above
The menu when I went looked very interesting at the Lamb, but I must say I only understood about half of it. Who’s Frank, and why does he have his own chilli sauce, for example? Who is the “Butler” behind the menu’s “secret cheddar”? And have you ever heard of plum ketchup, Guinness sauce or ale onions? I certainly haven’t. But reading between the lines it sounds as though the Lamb does pies, burgers and bangers plus a variety of meat and two veg. And veg and two veg for the veggies..
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