Prospect of Whitby

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door 19

One of my top ten pubs

57 Wapping Wall, EC1

Nearest tube: Wapping 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Tower of London 1.5 miles

The Prospect of Whitby in London Docklands

The Prospect of Whitby

The hook

On paper the Prospect of Whitby looks uncannily like its neighbour, the Town of Ramsgate. Both these attractive 16th century taverns with their unlikely regional names are wedged awkwardly between bland Docklands buildings. And each has a lurid, swashbuckling past peppered with tales of misdeeds and hangings.

The history

EST: 1520.Monarch: Henry VIII

The Prospect of Whitby was once a hotbed of cut-throats, pirates and felons. In fact, so dastardly was its clientele that it became known to the locals as The Devil’s Tavern. The publican shrewdly left this name off the signage, however, forcing anyone arranging to meet there to describe it as “the pub near the Prospect of Whitby” – the name of a ship moored nearby. And the name stuck.

Just like the Town of Ramsgate, the Prospect of Whitby claims to be close to the site of Execution Dock where many a pirate was hanged. There is even a replica scaffold outside to illustrate this point to more bloodthirsty customers.

And surprise surprise – the Prospect also claims to have been a favourite with the notorious Hanging Judge Jeffreys, just like the Town of Ramsgate. The 17th century judge executed hundreds of people who plotted against the unpopular King James II. Unashamedly Catholic in a predominantly Protestant era, James was eventually deposed and replaced with a new king and queen – his own daughter Mary and his nephew William. Christmas must have been awkward that year.

Suddenly being out of a job and already the object of universal hatred, Hanging J-J decided to escape to Hamburg dressed as a sailor. But his fatal mistake was to stop for one last drink at a Dockland pub….which led to his capture (again, see the Town of Ramsgate).

Bygone regulars of the Prospect of Whitby have included the diarist Samuel Pepys, artists Turner and Whistler and the explorer Sir Hugh Willoughby who sailed from here in 1553 to seek the North-East Passage. He should have stayed in the pub: the mission was a spectacular failure and Willoughby’s frozen corpse was discovered by Russian sailors the following spring.

Over the next few centuries the Prospect served ale to an eclectic mix of celebrities including Judy Garland, Paul Newman, Princess Margaret, Richard Burton, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Frank Sinatra and Charles Dickens. It also held cock-fights and bear-knuckle fights. So basically, it had something for everyone.

The ambiance

Inside the Prospect of Whitby at London's Docklands

My friend Sue buying me a drink inside the piratey Prospect

I was a little biased against the Prospect of Whitby before my visit as I couldn’t work out why it received so much more acclaim than its charming underdog neighbour, the Town of Ramsgate. But when I entered I understood. The Prospect of Whitby is simply a cracking pub where history is engrained into the very fabric of its building, There’s no need to squint your eyes or exert your imagination to visualise this ancient tavern as a notorious pirates’ hangout. No: the rickety stairs, stone-flagged floors, off-kilter doors, rum flagons, sailing ropes and skulls-and-crossbones do that for you.

The other stuff

Brewery: Greene King

Open Every day

Food served daily from midday

The disappointingly standard Greene King menu is supplemented by a few extras such as Mexican salads and pulled pork nachos. There’s a charming main bar, a riverside restaurant, an upstairs Smugglers’ Bar and a pleasant “secret garden” – not that secret, since it is clearly marked as you can see from the picture above – where you can sit back with a drink  and enjoy an uninterrupted view of the sinister scaffold below.

https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pub/prospect-of-whitby-wapping/c8166/


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?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

 

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Dog and Duck*

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door 16

One of my top ten pubs

18 Bateman Street, W1D 3AJ

Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Picadilly Circus, 0.4 miles

The Dog and Duck in Soho

The Dog and Duck

The hook

It’s always nice to find love when you’re not actually looking for it. The same goes for a great pub. My friend and I had just had a drink at the French House and were on our way to the Wheatsheaf when we spotted the Dog and Duck and were captivated by its imposing black pillars, beautiful signage and abundant foliage. Sorry, Wheatsheaf: I’m coming for you, but not just yet.

The history

EST 1734. Monarch: George II

The famous landscape artist John Constable lived around the corner in the early 1800s and would apparently nip into the Dog and Duck for a quick pint between masterpieces. But this pub’s heyday was in the 1940s when it became George Orwell’s favourite drinking den. Mind you, several other pubs make the same claim and the erudite author of 1984 is actually said to have thrown up over the bar in the Wheatsheaf nearby. But whether this indicates any sort of preference is a moot point.

It’s hard to get a handle on the man who wrote such a deeply depressing dystopian novel as 1984. He appears to have been a bit of a reactionary, having travelled to Spain to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War even though his poor constitution made him supremely unfit to do so. But he learnt his lesson by being shot in the throat and arm and having to return to England. He joined the Home Guard in World War II and landed a job with the BBC which involved working as a propagandist advancing the country’s national interests. But he loathed this part of the work and resigned in 1943 to take a post on a Socialist newspaper. Obviously a man of integrity but I can’t help imagining him as a bit of a pub bore, banging on about his ideals and ranting at his fellow drinkers while being ineffectually heckled by a sozzled Dylan Thomas in the corner (the two writers frequented the same Soho pubs but whether they ever synchronised their drinking is unclear).

However, the fact that Orwell was a huge fan of pubs elevates him in my estimation. He even wrote an essay for the Evening Standard on his perfect pub, describing a fictional backstreet establishment with good conversation, no music, a Victorian décor and creamy stout on tap. He even gave his fantasy pub a name – The Moon Under Water. I have news for you, George: your idea has been nicked.

But Orwell’s ideal pub sounds less like a Wetherspoon’s and more like the Dog and Duck itself. And there’s further evidence that this pub was his favourite: he chose to celebrate here in August 1945 when Animal Farm was featured by the American Book of the Month Club. Though his pub choice was partly due to the fact that the Dog and Duck’s landlord had managed to get hold of a bottle of absinthe that was 135 per cent proof. Maybe THAT was the night he went on to the Wheatsheaf and threw up over the bar.

The ambiance

The Dog and Duck's shiny interior

The Dog and Duck’s shiny interior

The “EST” date is the only Georgian thing about the Dog and Duck. It was rebuilt in 1897 and its interior is all Victorian opulence with its etched mirrors, glazed tiles and more chandeliers than a pub this size deserves. It’s a shiny, magical space with a warm welcome and cosy seating. We went on a Tuesday lunchtime and had to squeeze ourselves in next to a big group of what looked to be retired media men (they were happily supping pints and appeared much too carefree to be gainfully employed).

The other stuff

Brewery: Nicholson’s

Open: Every day from 11.30am (midday on Sunday)

Food: Served every day

Upstairs there’s a restaurant-cum-bar named the George Orwell Room (obviously). The usual Nicholson’s menu is on offer but the carrot and honey soup was delicious and the service particularly friendly. I asked for butter with my bread – a practice often sniffed at in posher eateries – and instead of announcing haughtily that they didn’t have any (which they didn’t) they sent the chef out to buy some. Now THAT’S service.

https://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/thedogandducksoholondon

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?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

 

 

The Black Lion

2, South Black Lion Lane, W6 9TJ

Nearest tube: Stamford Brook 0.5 miles

Nearest attraction: Kew Gardens 2.7 miles

 

The Black Lion pub in Hammersmith

The Black Lion

The hook

The frontage of this pleasant-looking pub is somewhat whiter than you would expect from a hostelry calling itself the Black Lion. In fact remarkably little effort has gone into brand-positioning this pub or drawing in the punters. Signs outside urge you to leave the premises quietly whereas it would be nice to have been welcomed inside to enjoy the food or to find out about the pub’s rather cracking history.

 

The history

EST: Around 1754. Monarch: George II

Few pubs can boast a legacy that features ghosts, murder, irony – and an interesting legal loophole. Yet the Black Lion delivers on all counts. The story dates back to 1803 when frequent sightings of a “ghost” occurred around the Hammersmith area. Apparently a tall, white-clad figure would hang around the churchyard, springing out at women and “wrapping its spectral arms” around them. Hmm. Anyway, fear and anger were running high in Hammersmith and on January 3 1804, a young buck named Francis Smith decided to take action after a night’s drinking at the Black Lion.

A bit of background: class divisions were huge in 19th century Britain and people would dress according to their occupation. So agricultural workers would wear smocks while butchers sported aprons and bricklayers wore white trousers and waistcoats and so on. So when an unsuspecting bricklayer named James Millwood headed home from work on the night of the drink-fuelled vigilante’s rampage – dressed all in white – you can guess what happened.

Smith opened fire on the “ghostly” Millwood and upon realising what he had done, he took the injured bricklayer back to the Black Lion where a doctor pronounced him dead. What happened to the real woman-hugging Hammersmith ghost is not known. But ironically, it is James Millwood’s ghost that is now said to haunt the Black Lion.

Francis Smith was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but this was commuted to a year’s hard labour after it was successfully argued that he honestly believed Millwood to be a ghost. This legal point was clarified in 1984 but the mistaken identity clause still generates arguments to this day.

 

The ambiance

I was in two minds as to whether to include the Black Lion in my list of historic pubs. Its history definitely delivers but this is one of those “is-it-a-pub-or-is-it-a-restaurant-pretending-to-be-a-pub” sort of places. My heart sank when we entered and clocked the rows of dining tables and identically-clad servers trying to seat us for lunch (REAL publicans don’t care whether or not you find a seat). When we tried to fob them off they relented and told us we could sit anywhere. And beyond the dining tables were some cosy wingback armchairs beside a wood-burning stove. The fact that there were dogs underfoot earned the Black Lion another Pub Point. And we certainly couldn’t fault their welcome – so warm in fact that they didn’t even chase us down when we accidently left without paying. Luckily we realised our error and returned to settle our bill. Honest, guv.

The fireside seat at the Black Lion in Hammersmith

The fireside seat at the Black Lion

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open Every day

Food served daily from midday

While the menu included the usual fish ‘n chips and Sunday roasts, there were also less run-of-the-mill options such as a delicious soup made from cannellini beans and red kale. Another feature of this rather offbeat pub was an unexpected skittle alley which proved to be a big draw for kids. All in all, a definite one-off and more Pub than Not Pub.

http://theblacklion-hammersmith.co.uk

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?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

The Town of Ramsgate

62 Wapping High St, E1W 2PN

Nearest tube: Wapping 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Tower of London 0.9 miles

The Town of Ramsgate pub from the outside

The Town of Ramsgate

The hook

Adjacent to Wapping Old Stairs, The Town of Ramsgate is marooned in a bland sea of Docklands developments (excuse the maritime references). But its Victorian-tiled frontage, unassuming charm and bright blue paint will make you want to enter.

 

The history

EST 1545. Monarch: Henry VIII

It’s hard to believe that the quiet, respectable Town of Ramsgate was once a hotbed of cutthroats and vagabonds while its cellars were filled with reluctant “sailors” recruited by press gangs when they were too drunk to argue. Meanwhile the crowds would regularly gather at Execution Dock nearby to watch pirates, smugglers and mutineers being hanged to death from a short rope (it took longer that way).

Anyway, it was either on Wapping Old Stairs or in the Town of Ramsgate itself where the notorious Hanging Judge Jeffreys was caught by an angry mob on September 12 1688. Whether the noose-happy judge was having one last tipple at the T of R or escaping from pursuers following a visit to the nearby Prospect of Whitby is a subject of pointless debate. But in any case, he was taken to the Tower of London where he eventually died – not by hanging, as would have been poetic justice, but from kidney problems due to excessive drinking.

Skip forward a century and two other men are now having one last drink together at the Town of Ramsgate before an epic sea voyage: Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian.

Anyone who has seen the Mutiny on the Bounty will recall how the villainous Captain Bligh mistreated his crew to the point where heroic Fletcher Christian was forced to rebel. But the truth is a little less black and white. For one thing, mutiny only occurred after an idyllic sojourn on Tahiti with its welcoming ladyfolk had softened up the crew and made them unwilling to resume their journey with the bad-tempered Bligh. So on April 28 1789, Christian seized control of the ship and cast the captain adrift on a small boat. With him were some of Bligh’s loyal followers and a few crew members who Christian didn’t much like. So these 19 men floated off into the sunset with only five days’ rations to keep them alive.

But Bligh was a cracking sailor and managed to steer his crew an incredible 4,000 miles to safety. He then returned to England where he brought some of the mutineers to justice, eventually dying peacefully in London on December 7 1817.

Meanwhile, Christian and his men returned to the ladyfolk of Tahiti who were a bit less welcoming this time. Anticipating being kicked off the island, Christian tricked some of his cohorts plus a few Tahitians – mostly women – on board the Bounty and then cut the rope, sailing away with his captive “crew”. Among them were six elderly women who were considered no use and were unceremoniously dumped on a nearby island. I like to think of them resourcefully cooking up sea-urchin soup over a camp fire and knitting cardies out of island grass, but they were most likely killed and eaten. Meanwhile Christian and his captives sailed on to Pitcairn where they created a happy mixed-race settlement – happy, that is, until some disgruntled Tahitians slaughtered Christian after an argument. Apparently his last words were: “Oh dear”. A bit of an understatement there, Fletch.

 

The ambiance

The Town of Ramsgate is a long, narrow space made cosy with the aid of wood panelling, parlour palms and old paintings. The friendly atmosphere and cheerful Cockney staff give it a touch of the Old Vics – but in a good way.

Inside the Town of Ramsgate

The Town of Ramsgate’s cosy bar

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open Every day (but closes at 9pm and between 4pm and 5pm midweek)

Food Served daily from midday

This is very much a locals’ pub with quizzes and curry nights. The food is less generic than your average chain pub and dishes include pizza melt burger, a “sharing sausage plate” and paprika spiced salmon. In summer the raised terrace out the back is a charming space for boat-watching.

http://townoframsgate.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?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

 

Morpeth Arms

58 Millbank, SW1P 4RW

Nearest underground: Pimlico 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Tate Britain 0.1 mile

 

Outside the Morpeth Arms

The un-pub-like exterior of the Morpeth Arms

The hook

The Morpeth Arms has a rather bland exterior devoid of the black beams, leaded-light windows and swinging signs that one has come to expect from a pub. But the cheeky blackboard messages outside add a touch of humour that will tempt in the casual Thameside walker.

 

The history

EST: 1845. Monarch: Victoria

This pub occupies a prominent position in a row of well-to-do houses and public buildings. So it’s hard to visualise Millbank as the wasteland of plague pits, bogs and quagmires that it once was.

Unbelievably, someone back in the 19th century decided that a nice big prison was all that was needed to brighten the area up. But the Millbank Penitentiary – opened in 1821 – was doomed from the start. Not only did the festering marshland beneath soon begin to subside under the weight of this massive jail, it also provided the ideal breeding ground for diseases which led to the poorly-nourished inmates dropping like flies. Meanwhile, the sheer size of the prison meant that even the most seasoned of warders kept getting lost in its labyrinthine corridors.

So in 1843, the prison was moved to Pentonville and Millbank Penitentiary was downgraded to a holding depot for convicts waiting to be transported to Australia. Deportation was by no means a new idea: in fact the US had had the dubious honour of being Britain’s chief dumping ground since the early 17th century. But when America gained its independence in the 1770s it rather inconveniently pulled up its virtual drawbridge and obliged us to look elsewhere for our cast-off convicts – many of whom had done nothing worse than steal a loaf or rustle a sheep.

The Australia-bound felons nervously awaited their fate in the underground cells of Millbank, contemplating the odds as to whether or not they would survive the journey. Some died of disease or malnutrition before they could even join a ship.

The Morpeth Arms, built in 1845 to serve the prison warders, stands above these now-deserted cells which are reputedly haunted by the ghosts of perished prisoners – along with a warder or two, presumably still trying to find their way out.

 

The ambiance

The managers of the Morpeth Arms have done their best to create a welcoming space using dark paintwork, low lighting and atmospheric music. The Spying Room upstairs is particularly cosy and provides a clear view of the MI6 building opposite, made even clearer with the aid of the binoculars provided for punters to “spy on the spies”.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Youngs

Open: Every day

Food: Every day from midday

The pub offers an eclectic mix of food options for all types of diner. Whether you identify with today’s well-to-do Pimlico residents or yesterday’s quagmire-dwellers there’s a dish to suit you among the sirloin steaks, scotch eggs, osso bucos and chip butties. Aficionados of the spooky will enjoy the Ghost Cam which provides a live feed to the tunnels beneath the pub, enabling punters to spot any supernatural activity from the comfort of their barstools. Though a display counter showing the number of ghosts spotted to date would have been nice.

http://www.morpetharms.com/ 

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page. And to see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

 

The Old Doctor Butler’s Head

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door Two

2 Masons Avenue, EC2V 5BT

Nearest tube: Moorgate 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: Monument 0.4 miles

The Dickensian frontage of the Old Doctor Butler's Head

The Dickensian frontage of the Old Doctor Butler’s Head

The hook

After walking past Moorgate’s bland city offices and ugly, built-up streets I was blown away by my first sight of the Old Doctor Butler’s Head. It was tucked down a side street straight out of Dickensian London and everything about it – from the upturned oak barrels and the black beams to the abundant foliage – screamed “Come inside!”.

The history

EST 1610. Monarch: James I

Doctor William Butler was either a pioneering physician or a brilliant con artist. Probably both. And he was also a big fan of pubs.

Born in Suffolk in 1535 he was granted a licence to practise medicine after graduating from Clare College Cambridge. This was somewhat surprising since he held an arts degree. But despite being completely unqualified, practice medicine he did.

Until the age of 68 “Doctor” Butler quietly plied his “trade” from an apothecary’s shop in Cambridge. Here he lived with a servant called Nell whose chief job it was to drag him out of the pub every night after a skinful. But the elderly quack was abruptly forced out of obscurity when he performed a “miracle cure” on a local clergyman. Apologies for the over-use of “inverted commas”, but he merits them.

Anyway, it appears that the afflicted man of the cloth had fallen into an opium-induced coma and been given up for dead. But Dr Butler acted promptly and slaughtered a cow, placing the senseless clergyman inside the “cowe’s warme belly” to cure him. Amazingly, it worked – though how the parson reacted on waking up inside a cow is anyone’s guess.

This remarkable feat attracted the attention of the court and in 1614, James I called on Dr Butler to attend him when he sustained a hunting injury at Newmarket. The monarch must have been mightily impressed with the good doctor who was swiftly appointed to the post of court physician.

So Dr Butler headed for London where he carried on blithely practising his own peculiar brand of medicine using increasingly weird and unconventional techniques. His “cure” for epilepsy, for instance, was to fire off a couple of guns close to the patient’s head to scare the condition out of him. And his acclaimed cold-water remedy for the ague was even more bizarre – he simply pushed the patient into the Thames.

However, his piece de resistance was in combining two of his favourite things – medicine and booze – to create a “purging ale” that contained aniseed, caraway, liquorice and strong beer. Whether this cured anything or not is unknown but it’s quite likely some degree of purging took place after drinking it. In any case, Doctor Butler’s ale became so successful that he acquired a chain of pubs of which the Moorgate hostelry is the last. Sadly, Purging Ale is no longer available on tap.

The ambiance

Though pleasantly dark and atmospheric, the interior of the Old Doctor’s Butler’s did not quite live up to the promise of the outside. In place of the hoped-for snug corners and comfy velveteen benches there were large tables flanked by hard stools and leatherette banquettes. But this is simply nit-picking since the pub is evidently hugely popular with city-workers who were happy to fill every cranny and spill out on to the delightful frontage.

Inside the Old Doctor Butler's Head

Inside the Old Doctor Butler’s Head – an odd place to be

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Every day except Saturdays and Sundays

Food: served from lunchtime except at weekends.

The menu was short and uninspiring and my sausage sandwich was more transport caff than gastropub. It also came ready-smothered with brown sauce which seemed a bit of an imposition. I mean, you wouldn’t expect your tea to arrive pre-sugared or your chips to be covered with ketchup, would you? Still, lunch was served swiftly and with a smile – and the food isn’t the main point of this pub in any case.

https://www.olddoctorbutlershead.co.uk/food

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page. And to see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

The Queen’s Larder

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door 13

1 Queen Square, WC1

Nearest tube: Russell Square 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Charles Dickens Museum 0.5 miles

 

The Queen's Larder from the front

The Queen’s Larder from the front

The hook

Tucked away down a side street off busy Southampton Row, the Queen’s Larder is a haven of peace and tranquillity overlooking leafy Queen Square.

 

The history

EST: 1710 (approx) Monarch: Queen Anne

True to its name, The Queen’s Larder is built on the site of a food store kept by a Queen. The monarch in question was Queen Charlotte, wife of “mad” King George III. The jury is still out as to what was actually wrong with him. Was he manic-depressive? Was he suffering from an untreated physical condition? Were his medicines poisoning him? All these theories have been considered over the years but the truth is, he does sound pretty mad.

He would speak randomly at length until he began frothing at the mouth; he talked to trees and he howled like a dog. He also suffered from convulsions so severe that his pages had to sit on him to keep him still. That’s their story, anyway. Queen Charlotte refused to be alone with him after his first bout of madness – mainly because he would hug her very tightly and refuse to let her go.

King George’s doctor lived in Queen Square (named after a different queen – Queen Anne) and Queen Charlotte used the cellars beneath the present-day pub for storing food for her husband’s special diet.

Frustratingly, no one seems to know of what his special diet consisted. And what do you feed a person to stop them from howling like a dog and giving inappropriate bearhugs, anyway? As it happened, King George had simple tastes and would eschew the meat-heavy banquets of the day in favour of a soft-boiled egg, a salad or a Yorkshire pudding. He also had an aversion to sugar. So the chances are that his “special diet” was probably less healthy than his everyday one – and it didn’t work anyway since his madness persisted.

 

The ambiance

The cosy interior of the Queen's Larder.

The cosy interior of the Queen’s Larder.

The Queen’s Larder’s interior is small but delightfully cosy with plenty of nooks and crannies and comfy benches upholstered in crimson. The toilets are typically tiny for an old London pub – I had to displace the ubiquitous newspaper-reading gentleman in order to access the Ladies’. Despite its position slap bang in the middle of WC1 this is very much a locals’ pub. You can even bring your dog.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Every day

Food: Every day

The Greene King sign on the canopy would indicate some brewery affiliation but the Queen’s Larder has its own website and menu. Besides the expected pies and sandwiches there are plenty of basic British comfort foods such as spam fritters, ploughman’s lunches and egg and chips. No doubt King George would have approved – particularly since roast beef with Yorkshire pudding is on the menu.

http://www.queenslarder.co.uk

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page. And to see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.