Fox and Anchor

115, Charterhouse Street, EC1M 6AA

Nearest tube: Barbican

Fox and Anchor A

The hook

We were in our way to another pub when we spotted the fabulous frontage of the Fox and Anchor. One glance at the Art Noveau tiles, the gothic-style grotesques and the lofty grinning cats above the front door and we were hooked.

 

The history

EST 1898. Monarch: Victoria

The many generations of Smithfield market butchers and porters have apparently been served by a Fox and Anchor on this site for centuries. However the present building was lovingly crafted, tiled and decorated in the Art Deco style in 1898. It faces on to a pleasant green square and its nearest neighbours include the imposing Charterhouse, now an almshouse for retired men. But the area is not as innocuous as it seems and has witnessed some terrible suffering.

A construction team working on the Crossrail project in 2014 uncovered a huge 14th century burial pit beneath Charterhouse Square filled with the skeletonised victims of the Black Death. This horrific malady was characterised by livid black spots and grotesque swellings in the groin and armpits followed by – as the name suggests – death. Around this time – in 1370 – a Carthusian monastery was founded here for devout monks. They would spend their days in solitary prayer and venture outside just once a week for a three-hour walkabout. Sadly, this treat came to an end in 1405 when Bartholomew Fair began to provide too much of a distraction – a somewhat harsh decree since the Cloth Fair event was only held once a year.

The saintly brothers’ devout existence might have continued indefinitely but then Henry VIII came to the throne and things were never going to end well. Not surprisingly the gentle brothers resisted all dissolution attempts and this was seen as treason in Tudor Britain when reprisals were harsh. So the mutinous monks were taken away and some were starved to death at Newgate Prison while others were hanged, drawn and quartered.

Charterhouse later became a Tudor mansion briefly occupied by Queen Eiizabeth I; it then regenerated into the famous public school before this moved to Surrey. And after surviving the blitz it is now a tiny but fascinating museum besides being an almshouse.

Fox and Anchor B

The ambiance

The Fox and Anchor is filled with black and white prints of erstwhile butchers as a nod to its roots. The long, narrow front bar is dark and atmospheric but it is the restaurant behind that delights. There’s a touch of the Venice-Simplon Orient Expresses about the polished wood and gleaming tiling in this lovely room where you can dine in privacy in one of the little snugs and cubby-holes.

 

Fox and Anchor CThe other stuff

The Fox and Anchor is a Young’s pub and a rather unexpected hotel with six boutique bedrooms. The usual steaks, pies and sausages on the meat-heavy menu are complemented by more unusual dishes such as skate with buttered capers and twice-baked blue cheese soufflé. But the Fox’s City Boy breakfast is the major food attraction: alongside all the usual Full English staples you will be served steak, calves liver and black and white pudding, all washed down with a pint of Guinness. http://www.foxandanchor.com

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

 

 

The Queens Head

15 Denman Street, London, W1D 7HN

Nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus

 

The hook

If it weren’t for the fancy lettering above the Queen’s Head you would probably walk straight past it, so unassuming is its shop front-style exterior. And when you actually open the door you will find yourself staring up a steep staircase which hardly seems welcoming. But venture inside – the interior is charming.

 

The history

EST: 1738. Monarch: George II

When I asked the duty manager about the pub’s history he shrugged and pointed to a sign that claimed the Queen’s Head had been around since 1738 and “remained true to its roots”. If that were so it would be a pretty grisly place today. According to the internet, the Queen’s Head was once one of London’s many smoky, gas-lit, blood-stained venues that were regularly used for rat-baiting – a sport where people laid bets on whose dog could slaughter the most rats. Punters would gather together in venues such as the Queen’s Head and watch avidly as their bull terriers seized rat after rat in a vice-like grip and tossed their corpses aside. One dog could apparently kill 100 rats in under six minutes. Despite being a particularly nasty sport, rat-baiting did have the benefit of ridding the city of a lot of disease-carrying rodents. It was extremely popular in the early 19th century and at one time there were 70-odd rat pits in London, which meant someone had to keep them all supplied with vermin. Victorian London’s best-known rat-catcher was a flamboyant character who styled himself in a green coat, scarlet waistcoat and white breeches along with a broad leather belt inset with cast-iron rats. He went by the name of Jack Black (no relation. Although, come to think of it…).

Rat-baiting died out towards the end of the century on account of it being hideously cruel (who knew?). The Queen’s Head then smartened up its act and reinvented itself as a squeaky-clean meeting place for pedigree dog-owners. A picture on the wall featuring top-hatted gentlemen sedately showing off their dogs bears this out, effectively skating over the pub’s more sinister past.

 

The ambiance

The gilded mirrors, ornate chandeliers and wooden pillars provide a delightfully over-the-top Victorian feel with a nod to the art deco. Background music adds to the atmosphere and there is plenty of seating, mostly on stools. Service is friendly and the place has a pleasant buzz.

IMG_6441

 

The other stuff

An independent pub in the heart of London – what a refreshing change. The beer options vary and on our visit included London Pride and Dark Star Hophead. At first glance the food menu seems fairly standard and disappointingly pie-heavy, but our meal was delicious with plenty of quirkier options such as beetroot salmon mousse, Jerusalem artichoke tart and asparagus and broad bean pie. Great value, too –and with free limoncellos all round to celebrate our daughter’s birthday. Much better than an indoor firework in a pudding for one.

www.queensheadpiccadilly.com

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

Princess Louise

208-209 High Holborn, WC1V 7BW

Nearest tube: Holborn

 

The Hook

The Princess Louise is nothing much to look at from the outside. Okay, the windows may be fancy and there are some ornate carvings on the pillars. But the brown paintwork and rather drab signage hardly beckon you in. Persevere, however – inside the Princess Louise will blow your mind.

 

The history

EST: 1872. Monarch: Victoria

The existing building dates back to 1872 and the interior was remodelled in the 1890s. A relatively new boozer, in fact. High Holborn itself has a long history: The Knights Templar’s first round church was built here in the 12th century. What I do find interesting from a historical point of view is the name of this pub. Princess Louise was the sixth child of Queen Victoria, an intelligent, artistic girl who was often regarded as the Queen’s most beautiful daughter. Born in 1848 she was a talented artist and sculptor as well as something of a celebrity in her day.

Her many talents earned her the unofficial position as secretary to her mother the Queen between 1866 and 1871, after which her marriage to the future Duke of Argyll put an end to this arrangement. It was about this time that the pub was built, though why it was named after a royal princess in her twenties is not clear. Perhaps it was renamed after her death in 1939? By all accounts, Princess Louise was a bit of a character and frequently the subject of gossip. She enjoyed a smoke, dabbled with nude painting and allegedly had a string of affairs. So in other words, she was definitely someone you would want to have a drink with.

 

The ambiance

The interior of the Princess Louise is simply amazing. Its Corinthian columns, Victorian tiles, mosaic floors and ornate mirrors are elaborate and over-the-top but also fabulous. The pub features a series of booths partitioned off from each other with cut-glass screens. Each has direct access to the marble-effect bar and provides seating for groups of up to eight. Arrive early if you would like a seat in one of these highly-prized snugs. Stepping inside the Princess Louise is like walking into a Victorian melodrama. Spoiler alert: the butler probably did it.

 

The other stuff

This is a Sam Smith pub with all the beer choices that brings. The Princess Louise’s menu is mostly British but the inevitable steak and kidney pudding and bangers and mash are tempered by more cosmopolitan dishes such as lasagne, chilli and cheesey nachos.

http://princesslouisepub.co.uk

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

The Black Friar

74 Queen Victoria Street, EC4V 4EG

Nearest tube: Blackfriars

 

BF AThe hook

When I first spotted the Black Friar from my seat on a hugely enjoyable London Duck Tour I was mesmerised by this lovely, Trivial Pursuit-pie shaped building beneath Blackfriars Bridge. Since I was a captive audience on the tour I was forced to sit tight, squirrel away the info and resolve to visit the pub at a later date. And when I eventually did so I discovered that the Black Friar was even better inside than out.

 

The history

EST: 1875. Monarch: Victoria

Built in 1875, the pub is fairly modern despite its medieval styling. But the name of the Black Friar refers to its position on the site of a former priory. When friars first appeared in medieval England they were something of a novelty since unlike monks (who were cloistered in monasteries) they travelled around, spreading the word in exchange for money to sustain themselves. Nice work if you can get it. There were two main groups of friars in early 13th century London – the Franciscans who were invariably dressed in grey, and the Dominicans whose long black mantles earned them the name the Black Friars. These were later joined by the Carmelites, or the White Friars (I see a theme emerging) and the Augustinians, otherwise known as the Austin Friars. Maybe there were no more drab colours to adopt?

Anyway, the pub is a Grade II listed Arts and Crafts building which means it has plenty of historical merit despite not actually being old. In the “enlightened” 1960s when iconic buildings were being flattened left right and centre, the Black Friar was among those scheduled to be demolished. However, the poet Sir John Betjeman stepped in and led a campaign to keep it. It just goes to show, you can always count on a creative to vouch for a pub as Dickens, Pepys, Marlowe etc will bear out.

The ambiance

The Black Friar has been skillfully designed inside to reflect its Dominican roots. However the arches, carvings and stained glass windows have been teamed with cosy nooks and low lighting to create an interior that is both impressive and snug. Everywhere you look there are sculptures, mosaics and wooden reliefs featuring black friars beaming down on you with happy, smiling faces. In fact it was the Grey Friars who had a reputation for being particularly jolly, but who knows. Maybe the two rival groups engaged in much friendly joshing as they roamed the streets of London, spreading their respective words.

BF 2The other stuff

As a Nicholson’s pub, the Black Friar serves the usual cask beers along with a fairly standard menu featuring pies, burgers and steaks. But the dining room is a revelation with its vaulted-style ceiling that continues the medieval theme.

http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/theblackfriarblackfriarslondon

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

Ye Olde Watling

29 Watling Street, EC4M 9BR

Nearest tubes: St Paul’s, Bank

 

The hook

Here we have yet another black-timbered, leaded-lighted, plant-festooned pub that is hard to walk by without thinking….hmm, yes actually I DO fancy a pint.

 

The history

EST: 1668. Monarch: Charles II

Ye Olde Watling is located in Watling Street, one of Britain’s most famous Roman roads. It is also a stone’s throw away from St Paul’s Cathedral and is said to have been built by Sir Christopher Wren himself. Apparently, brine-sodden timbers gleaned from old ships were sold cheaply to builders in the 17th century and these were used in the construction of the building. The reason why Wren broke off from the far more important task of building St Paul’s to throw up a quick pub was apparently to provide accommodation for the men working on the cathedral project, with the inn’s upstairs rooms being used as the drawing offices. This is not Sir Christopher’s only hostelry, it appears – he is also said to have built the Old Bell Tavern in nearby Fleet Street to house the masons rebuilding St Bride’s Church after the 1666 fire.

In fact, the Great Fire of London turned out to be exceedingly good for business for Sir Christopher. However, he had actually been involved in repairing St Paul’s since 1661 – five years before the fire occurred. He came up with his first design for a dome in the spring of 1666 and it was accepted just a week before fire had turned two-thirds of the City into ash, St Paul’s included. So it was back to the drawing board for Sir Christopher who worked on the project for years – 36 of them to be precise. A job of that scale would be enough to drive any self-respecting architect to build their own pub.

The ambiance

This is a typically cosy, wooded, black-beamed interior – just as you would expect from such a historical boozer.

The other stuff

Ye Olde Watling is a Nicholson’s establishment that offers typical English fare such as pies, fish and chips and Sunday roasts. You can also pop in for a full English (Scottish?) breakfast, or join in the Gin Festival which appears to take place for the whole of the summer.

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

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

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

145 Fleet St, EC4A 2BU

Nearest tube: Blackfriars

 

The Hook

Tucked away down a Dickensian side street with a name featuring a “Ye” and an extraneous “e” – why wouldn’t any pub buff want to enter one of London’s most famous, historic watering holes? Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is such an obvious candidate for this blog that I’ve resisted including it up to now in an attempt to avoid being too cliché.

 

The history

EST: 1538. Monarch: Henry VIII

A pub called the Horn occupied the site from around 1538 when Shakespeare was in his twenties and Henry VIII was three wives down. But surprise, surprise – like so many other great pubs it burnt down during the Great Fire of 1666. However, it was rebuilt the following year to become the Fleet Street landmark it is today.

History permeates every nook and cranny of this delightful boozer. The vaulted cellars are thought to originate from the 13th-century Carmelite monastery that originally occupied the site and the pub’s many, many famous patrons are said to have included Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, PG Wodehouse, Voltaire, Princess Margaret and Winston Churchill. I’d have loved to have overheard THAT pub conversation. Samuel Johnson apparently used to dine at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese while Charles Dickens allegedly favoured the table to the right of the fireplace in the ground floor room opposite the bar. The inn was once renowned for its “puddings” made from steak, mushrooms, kidneys, oysters and larks weighing in at between 23 and 36 kilos apiece. The ancient walls of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese have doubtless witnessed countless tragedies, dramas, arguments and the forming of many a drunken bond but my favourite story relates to Polly, a parrot given to the landlord by a sailor in the late 19th century. On Armistice Night 1918 after World War One had ended the over-excited bird apparently mimicked the popping of a champagne cork 400 times (why 400? Who was counting?) before falling off its perch and passing out cold. Polly survived to tell the tale and when it eventually died in 1926 the parrot had become so famous that its obituary appeared in 200 newspapers worldwide.

 

The ambiance

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a sprawling labyrinth of wood-panelled rooms and passageways, each with their own atmosphere. There is a marked lack of natural light which makes you quickly forget there’s a world outside the pub – as many a former Fleet Street journalist will ruefully tell you.  On my first visit I ended up in a rather unengaging, windowless room seated in an uncomfortable wooden booth while my second stint at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was spent in a buzzing, cave-like bar filled with refectory tables and friendly tourists. There are 10-12 rooms arranged over four or five levels (though again, who’s counting?) so whatever your mood there’ll be a nook to accommodate you. And the open fireplaces that light up the pub in winter make it an even more engaging space.

 

The other stuff

Standard pub food and a limited signal are among the minuses. On the plus side there’s Sam Smith’s beer and a potentially lively conversation largely uncontaminated by mobile phone use.

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

The Ship and Shovell

1-3 Craven Passage WC2N 5PH

Nearest tubes: Charing Cross, Embankment

IMG_6246The Hook

Why settle for one pub when you can have two? That was obviously the thinking behind the landlords of the Ship(s) and Shovell(s) when they were established on either side of Craven’s Passage near Charing Cross Station. Stumbling across London’s only two-part pub (apart from the Euston Tap, as my son has helpfully pointed out) you will assume you are seeing double and then start to wonder whether these jolly red inns are actually mirror images of each other inside?

 

The history

EST: 1852. Monarch: Victoria

The two terraced houses that make up the Ship and Shovell were built in in the 1730s when the most southerly of the two had a clear view of the river via a porthole-like window. This enabled the dockers and carters who frequented the inn to keep an eye on the Thames and watch for ships that might need divesting of their coal and other goods. The buildings were later replaced and the pub was listed as the Ship and Shovel in 1852. It seems the perfect name for a pub whose clientele used to shovel coal from a ship. But in 1997 the name was changed to the Ship and Shovell (with two Ls) to commemorate the life of a 17th century sea admiral. Sir Cloudesley Shovell was born in Norfolk and rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy from cabin boy to Admiral of the Fleet. He battled pirates and foreign seafarers before ending his life in a shipwreck off the Scilly Isles. In other words: he had no tangible connection with Charing Cross whatsoever. Craven Passage itself was named after the first Earl of Craven (also from the 17th century) who gained London’s respect by staying in the city in 1665 and helping to maintain order during the Great Plague rather than fleeing to the countryside like so many other noblemen.

 

The ambiance

To answer your earlier (hypothetical) question, the Ship(s) and Shovell(s) are entirely different inside. The pub on the right as you approach from Villiers Street is a pleasant but unremarkable London boozer with an ornate bar and Victorian décor. The pub on the left is much more quaint and characterful, however. The mere handful of seating places include two cosy booths and an adorable cubby hole partly shielded by screens and provided with your own personal coat hooks. My only gripe about this “snug” was that it would have been snugger with the addition of comfy chairs in place of the pub stools. The walls of both hostelries are covered with 17th century sailing paintings and Shovell memorabilia as you would expect.

IMG_6240

The other stuff

Hall and Woodhouse are the brewers behind the Ship and Shovell – less well known than your Greene King’s and your Fullers but equally passionate about their beer. Food options include the inevitable fish and chips but I opted for the chili cheese chips – guaranteed to blow the mind of any culinary thrill-seeker. Besides the chili my chips were also topped with coriander, jalapenos and English mustard. My tastebuds still haven’t recovered – but in a good way.

http://shipandshovell.co.uk

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