36 Panton Street, SW1Y 4EA
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus
It’s always a delight to come across a traditional boozer in a sophisticated part of London where trendy bars have become the norm. The Tom Cribb occupies the archetypal corner plot and its gleaming wooden panels, hanging baskets and intricate ironwork make it a shining beacon in a relatively drab street.
EST: Early 19th century. Monarch: George IVLittle is known about the past landlords of most of our historical pubs. Sadly, it is not the practice to display a plaque listing their names as it often is in church. However, we do know the name of the Tom Cribb’s most famous publican. It was Tom Cribb.
During Regency days when fashionable dandies were mincing around Vauxhall Gardens paying court to elegant ladies, a rather more sinister fashion was emerging in London. Men had begun to regularly beat each other to a pulp for the sake of entertainment. No doubt many of these bare-knuckle fights ended in tragedy – but not for Thomas Cribb.
Born in the West Country in 1781, Tom came to London aged 13 and took up boxing in 1805 after spells as a bell hanger and a coal porter. He suffered only one defeat in his lifetime – to George Nicholls on July 20, 1805 – and five years later he became world champion after beating US slave Tom Molineaux. He then semi-retired and was soon running the Union Arms at the corner of Panton Street. When the Prince Regent was crowned King George IV In 1821, Cribb was one of the prize fighters –an early form of security force – who guarded the entrance to Westminster Hall.
Cribb died in 1848 and the pub remained the Union Arms until 1960 when it was renamed in his honour.
Unsurprisingly, the walls of the Tom Cribb are lined with boxing pictures and other memorabilia. However, the theme doesn’t dominate the pub. In fact I confess, during my many visits there I never even clocked the boxing connection. To me this was simply a lovely little pre-Comedy Story pub where there is usually a tiny space available for a chilled drink in a quietly buzzing atmosphere.
The other stuff
Brewery: Free house
Open: Every day
Food: Every day until 6pm (5pm on Sundays)
Sandwiches and burgers are available along with a selection of real ales. The Tom Cribb is in the heart of Theatreland and works equally well for a quick drink either before or after the evening’s main event.