Ye Olde Watling

29 Watling Street, EC4M 9BR

Nearest tube: St Paul’s 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: St Paul’s 0.2 miles

 

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

Brewery: Nicholson

Open: Every day, closes at 5pm on Sundays

Food: Served from lunchtime

Besides the usual pies, fish and chips and Sunday roasts you can  pop into Ye Olde Watling for a full English (Scottish?) breakfast, or join in the Gin Festival in the summer.

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

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.

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The Tom Cribb

36 Panton Street, SW1Y 4EA

Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus 0.1 mile

Nearest attraction: National Gallery 0.1 miles

 

The hook

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.

 

The history

EST: Early 19th century. Monarch: George IV

Little 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.

 

The ambiance

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.

http://www.tomcribblondon.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.

The Guinea Grill

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door 11

30 Bruton Place, W1J 6NL

Nearest tube: Bond Street 0.4 miles

Nearest attraction: The Wallace Collection 0.8 miles

A convivial atmosphere is to be had in this pleasant pub in a quiet Mayfair backwater

The Guinea Grill, Mayfair

The Hook

You can almost see the tumbleweed blowing down Bruton Place as you approach this quiet backwater from the hubbub of nearby Bond Street. The Guinea Grill is a cosy-looking pub and if you are a history buff, the Est 1675 sign outside will doubtless tempt you in.

 

The History

EST: 1675. Monarch: Charles II

Despite the aforesaid Est 1675 sign, the current building dates back to the 1720s and a pub has stood on this site since 1423. Confused? It’s hard to imagine today but Mayfair in the 15th century mainly consisted of farmland and open fields and most of the clientele of the original pub –the Pound – were made up of farm labourers and agricultural workers.

London’s wealthy began moving to Mayfair after the Great Fire of 1666 and soon the pub was filled with stable lads and servants in place of the farm labourers. These new customers worked at the big houses that had started springing up in the surrounding streets and squares. Much of this area was acquired by the First Lord Berkeley of Stratton – a commander in the Civil War – who received the lands when Charles II was restored to the throne. Bruton Place was the site of the stables and coach houses for the grand houses in Berkeley Square and Bruton Street.

 

The ambiance

A charming pub with wooden screens and panelling, the Guinea Grill is decorated in warm colours and there are many old paintings and prints on display. In the summer the customers spill out onto Bruton Place and create a convivial atmosphere.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Young’s

Open: Every day

Food: Every lunchtime except Saturday, every evening except Sunday.

The Guinea has been a Young’s pub since 1888 and serves three regular Young’s ales plus an ever-changing guest ale. The bar specialises in award-winning steak and kidney pies – just like the Windmill around the corner – and the restaurant prides itself on its excellent steaks and British staples such as Devonshire crab, rock oysters and Beef Wellington.

http://www.theguinea.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.

The Old Red Lion

72 High Holborn WC1V 6LS

Nearest tube: Holborn 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: Covent Garden 0.7 miles

 

The hook

A pleasant-looking Victorian pub on a busy London corner. In other words: nothing to write home about – until you spot this understated plaque outside the front door.

IMG_6164The history

EST: 16th century. Monarch: Henry VIII (probably)

One of the most significant episodes in British history was when we decided to decapitate the king – the KING, mind you – and put our trust instead into the rather dreary Oliver Cromwell. After his death in 1658 Cromwell lay in state, king-like (hypocrite) before his burial at Westminster Abbey.

According to the plaque outside the Old Red Lion, Cromwell’s body was kept in the cellars of this pub for a few days after his death, which occurred on September 3 1658. This is just as likely as if a cortege carrying our current head of state’s coffin were to park outside a pub while the undertakers stopped off for a quick pint. However, it seems that the story may be true – but  the dates are wrong.

The late Oliver Cromwell’s little detour to the Old Red Lion probably occurred in 1661 after Charles II had been restored to the throne. Charles –  understandably a bit miffed about Cromwell having orchestrated the execution of his father, Charles I – decided to have Cromwell’s corpse exhumed, hanged and decapitated. So Cromwell’s body and the corpse of one of his late cronies were taken from Westminster Abbey and loaded up on a cart. But on their way to the hanging, the little group stopped off at The Old Red Lion either for a drink, an overnight rest or to await the arrival of a third body. Some even say that Cromwell was eventually buried beneath or near the Old Red Lion. So one way or another, history definitely happened at this pub.

 

The ambiance

The shallow corner plot of this friendly pub creates an L-shaped bar where there’s no room for tables. Consequently everyone stands up or perches on bar stools which makes for a pleasantly buzzing atmosphere.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Greene King

Open: Every day except Sunday

Food: Midday till 2.30pm

Upstairs there’s an atmospheric room named, obviously, the Cromwell Room.  Sadly, the cellars where Cromwell’s body is said to have lain have not yet been opened up for Hallowe’en parties and history talks. They’ve definitely missed a trick there.IMG_6165

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 Anchor

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door Nine

34, Park Street SE1 9EF

Nearest Tube: London Bridge 0.4 miles

Nearest attraction: Borough Market 0.2 miles

 

The hook

The Anchor has a prominent position on Bankside as you emerge from Borough Market via Clink Street. Its attractive outside seating area is the focal point and when you pass by on a summer’s day you will find yourself yearning to join the riverside throng.

 

The history

EST: 1770s (in this incarnation). Monarch: George III

Where do I start? The current Anchor pub was built between 1770-75 on the site of an earlier inn named the Castell on the Hoop, which dates back a cool 800 years. Bustling Bankside would have been unrecognisable then: the narrow mediaeval street was lined with wharves and warehouses while the air was filled with the stench of fish and the unsettling sounds of bear-baiting arenas and brothels. Inhabitants of the latter were known locally as “Winchester Geese” because the Bishop of Winchester owned the brothels and claimed the tax revenues. Nice. A few centuries later this area was the heart of Elizabethan theatreland and Shakespeare may have been a local since this was his stamping ground. The Anchor was a haunt of river pirates and smugglers during its colourful history: when repairs were carried out in the 19th century a wealth of ingenious hiding places for stolen goods and contraband were discovered. This pub has also burnt down (twice) and rebuilt (twice). Other claims to fame are that diarist Samuel Pepys witnessed the Great Fire of London from the comfort of this pub in 1666, and that dictionary supremo Dr Samuel Johnson used to pop in for a pint when he wasn’t engaged on thinking up new words. Sometimes: “ale” and “pipe” are the only words you need.

 

The ambiance

The main bar is a large oak-beamed space broken up into pleasant nooks and cubby holes. But if you can’t find a seat, keep going: there’s a warren of dark rooms spread out over several levels and you will doubtless find an ambiance to suit your mood among the comfortable lounges, bars, mezzanines and galleries.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Greene King

Open: Every day

Food: Every day from midday

The Anchor has a great terrace that’s the place to be in summer. Here you can order Pimms by the jug and watch the world go by overlooking the Thames.

https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pub/anchor-bankside-southwark/p0977/

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 Seven Stars

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door 12

53 Carey St, WC2

Nearest tube: Holborn 0.4 miles

Nearest attraction: Covent Garden 0.6 miles

 

The hook

Well if the black-timbered frontage, the overflowing hanging baskets and the window display of dummies’ heads wearing barristers’ wigs don’t tempt you in, I don’t know what will.

Eccentric legal eagle hangout with a 400-year history

The Seven Stars, Holborn

The history

EST: 1602. Monarch: Elizabeth I

Considering the Seven Stars is one of the few London pubs to have escaped the 1666 Fire of London, very little is known about its history. The building dates back to 1602 when Elizabeth I was on the throne and Shakespeare was adding the final touches to Troilius and Cressida. But all we know about the pub’s early days is that it was probably the haunt of Dutch settlers who favoured this area at the time (pubs were named the “Seven Stars” to attract the custom of people from the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands). Sandwiched between Lincoln’s Inn, Temple Bar and the Royal Courts of Justice the Seven Stars has now become a legal haunt. Who knows what lurid cases have echoed around its four walls – particularly from the days when a guilty verdict tended to end in a rather grisly death.

 

The ambiance

The interior is eccentric to say the least: traditional pub seating is teamed with little bistro-style tables covered with 1950s-style gingham plastic. One ante-room is a former wig shop where some of the erstwhile wares are on display. The ceiling is festooned with dried hops that have seen better days and the steep, narrow stairs to the loo would inspire much hilarity on the part of any modern day building regs inspector. The usual wood panelling is peppered with ceramic displays, customer photographs and film posters featuring anything to do with the law (John Cleese wigged and gowned in A Fish Called Wanda; a similarly bewigged James Robertson Justice in A Pair of Briefs). During my visit there was a team of suited legal figures – presumably from the nearby Inns of Court –  holding a briefing meeting over large glasses of Chardonnay (at 2.30pm, too. Impressive). I also spotted one or two tradespeople and a couple of tourists so no-one need feel out of place in this rather bizarre boozer. It’s a small, friendly space that doesn’t take itself too seriously despite its relatively posh clientele.

Film posters and dried hops - an unlikely pairing

The interior of the Seven Stars

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Every day

Food: Every day from 1pm

The Seven Stars serves a good range of cask beers and hearty, home-cooked fare. All dishes are advertised on a chalkboard and include the likes of stews, casseroles, pies, cheeseboards etc. Prices are reasonable and the reviews are pretty good.

http://www.thesevenstars1602.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.

The Ship

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door 10

12, Gate Street, WC2A 3HP

Nearest tube: Holborn 285ft

Nearest attraction: Covent Garden 0.5 miles

The Holborn pub where people pretending to be drinkers gathered together to pray....you couldn't make it up

The attractive frontage of the Ship Tavern

The Hook

Another black-beamed, plant-festooned, leaded-light-windowed classic down a little side alley just around the corner from Holborn station.

 

The history

EST: 1549. Monarch: Edward VI

Many of us would consider the boozy camaraderie of a pub to be preferable to sitting through a solemn church service. Yet 16th century visitors to the Ship actually went to the pub for a quick top-up of religion rather than for a beer and a laugh. Henry VIII’s falling-out with the church drove England’s Catholics underground – or to the pub in the Ship’s case. Outlawed priests made their base at the inn and Mass was conducted from behind the bar. Whenever the state’s officials happened to be spotted outside, the officiator would head for a handy priest’s hole and the rest of the “congregation” would return to their pints.

The Ship dates back to 1549 when Henry VIII’s scholarly young son Edward VI was enjoying a brief spell on the throne before his death four years later at the tender age of 15. Most of the pub’s earliest customers were labourers from the nearby Lincoln’s Inn Fields but it later became a favourite with deckhands from the nearby dockyards. It was also frequented by one Richard Penderel, a Royalist who on September 4, 1651, helped the 21-year-old future Charles II escape from Cromwell’s army by giving him a rough haircut and disguising him as a woodman. A great story to tell down the pub if ever there was one. Colourful 18th century patrons included Chevalier d’Eon, a renowned cross-dresser and spy, and John Smeaton, designer of the third Eddystone Lighthouse.

ShipTavern 64The ambiance

The relatively small space is cunningly divided up by means of dark panelled screens to provide quiet booths for groups of friends, city workers and lone newspaper-readers who make up the clientele.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Daily

Food: Daily from midday

Being an independent pub, dining at the Ship is a bit less generic than elsewhere. Besides the inevitable pies, bangers and fish ‘n chips you can also opt for venison, duck, plaice and ribs. The starters are varied and the trio of soups were particularly noteworthy: a shot of gazpacho flanked by two espresso cups of broth served with a bread roll and a trio of butters. Highly delicious and Instagram-worthy.

http://www.theshiptavern.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.