115, Charterhouse Street, EC1M 6AA
Nearest tube: Barbican
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.
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.
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.
The 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
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