The Plumbers Arms

14 Lower Belgrave Street, SW1W 0LN

Nearest tube: Victoria 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Buckingham Palace 0.6 miles

The Plumbers Arms from the front

The attractive frontage of The Plumbers Arms

The Hook

A nice-enough pub from the outside, The Plumbers Arms is bedecked with hanging baskets and situated in a pleasant whitewashed Belgravia terrace.

 

The history

EST: 1820s. Monarch: George IV

History definitely happened at this pub – but it was random, bloody, indiscriminate history that occurred at a particular moment in time. After years of quietly serving ale to the servants and footmen of local master builder Sir Thomas Cubitt, the peace of the Plumbers Arms was shattered one night when a bloodstained woman burst into the bar begging for help. It was a case of Hammer Horror meets Cluedo in a grisly whodunnit with the chief suspect being Lord Lucan in the basement with lead piping.

Lady Lucan and her children occupied a house up the road at number 46. According to the landlord she burst into the Plumbers Arms on the evening of November 7, 1974 covered in blood and crying: “Help me, help me, I’ve just escaped from being murdered”. We’ll have to excuse her bad syntax on account of the shock. She claimed that earlier that evening she had sent her nanny, Sandra Rivett, down to the basement kitchen to bring her up a cup of tea. But unbeknown to Lady Lucan her estranged husband had apparently snuck into the house and bludgeoned the red-headed nanny to death in the mistaken belief that she was  his blonder, slimmer wife. Hmmm. After realising his mistake Lord Lucan then allegedly set about his actual wife with the aforesaid lead piping. But she fought back and managed to escape, and in doing so provided the Plumbers’ Arms with its only claim to fame.

Lord Lucan fled the scene and has been missing ever since. In June 2017 a documentary – Lord Lucan: My Husband, the Truth – was aired on UK TV but it shed little light on the events of November 7. And Lady Lucan herself came across as cold, detached and ambivalent towards the spouse who had apparently tried to brutally kill her after slaying the domestic. So, what really happened that night?

On September 26 this year – just three months after the documentary was aired – Lady Lucan was found dead in her Belgravia cottage. And just like so many of the other major events of her life, her death was officially  “unexplained”.

A view of the Plumbers Arms' interior from the corner snug.

A view of the Plumbers Arms’ interior from the corner snug.

The ambiance

Despite its central London location and its posh address, the Plumber’s Arms has the feeling of a corner local where elderly men go to read their morning newspaper and where tradesmen enjoy their after-work pint. Despite the dramatic events of 1974, life goes on quietly at the Plumber’s Arms. In fact you would never even guess at its lurid claim to fame if there hadn’t been a huge account of it framed and hanging on the wall as you go in.

The framed account of the Plumbers Arms' history

The framed account of the Plumbers Arms’ history

The other stuff

Brewery: Greene King

Open: Every day except Sunday

Food: Every day except Sunday from midday. No food Saturday evenings.

The standard Greene King food menu was supplemented by a few intriguing blackboard specials. We chose the smashed-up avocado on toast with smoked salmon and poached egg which was delicately spiced and surprisingly delicious for a little more than a fiver.

https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pub/plumbers-arms-belgravia/c0685/

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?

Advertisements

Ye Olde Mitre**

One of my top five pubs

1 Ely Court, Ely Place,  EC1N 6SJ

Nearest tube: Farringdon 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: St Paul’s 0.5 miles

 

A hidden London pub near Holborn.

Hidden down a narrow alley, Ye Olde Mitre is a delightful find.

The hook

The first time I tracked down Ye Olde Mitre – at the end of a ridiculous alley that could have been someone’s side passage if only it weren’t too narrow – I was charmed by its hidden-away magic. But sadly, it was closed. So I was forced to peer into the dark windows and prowl around its miniscule perimeter resolving to come back later. And when I did, I found it to be everything I’d expected and more. And what a history.

 

 The history

 EST: 1546. Monarch: Elizabeth I

For nearly five centuries the successive Bishops of Ely occupied a palace on the site of the present-day Ely Place. Before that, the Temple was where Ely bishops would lodge when up from their native Cambridgeshire in search of some London life. But in 1290 the incumbent bishop fell out with the Knights Templar (as you do) and found new quarters in Holborn.

The original Mitre pub was built to cater for the servants who worked at the Bishop of Ely’s Palace. This residence had glorious grounds with a vineyard, an orchard, fountains and several ponds. In fact it was considered too beautiful for the likes of us Londoners and was declared a part of Cambridgeshire by the bishops. And technically it still is according to some, though the pub’s licensing laws stopped being administered by Cambridgeshire in the 1960s.

Every online mention of Ye Olde Mitre claims that Elizabeth the First once danced around a cherry tree in its garden. But why? How old was she? What was she doing in the garden, and why would a reigning monarch do something so indiscreet as to be remembered through the centuries?

Some people claim that Elizabeth danced around a maypole, not a tree (or perhaps the tree itself was used as a makeshift maypole?) Actually, this makes sense since maypole-dancing was popular in Elizabethan times. What makes even more sense is the fact that the Queen had someone attractive to dance with.

Sir Christopher Hatton was tall, handsome and an accomplished dancer. He was also extremely handy since he lived next door. Mind you, this was no coincidence since the Queen had forced the bishops to lease him some land on pain of defrocking them. Apparently, Sir C was something of a favourite with our queen: besides giving him the bishops’ lands she also made him captain of the yeomen of the guard and had him knighted. And it was Sir Christopher with whom she is said to have danced around the maypole and/or tree.

This cherry tree has another significance: apparently it was planted to mark the boundary between Sir Christopher’s lands and Ely Place. In fact you can still see part of its trunk preserved in the front bar.

Sir Christopher’s legacy lives on and Hatton Garden is now renowned for its high-class jewellery stores. Strange that it was named after some random bloke the queen once fancied.

 

Quaint plaque at an Elizabethan pub in London

The remains of the famous cherry tree is on display in Ye Olde Mitre’s front bar.

The ambiance

 It was 6.30pm on a Wednesday and Ye Olde Mitre was heaving, but delightful nonetheless. The bar staff were friendly and engaging – they actually caught OUR eye as we came in rather than the other way round – and it didn’t take long for us to get served. The interior is tiny but there are plenty of places where you can stand outside, some of them under cover. There’s also an upstairs room –  the Bishops’ Room, naturally – that can be hired out. Ye Olde Mitre is highly atmospheric with its dark panelling, heavy oak furniture and Elizabethan memorabilia. In fact it is the quintessential English boozer. Your actual Pubby McPubface.

A cosy upstairs room at Ye Olde Mitre

The Bishops Room at Ye Olde Mitre

The other stuff

Brewery: Fullers

Open – Monday-Friday

Food: From 11.30 Monday-Friday

Don’t get too excited about the food as it’s mainly of the toasted sandwich and pork pie ilk. Seats are like gold dust and you aren’t allowed to move them, but if you’re bent on sitting down there’s a snug for up to ten you can hire as well as the aforesaid Bishops Room which accommodates 30.

http://www.yeoldemitreholborn.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?

The Old Shades

37 Whitehall, SW1A 2BX

Nearest tube: Charing Cross 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: National Gallery 0.2 miles

 

The Hook

The Old Shades is one of those narrow, elegant pubs you will find all over London wedged between newsagents’ and souvenir shops. Pass by with your eyes at street level and it will barely register. But look up and you will be stunned by the fabulous exterior with its mullioned windows, gothic styling and ornate curlicues. Whatever any of that means.

 

The history

EST: 1898. Monarch: Victoria

I’ve been trying and failing to discover any historical context for this relatively new pub. Besides the fact that it was built between the two Boer Wars it seems to have enjoyed a fairly dull existence. But then it occurred to me that the ground on which the pub was built was once bang in the middle of the largest palace in Europe – one that eclipsed even the Vatican in terms of size and opulence.  And shedloads of history happened here.

The Palace of Whitehall was built in the 1530s in vast grounds backing on to the Thames. It boasted more than 1,500 rooms and extended from Trafalgar Square to the north to beyond Downing Street to the south.

Henry VIII added a cockpit and a bear-baiting arena and made the palace his home. It was here where he married the ill-fated Anne Boleyn on January 25 1533. And it was also where he married Jane Seymour 11 days after poor Anne’s execution. Nice to leave a seemly gap between spouses.

More than 70 years later James I improved the palace by adding a Banqueting House. Ironically it was outside this very building that his son was beheaded on January 30 1649. The Banqueting House still stands and much praying and wreath-laying takes place each year on the anniversary of Charles I’s death.

Sadly, this is all that remains of the Palace of Whitehall on account of an almighty gaffe by an anonymous Dutch laundrywoman. Apparently she left some clothes out to dry in front of an open fire. It must seemed have like a good idea at the time, but they caught alight and the entire palace was burnt to the ground on January 5 1698.

 

The ambiance

Although it appears tiny from the outside, the Old Shades has a deep exterior with an attractive Victorian bar running along its length. Behind there is a cosy back room with wood-panelled walls and plenty of booths. All very pubby and welcoming.

 

The other stuff:

Brewery: Free house

Open: Every day

Food: Every day from midday

Unusual beer offerings include Mad Goose, Damson Porter and Old Rosie. The menu is classic British with your usual sausages, pies etc plus other home-grown specialities such as Whitby Bay prawns and Eton Mess.

oldshades.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?

The Rising Sun, Smithfield

38 Cloth Fair, EC1A 7JQ

Nearest tube: Barbican 0.1 mile

Nearest attraction: Museum of London 0.3 miles

 

 The hook

A pleasant-looking pub on a quiet Smithfield corner in the shadow of the grand, 12th century church St Bartholomew-the-Great.

 The history

EST 1616. Monarch James I

The Rising Sun is thought to have existed from the 17th century under the name of the Starre Tavern. But its darkest period of history occurred much later.

The early 19th century was a relatively enlightened period for Britain when the number of executions taking place each year tailed off from several hundred to just a few dozen. Meanwhile, medical research was improving fast. But hospitals needed fresh bodies for dissection….. and it was the hangman who usually kept them supplied.

Enter the body-snatchers: unscrupulous scoundrels who would prowl through the graveyards at night looking for newly-buried bodies to dig up and sell for research. Unbelievably, this wasn’t a crime in those days – merely a misdemeanor punishable by little more than a fine. But still there weren’t enough bodies to go around. So the resurrectionists had to turn their sights on to the living.

Body-snatchers were said to have used the Rising Sun – initially as a meeting place and then later as a hunting ground. Regulars would “go missing”, apparently after having been drugged and slaughtered for their fresh corpses. Though these grisly stories are unsubstantiated, there was definitely a team of murderous body-snatchers preying on pub-goers in this area at the time.

John Bishop and Thomas Williams pleaded guilty to selling up to 1,000 bodies to anatomists over a 12-year period in the early 1800s. Most were taken from graveyards but some – such as a boy found sleeping in the Smithfield pig-market and a Lincolnshire lad innocently drinking nearby – were drugged and murdered.

The Lincolnshire boy was taken from the Bell tavern and a second pub – The Fortune of War – was also implicated in body-snatching. Both inns are now long gone but both were a stone’s throw from the Rising Sun. So it’s perfectly plausible that the body-snatchers preyed there too.

Bishop and Williams were hanged for murder on December 5 1831 and their bodies were sent immediately for dissection. How they must have laughed at the irony.

The ambiance

The Rising Sun is pleasantly appointed and brightly lit, but I still found the atmosphere to be brooding and somewhat unsettling. This could have been psychosomatic on account of all that body-snatching (see above) but also because of the ghostly tales associated with the pub: of bartenders hearing the sound of running footsteps upstairs while clearing up after their evening shift; of female bar staff sleeping on the premises and registering a “ghostly presence” plucking at their bedclothes.  And then there was the landlady busy showering upstairs when the bathroom door opened, the shower curtain pulled aside and an ice-cold hand ran down her back. Literally a spine-chilling experience.

A dart-player whiles away a Saturday afternoon at the Rising Sun.

The Rising Sun’s pleasant interior.

The other stuff

Brewery: Samuel Smith’s

Open: Every day

Food: Lunchtimes and evenings Tuesday-Friday, lunchtimes only Saturday-Monday

The regularly-used dartboard adds a homely, local touch to this old-fashioned pub. The upstairs room is an awkward mish-mash between bar and restaurant but if you can ignore the tale of those running footsteps it is a pleasant-enough space with magnificent views of the church next door.

http://www.risingsunbarbican.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?

Old Bell Tavern

95 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH

Nearest tube: Blackfriars 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: St Paul’s 0.3 miles

 

The hook

 Situated in a rather scruffy building between two Fleet Street shops, The Old Bell is not the most prepossessing of pubs from the outside. But the multi-hued leaded-light windows are quite lovely and the deep doorway with its wrought iron curlicues makes you eager to find out what’s inside.

 

The history

 EST 1678. Monarch: Charles II

The Old Bell stands on the site of an earlier tavern – the Swan – and in 1500 became the location of Fleet Street’s first ever printer’s. The aptly-named Wynkyn de Worde ran a workshop from the premises and his credentials were impeccable, having previously worked for none other than William Caxton himself. The current Old Bell (previously the Golden Bell and later the Twelve Bells) has been greatly renovated but was originally built in 1678 by London’s most famous architect. Sir Christopher Wren knocked up the pub to accommodate the stone masons working on a nearby project (see Ye Olde Watling). Not St Paul’s this time, but St Bride’s – the decorative church with the elaborately-tiered spire that has been the inspiration for many a wedding cake.

When Fleet Street became the centre for Britain’s national press, the local pubs became the haunt of journalists who were renowned for their (our) heavy drinking. Perhaps it was this predilection for the bottle that cost one hack the biggest scoop of his life.

Back in the early days of the Cold War, one Eric Tullett of the Sunday Express had been given the top-secret details of a national code-breaking facility, later to become the GCHQ. But he left his notebook at the Old Bell. It was later found by a barmaid who spotted the words “secret” and “Moscow” in Tullett’s notes and promptly alerted the police, who shared it with MI5. The Foreign Office eventually allowed part of Tullett’s story to go ahead, but all mention of the code-breaking facility had to be left out. This happened in 1951 and Tullett’s state secrets about the GCHQ only came to light in the 1970s some 20-odd years later.  So it just goes to show, the humble pub can actually STOP history from happening.

The ambiance

Inside the Old Bell

Inside the Old Bell

The central bar creates a circular hub in this pub’s pleasant interior. The large fireplace adds a cosy touch, as do the many armchairs and crannies. We visited on a summer’s afternoon in August when the pub was fairly empty but the bustling bar staff and the sound system belting out eighties’ hits created a buzzing atmosphere.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Nicholson

Open: Every day but closed Saturday and Sunday evenings

Food: Every day from lunchtime

The rear entrance opens on to St Bride’s Avenue which is a boon in summer when the customers can spill out and drink a toast to the church the locals built.

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

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?

Fox and Anchor

115, Charterhouse Street, EC1M 6AA

Nearest tube: Barbican 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: Museum of London 0.5 miles

The ornate Fox and Anchor from the outside

The ornate Fox and Anchor from the outside

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.

The Fox and Anchor frontage in all its glory

The Fox and Anchor frontage in all its glory

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

Brewery: Young’s

Open: Every day: from 7am Monday-Friday

Food: Every day: breakfast from 7am Monday-Friday

The Fox and Anchor is a rather unexpected hotel with six boutique bedrooms. The meat-heavy menu is 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. And to see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

The Queens Head

15 Denman Street, London, W1D 7HN

Nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus 0.1 mile

Nearest attraction: National Gallery 0.3 miles

 

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.

The Queen's Head's ornate interior.

The Queen’s Head’s ornate interior.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Every day

Food: Served from midday to 10pm

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