The Wheatsheaf

The Wheatsheaf pub in Soho, London

The imposing front of the Wheatsheaf pub.

25 Rathbone Place, W1T 1JB

Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: British Museum, 0.5 miles

 

The hook

 The Wheatsheaf resembles an old coaching inn with its mock-Tudor frontage and stable yard-like alley. So it’s hard to believe that this attractive pub hails from as recently as the 1930s. I felt the urge to go in immediately but having discovered it on a Sunday, no amount of prowling around the perimeter would allow me access to this surprisingly nice pub.

 

The history

EST: 1931 Monarch: George V

One of the Wheatsheaf’s claims to fame is that author of 1984 George Orwell once threw up over the bar (though we only have the internet’s word for it, there’s no blue plaque or anything). This is also the pub where a heavily-pickled Dylan Thomas met a pretty London Palladium chorus girl and proposed to her that very evening. They were married a year later.

But there’s a lesser-known writer who plays a crucial part in the Wheatsheaf’s history. Julian Maclaren-Ross was a reprobate, bar-fly, sponger and brilliant writer. Everyone who writes about him does so either with helpless admiration or searing contempt, and most agree that he was the architect of his own doom. Today he would probably be given counselling and a spell in rehab. But in the Forties, he was left to his own devices and consequently frittered away his life in the pub.

Born in South Norwood on July 7 1912 of Indian, Cuban, Scottish and English descent, Julian never quite fitted in anywhere. During World War II he fought in the army but went AWOL and was discharged after a psychological evaluation. He then began his marathon pub crawl that lasted till the 1960s.

A distinctive figure with his sharp suit, camel-hair coat, dark glasses and cane, he would prop up the bar at the Wheatsheaf and hold forth to his fellow drinkers, either as a fascinating raconteur or a pub bore (a matter for debate). Then at closing time he would stagger home, dose himself up on Benzedrine and become a prolific writer of radio plays, film scripts, novels and autobiographies.

His abode was by no means fixed: it went from hotel to boarding house, friends’ sofa to park bench. The BBC was his “poste restante” and when people (usually creditors) showed up asking for him at the broadcasting house offices, staff would simply direct them to one of the local pubs.

By the 1950s – “a decade I could have done without” in Maclaren-Ross’ own words – his life was already spiralling out of control. In November 1964 he made the fatal decision to celebrate the arrival of a royalty cheque with a whole bottle of brandy consumed at the Wheatsheaf. He subsequently died of a heart attack aged just 52.

Despite being such a prolific writer, Maclaren-Ross gained little recognition during his lifetime. His best-known work –  Memoirs of the Forties – were published posthumously in 1965.

 

The ambiance

Ketchup and mustard bottles on every Wheatsheaf table gave it the air of a tacky suburban Sunday lunch venue rather than an inner London pub. But this irksome detail was offset by other, more traditional pub features such as stained glass, wood panelling, wall shelving, high stools etc. And even on a Tuesday evening the Wheatsheaf was pleasantly buzzing with arty types. Julian McClaren-Ross would have approved.

 

Inside the Wheatsheaf pub in Soho, London

The welcome sight of my husband buying me a drink at the Wheatsheaf.

The other stuff

 Brewery: Free house

Open Mondays to Saturdays from midday (closed Sundays)

Food: Served from midday every day except Sunday

The Wheatsheaf is the regular meeting place of a group that calls itself The Sohemian Society of which Julian Maclaren-Ross has been named the “President in Death”. For a small fee everyone is welcome to go along and listen to guest speakers exploring various aspects of Soho life. And as a sign of respect for the departed bar fly, drinking during the talks is actively encouraged.

http://www.thewheatsheaffitzrovia.co.uk

 

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.  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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Dog and Duck*

One of my top ten pubs

18 Bateman Street, W1D 3AJ

Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Piccadilly Circus, 0.4 miles

The Dog and Duck in Soho

The Dog and Duck

The hook

It’s always nice to find love when you’re not actually looking for it. The same goes for a great pub. My friend and I had just had a drink at the French House and were on our way to the Wheatsheaf when we spotted the Dog and Duck and were captivated by its imposing black pillars, beautiful signage and abundant foliage. Sorry, Wheatsheaf: I’m coming for you, but not just yet.

The history

EST 1734. Monarch: George II

The famous landscape artist John Constable lived around the corner in the early 1800s and would apparently nip into the Dog and Duck for a quick pint between masterpieces. But this pub’s heyday was in the 1940s when it became George Orwell’s favourite drinking den. Mind you, several other pubs make the same claim and the erudite author of 1984 is actually said to have thrown up over the bar in the Wheatsheaf nearby. But whether this indicates any sort of preference is a moot point.

It’s hard to get a handle on the man who wrote such a deeply depressing dystopian novel as 1984. He appears to have been a bit of a reactionary, having travelled to Spain to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War even though his poor constitution made him supremely unfit to do so. But he learnt his lesson by being shot in the throat and arm and having to return to England. He joined the Home Guard in World War II and landed a job with the BBC which involved working as a propagandist advancing the country’s national interests. But he loathed this part of the work and resigned in 1943 to take a post on a Socialist newspaper. Obviously a man of integrity but I can’t help imagining him as a bit of a pub bore, banging on about his ideals and ranting at his fellow drinkers while being ineffectually heckled by a sozzled Dylan Thomas in the corner (the two writers frequented the same Soho pubs but whether they ever synchronised their drinking is unclear).

However, the fact that Orwell was a huge fan of pubs elevates him in my estimation. He even wrote an essay for the Evening Standard on his perfect pub, describing a fictional backstreet establishment with good conversation, no music, a Victorian décor and creamy stout on tap. He even gave his fantasy pub a name – The Moon Under Water. I have news for you, George: your idea has been nicked.

But Orwell’s ideal pub sounds less like a Wetherspoon’s and more like the Dog and Duck itself. And there’s further evidence that this pub was his favourite: he chose to celebrate here in August 1945 when Animal Farm was featured by the American Book of the Month Club. Though his pub choice was partly due to the fact that the Dog and Duck’s landlord had managed to get hold of a bottle of absinthe that was 135 per cent proof. Maybe THAT was the night he went on to the Wheatsheaf and threw up over the bar.

The ambiance

The Dog and Duck's shiny interior

The Dog and Duck’s shiny interior

The “EST” date is the only Georgian thing about the Dog and Duck. It was rebuilt in 1897 and its interior is all Victorian opulence with its etched mirrors, glazed tiles and more chandeliers than a pub this size deserves. It’s a shiny, magical space with a warm welcome and cosy seating. We went on a Tuesday lunchtime and had to squeeze ourselves in next to a big group of what looked to be retired media men (they were happily supping pints and appeared much too carefree to be gainfully employed).

The other stuff

Brewery: Nicholson’s

Open: Every day from 11.30am (midday on Sunday)

Food: Served every day

Upstairs there’s a restaurant-cum-bar named the George Orwell Room (obviously). The usual Nicholson’s menu is on offer but the carrot and honey soup was delicious and the service particularly friendly. I asked for butter with my bread – a practice often sniffed at in posher eateries – and instead of announcing haughtily that they didn’t have any (which they didn’t) they sent the chef out to buy some. Now THAT’S service.

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

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

 

 

Morpeth Arms

58 Millbank, SW1P 4RW

Nearest underground: Pimlico 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Tate Britain 0.1 mile

 

Outside the Morpeth Arms

The un-pub-like exterior of the Morpeth Arms

The hook

The Morpeth Arms has a rather bland exterior devoid of the black beams, leaded-light windows and swinging signs that one has come to expect from a pub. But the cheeky blackboard messages outside add a touch of humour that will tempt in the casual Thameside walker.

 

The history

EST: 1845. Monarch: Victoria

This pub occupies a prominent position in a row of well-to-do houses and public buildings. So it’s hard to visualise Millbank as the wasteland of plague pits, bogs and quagmires that it once was.

Unbelievably, someone back in the 19th century decided that a nice big prison was all that was needed to brighten the area up. But the Millbank Penitentiary – opened in 1821 – was doomed from the start. Not only did the festering marshland beneath soon begin to subside under the weight of this massive jail, it also provided the ideal breeding ground for diseases which led to the poorly-nourished inmates dropping like flies. Meanwhile, the sheer size of the prison meant that even the most seasoned of warders kept getting lost in its labyrinthine corridors.

So in 1843, the prison was moved to Pentonville and Millbank Penitentiary was downgraded to a holding depot for convicts waiting to be transported to Australia. Deportation was by no means a new idea: in fact the US had had the dubious honour of being Britain’s chief dumping ground since the early 17th century. But when America gained its independence in the 1770s it rather inconveniently pulled up its virtual drawbridge and obliged us to look elsewhere for our cast-off convicts – many of whom had done nothing worse than steal a loaf or rustle a sheep.

The Australia-bound felons nervously awaited their fate in the underground cells of Millbank, contemplating the odds as to whether or not they would survive the journey. Some died of disease or malnutrition before they could even join a ship.

The Morpeth Arms, built in 1845 to serve the prison warders, stands above these now-deserted cells which are reputedly haunted by the ghosts of perished prisoners – along with a warder or two, presumably still trying to find their way out.

 

The ambiance

The managers of the Morpeth Arms have done their best to create a welcoming space using dark paintwork, low lighting and atmospheric music. The Spying Room upstairs is particularly cosy and provides a clear view of the MI6 building opposite, made even clearer with the aid of the binoculars provided for punters to “spy on the spies”.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Youngs

Open: Every day

Food: Every day from midday

The pub offers an eclectic mix of food options for all types of diner. Whether you identify with today’s well-to-do Pimlico residents or yesterday’s quagmire-dwellers there’s a dish to suit you among the sirloin steaks, scotch eggs, osso bucos and chip butties. Aficionados of the spooky will enjoy the Ghost Cam which provides a live feed to the tunnels beneath the pub, enabling punters to spot any supernatural activity from the comfort of their barstools. Though a display counter showing the number of ghosts spotted to date would have been nice.

http://www.morpetharms.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?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

 

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?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

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.

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

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’re 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? Me too. It’s hard to imagine today but Mayfair in the 15th century mainly consisted of farmlands and open fields and most of the clientele of the original pub was 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 heaved 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.