Prospect of Whitby

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door 19

One of my top ten pubs

57 Wapping Wall, EC1

Nearest tube: Wapping 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Tower of London 1.5 miles

The Prospect of Whitby in London Docklands

The Prospect of Whitby

The hook

On paper the Prospect of Whitby looks uncannily like its neighbour, the Town of Ramsgate. Both these attractive 16th century taverns with their unlikely regional names are wedged awkwardly between bland Docklands buildings. And each has a lurid, swashbuckling past peppered with tales of misdeeds and hangings.

The history

EST: 1520.Monarch: Henry VIII

The Prospect of Whitby was once a hotbed of cut-throats, pirates and felons. In fact, so dastardly was its clientele that it became known to the locals as The Devil’s Tavern. The publican shrewdly left this name off the signage, however, forcing anyone arranging to meet there to describe it as “the pub near the Prospect of Whitby” – the name of a ship moored nearby. And the name stuck.

Just like the Town of Ramsgate, the Prospect of Whitby claims to be close to the site of Execution Dock where many a pirate was hanged. There is even a replica scaffold outside to illustrate this point to more bloodthirsty customers.

And surprise surprise – the Prospect also claims to have been a favourite with the notorious Hanging Judge Jeffreys, just like the Town of Ramsgate. The 17th century judge executed hundreds of people who plotted against the unpopular King James II. Unashamedly Catholic in a predominantly Protestant era, James was eventually deposed and replaced with a new king and queen – his own daughter Mary and his nephew William. Christmas must have been awkward that year.

Suddenly being out of a job and already the object of universal hatred, Hanging J-J decided to escape to Hamburg dressed as a sailor. But his fatal mistake was to stop for one last drink at a Dockland pub….which led to his capture (again, see the Town of Ramsgate).

Bygone regulars of the Prospect of Whitby have included the diarist Samuel Pepys, artists Turner and Whistler and the explorer Sir Hugh Willoughby who sailed from here in 1553 to seek the North-East Passage. He should have stayed in the pub: the mission was a spectacular failure and Willoughby’s frozen corpse was discovered by Russian sailors the following spring.

Over the next few centuries the Prospect served ale to an eclectic mix of celebrities including Judy Garland, Paul Newman, Princess Margaret, Richard Burton, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Frank Sinatra and Charles Dickens. It also held cock-fights and bear-knuckle fights. So basically, it had something for everyone.

The ambiance

Inside the Prospect of Whitby at London's Docklands

My friend Sue buying me a drink inside the piratey Prospect

I was a little biased against the Prospect of Whitby before my visit as I couldn’t work out why it received so much more acclaim than its charming underdog neighbour, the Town of Ramsgate. But when I entered I understood. The Prospect of Whitby is simply a cracking pub where history is engrained into the very fabric of its building, There’s no need to squint your eyes or exert your imagination to visualise this ancient tavern as a notorious pirates’ hangout. No: the rickety stairs, stone-flagged floors, off-kilter doors, rum flagons, sailing ropes and skulls-and-crossbones do that for you.

The other stuff

Brewery: Greene King

Open Every day

Food served daily from midday

The disappointingly standard Greene King menu is supplemented by a few extras such as Mexican salads and pulled pork nachos. There’s a charming main bar, a riverside restaurant, an upstairs Smugglers’ Bar and a pleasant “secret garden” – not that secret, since it is clearly marked as you can see from the picture above – where you can sit back with a drink  and enjoy an uninterrupted view of the sinister scaffold below.

https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pub/prospect-of-whitby-wapping/c8166/


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*

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door 16

One of my top ten pubs

18 Bateman Street, W1D 3AJ

Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Picadilly 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.

 

 

The Black Lion

2, South Black Lion Lane, W6 9TJ

Nearest tube: Stamford Brook 0.5 miles

Nearest attraction: Kew Gardens 2.7 miles

 

The Black Lion pub in Hammersmith

The Black Lion

The hook

The frontage of this pleasant-looking pub is somewhat whiter than you would expect from a hostelry calling itself the Black Lion. In fact remarkably little effort has gone into brand-positioning this pub or drawing in the punters. Signs outside urge you to leave the premises quietly whereas it would be nice to have been welcomed inside to enjoy the food or to find out about the pub’s rather cracking history.

 

The history

EST: Around 1754. Monarch: George II

Few pubs can boast a legacy that features ghosts, murder, irony – and an interesting legal loophole. Yet the Black Lion delivers on all counts. The story dates back to 1803 when frequent sightings of a “ghost” occurred around the Hammersmith area. Apparently a tall, white-clad figure would hang around the churchyard, springing out at women and “wrapping its spectral arms” around them. Hmm. Anyway, fear and anger were running high in Hammersmith and on January 3 1804, a young buck named Francis Smith decided to take action after a night’s drinking at the Black Lion.

A bit of background: class divisions were huge in 19th century Britain and people would dress according to their occupation. So agricultural workers would wear smocks while butchers sported aprons and bricklayers wore white trousers and waistcoats and so on. So when an unsuspecting bricklayer named James Millwood headed home from work on the night of the drink-fuelled vigilante’s rampage – dressed all in white – you can guess what happened.

Smith opened fire on the “ghostly” Millwood and upon realising what he had done, he took the injured bricklayer back to the Black Lion where a doctor pronounced him dead. What happened to the real woman-hugging Hammersmith ghost is not known. But ironically, it is James Millwood’s ghost that is now said to haunt the Black Lion.

Francis Smith was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but this was commuted to a year’s hard labour after it was successfully argued that he honestly believed Millwood to be a ghost. This legal point was clarified in 1984 but the mistaken identity clause still generates arguments to this day.

 

The ambiance

I was in two minds as to whether to include the Black Lion in my list of historic pubs. Its history definitely delivers but this is one of those “is-it-a-pub-or-is-it-a-restaurant-pretending-to-be-a-pub” sort of places. My heart sank when we entered and clocked the rows of dining tables and identically-clad servers trying to seat us for lunch (REAL publicans don’t care whether or not you find a seat). When we tried to fob them off they relented and told us we could sit anywhere. And beyond the dining tables were some cosy wingback armchairs beside a wood-burning stove. The fact that there were dogs underfoot earned the Black Lion another Pub Point. And we certainly couldn’t fault their welcome – so warm in fact that they didn’t even chase us down when we accidently left without paying. Luckily we realised our error and returned to settle our bill. Honest, guv.

The fireside seat at the Black Lion in Hammersmith

The fireside seat at the Black Lion

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open Every day

Food served daily from midday

While the menu included the usual fish ‘n chips and Sunday roasts, there were also less run-of-the-mill options such as a delicious soup made from cannellini beans and red kale. Another feature of this rather offbeat pub was an unexpected skittle alley which proved to be a big draw for kids. All in all, a definite one-off and more Pub than Not Pub.

http://theblacklion-hammersmith.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.

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.

 

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?

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

Fox and Anchor

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door Five

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.