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?

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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?

Princess Louise

208-209 High Holborn, WC1V 7BW

Nearest tube: Holborn

The Hook

The Princess Louise is nothing much to look at from the outside. Okay, the windows may be fancy and there are some ornate carvings on the pillars. But the brown paintwork and rather drab signage hardly beckon you in. Persevere, however – inside the Princess Louise will blow your mind.

The history

EST: 1872. Monarch: Victoria

The existing building dates back to 1872 and the interior was remodelled in the 1890s. A relatively new boozer, in fact. High Holborn itself has a long history: The Knights Templar’s first round church was built here in the 12th century. What I do find interesting from a historical point of view is the name of this pub. Princess Louise was the sixth child of Queen Victoria, an intelligent, artistic girl who was often regarded as the Queen’s most beautiful daughter. Born in 1848 she was a talented artist and sculptor as well as something of a celebrity in her day.

Her many talents earned her the unofficial position as secretary to her mother the Queen between 1866 and 1871, after which her marriage to the future Duke of Argyll put an end to this arrangement. It was about this time that the pub was built, though why it was named after a royal princess in her twenties is not clear. Perhaps it was renamed after her death in 1939? By all accounts, Princess Louise was a bit of a character and frequently the subject of gossip. She enjoyed a smoke, dabbled with nude painting and allegedly had a string of affairs. So in other words, she was definitely someone you would want to have a drink with.

The ambiance

The interior of the Princess Louise is simply amazing. Its Corinthian columns, Victorian tiles, mosaic floors and ornate mirrors are elaborate and over-the-top but also fabulous. The pub features a series of booths partitioned off from each other with cut-glass screens. Each has direct access to the marble-effect bar and provides seating for groups of up to eight. Arrive early if you would like a seat in one of these highly-prized snugs. Stepping inside the Princess Louise is like walking into a Victorian melodrama. Spoiler alert: the butler probably did it.

The other stuff

Brewery: Samuel Smith

Open: Every day, closed Sunday evenings

Food: Served from lunchtime

The Princess Louise’s menu is mostly British but the inevitable steak and kidney pudding and bangers and mash are tempered by more cosmopolitan dishes such as lasagne, chilli and cheesey nachos.

http://princesslouisepub.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 Black Friar

74 Queen Victoria Street, EC4V 4EG

Nearest tube: Blackfriars

BF AThe hook

When I first spotted the Black Friar from my seat on a hugely enjoyable London Duck Tour I was mesmerised by this lovely, Trivial Pursuit-pie shaped building beneath Blackfriars Bridge. Since I was a captive audience on the tour I was forced to sit tight, squirrel away the info and resolve to visit the pub at a later date. And when I eventually did so I discovered that the Black Friar was even better inside than out.

The history

EST: 1875. Monarch: Victoria

Built in 1875, the pub is fairly modern despite its medieval styling. But the name of the Black Friar refers to its position on the site of a former priory. When friars first appeared in medieval England they were something of a novelty since unlike monks (who were cloistered in monasteries) they travelled around, spreading the word in exchange for money to sustain themselves. Nice work if you can get it. There were two main groups of friars in early 13th century London – the Franciscans who were invariably dressed in grey, and the Dominicans whose long black mantles earned them the name the Black Friars. These were later joined by the Carmelites, or the White Friars (I see a theme emerging) and the Augustinians, otherwise known as the Austin Friars. Maybe there were no more drab colours to adopt?

Anyway, the pub is a Grade II listed Arts and Crafts building which means it has plenty of historical merit despite not actually being old. In the “enlightened” 1960s when iconic buildings were being flattened left right and centre, the Black Friar was among those scheduled to be demolished. However, the poet Sir John Betjeman stepped in and led a campaign to keep it. It just goes to show, you can always count on a creative to vouch for a pub as Dickens, Pepys, Marlowe etc will bear out.

The ambiance

The Black Friar has been skillfully designed inside to reflect its Dominican roots. However the arches, carvings and stained glass windows have been teamed with cosy nooks and low lighting to create an interior that is both impressive and snug. Everywhere you look there are sculptures, mosaics and wooden reliefs featuring black friars beaming down on you with happy, smiling faces. In fact it was the Grey Friars who had a reputation for being particularly jolly, but who knows. Maybe the two rival groups engaged in much friendly joshing as they roamed the streets of London, spreading their respective words.

BF 2The other stuff

Brewery: Nicholson

Open: Every day

Food: Served from lunchtime

The Black Friar’s dining room is a revelation with its vaulted-style ceiling that continues the medieval theme.

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

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?

Ye Olde Watling

29 Watling Street, EC4M 9BR

Nearest tubes: St Paul’s, Bank

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?