2, South Black Lion Lane, W6 9TJ
Nearest tube: Stamford Brook 0.5 miles
Nearest attraction: Kew Gardens 2.7 miles
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.
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.
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 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.
And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.