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.

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The Town of Ramsgate

62 Wapping High St, E1W 2PN

Nearest tube: Wapping 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Tower of London 0.9 miles

The Town of Ramsgate pub from the outside

The Town of Ramsgate

The hook

Adjacent to Wapping Old Stairs, The Town of Ramsgate is marooned in a bland sea of Docklands developments (excuse the maritime references). But its Victorian-tiled frontage, unassuming charm and bright blue paint will make you want to enter.

 

The history

EST 1545. Monarch: Henry VIII

It’s hard to believe that the quiet, respectable Town of Ramsgate was once a hotbed of cutthroats and vagabonds while its cellars were filled with reluctant “sailors” recruited by press gangs when they were too drunk to argue. Meanwhile the crowds would regularly gather at Execution Dock nearby to watch pirates, smugglers and mutineers being hanged to death from a short rope (it took longer that way).

Anyway, it was either on Wapping Old Stairs or in the Town of Ramsgate itself where the notorious Hanging Judge Jeffreys was caught by an angry mob on September 12 1688. Whether the noose-happy judge was having one last tipple at the T of R or escaping from pursuers following a visit to the nearby Prospect of Whitby is a subject of pointless debate. But in any case, he was taken to the Tower of London where he eventually died – not by hanging, as would have been poetic justice, but from kidney problems due to excessive drinking.

Skip forward a century and two other men are now having one last drink together at the Town of Ramsgate before an epic sea voyage: Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian.

Anyone who has seen the Mutiny on the Bounty will recall how the villainous Captain Bligh mistreated his crew to the point where heroic Fletcher Christian was forced to rebel. But the truth is a little less black and white. For one thing, mutiny only occurred after an idyllic sojourn on Tahiti with its welcoming ladyfolk had softened up the crew and made them unwilling to resume their journey with the bad-tempered Bligh. So on April 28 1789, Christian seized control of the ship and cast the captain adrift on a small boat. With him were some of Bligh’s loyal followers and a few crew members who Christian didn’t much like. So these 19 men floated off into the sunset with only five days’ rations to keep them alive.

But Bligh was a cracking sailor and managed to steer his crew an incredible 4,000 miles to safety. He then returned to England where he brought some of the mutineers to justice, eventually dying peacefully in London on December 7 1817.

Meanwhile, Christian and his men returned to the ladyfolk of Tahiti who were a bit less welcoming this time. Anticipating being kicked off the island, Christian tricked some of his cohorts plus a few Tahitians – mostly women – on board the Bounty and then cut the rope, sailing away with his captive “crew”. Among them were six elderly women who were considered no use and were unceremoniously dumped on a nearby island. I like to think of them resourcefully cooking up sea-urchin soup over a camp fire and knitting cardies out of island grass, but they were most likely killed and eaten. Meanwhile Christian and his captives sailed on to Pitcairn where they created a happy mixed-race settlement – happy, that is, until some disgruntled Tahitians slaughtered Christian after an argument. Apparently his last words were: “Oh dear”. A bit of an understatement there, Fletch.

 

The ambiance

The Town of Ramsgate is a long, narrow space made cosy with the aid of wood panelling, parlour palms and old paintings. The friendly atmosphere and cheerful Cockney staff give it a touch of the Old Vics – but in a good way.

Inside the Town of Ramsgate

The Town of Ramsgate’s cosy bar

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open Every day (but closes at 9pm and between 4pm and 5pm midweek)

Food Served daily from midday

This is very much a locals’ pub with quizzes and curry nights. The food is less generic than your average chain pub and dishes include pizza melt burger, a “sharing sausage plate” and paprika spiced salmon. In summer the raised terrace out the back is a charming space for boat-watching.

http://townoframsgate.pub

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 Old Doctor Butler’s Head

2 Masons Avenue, EC2V 5BT

Nearest tube: Moorgate 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: Monument 0.4 miles

The Dickensian frontage of the Old Doctor Butler's Head

The Dickensian frontage of the Old Doctor Butler’s Head

The hook

After walking past Moorgate’s bland city offices and ugly, built-up streets I was blown away by my first sight of the Old Doctor Butler’s Head. It was tucked down a side street straight out of Dickensian London and everything about it – from the upturned oak barrels and the black beams to the abundant foliage – screamed “Come inside!”.

The history

EST 1610. Monarch: James I

Doctor William Butler was either a pioneering physician or a brilliant con artist. Probably both. And he was also a big fan of pubs.

Born in Suffolk in 1535 he was granted a licence to practise medicine after graduating from Clare College Cambridge. This was somewhat surprising since he held an arts degree. But despite being completely unqualified, practice medicine he did.

Until the age of 68 “Doctor” Butler quietly plied his “trade” from an apothecary’s shop in Cambridge. Here he lived with a servant called Nell whose chief job it was to drag him out of the pub every night after a skinful. But the elderly quack was abruptly forced out of obscurity when he performed a “miracle cure” on a local clergyman. Apologies for the over-use of “inverted commas”, but he merits them.

Anyway, it appears that the afflicted man of the cloth had fallen into an opium-induced coma and been given up for dead. But Dr Butler acted promptly and slaughtered a cow, placing the senseless clergyman inside the “cowe’s warme belly” to cure him. Amazingly, it worked – though how the parson reacted on waking up inside a cow is anyone’s guess.

This remarkable feat attracted the attention of the court and in 1614, James I called on Dr Butler to attend him when he sustained a hunting injury at Newmarket. The monarch must have been mightily impressed with the good doctor who was swiftly appointed to the post of court physician.

So Dr Butler headed for London where he carried on blithely practising his own peculiar brand of medicine using increasingly weird and unconventional techniques. His “cure” for epilepsy, for instance, was to fire off a couple of guns close to the patient’s head to scare the condition out of him. And his acclaimed cold-water remedy for the ague was even more bizarre – he simply pushed the patient into the Thames.

However, his piece de resistance was in combining two of his favourite things – medicine and booze – to create a “purging ale” that contained aniseed, caraway, liquorice and strong beer. Whether this cured anything or not is unknown but it’s quite likely some degree of purging took place after drinking it. In any case, Doctor Butler’s ale became so successful that he acquired a chain of pubs of which the Moorgate hostelry is the last. Sadly, Purging Ale is no longer available on tap.

The ambiance

Though pleasantly dark and atmospheric, the interior of the Old Doctor’s Butler’s did not quite live up to the promise of the outside. In place of the hoped-for snug corners and comfy velveteen benches there were large tables flanked by hard stools and leatherette banquettes. But this is simply nit-picking since the pub is evidently hugely popular with city-workers who were happy to fill every cranny and spill out on to the delightful frontage.

Inside the Old Doctor Butler's Head

Inside the Old Doctor Butler’s Head – an odd place to be

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Every day except Saturdays and Sundays

Food: served from lunchtime except at weekends.

The menu was short and uninspiring and my sausage sandwich was more transport caff than gastropub. It also came ready-smothered with brown sauce which seemed a bit of an imposition. I mean, you wouldn’t expect your tea to arrive pre-sugared or your chips to be covered with ketchup, would you? Still, lunch was served swiftly and with a smile – and the food isn’t the main point of this pub in any case.

https://www.olddoctorbutlershead.co.uk/food

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 Queen’s Larder

1 Queen Square, WC1

Nearest tube: Russell Square 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Charles Dickens Museum 0.5 miles

 

The Queen's Larder from the front

The Queen’s Larder from the front

The hook

Tucked away down a side street off busy Southampton Row, the Queen’s Larder is a haven of peace and tranquillity overlooking leafy Queen Square.

 

The history

EST: 1710 (approx) Monarch: Queen Anne

True to its name, The Queen’s Larder is built on the site of a food store kept by a Queen. The monarch in question was Queen Charlotte, wife of “mad” King George III. The jury is still out as to what was actually wrong with him. Was he manic-depressive? Was he suffering from an untreated physical condition? Were his medicines poisoning him? All these theories have been considered over the years but the truth is, he does sound pretty mad.

He would speak randomly at length until he began frothing at the mouth; he talked to trees and he howled like a dog. He also suffered from convulsions so severe that his pages had to sit on him to keep him still. That’s their story, anyway. Queen Charlotte refused to be alone with him after his first bout of madness – mainly because he would hug her very tightly and refuse to let her go.

King George’s doctor lived in Queen Square (named after a different queen – Queen Anne) and Queen Charlotte used the cellars beneath the present-day pub for storing food for her husband’s special diet.

Frustratingly, no one seems to know of what his special diet consisted. And what do you feed a person to stop them from howling like a dog and giving inappropriate bearhugs, anyway? As it happened, King George had simple tastes and would eschew the meat-heavy banquets of the day in favour of a soft-boiled egg, a salad or a Yorkshire pudding. He also had an aversion to sugar. So the chances are that his “special diet” was probably less healthy than his everyday one – and it didn’t work anyway since his madness persisted.

 

The ambiance

The cosy interior of the Queen's Larder.

The cosy interior of the Queen’s Larder.

The Queen’s Larder’s interior is small but delightfully cosy with plenty of nooks and crannies and comfy benches upholstered in crimson. The toilets are typically tiny for an old London pub – I had to displace the ubiquitous newspaper-reading gentleman in order to access the Ladies’. Despite its position slap bang in the middle of WC1 this is very much a locals’ pub. You can even bring your dog.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Every day

Food: Every day

The Greene King sign on the canopy would indicate some brewery affiliation but the Queen’s Larder has its own website and menu. Besides the expected pies and sandwiches there are plenty of basic British comfort foods such as spam fritters, ploughman’s lunches and egg and chips. No doubt King George would have approved – particularly since roast beef with Yorkshire pudding is on the menu.

http://www.queenslarder.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 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 entered 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,  in so doing providing the Plumbers’ Arms with its only real 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 in the programme 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 2017 – 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  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 history 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.

The Grenadier*

One of my top ten pubs

18 Wilton Row, SW1X 7NR

Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner 0.2 miles

Nearest attractions: Buckingham Palace, 0.8 miles, Harrods 0.5 miles

A haunted pub in Belgravia from Georgian times

A lovely haunted pub in a leafy backwater

The hook

It’s unlikely you would ever stumble across this pub if you didn’t know it was there. Even my most prolific pub-visiting friend who knows practically every inn in London hadn’t heard of it. In order to find The Grenadier I had to battle through narrow roads, squeeze past delivery vans and head down a couple of “Private – residents only”. side streets. But when I arrived, boy was it worth it. The sun was glinting down on a magnificent tree that towered over this lovely Georgian building with its red, white and blue paintwork. Shame it was closed.

 

The history

EST: 1818. Monarch: George IV

It was 1815 and the French Imperial Guard were preparing to take on the British forces at Waterloo. This troop of men – Napoleon’s hand-picked elite – were instantly recognisable by their snazzy bearskin headdresses. But elite or not, they were swiftly defeated by Britain’s 1st Regiment of Foot Guards who decided to add insult to injury by adopting bearskins as their own trademark. They also changed their name to the Grenadier Guards which was another intended slight because the Prince Regent believed this to be the name of the French squad. Not surprisingly, the joke fell flat.

The Grenadiers – the pub’s earliest visitors – would drink and play cards in the cellars while their officers used the upstairs room as their mess. But one September night in 1818 a young Grenadier Guard was caught cheating at cards. He was given his comeuppance rather brutally by his fellow players who promptly beat him to death.

The ghost of this unnamed soldier is said to have haunted the pub ever since, particularly in September. Ghostly events take the form of distant moans, blurry figures around the bar and objects that disappear and appear again for no reason. Sounds like a typical night at the pub to me.

However the spookiest story concerns a barman who nipped down to the cellars for a crafty smoke one night in the 1980s. He balanced his ash tray on a barrel and lit up his cigarette…..then three things happened at once. The cellars took on a deathly chill; the landlord’s cat sank its teeth into his leg and the ash tray flew across the room and smashed into a wall. Of course, we only have his word for any of this. But eerie, nonetheless.

The ambiance

Money on the ceiling of the Grenadier

The Grenadier’s ceilings are papered with banknotes

The Grenadier is quaint, old-fashioned and delightfully unpretentious. The Boot room to the front is your typical public bar with rickety wooden furniture and random objects on the walls. Less typically, the ceiling is papered with banknotes put there by punters keen to pay off the ghost’s gambling bills. The back room – the Wellington – is rather more plush with fancy mirrors and dark red chesterfield-style seating. It had a rather spooky atmosphere – or was I imagining things? Mind you my visit was in September, come to think of it……

The other stuff:

 Brewery: Greene King

Open: Every day

Food: Every day from midday

Despite the above, the Grenadier was closed due to a private function when we arrived at midday and only reopened at 1pm, forcing us to lunch at the Plumbers Arms up the road (due to appear in a future blog post). The Grenadier also apparently shuts when a major event is held at Hyde Park in order to avoid being inundated by revellers looking for a quiet bolthole. So a back-up plan may be a good idea when you go.

https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pub/grenadier-belgrave-square/c0800/

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.