One of my top five pubs
33 Rose Street, WC2E 9EB
Nearest tube: Leicester Square 0.1 mile
Nearest attraction: Covent Garden 0.1 mile
With its 1950s brickwork and modern signage, the Lamb and Flag is nothing much to write home about from the front. But the constant buzz of people drinking in the alley outside will clue you in to the fact that this pub is definitely worth a second look.
EST 1623. Monarch: James I
If you drink at the Lamb and Flag you’ll be joining a long line of bucks and dandies, wits and gallants according to the plaque outside. This pub is linked to no end of dark deeds, daring dos and of course, that other pub-related “D” – Dickens. Yes, the Lamb and Flag is one of the many, many pubs said to have been patronised by Charles Dickens (however did he find the time to write all those novels?) Actually he was probably a customer before his writing years began: in his teens he earned six shillings a week pasting labels on to boot blacking jars in a factory around the corner. It was about this time – in the early 19th century – that the Lamb and Flag developed its name for bare-knuckle fights (see the Tom Cribb) and was nicknamed the Bucket of Blood as a result.
Talking of blood in large quantities, the Lamb and Flag is also linked to a rather nasty event that occurred nearly two centuries earlier. John Dryden was a 17th century satirist famous for his lampoons. However, it turns out not everyone likes being lampooned and on December 18, 1679 Dryden was set upon by hired thugs in Rose Alley next to the Lamb and Flag. He was left for dead but survived, and despite the offer of a £50 reward his attackers were never identified. However, it is believed that Dryden had cheesed someone off – perhaps right royally, since Charles II’s current mistress was among his targets. Dryden is believed to be the first person who decreed that a sentence in English should never end with a preposition. A rule we should all live by.
This corner of Covent Garden seems to have been a magnet for writers and poets. In 1772, the playwright Richard Sheridan fought a duel at the corner of Bedford Street over an insult that appeared in the Bath Chronicle. And the poet Samuel Butler was a Lamb and Flag local. After the restoration in 1660 he gleefully wrote a long satirical poem poking fun at the Roundheads and Puritans. Though sufficiently popular to spawn pirate copies, his work failed to earn him either much money or a place at court. Perhaps this is why he is described as “poor Samuel Butler” on the plaque outside the pub.
The Lamb and Flag is a jolly, atmospheric boozer filled with life and laughter. Like many of my favourite pubs it has a low-lit interior with dark beams, horse brasses and old prints. We went late on a Saturday afternoon and though it was heaving, there were seats for nearly everyone. It’s hard to say why but it was the highlight of our day’s pub tour. Sometimes a pub just works.
The other stuff
Open: every day
Food: Every day from midday
The Lamb and Flag is big into Christmas parties and has a festive atmosphere all round. Why not celebrate the holiday season where Dickens himself (possibly) did?