Lamb and Flag**

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
The hook

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.

The Lamb and Flag from the outside - note the notorious alley to the right.

The Lamb and Flag from the outside – note the notorious alley to the right.

The history

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 ambiance

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

Brewery: Fullers

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?

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 Cheshire Cheese


145 Fleet St, EC4A 2BU

Nearest tube: Blackfriars 0.4 miles

Nearest attraction: St Paul’s Cathedral, 0.4 miles


The Hook

Tucked away down a Dickensian side street with a name featuring a “Ye” and an extraneous “e” – why wouldn’t any pub buff want to enter one of London’s most famous, historic watering holes? Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is such an obvious candidate for this blog that I’ve resisted including it up to now in an attempt to avoid being too cliché.


The history

EST: 1538. Monarch: Henry VIII

A pub called the Horn occupied the site from around 1538 when Shakespeare was in his twenties and Henry VIII was three wives down. But surprise, surprise – like so many other great pubs it burnt down during the Great Fire of 1666. However, it was rebuilt the following year to become the Fleet Street landmark it is today.

History permeates every nook and cranny of this delightful boozer. The vaulted cellars are thought to originate from the 13th-century Carmelite monastery that originally occupied the site and the pub’s many, many famous patrons are said to have included Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, PG Wodehouse, Voltaire, Princess Margaret and Winston Churchill. I’d have loved to have overheard THAT pub conversation. Samuel Johnson apparently used to dine at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese while Charles Dickens allegedly favoured the table to the right of the fireplace in the ground floor room opposite the bar. The inn was once renowned for its “puddings” made from steak, mushrooms, kidneys, oysters and larks weighing in at between 23 and 36 kilos apiece. The ancient walls of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese have doubtless witnessed countless tragedies, dramas, arguments and the forming of many a drunken bond but my favourite story relates to Polly, a parrot given to the landlord by a sailor in the late 19th century. On Armistice Night 1918 after World War One had ended the over-excited bird apparently mimicked the popping of a champagne cork 400 times (why 400? Who was counting?) before falling off its perch and passing out cold. Polly survived to tell the tale and when it eventually died in 1926 the parrot had become so famous that its obituary appeared in 200 newspapers worldwide.


The ambiance

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a sprawling labyrinth of wood-panelled rooms and passageways, each with their own atmosphere. There is a marked lack of natural light which makes you quickly forget there’s a world outside the pub – as many a former Fleet Street journalist will ruefully tell you.  On my first visit I ended up in a rather unengaging, windowless room seated in an uncomfortable wooden booth while my second stint at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was spent in a buzzing, cave-like bar filled with refectory tables and friendly tourists. There are 10-12 rooms arranged over four or five levels (though again, who’s counting?) so whatever your mood there’ll be a nook to accommodate you. And the open fireplaces that light up the pub in winter make it an even more engaging space.


The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Every day except Sunday

Food: Served from lunchtime

Standard pub food and a limited signal are among the minuses. On the plus side there’s  potentially lively conversation largely uncontaminated by mobile phone use.

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?