Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door Eight

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 on November 11 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?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

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The Seven Stars

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door 12

53 Carey St, WC2

Nearest tube: Holborn 0.4 miles

Nearest attraction: Covent Garden 0.6 miles

 

The hook

Well if the black-timbered frontage, the overflowing hanging baskets and the window display of dummies’ heads wearing barristers’ wigs don’t tempt you in, I don’t know what will.

Eccentric legal eagle hangout with a 400-year history

The Seven Stars, Holborn

The history

EST: 1602. Monarch: Elizabeth I

Considering the Seven Stars is one of the few London pubs to have escaped the 1666 Fire of London, very little is known about its history. The building dates back to 1602 when Elizabeth I was on the throne and Shakespeare was adding the final touches to Troilius and Cressida. But all we know about the pub’s early days is that it was probably the haunt of Dutch settlers who favoured this area at the time (pubs were named the “Seven Stars” to attract the custom of people from the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands). Sandwiched between Lincoln’s Inn, Temple Bar and the Royal Courts of Justice the Seven Stars has now become a legal haunt. Who knows what lurid cases have echoed around its four walls – particularly from the days when a guilty verdict tended to end in a rather grisly death.

 

The ambiance

The interior is eccentric to say the least: traditional pub seating is teamed with little bistro-style tables covered with 1950s-style gingham plastic. One ante-room is a former wig shop where some of the erstwhile wares are on display. The ceiling is festooned with dried hops that have seen better days and the steep, narrow stairs to the loo would inspire much hilarity on the part of any modern day building regs inspector. The usual wood panelling is peppered with ceramic displays, customer photographs and film posters featuring anything to do with the law (John Cleese wigged and gowned in A Fish Called Wanda; a similarly bewigged James Robertson Justice in A Pair of Briefs). During my visit there was a team of suited legal figures – presumably from the nearby Inns of Court –  holding a briefing meeting over large glasses of Chardonnay (at 2.30pm, too. Impressive). I also spotted one or two tradespeople and a couple of tourists so no-one need feel out of place in this rather bizarre boozer. It’s a small, friendly space that doesn’t take itself too seriously despite its relatively posh clientele.

Film posters and dried hops - an unlikely pairing

The interior of the Seven Stars

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Every day

Food: Every day from 1pm

The Seven Stars serves a good range of cask beers and hearty, home-cooked fare. All dishes are advertised on a chalkboard and include the likes of stews, casseroles, pies, cheeseboards etc. Prices are reasonable and the reviews are pretty good.

http://www.thesevenstars1602.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 George

The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door Seven

77 Borough High Street, SE1 1NH

Nearest tube: London Bridge 0.4 miles

Nearest attraction: Borough Market 0.2 miles

 

The Hook

If you want an idea of what The George is like, here’s a tip: don’t visit their website. This makes it out to be any old run-of-the-mill boozer where you would pop in for an after-work pint. But the George, tucked away in its own little courtyard off Borough High Street, is a magnificent galleried coaching inn that will blow you away when you see it.

 

The history

EST: 1676. Monarch: Charles II

The George stands on the site of an old inn where Elizabethan actors once performed in the courtyard to audiences in the galleries above. In fact Shakespeare himself probably visited the pub since Southwark was his stamping ground. Sadly there’s no proof that the elusive bard ever popped in for a drink, nice as it would have been to discover his name carved in an oak beam or find a scribbled draft of As You Like It tucked down the side of a pew. The George was rebuilt after a fire in 1676 and served as a coaching inn with a coffee room in the present-day Middle Bar; a passenger waiting room in the Parliament Bar and guest bedrooms in the upstairs gallery, which is now used as a restaurant. Proof of Shakespeare’s patronage might be absent but Charles Dickens was definitely a customer. In fact he even immortalised the George in his novel Little Dorrit, making it the pub where the title character’s ne’er-do-well brother wrote his begging letters.

 

The ambiance

The narrow passages, steep stairways and warren-like rooms give the George a wonderfully cosy ambiance. As London’s last remaining galleried inn it is quite unique and is owned by the National Trust. Go there in winter for a hot toddy in atmospheric surroundings, or head for the delightfully sunny courtyard in summer. Here you can contemplate your own mortality (in a good way), wedged between the galleried inn from Charles II’s reign and the the contemporary bustle of Borough High Street with the sci-fi Shard towering above you.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Greene King

Open: every day

Food: Served every day

The George honours its historic coffee house roots by offering lattes, cappuccinos and Americanos.

http://www.george-southwark.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.