Eight historic London pubs

By Emilee Tombs

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September 2017

Ask almost any barkeep in London what their pub’s claim to fame is, and they’ll likely tell you that Charles Dickens used to prop up the bar. And while they’re probably right – the writer sure loved a London boozer – there are plenty more interesting claims to fame, from the star-studded to the terrifying. Local writer Emilee Tombs uncovers London’s ritziest and grisliest of pubs.

Fit for a Queen: Ye Olde Mitre

The lowdown: Founded in 1546, Ye Olde Mitre is not only one of the capital’s oldest boozers, but it’s home to the most famous wedding guest gossip in the whole of London, possibly even the world. It was here, in the courtyard outside the wood-panelled pub, on the eve of her father Henry VIII’s wedding, Queen Elizabeth I is said to have danced around a cherry tree with her court favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton. Almost impossible to find, tucked between numbers eight and nine down a nondescript alley in Hatton Garden, Ye Olde Mitre is a traditional London pub, with the exception of a certain famous preserved cherry tree sitting in one of its dark corners.

Nearest Tube: Chancery Lane

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The tavern is sandwiched between the supposed sites of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd’s barber and his mistress Mrs Lovett’s pie shop.

Perfect for pirates: The Prospect of Whitby

The lowdown: Located in Wapping, The Prospect of Whitby occupies a choice spot on the River Thames, and attracts a mixed crowd of in-the-know locals and travellers, who come to enjoy the views from its terrace. Back in the day it was frequented by sailors, pirates and smugglers, the latter of which used the pub as a base from which to conduct their dodgy dealings. During the 17th century, hangings ordered by the notoriously punitive Judge Jeffreys, were conducted nearby in view of the pub, and today a noose still stands outside to mark this dark past. It’s believed that JMW Turner used to paint here too, while the diarist Samuel Pepys was also a regular.

Nearest Tube: Wapping

  • Gallic charm is the order of the day at The French House in Soho © Press Image/ Charlie Daley.

    Vive La France

    Imagine a boozer with a no mobile, no music and no machines rule… Little wonder The French House is a haven for bon vivants, all eager for a decent tipple and a chinwag. Order one of their excellent wines by the glass and while away a pleasant evening trying to spot celebrities.

  • After an invigorating walk across Hampstead Heath, it’s time for a refreshing pint at The Spaniards Inn © Alamy.

    Did you know…?

    You’ll be following in the footsteps of literary royalty at this 16th-century inn. Not only does it appear in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but poets Lord Byron and John Keats once propped up the bar, with the latter reportedly penning Ode to a Nightingale here.

  • Ye Olde Mitre dates back to 1546, making it one of the oldest pubs in town © Press Image.

    A royal knees-up

    Tucked down an alleyway in Hatton Garden, Ye Olde Mitre ticks every box: it’s cosy, serves real ale and it has a story to tell, too. It was here, in the courtyard, that Queen Elizabeth I is said to have danced around a cherry tree with court favourite Sir Christopher Hatton.

A foodie favourite: The Harwood Arms

The lowdown: In a city obsessed with food, it’s a major coup to be known as the only pub in London to have achieved Michelin star status. The award-winning menu champions seasonal, British produce, with touches of French, served in a convivial setting in Fulham. The Harwood Arms is also a great place to watch Chelsea games, as the pub welcomes fans on match days – just be sure to book a table.

Nearest Tube: West Brompton or Fulham Broadway

Continental vibes: The French House

The lowdown: With a clientele that’s included Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Suggs from the band Madness, it’s no surprise that The French House makes it onto this list. During World War II, Charles De Gaulle and the French resistance used the pub as their base in the city. It’s a tiny space in Soho crammed with curios and punters, meaning that most evenings the party spills out onto the street in front, but that’s just part of The French House’s charm.

Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square

  • The Harwood Arms in Fulham is the only pub in London to be awarded a Michelin star © Press Image.

    Eat, drink and be merry

    Hidden in the back streets of SW6, the Harwood sets the bar high. Ranked 6th in the Top 50 Gastropubs 2017 and with a top notch Zagat Food Rating, it’s little wonder Londoners flock here for the food. Expect delicious British produce with a focus on game and wild food.

Handy for highwaymen: The Spaniards Inn

The lowdown: In leafy Hampstead Heath, The Spaniards Inn features in Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers and Bram Stocker’s Dracula, but its bragging rights also extend to the highwayman Dick Turpin, whose pistols formerly hung above the bar (until they were stolen). Its strong literary associations also extend to poets John Keats and Lord Byron, who used to be regulars. Today its welcoming fire and wood-panelled interiors offer respite for walkers on the Heath.

Nearest Tube: Hampstead station or East Finchley

Best for bankers, barbers and butchers: The Old Bank of England

The lowdown: The Old Bank of England is still home to the original vaults used to store gold bullion and some of the crown jewels during the First World War. There is however, a grislier attraction hidden in its underground network of tunnels. The tavern is sandwiched between the supposed sites of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd’s barber and his mistress Mrs Lovett’s pie shop. It’s said that the pair used these tunnels to butcher their victims, before serving them up to unwitting customers as the fillings in Mrs Lovett’s famously meaty pies.

Nearest tube: Temple

Apt for artists: Dog and Duck

The lowdown: The Grade II-listed Dog and Duck in Soho was a favourite haunt of George Orwell, who reportedly sipped a celebratory absinthe here after finding out that his book Animal Farm had been picked for the American Book of the Month Club. Today its ornate Victoriana tiled interiors, bevelled mirrors and mahogany panelling still attracts a crowd, even despite its compact size. More recently the pub has welcomed Madonna, who popped in for a pint after a gig.

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Leicester Sqaure

The infamous one: The Blind Beggar

The lowdown: Brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray were two of London’s most notorious gangsters, and they loved a London pub. Immortalized in Legend, a biopic starring Tom Hardy as both brothers, the locations in which they wreaked havoc throughout the city are many. The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel is perhaps the most famous, as it’s where Ronnie shot and killed his business associate, George Cornell. A bullet shell case and a collection of coins left on the bar by Cornwell are framed and hang on the walls of the pub to this day.

Nearest Tube: Whitechapel

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