A London Pub Crawl…

Those of you who have been reading my rambles for some time (thank you) might remember the Twelve Pubs of Christmas Monopoly Board Pub Crawl we did in London in December 2019. No? You’ll find the posts here and here.

How to better that one? Even though the original is very often the best, this time around we changed it up. Each pub on this year’s list had to have either:

  • a fun fact associated with it
  • something “hidden” about it or
  • Charles Dickens had to have drunk there

Granted, that final requirement did leave us spoilt for choice – but there you go. I have to wonder how he found the time – or the sobriety – to write? Perhaps, though, that was part of his genius #notetoself.

Pub No. 1: Ye Olde Mitre

We had to go to Cambridge to find our first pub… But wait, I hear you ask, isn’t Cambridge outside of London? About 80kms outside of London? Well, yes, but this pub was, until the 1960s, administered under Cambridge’s licensing laws.

This whole area used to be the Bishop of Ely’s Palace. Now, this palace, which was built in the 13th century, was apparently beautiful – so beautiful it was deemed too beautiful to be part of London so the bishops decided it was part of Cambridgeshire (which was obviously more beautiful than London was).

The pub itself was originally built as somewhere for the servants of the palace to drink, and when it was rebuilt (the pub dates back to 1546) it was built around a cherry tree that they say Elizabeth I danced around. It’s hard now to imagine it with strawberry fields and orchards and a palace.

Anyways, that’s the fun fact – this pub was originally in Cambridge. It was also hidden down a nondescript alley in Holborn; so hard to find we walked past it a couple of times before we found the entrance.

As for whether Dickens drank here? It’s certainly old enough…and Dickensian enough… As an aside, I love the blue plaque below.

Pub No. 2 – Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

When we’re talking Dickensian pubs, this would have to be the first that comes to mind. Not only does it look Dickensian, but it’s located (not quite hidden on account of the sign on Fleet Street) up an alley that looks Dickensian, and, not only did Dickens regularly drink (and eat) here, but he was also (for want of a better term) writer-in-residence here.

The connections to literature go back even further as a pub has been here since 1538… who knows, Shakespeare might have drunk here too.

That pub, The Horn, was destroyed in 1666 during The Great Fire, this one taking its place just a year later…and it’s been here ever since. (As an aside, the board showing the monarchs has since been updated with Charles III.)

Originally one of London’s traditional “chophouses”, the inn was once known for its “puddings” made from steak, mushrooms, kidneys, oysters and larks. These days, though, the food is more standard pub fare.

Dickens (and, I’d like to think, Shakespeare) isn’t the only famous person to have frequented here. Other famous patrons said to have waxed lyrically on the premises include Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, PG Wodehouse, Voltaire, Princess Margaret and Winston Churchill.

That, however, isn’t the funnest of the fun facts. That accolade belongs to Polly the parrot.

The story goes that Polly, who was given to the landlord by a sailor sometime in the late 1900s, got a tad over-excited on Armistice Night in 1918 and mimicked the popping of a champagne cork 400 times 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.

Pub No. 3: The Knights Templar

From here it was back up Fleet Street a little way before turning in towards the legal district.

The Knights Templar occupies a former banking hall (the Union Bank) on a street that dates back to the 12th century. This pub, in the former Union Bank, takes its name from the order of Warrior Knights across whose land Chancery Lane was built in the 12th century – the Knights Templar.

Even though that’s a fairly fun fact, we weren’t here for Da Vinci Code trivia… or even the grand old banking halls…

We were here for the surprise downstairs – the grand bathrooms.

Note – The Knights Templar closed its doors in March 2023 and will be reopening its doors in May as The Last Judgement.

Pub No. 4: The Seven Stars

Just a short stroll away through the desperately legal part of town we come to our lunch stop, The Seven Stars, tucked in behind The Royal Courts of Justice.

Established in 1602, The Seven Stars is one of the few buildings in this part of town to have escaped The Great Fire. Despite this, not a whole lot is known about its history other than that the name (apparently) used to be The Leg and Seven Stars, which comes from The League of Seven Stars which referred to the seven provinces of the Netherlands – and which was, apparently, a ploy to attract the trade of Dutch sailors. You see back in those days this was a riverside pub, the Fleet being a navigable river rather than a, well, street. Hard to imagine, eh.

Anyways, these days its main clientele is a mix of barristers, tourists, and tradespeople. The interior is, shall we say, eclectic with most of the “decor” referring to legal matters or legal cases or legal paraphernalia.

The food too is eclectic and home-cooked with a blackboard menu the order of the day and the choices at the whim and pleasure of the landlady, Roxy Beaujolais (I kid you not – a fun fact in its own right).

I had bratwurst with dry-ish mac cheese and Grant made the better choice – meatballs in broth.

Pub No. 5: The Nell Gwynne

From here we headed back up Fleet Street towards the West End via a detour through the London School of Economics and spent ages talking to a couple from Perth, Australia about the upside-down globe sculpture by Mark Wallinger. #foodforthought

The Nell Gwynne, another that’s hard to find, is tucked away down in Bull’s Inn Yard (no idea where the name came from) and feels a tad Harry Potterish.

Built in the 1890s to replace the Bull Inn which previously stood here, its fun fact is that it actually had nothing to do with the 17th-century orange-seller and mistress to Charles II whom it’s named for. It does, however, make for a good story.

Detour – Cecil Court

By now we’re all footsore and my back is killing me – I mean, really really sore. So sore that every step is painful, but still, like the brave soldiers we are, we push on.

We walk past Rules – supposedly the oldest restaurant in London and one I wanted to make a booking in except that it’s not open on Mondays – and Mr Fogg’s which is one of the most Instagrammed pubs in London. If ever we do an Instagrammable pub crawl, that will be on it.

The real reason for this detour through the West End was to explore an alley that I’m sure I’ve walked past before but never noticed – Cecil Court. A contender (along with The Shambles in York) to be JK Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books, it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.

Not only hidden, this place, also known as Bookseller’s Row (on account of the fact that it’s filled with book and antique shops) and Flicker Alley (because of its links with the film industry) is filled with fun facts.

Part of Cecil Court was burnt down in 1735 when Mrs Colloway – who ran a brandy shop and brothel – overinsured her brandy stock and then set fire to it to claim the funds. Weirdly enough, after the fire her brandy barrels were found to be empty. Lucky.

Cecil Court was also home (albeit briefly) to a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He might even have written his first symphonies here…

Being as close to the West End as it is, I like to think Dickens also walked along this street on his way to his evening entertainment.

Anyways, if you want to know more about the history of this hidden gem, you can find it here.

Pub No. 6: The Lamb and Flag

Despite the mid-20th century brickwork on the front, there’s been a pub here since 1628.

This pub was chosen partly for its location in Covent Garden, but mostly because it’s one of the pubs Dickens frequented.

He might even have imbibed here before he was a writer – the boot-black factory in which he earned six shillings a week pasting labels onto jars was just around the corner.

I did, however, get this one mixed up with The Lamb – which was my original choice. It, however, was 2.5kms away in Bloomsbury and close to where Dickens used to live. It also had a better fun fact in that it was associated with the provision of water to the masses. Heigh ho.

Detour: Covent Garden

Covent Garden is always worth a wander and that’s what we did while one of our party went in search of a bathroom.

I spent ages in Mariage Frères – the world’s most exclusive purveyor of luxury teas and France’s oldest tea house. There are over 1000 varieties of rare teas on these walls.

You can have a cup – upstairs in the tea salon – but it was all a tad posh (and expensive) for the likes of us.

Despite the crowds, this part of London – Covent Garden, the West End, through Chinatown to Soho – is worth the ramble. I’d really love to just take my time wandering these streets and alleys…one day…

Pub No. 7: The French House

Our final pub isn’t, despite its name, French.

Its original owner, in 1891, was German but it was taken over by a Belgian during WW1. It was during WW2 that it got its French connection as it was the unofficial headquarters for the French government in exile after the German occupation. Charles De Gaulle was a regular during these years.

While it doesn’t have a Dickens connection, Dylan Thomas is said to have left his manuscript of Under Milk Wood under his chair in the French House after a particularly heavy night. He was, however, apparently in the habit of leaving his work in pubs.

We, however, are beered out and didn’t even go in. Besides, it’s super busy and did I mention my back hurts?

By now we’re also hungry so head up nearby Greek Street in search of sustenance and land in a French brasserie doing fixed-price pre-theatre dinners. Unusually for me, not only did I not write it down, but I didn’t even note the price. As I said, my back was sore.

Anyways, we all had French Onion soup to start and followed that with rabbit in mustard and tarragon (top right). The meals (other than Grant’s veal liver which I refused to photograph – why does he persist in ordering liver?) are below…and were very good.

The map below gives you an idea of the locations of the pubs we visited… although we walked the routes so tended to deviate a tad…and our detours are not listed.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

16 thoughts

  1. How cool!! I absolutely love all the fun facts, the food pics and the actual locations like the one with those bathrooms!! And why have we never thought to do this in London. And man it sucks when back pain puts a cramp in life. Take care. Bernie

  2. What a gorgeous way to get a view into London’s history and present. As an aside, I wrote an essay on Nell Gwynne at Uni..(well, technically I think it was on Aphra Behn but Gwyenne got a mention in the whole female in the theatre history) .#WWandP

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