The London pub is an institution: there are approximately 3500 of them in the capital.
As we wait for the Covid-19 crisis to ease and the pubs to re-open, now is a good time to reflect upon the long histories which many of these old stalwarts have and to take heart in the fact that they’ve survived war, disease and more.
For this A-Z I have selected just a few London pubs to talk about.
As you can probably imagine, picking them was no easy task. There are hundreds more I could include, so apologies if this small sample has omitted your favourite watering hole! If that’s the case, please share your choice of pub in the comments below.
Historic London Pubs: A-Z
101 Bermondsey Wall East SE16
This riverside pub dates back to at least the 17th century.
The area in which it’s located is surrounded by history. It was from this spot for example, in 1838, that J.M.W Turner painted The Fighting Temeraire.
This melancholy view of an old warship- which was a veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar- being towed in for scrap, appears on the back of the current £20 note.
Directly outside the pub, you’ll also find the ruins of Edward III’s manor house and a collection of sculptures dedicated to local icons, Alfred and Ada Salter (who recently appeared on robslondon in the Jubilee line quiz).
It’s worth noting of course that there is another important London pub named The Angel: The Angel, Islington. Over the years there have been several incarnations of this pub around the same spot.
In 1790, political activist Thomas Paine resided at The Angel, Islington where it’s believed he began writing The Rights of Man; a treatise which inspired supporters of American independence.
174 Queen Victoria Street EC4
The Blackfriar takes its name from a medieval priory which once stood near the site and was named so as the friars who resided there wore black cloaks.
In the 1960s The Blackfriar narrowly escaped demolition- it was rescued thanks to a campaign led by Sir John Betjeman.
In a 1978 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep, the pub makes an appearance, with Robert Mitchum playing hard-boiled detective, Phillip Marlow.
142-152 Cricklewood Broadway NW2
Quite a few London pubs bear the name ‘Crown’ in their title. Perhaps the most notable of these though is The Crown in Cricklewood, which also happens to be one of the capital’s largest pubs.
There has been a venue on this site since the 18th century; the first mention of which comes from 1751 when the original building was described as “an ivy-clad house with pretty tea gardens.” The pub which stands today dates back to 1900.
In recent years The Crown has had a four-star hotel added to it, meaning its official name is now The Clayton Crown Hotel.
This London pub has long been associated with London’s Irish community. In the 20th century it became a popular spot for the ‘call-on’; the process in which mainly Irish labourers (my Grandfather included) would wait outside in the hope of securing a day’s work with local building contractors. This is a process which still occurs today.
In the early 1960s, The Dubliners recorded a ballad entitled McAlpine’s Fusiliers which referenced The Crown:
“Oh the craic was good in Cricklewood and they wouldn’t leave the Crown,
With glasses flying and Biddy’s crying ’cause Paddy was going to town
Oh mother dear, I’m over hear and I’m never coming back
What keeps me here is the reek o’beer the ladies and the craic…”
In 1982, much of the music video for The Celtic Soul Brothers by Dexy’s Midnight Runners was filmed in and around The Crown.
202 Bishopsgate EC2
Situated close to Liverpool Street station, this London pub was originally known as The Old Jerusalem.
Its colourful name change occurred in the late 19th century and was inspired by a tragic figure: a local businessman whose real name is open to speculation; some say he was called Richard Bentley, others Nathaniel Bentley.
Whoever this figure was, it’s said he was a vivacious young man. Whilst engaged to be married however, his fiancé died causing his mental health to plummet.
Following his loss, the poor fellow never cleaned again and the warehouse from which he ran his business became notoriously filthy. He died in 1809 and by the mid-19th century the pub had been renamed ‘Dirty Dicks‘ in his honour.
It’s said that the sad tale of Dirty Dick inspired Charles Dickens’ creation of Miss Havisham who, in Great Expectations, suffers a similar fate and languishes in a crumbling mansion.
For many years, and in keeping with its name, Dirty Dicks was cluttered with all manner of junk and trinkets- including a mummified cat. In recent years the bar has been cleaned up and these curios are now displayed in a glass case.
2 Shepherdess Walk N1
Like The Crown in Cricklewood, this pub originally opened as a genteel tearoom- its first name was The Shepherd and Shepherdess.
It was in 1821 that the venue was renamed The Eagle and, as the area it served grew tougher and more impoverished, it gained a reputation for being a rather rowdy boozer.
This London pub is believed to be the inspiration for the children’s nursery rhyme, Pop Goes the Weasel. When first recorded in 1855, the lyrics alluded to the fact that many hard-up Londoners were driven to pawning their belongings in order to scrape enough money together for drink:
“Up and down the City Road
In and out the Eagle
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.”
The City Road is mentioned because The Eagle sits a few yards away from it, whilst ‘pop’ was Victorian slang meaning to pawn something.
In this context therefore, it’s likely that ‘weasel’ refers to the Cockney rhyming slang ‘weasel and stoat’ which means coat: in other words, folk were so desperate for alcohol they’d happily give the clothes off their own back…
2 St John’s Hill SW4
In its very earliest days, the point on the railway network which we today know as Clapham Junction was sometimes referred to as Falcon Junction. And that was due to this London pub (or to be more accurate, its predecessor) which stands close to the station.
There has been an inn on this site since at least the 1730s. The current building dates from the late Victorian era.
The Falcon boasts one of the longest bars in Britain (for a time it was the longest according to the Guinness Book of Records) and it’s also claimed that the mind-bending Dutch artist, M.C Escher contributed to its looped design…
3A Kensington High Street W8
The Goat is the oldest pub on Kensington High Street.
It first opened in 1695 as a coffee house but made the switch to serving booze after just seven years! The current building dates from the 1880s.
In 1707 the pub’s freehold was purchased by the local parish for £80- approximately £8,400 in today’s money.
The cash for this transaction was provided by two women who’d bequeathed money for the purpose of aiding the local poor. To fulfil their request therefore, the parish used all profits generated by the pub to support those in need and to also finance a local school.
The Goat has a dark connection with crime, for it was here, in 1944, that serial killer, John George Haigh had a chance meeting with his former employer, William McSwann.
Within hours of that friendly drink, McSwann was dead; killed by Haigh purely for financial greed. He was the first of what is believed to be at least six victims.
Haigh would later come to be nicknamed the ‘Acid Bath Murderer’ thanks to the gruesome way in which he disposed of his victims’ bodies…
The Hope & Anchor
207 Upper Street N1
To the uninitiated, the Hope & Anchor looks like any other London pub from the Victorian era.
Whilst it is indeed a 19th century establishment, the Hope & Anchor is also a legendary music venue. It first began hosting pub rock gigs in the 1970s and quickly became associated with the burgeoning punk scene.
In 1976, The Damned recored the official promo for the pioneering punk single, New Rose in the basement of the pub.
Other acts who’ve gigged at the Hope & Anchor include Adam & the Ants, Dr Feelgood, Dire Straits, Joy Division, The Specials, The Clash, The Cure, Generation X, The Jam, The Pogues, The Police, The Ramones, The Specials, Squeeze, The Stranglers, U2…the list goes on!
In 1979, another music video with interior shots filmed at the Hope & Anchor was One Step Beyond by Madness.
The Island Queen
87 Noel Road N1
This exotically titled London pub is named after an American paddle steamer which once served on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers during the 1800s (there were in fact two Island Queen’s; the second vessel was constructed as a replacement in the 1920s).
In the 1960s, The Island Queen was Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell’s local; they lived a few doors up on the same road.
Sadly this literary couple’s relationship ended in bloodshed in 1967 when Halliwell beat Orton to death in the house before taking his own life…
The Jamaica Wine House
St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill EC3
Tucked away in one of the financial district’s many alleys, the Jamaica Wine House is indeed a pub and not a wine bar as its name might suggest!
It also has a very important history: for this was the site where, in 1652, Pasqua Rosee opened London’s very first coffee house.
Pasqua had come to London to work for businessman Daniel Edwards after the pair met in Turkey. It did not take long for Pasqua to go it alone; he opened his first coffee house in Oxford in 1651 and his London branch opened soon after.
Samuel Pepys was a notable visitor to Pasqua’s London coffee house which soon generated many imitators. These coffee houses quickly became the go-to place for merchants and traders seeking a venue in which to discuss business.
The pub which now occupies the site dates from the 1860s. It’s believed the name alludes to the fact that the former coffee house eventually became popular with merchants involved with Jamaica- which would’ve involved trading in slavery.
The King & Queen
1 Foley Street W1
There are plenty of London pubs containing either ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ in their title… so why not have one which contains both?!
There has been a pub at this location since the 18th century. In the 1840s it became a popular meeting spot for chartists.
The King & Queen has also long been a folk music venue- its biggest claim to fame is that in December 1962, Bob Dylan (then aged just 21) played here in what was his first ever gig outside the USA.
The Lamb & Flag
33 Rose Street WC2
Despite being tucked away in a small Covent Garden back street, plenty of people still manage to find the Lamb and Flag and it is often heaving with drinkers.
The building dates from the early 18th century (although the brick fronting was re-done in the 1950s) and has been used as a pub since 1772.
In its earlier days, this London pub was also known as the Bucket of Blood due to the fact it was a popular venue for bare-knuckle boxing.
Another violent association with Rose Street is that it was here, one evening in December 1679, that the poet John Dryden was almost beaten to death by a gang of masked thugs- a sombre black plaque outside the pub commemorates this unfortunate event.
The goons responsible for the assault had been hired by John Wilmot; the 2nd Earl of Rochester who was convinced that Dryden was responsible for penning an essay in which he and other nobles had been criticised. He was wrong; the author was John Sheffield who would later become the 1st Duke of Buckingham.
The Museum Tavern
49 Great Russell Street WC1
The first pub on this spot was known as The Dog and Duck when it was established in 1723. However, when the British Museum opened directly opposite in the 1760s, the name change was a no-brainer.
The Museum Tavern as it stands today dates from 1858 and was designed by William Finch Hill; an architect who also designed a number of Victorian music halls.
The Nag's Head
10 James Street WC2
This Covent Garden pub dates back to the 1900, although there has been an inn on this site since the 1670s.
In days gone by, this was one of the few London pubs which would open early- at 5am! The reason being that traders from the nearby Covent Garden market would just be coming of the night shift and would no doubt be in need of a drink. They could also get a hearty breakfast before going home to bed.
In the late 1920s, a Captain Patrick McEnroy became the landlord of The Nag’s Head. When war broke out in 1939 he joined up and, a year later, found himself at Dunkirk. Patrick was declared missing in action… but he later turned up alive.
Another Nag’s Head can be found on Kinnerton Street in Belgravia and there is one associated with Islington too. Perhaps the most famous of London’s Nag’s Head though is a fictitious one- Del Boy and Rodney’s local in the TV comedy Only Fools & Horses!
The One Tun
125 Saffron Hill EC1
There has been a pub called The One Tun (named after the largest cask used for storing beer and wine) on this site since 1759.
The pub is located on Saffron Hill which was once a notorious slum. Whilst writing Oliver Twist in the late 1830s, Charles Dickens lived a short distance away on Doughty Street and it was on Saffron Hill that he placed Fagin’s den.
It’s believed therefore that The One Tun was the inspiration for the fictional Three Cripples pub where Nancy and the villainous Bill Sikes could often be found drinking…
The Prospect of Whitby
57 Wapping Wall E1
The Prospect of Whitby, which backs on to the River Thames, is one of London’s most famous pubs and dates all the way back to 1520: a long list of all the monarchs it has existed under is proudly displayed outside.
In the past, the pub has also been known as both The Pelican and the more sinister sounding Devil’s Tavern; no doubt because it was a popular haunt of thieves and smugglers. Its current name is taken from a collier which used to transport coal between Newcastle upon Tyne and London.
A gruesome landmark once located near The Prospect of Whitby was Execution Dock which, as the name implies, was a place where criminals- specifically those involved in piracy- were put to death.
Once dead, the corpses would be left on the gallows long enough for the Thames to wash three tides over them. To mark this piece of London’s history, a replica gallows can be seen outside the rear of the pub.
The Queen's Larder
1 Queen Square WC1
The Queen referred to in this London pub name is Queen Charlotte; wife of King George III.
George’s reign was a long one; just short of sixty years. Sadly, his time on the throne was also marked by bouts of severe mental illness (the cause of which remains undetermined).
During the periods in which he was ill, George was discretely treated at a house on Queen Square (named after Queen Anne).
Queen Charlotte refused to leave her husband’s side and, eager to see he ate well, established a larder in the basement of a house which was once located where the present day pub now stands.
The larder was set up in around 1710, but this small, cosy pub would not come into business until 1799.
72 Blackfriars Road SE1
Across the road from The Ring there stands a tall, modern office block named the ‘Palestra‘- an ancient Greek term for a wrestling arena. The site on which this building stands once was home to a boxing venue named ‘The Ring’.
The Ring was a highly popular venue and staged many bouts throughout the early 20th century.
It had been established by former boxer Dick Burge and his wife, Bella. Dick served in the military throughout the entirety of WWI but succumbed to the Spanish Flu pandemic upon his return to London in 1918.
Following his death, Bella took full control of The Ring boxing venue. She is therefore widely believed to be the world’s first female boxing promoter.
Sadly the arena was destroyed during WWII- you can still see shrapnel damage from that fateful night beneath the adjoining railway bridge.
The Spaniards Inn
Spaniards Road NW3
Perched on the edge of Hampstead Heath, The Spaniards Inn is believed to date back to the 1580s.
Back then this would have been a remote, wind-swept area far from the sprawl of London, and the pub would’ve been a likely haunt of highwaymen, scoping vulnerable travellers to rob.
The road beside the pub is a narrow bottleneck which has been the bane of motorists for many years. This is a hangover from a toll-gate- once a popular feature on many of Britain’s roads- which used to operate here.
The Spaniards Inn receives a brief mention in Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror masterpiece, Dracula.
The Town of Ramsgate
62 Wapping High Street E1
In a way, the Town of Ramsgate is a cousin to the nearby Prospect of Whitby: both are in Wapping, both back on to the Thames and both have a long and fascinating history.
The Town of Ramsgate is slightly younger; it was established in 1545. It later became notorious as a haunt of press-gangs, with many of the pub’s drinkers forced into naval service.
This London pub is perhaps most famous for its connection with the brutal Judge Jeffreys- aka the ‘Hanging Judge’.
Following the Monmouth Rebellion which occurred in the West Country in 1685, Jeffreys condemned hundreds of people to death, thus transforming him into a national figure of hate.
Several years later, on September 12 1688, Jeffreys was attempting to flee the country when he was spotted at the Town of Ramsgate disguised a sailor! After being roughed up by a furious mob of locals, he was carted off to the Tower of London…
227a Camden Road NW1
The Unicorn dates back to 1840 and was originally called The Brecknock. It was especially known for its pleasure garden.
In 1843, one of the last duels to take place in London occurred close to this pub.
The disagreement was between Lietenant Colonel Fawcett and Lieutenant Munro who happened to be brothers-in-law and had recently had an argument in which insults were thrown. So, being the gentlemen they were, they decided to settle it in the proper way the following day.
The result was that Fawcett was shot. Bleeding heavily, he was carried to The Brecknock but refused entry so had to be taken to The Camden Arms instead! He died two days later. Munro meanwhile fled the country.
The pub is now a popular music venue.
The Viaduct Tavern
126 Newgate Street EC1
The pub also opened in the 1860s. It stands opposite the Central Criminal Court- aka the Old Bailey- which, until around 1900, was the site of the dreaded Newgate prison.
Opposite the western side of The Viaduct Tavern is St Sepulchre’s Church, inside which can be seen the ‘Execution Bell’, used between the 17th and 19th centuries.
On the night before a scheduled execution, the church clerk would take this handbell across to the gaol and stand outside the condemned cell. Then, whilst clanging it, he’d recite the following:
“All you that in the condemned hold do lie,
Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die;
Watch all, and pray, the hour is drawing near
That you before the Almighty must appear;
Examine well yourselves, in time repent,
That you may not to eternal flames be sent.
And when St Sepulchre’s bell tomorrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls.”
The Widow's Son
75 Devons Road E3
This East End pub dates from the 1840s and has an intriguing backstory to its name.
It’s said that the pub was built on the site of a cottage where a widow lived.
Her son joined the Navy and went off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. Before leaving, he told his mother not to worry, saying that he was due to return on Good Friday- and that she should bake some hot-cross buns in anticipation of that day.
Tragically the young man was killed in action. Nevertheless, his mother would bake a bun every Good Friday in his honour. She apparently held on to each of these buns and, following her death, this stale collection was found hanging in a net inside her cottage.
When the pub opened, the Royal Navy decided to continue the widow’s tradition by gifting the pub a hot cross bun every year; a tradition which continues to this day
The Parcel Yard, King's X
King’s Cross Station N1
Of all the London pubs on this list, the Parcel Yard is the most recent; it opened in the 21st century!
Despite this, it is still of immense historical interest. The pub is huge, built within a warren of Victorian offices at King’s Cross station. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, lots of original features, and some great views of the trains below.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
145 Fleet Street EC4
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is one of the most celebrated pubs in London. And with good reason.
There has been a pub at this location since the 1530s. The original burnt down during the Great Fire of London of 1666 but it was quickly rebuilt.
Today, the pub is a sprawling labyrinth.
As soon as you walk in, you’ll see a bar to your right, the floor covered in the traditional manner with sawdust. To the left is the dining area, ahead another bar. And there’s a lot more downstairs (be sure to watch your head as you climb down!)
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is especially famous for its literary connections- Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K Chesterton, Alfred Tennyson; all have drank here. It’s also said that Dr. Samuel Johnson- who lived in nearby Gough Square whilst compiling the world’s first dictionary- was a regular.
My personal favourite in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is Polly the Parrot who lived in the pub for some 40 years. Polly passed away in 1926, but can still be seen today, stuffed and on display in a glass cabinet. When alive, Polly was known to ‘order’ Scotch and could also imitate the sound of corks popping!
49-51 Black Prince Road SE11
Zeitgeist is housed within The Jolly Gardeners; both names are displayed outside the pub.
Zeitgeist is London’s first German gastropub, awash with fine German beer and food- it’s one of the few places in London where you can get currywurst!
Charlie Chaplin grew up close to this pub, and it’s said the his alcoholic father was a regular here; he’d often provide entertainment by playing the piano.
In the year 2000, director Guy Ritchie used The Jolly Gardners in his gangster comedy, Snatch in which the pub is called The Drowning Trout. In the scene, ‘Bullet Tooth Tony’ (played by Vinnie Jones) puts a trio of bumbling crooks in their place.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual London pub crawl!
What are your favourite London pubs? Please share your thoughts, stories and recommendations below.
Take care and stay well.