There are many historic pubs in London, each with their unique story and merits. A large number of them was built post 1666, as the Great Fire destroyed most of Medieval London.In this pub-series post, we present some of the best examples among London’s historic pub heritage.
1. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
This pub is one of very few pubs in London that can justify the “Ye Olde” in its name. Although it became famous in the 17th century, numerous pubs occupied this site much earlier. The earliest predecessor was a guesthouse owned by Carmelite Monastery in the 13th century. In 1666, the pub was completely destroyed in the Great Fire but was quickly rebuilt the following year. The board at the entrance lists the reigns of the 15 monarchs through which this grand old pub has survived. The interior is made of dark wood and has many narrow corridors and staircases leading to bars and dining rooms. It is very easy to get lost in the Cheese, even for the regulars. The pub has an impressive collection of visitors books and the guests include Ambassadors, Prime Ministers and Royalty. Unfortunately, these records are too recent to mention that James Boswell, Voltaire, Thackeray and Charles Dickens were regular visitors here. The Cheese had another famous resident, a parrot, which entertained the customers for over 40 years and its death was announced on the BBC as well as in the newspapers all over the world.
2. Prospect of Whitby
One of the most famous pubs in London. Built as a simple tavern in 1543, the pub had gained a reputation by the 17th century as a meeting point for smugglers, pirates and villains and was therefore known as ‘Devil’s Tavern’. Destroyed by fire in the 18th century, it was rebuilt and renamed ‘The Prospect of Whitby’ after a ship. The main bar has a flagstone floor and the long bar counter is built on barrels with a pewter top. Beams and upright pillars look like sections of ship masts and the pub has got a terrace downstairs and a rooftop both overlooking the Thames. The old photographs usually show the Prospect crowded with vessels from around the world. Some of the notable customers were Judge Jeffreys, Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens and William Turner. The pub also became famous in 1960 as a favorite place of many celebrities including Kirk Douglas, Paul Newman or Prince Rainier.
3. The George Inn
The George in Southwark is the last of London’s galleried Coaching Inns. It is situated on the south bank of the Thames near London Bridge. The ground floor of the inn is divided into a number of connected bars. The Old Bar used to be a waiting room for passengers on coaches. The Middle Bar was the Coffee Room, which was frequented by Charles Dickens. The bedrooms, now a restaurant, were upstairs in the galleried part of the building. In 1676, the pub had to be rebuilt after a devastating fire swept Southwark. The George Inn suffered when Great Northern Railway used The George as a depot and pulled down two of its fronts to build a warehouse, leaving just the south face. These tragic events were caused by railway advancements and general decline in the number of coaching inns. At the moment, The George is under the care of the National Trust and is one of London’s greatest treasures.
4. The Black Friar
The Black Friar is a narrow “flat-iron” shaped pub, which was built in 1875 near the site of a 13th century Dominican friary. The exterior was remodelled by Henry Poole in 1903, and the interiors were designed two years later by H. Fuller-Clark. Both of the artists were committed to the free-thinking of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It was pretty unusual for a pub to undergo a refurbishment during that period as the London pub industry was experiencing serious financial difficulties and bankruptcies. The theme of the pub’s decoration is monk-related with a twist of humour. Jolly friars appear in sculptures, mosaics and reliefs all over the pub. Even the light fittings are carved wooden monks carrying yokes on their shoulders, from which the lights hang. The interior is definitely a masterpiece of Art Nouveau, the ground floor is made of multi-coloured marble, mozaics, and bronze reliefs. This amazing pub was saved in 1960s from bulldozers only by an outcry led by Sir John Betjeman, who later became the Poet Laureate.
5. The Red Lion
This perfectly situated pub between the House of Commons and Downing Street is the closest pub to No.10. The first Red Lion was built in 1434 and has been associated with parliamentary intrigue. The sign at the entrance says ‘Red Lion – London’s last village pub’ which is not far from the truth. The Red Lion claims to have the second oldest beer licence in London. The latest pub built on this site is a classic 19th century pub. The bar was once divided into two parts: Public and Saloon. The solid hardwood fittings are broken up by carving or insets of decorative glass. Also the etched and cut mirrors are beautiful pieces of craft and the walls are covered with interesting and amusing prints with a political theme.