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Ye Old Cheshire Cheese
Location – 145 Fleet St, London EC4A 2BU
Just off Fleet Street.
If there was a competition for the most famous pub in London, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese would be one of the prime candidates. Rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of London of 1666, it has become associated with most of the great literary figures of London. Its greatest association is with Doctor Johnson who lived in nearby Gough square, but it also been frequented by Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, G.K. Chesterton amongst others.
It was the location of the Rhymers Club in the 1890s which included Yeats and Oscar Wilde amongst its members.
In 1907, a visiting Mark Twain was appalled at his fellow Americans flocking to the pub as a shrine to Dr Johnson.As he sat in the Doctor Johnson room at the Cheshire Cheese he remarked.
“Look at those fools going to pieces over old Doc Johnson call themselves Americans and lick-spittle the toady who grabbed a pension from the German King of England that hated Americans, tried to flog us into obedience and called George Washington traitor and scoundrel.”
His friend Bram Stoker of Dracula fame gently mocked the American by saying “Read Johnson plentifully, I suppose,” knowing that he had never read any of his works.
The pub’s fame has seen it regularly visited by a wide number of famous people of the decades, and is a tourist attraction in its own right.
In the 1920s one of its most famous patrons a grey parrot called Polly died, this event was reported in hundreds of newspapers of the time. Polly’s fame was such that the bird was stuffed and put on display at the pub.
More recently the pub is the location for the American children’s book The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy, Randall Wright and Barry Moser.
A more adult themed history was revealed in the 1960s when a number of sexually explicit tiles were found in an upstairs room, dating from the mid- eighteenth century it suggests that the room may have been used as a brothel. The tiles were donated to the Museum of London.
The pub looks uninspiring from the outside but is a maze of small rooms and alcoves whose dark wooden panelling and smoky atmosphere from open fires transport you back in time. It was also made for visitors of a smaller stature, so beware banging heads on low beams on stairs and doors if you are above average height. If the pub is old, it has been suggested that some of the vaults underneath the pub are part of 13th-century Carmelite monastery.
Famous for being a Chop House over the centuries, food is still served and the Beer is relatively cheap by London standards brewed by the Samuel Smith Brewery.
The Old Bank of England
Location – 194 Fleet St, London EC4A 2LT
The Old Bank of England only became a pub in 1994 but is on the site of two old Taverns, the Haunch of Venison and the more famous Cock Tavern. The present building was built in the late 19th century as part of the Law Courts complex, it was the premises of Law Courts branch of the Bank of England. It traded as a branch the Bank of England until 1975 when it was taken over by a Building Society.
In the 1990s the Fuller’s Brewery took over the building and set about restoring it into one of their flagship pubs.
Although its history is interesting, this is not this pubs main selling point, the interior is stunning and provides a airy spacious space around a central wooden mahogany bar. The massive chandeliers add to the natural light through the large windows to illuminate the rich decor and ornamental ceiling.
There is a gallery where you can drink or eat overlooking the bar. There is a good selection of beers on tap and the perhaps better than average pub food available.
The pub mentions the disputed claims that it lies Sweeney Todd Barbers shop and Mrs Lovett’s Pie Shop, although this might add a bit of local colour it does not encourage you to try the pies on the menu!
Ye Old Mitre (Holborn)
Location – 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, London, EC1N 6SJ
One of the best kept secrets of London is the unusual cul-de-sac of Ely Place, on this street is the former residences of the Bishops of Ely and Queen Elizabeth the First favourite Sir Christopher Hatton.
The alley entrance to the pub
Just off Ely place is an historic pub called the Ye Old Mitre.There was a pub on this site since 1546 but was remodelled in the 1780s.
It could be argued the pub has a place in history due to the preserved tree trunk in the corner of the bar that marked it the boundary of Hatton Garden and the Diocese of Ely. Around this tree Queen Elizabeth is said to have danced with Sir Christopher Hatton. There is an argument that the Ely Place and the pub are not part of London at all but owned by the Diocese of Ely and therefore still part of Cambridgeshire. Allegedly the London Metropolitan Police have to get permission to enter Ely Place which has it own officer (Beadle) watching for wrongdoers.
Walking down the alley to the pub seems like you are walking back in time and the pub surrounded by high walls gives it a preserved in time effect, the skulls in the window add to the slightly strange atmosphere.
Once inside, the pub does not disappoint, old pictures, bottles on the walls and mugs on the ceilings and the old furniture gives the impression of a place seeping in history. The bars are small and intimate and lend themselves to conversation with the staff and fellow drinkers.
Upstairs is a small room with old furniture called the Bishop’s room acknowledging its connection with residences nearby. Real ales are on tap and bar snacks are available. Like many interesting City pubs, Ye Old Mitre is closed at weekends, however this is certainly on pub to go out of your way to discover.
Film buffs may recognise the pub by its appearance in Snatch and the Deep Blue Sea.
Location -174 Queen Victoria Street, London, EC4V 4EG
It may be in an uninspiring spot near Blackfriars Bridge but this is without doubt one of the hidden gems of a pub in London.
Built on the site of a Dominican friary, the original building from 1875 was remodelled between 1903-1925 to create an Art Nouveau masterpiece.
The various sculptors and designers went to town with the Blackfriars theme with jolly friars popping up everywhere in the pub both on the exterior and inside. Architect H Fuller-Clark and artist Henry Poole are considered the major influences on the Grade II listed pub that was saved from demolition by a campaign led by Sir John Betjeman.
It does get quite busy at lunchtimes and early evenings but it is worth spending some time to look at the numerous friezes and mosaics all around the pub. It has built a reputation for quality beers and serves mainly English food especially pies.
Cittie of Yorke
Location 22 High Holborn, Holborn, Camden, London WC1V 6BN
This has been the site of a pub since the 15th century, the present pub was redeveloped in the 1920s but has elements from previous incarnations. This gives the Cittie of Yorke a strange and rather surreal interior, the main bar is under a vast ceiling that feels that you are in medieval Great hall rather than a pub. The bar itself sits below large vats.
In the main bar is Victorian cubicles, which lawyers apparently held meetings with their clients. Another strange feature is a traingular 19th century stove that stands in the middle of the bar. The cellar bar is in a much older part of the Pub and is yet another feature of this Grade II listed pub.
It is safe to say that this pub is unique in London for its eclectic and rather strange interior.
For a list of London’s Top Ten Pubs go to Visiting London Guide.