City of London Pubs (1973): Forty Years On – Part 2
April 24, 2014
This is the second part of my walk around the pubs detailed in City of London Pubs: A Practical and Historical Guide by Timothy M. Richards and James Stevens Curl. Area 1 is below!
AREA 4: CARTER LANE AND SOUTH OF ST.PAULS
No.48 – THE SEA HORSE, Queen Victoria Street, EC4
“Goodness knows why this modern, one-roomed pub was named The Sea Horse,” marvel the authors, who go on to call the then-newly-built pub “an afterthought…with little character.”
Thirty years on, the Sea Horse looks positively quaint, a strange survivor jutting out on a busy road full of anonymous office blocks. With one open room inside, pale wood flooring and with light flooding in through the curve of windows, it’s more charming today than when Richards and Curl found it.
No.49 – THE HATCHET, 28 Garlick Hill, EC4
Described in 1973 as “a good little local”, the Hatchet appears not to have changed much over the last forty years (aside from the cigarette bins fastened to both entrances). The authors suggest the unusual pub name cames from a tool used for trimming wood, a timber harbour once operating on the Thames at the foot of Garlick Hill – but another more recent source claims it took its name from the Hatchet Fur Trading Company, although I’ve been unable to find out anything about them.
Even more pleasingly, stepping inside is like stepping back in time. The nicotine-coloured lights, the racing on the telly, a couple of ornate mirrors, the silent man propped up by the bar – the Hatchet looks more like it belongs in 1973 than 2014, and is all the better for it.
No.50 – THE QUEEN’S ARMS, 30/31 Queen Street, EC4
In 1973, the Queen’s Arms was “a friendly little local” with an elegant three-story facade “with Edwardian bows of wood, delicately moulded and panelled” and above, “rubbed and moulded brickwork of excellent quality.” It was one of the few buildings in the immediate area not to have been bombed during the Second World War – the neighbouring properties were both hit, leaving the pub as a detached building.
Inside was both public and saloon bar, “a small portion of glazed tiles of superb quality” and “two arches of fantastic enrichment, polychrome and elegant.” CAMRA called it a “rare basic City pub” and drew attention to its semi-circular bar, “unique in the City.”
As far as I can tell, the Queen’s Arms was demolished some time in the 1990s. This office block – with a Dominos Pizza on the street level – now stands on the site.
No. 51 – THE CROWN AND SUGAR LOAF, 14 Garlick Hill, EC4
“A distinctly informal little pub” which Richards and Curl found to be “an almost exclusively male haunt”, the name of this old inn suggested a connection with the local sugar refineries, which were operating from the 1600s until as late as 1830.
In 1973, Richards and Curl stood outside the pub on Garlick Hill and looked down to see “a truly sad sight – the closed and shuttered White Lion and King’s Head & Lamb. [Upper Thames Street] is about to become a dual carriageway necessitating these demolitions, and so a brand new pub [the Samuel Pepys, no.52 in their book] has been opened by way of compensation.”
Today, nothing remains of the Crown and Sugar Loaf – a new office building has obliterated any trace of it.
No. 52 – THE SAMUEL PEPYS, Brook’s Wharf, 48 Upper Thames Street, EC4
One of just two City pubs to overlook the Thames, the Pepys dates to the early 1970s, near new when Richards and Curl popped in. In the book, they’re quite respectful about the heavy-handed themes they found within.
The upstairs bar had “a sea-going atmosphere”; the downstairs Chandler’s Bar “has been designed to create the atmosphere of a working warehouse”; and the restaurant reflected Pepys’ romantic life, with tables “set in curtained alcove named after the inns and taverns to which he took his lady loves” and a facsimilie four-poster bed. Undoubtedly that restaurant seemed the height of sophistication in the early 1970s.
The pub itself is not easy to spot. Located down the end of a dark alley, and inaccessible from the riverside walk, it’s not really somewhere you happen to chance upon, and the lack of a bar to peer into (the entrance door reveals a carpeted flight of stairs leading upwards, with signs urging the visitor to come up) means it’s easily missed.
No. 53 – THE HORN TAVERN, 31/33 Knightrider Street, EC4
I never really understand why people change the names of historic pubs. Since City of London Pubs was written, the Horn Tavern – “a very old house and mentioned in Dickens’s Pickwick Papers”, as well as Pepys’s diaries and drawn in the 1960s by Geoffrey Fletcher – has been renamed the Centre Page.
Even more perplexingly, it’s not as if the owners were unaware of the inn’s historical importance – the pub’s former name is painted on the front alongside the new one.
Similarly, a sandwich board tells you the name of the pub, adding underneath “Formerly the Horn Tavern, earliest recorded date 1663.” Even more remarkably, the pub’s website has a page dedicated to the history of the Horn (which is great to see – more pubs should do this.) I just can’t understand why someone chose to jettison a heritage that clearly they’re proud of.
The Centre Page has an enviable location sandwiched between the Thames and St Pauls – but the pub is long, low and hemmed in by buildings, meaning on even a bright day, its shrouded in shadows and as the bar has been sunk beneath pavement level, it looks somewhat gloomy inside.
No.54 – THE BELL, 6 Addle Hill, EC4
Richards and Curl called the Bell “a friendly, intimate pub” with an exterior being “a very fine, strong example of traditional pub design.” It had closed by the late 1980s, as redevelopment schemes for office space flattened vast parts of the City. Today the road is dominated by a stark cliff-face and dozens of idle BT vans.
No. 55 – THE RISING SUN, 61 Carter Lane, EC4
“A friendly, domestic little ale-house”, the Rising Sun is still standing and still busy. It looks lovely inside – a big room decorated well. Hanging baskets are always a sign that a pub will be worth a visit.
No. 56 – THE COCKPIT, 7 St Andrews Hill, EC4
Of a similar vintage to the Rising Sun, the Cockpit has an unusual layout – the bar is on a higher platform than the rest of the pub, “which heightens the impression of sitting in a pit” (as the name suggests, a cock-fighting pit was once on the site.) Like the Centre Page, the Cockpit hasn’t always had its present day name – in 1973, Richards and Curl noted that “until recently” it was called the Three Castles.
The outside of the pub is more spectacular than the inside – the two heavy wooden curved doors at the entrance make the lower portion of pub look like it was constructed along similar lines to a Tudor galleon.
The Cockpit was surprisingly busy for a weekday afternoon when there was no big sporting fixture on – it was easily the busiest of all the pubs I went into, with the exception of the much larger Black Friar.
No. 57 – THE BAYNARD CASTLE, 148 Queen Victoria Street, EC4
Named after Ralph Baynard, one of William the Conqueror’s men who built a large fortress on the site (which was consumed in the Great Fire of 1666 although some remnants could be seen in the pub), the Baynard Castle was still standing in the 1990s.
After a spell under the name ‘Cos Bar’ – the conversion an attempt to attract a younger City clientele – today the Baynard Castle is a bar called Rudds. Having looked at their website (I didn’t feel well-dressed enough to go in) the interior of Rudds boasts shiny lager taps, reproduction Louis XIV chairs in the restaurant, and blocky purple sofas.
No.58 – THE BLACK FRIAR, 174 Queen Victoria Street, EC4
Richards and Curl don’t hold back in their praise for The Black Friar – and nor should they. It is, as they state, “the finest example of turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau design in London.”
The building was designed by architect H. Fuller-Clark and artist Henry Poole, both committed to the free-thinking of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and was erected in 1905 on the former site of a Dominican Friary (which had been closed during Henry VIII’s Dissolution.)
A treasure house of design – everywhere you look, there are carvings of monks, copper faces, mosaics, frescoes, statues, mottoes, signs – the Black Friar is one of the pubs you pass more often that you go in. But inside it’s like a minature V&A – only better because you can not only enjoy the surroundings, but they also serve drink.
The exquisite signs outside…
It is, without doubt, the most beautiful pub in London.
Past the main bar is the biggest treat of all – an alcove, now used as the restaurant.
Decorated in bronze and stone, it is absolutely festooned with statues, inlaid copper medallions and mottoes: “A good thing is soon snatched away”, “Seize occasion”, “Haste is slow”, “Wisdom is rare.”
In each dark corner of the alcove lurk devil-like figurines, representing Literature, Music, Drama and Painting, while figures over the lamp brackets (which are dim) depict the Morning, Evening, Noon and Night. While my camera has brightened the dark alcove, the effect of the gloom means it’s hard to properly make out the sinister shapes you can half-glimpse in the corners.
And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s an equally impressive second bar on the other side of the building.
Incredibly (but perhaps unsurprisingly), the Black Friar was threatened with destruction in the 1960s (to make way for a road, naturally.) It was only saved by a strong opposition movement spearheaded by Sir John Betjeman, and it is now Grade II listed. If you’ve not visited this masterpiece, go.
No.59 – THE QUEEN’S HEAD, 31 Black Friars Lane, EC4
Once “the only building left standing in the whole of a large derelict bomb site”, the Queen’s Head was demolished in 1999 to make way for yet another office complex.
The building with the dark doors in the distance of the photo was formerly a “bar and eating house” called The Evangelist, which closed in 2009 (it still appears when you search for Black Friars Lane on Google Streetview).
THE TALLY SO FAR:
Pubs covered in 1973′s City of London Pubs still open: 17 (2 renamed)
Pubs covered in 1973′s City of London Pubs now closed: 13
NEXT UP: AREA 2!