June 18, 2014
This is the third part of my walk following the route of City of London Pubs: A Practical and Historical Guide by Timothy M. Richards and James Stevens Curl.
AREA 3: SMITHFIELD AND ST BARTHOLEMEW’S
The majority of the pubs in the area first appeared when the modern Smithfield meat market opened in 1868. With the coming of the railways came the men to work in the market; and with the men came the pubs.
No.32 – THE VICTORIA HOTEL, 25 Charterhouse Street, EC1
In 1973, this pub was one of many in the area which displayed a sign displaying “the vital information that anyone lawfully engaged on business in the market may drink here from the hours of 5 to 8 o’clock in the morning. It is the first of several such signs in the vicinity”, which applied only to the local Smithfield meat-market workers.
While Richards and Curl felt the “main recommendation for visiting the pub itself…is the good-humoured people by whom it is used”, those people are long gone. When I visited, the block where the pub formerly sat had been demolished, part of the Crossrail development dominating the area around Farringdon Tube.
No.33 – THE HOPE, 94 Cowcross Street, EC1
The pub was built in 1790 and much of the character of its Victorian heyday remains intact. It is still recognisable from the description back in 1973 – “an unusual front, with bow window and large fanlight over a granite plinth” – and Richards and Curl celebrated the “encaustic tiles in the corridor and entrance, and fine etched glass panels in the screen separating the bar from the corridor.”
Sadly, when I visited, one of the glass panels in an exterior door had suffered a vast crack from top to bottom. It looks like the sort of damage that’s hard to put right.
No. 34 – THE SMITHFIELD TAVERN, 105 Charterhouse Street, EC1
In 1973, the narrow pub possessed a bar-billiards table, a strange hybrid of pool and skittles – Richards and Curl mention the table was one of the very few to be found in the City, “partly because so few pubs have a space” for it. The bar-billiards table is no longer there, replaced with ordinary tables for diners.
The Smithfield Tavern spent the period from 2006 to 2009 under the name ‘The Wicked Wolf’, and while its original name has been brought back, it still looks as if its attempting to draw in a younger crowd. Most of the original interior has been removed, and when I passed, it had been replaced with record decks, low leather pouffes, and the lowest level lighting I’ve ever seen inside a working building.
Richards and Curl also remarked on the Tavern’s unusual pub sign, which showed “two male figures talking to one another, and from their dress they appear to be Jewish rabbis.” This has since been replaced with a more generic landscape.
No.35 – THE FOX AND ANCHOR, 115 Charterhouse Street, EC1
“In shape, this is the Smithfield’s twin”, but in 2014, the Fox and Anchor (most likely named, according to Richards and Curl “after nearby Fox and Knock Street” – streets which don’t seem to exist, but which I’ve not been able to find any more information about) retains more traditional pub fittings.
Most notable is the “splendid exterior [of 1898]…a complete Art Nouveau facade of moulded cast stone, with coloured decorations very reminiscent of the work of Neatby at Harrod’s meat hall.”
The pub was restored to its original Victorian splendour in 1986, and is today a fine example of that definitive style of pub architecture.
No. 36 – THE SUTTON ARMS, 6 Carthusian Street, EC1
On a road named after the former Carthusian monastery, founded by Sir Walter Manny in 1371 and today known as The Charterhouse, The Sutton Arms is another fine, solid Victorian pub.
The interior had been modernised when Richards and Curl visited in 1973, but the “fine exterior” and “good glazed tiles at the entrance” are still there today. Popular legend has it that the pub is haunted by a red-headed elderly man, nicknamed Charlie, who appears fleetingly before disappearing.
No. 37 – THE OLD RED COW, 71-72 Long Lane, EC1
“The origin of this name is simplicity itself,” wrote Richards and Curl in 1973. “As old red cows are a rare sight in this country, it follows that their milk (beer) is of great value.” Once very popular with market porters, this small pub (the upstairs room is a restaurant, so the pub is just the single downstairs room) is well preserved.
With entrances from two sides, it also has a board explaining its history on the outside wall, making it one of the few pubs to boast about a historical connection with the relatively modern coupling of Bernard Miles and Peter Ustinov.
No 38 – THE HAND & SHEARS, 1 Middle Street, EC1
The Hand & Shears – or “The Fist and Clippers, as it is affectionately dubbed by locals” – is earlier than many of the pubs surrounding it, dating from the early 1800s. In 1973, Richards and Curl called it “relatively unspoilt…an excellent example of a traditional nineteenth-century pub.”
There has, however, been an inn on the site since the Middle Ages – the date above the pub’s entrance proclaims it was established in 1532. A popular inn used by cloth merchants (which gave the pub its name), it was used as the venue to settle disputes and grievances of people who visited the annual St Bartholomew’s Fair – licences were granted, weights and measures were tested, and fines imposed on fraudulent traders. For many years, the Fair was officially opened from the inn’s doorway by the Lord Mayor – but impatient clothiers would later wait at the pub the night before and declare it open on the stroke of midnight, signalling to gathering crowds that the Fair was officially open by waving a pair of shears in their hands.
It was the busiest of the pubs I passed on this leg of the trip, and the people inside looked so jovial. It’s the only one I didn’t have a drink in that I wish I had.
No.38b – THE RISING SUN, Rising Sun Court, EC1
Richards and Curl mention The Rising Sun in passing – “although the old pub of that name is still visible, it no longer rings to the sound of voices.” Today, in a surprising turn of events, the pub that had been closed in 1973 has come back to life.
Hidden away in a quiet street, it’s a welcoming little pub with a vast stretch of frosted windows making up two entire sides of the inn.
It is the only pub featured in City of London Pubs to have come back from the dead.
No. 39 – THE BARLEY MOW, 50 Long Lane, EC1
A Victorian pub, by 1973 it had become “a ‘modern-traditional’ pub,” wrote Richard and Curl, “camped up with panelled walls, wooden bar, restrained colour scheme, and good cast-iron tables.”
Today, the Barley Mow is an Italian restaurant, Apulia. At the top of the building’s facade, the old pub’s name can still be seen.
No. 40 – THE RUTLAND, 9-10 West Smithfield, EC1
“Every so often one stumbles across a particular brewery’s only house in the City, and The Rutland is Shepherd Neame’s sole representative”, wrote Richards and Curl in 1973. The pub is still here, but has been renamed The Bishop’s Finger, after one of the Shepherd Neame brewery’s most popular beers.
Apart from the name change, the pub is much the same as it was in 1973, when Richards and Curl admired the exterior and “three cast-iron columns with fine capitals”, but noted “nothing else remains of the original decor.”
No. 41 – THE COCK TAVERN, Central Markets, Smithfield, EC1
In 1973, the Cock Tavern sat in two subterranean rooms beneath the Central Market , “utilitarian to the extreme.”
It catered primarily for the porters, with opening hours from 5.30pm to 3pm, and its alcohol licence coming and going through the day – it opened at 5.30am to sell only food, was able to sell alcohol from 6.30am, but then from 9.30am to 11.30am could only sell food, and was once again able to sell alcohol from 11.30am until closing time at 3pm.
Even though it had become very popular due to its inclusion in lots of articles about ‘Secret London’, the Cock’s purpose was lost when the Market closed and it shut its doors for the final time in 2013.
No. 42 – THE NEWMARKET, 26 Smithfield Street, EC1
Now an upmarket gold-and-black bar called Bird of Smithfield and offering ‘libations’ instead of pints, in 1973 The Newmarket was a saloon bar boasting a “glass mirror along one wall…engraved with a horse-racing scene.” It seems likely this was an error by a later owner, who didn’t realise the pub had been named after the new meat market outside, rather than the horse racing course.
Upstairs in 1973 was “a large mural of the old open-air market”, but I was unable to see if this remains.
No. 43 – THE WHITE HART, 7 Giltspur Street, EC1
“Here is the most lavish pub encountered for some time,” wrote Richards and Curl, “with heavily upholstered seats and settees, low coffee-type tables, a Black Watch tartan carpet, soft music, and subdued lighting.”
This lavish 1907 pub is now gone and has been turned into offices – the only reminder of its former use is the antlered stag head above the doorway.
No. 44 – THE VIADUCT TAVERN, 126 Newgate Street, EC1
Richards and Curl were delighted by this pub in 1973: “Named, of course, after Holborn Viaduct…the pub is a splendid example of Victorian design. This is a full-blown corner pub, built on a curve, with glazed ground floor. Inside are wooden screens, finely carved, with exquisite engraved glass panels of folitate design. There is wonderful ornate gilded and silvered glass by the staircase, and a manager’s stall, with an ornate pulpit-like exterior, cornice and clock, and engraved glass, some curved.”
Today, the Tavern is much the same, but the road outside is so busy with traffic thundering past that the smokers might as well have been standing on the hard shoulder of the M1.
No. 45 – THE MAGPIE AND STUMP, 18 Old Bailey, EC4
Standing in an alleyway opposite the Old Bailey, during the eighteenth century, the pub hired out the upper rooms to people wanting an unobstructed view of the executions in Newgate prison, which stood opposite.
The practice continued under 1868, but a reminder can be seen on the board outside – promoting “Last Pint Friday”, it’s a half-price offer ‘commemorating’ the pub’s tradition of sending a final pint to condemned men.
In 1973, Richards and Curl admired the “dark panelling, leaded windows, carpeted floor and winged bench seats” of the pub, which had been rebuilt in 1931. None of these remain today, and the pub has the rather cold look of a wine bar – black furniture, checkerboard patterns on the floor, and grey feature walls.
No. 46 – THE GEORGE, 25 Old Bailey, EC4
No.46 – THE RUMBOE, 27 Old Bailey, EC4
The George was a nineteenth-century pub, the Rumboe amid-twentieth century one (its unusual name came from a ‘posh’ name for Newgate Prison used by thieves) but both have been entirely swept away by a large new office development, New Ludgate.
The developers call it “a striking contemporary addition to one of London’s most historic locations.”
THE TALLY SO FAR:
Pubs covered in 1973′s City of London Pubs still open: 27 (3 renamed)
Pubs covered in 1973′s City of London Pubs now closed: 19
Pubs covered in 1973′s City of London Pubs which had closed and are now open: 1
Note: surprisingly, there are two pubs which have opened up in Smithfield since City of London pubs was written – and I say ‘surprisingly’ because I thought they’d been there for years.
The Fuller’s Ale and Pie House and the Butcher’s Hook and Cleaver on West Smithfield have the look of long-established Victorian pubs, but they were opened in November 1999 (Fuller’s own both, so while they look distinct, perhaps they should count as a single pub divided into two.) They replaced the two properties there previously, a meat wholesalers and a branch of the Midland Bank.
NEXT UP: AREA 1!
March 13, 2014
City of London Pubs: A Practical and Historical Guide was published in 1973. A charming gazetteer written by Timothy M. Richards (“a public-house manager with a keen interest in the history of pubs”) and James Stevens Curl (“an architect with ‘a great interest in pubs, taverns, inns and drink’”), the content is both historically thorough and winningly casual as the two men catalogue the pubs of the City, which, as the cover states, “has, in fact, a higher density of pubs than any other comparable area in England, Scotland or Wales.”
Throughout the book, the two gently hammer home that the only way to truly enjoy the City pubs – while they may be beautiful, architecturally impressive or historically important – is to drink in them. This mission statement is launched with a quote from GK Chesteron’s A Ballade of an Anti-Puritan:
Is it not true to say I frowned,
Or ran about the room and roared;
I might have simply sat and snored –
I rose politely in the club,
And said “I feel a little bored;
Will someone take me to a pub?”
“Follow us!” Richards and Curl reply.
The book “takes the form of several pub crawls which even the most dedicated imbiber would need days to complete.” Richards and Curl split the City pubs into ten areas, “each area including a manageable number of pubs.” A manageable pub-crawl was clearly a more serious undertaking in 1971: the shortest crawl the book suggests is fourteen stops, the longest 23.
Perhaps this explains why their acknowledgements at the end of the book thank the person who typed their manuscript “from a less than tidy original”, and the police “for their good humour.”
When I first picked up the book and got stuck into it, it was a surprise to realise it was written 43 years ago. It certainly doesn’t read that way. In fact, I can’t think of a better book about the City’s pubs – or any guide to pubs, for that matter – than this one.
“Many books have been published concerning the City churches and the famous public buildings and even one dealing with the loos,” the authors write in the foreword. “But there is no comprehensive guide…After all, there are about 200 drinking establishments in the City, including wine bars, and these are well worth a study in themselves. Many older books, while devoting whole chapters to the City, are unfortunately out of date, or too clumsy.”
But while it isn’t ever clumsy, City of London Pubs has sadly joined those out-of-date books. The authors were only too aware of this inevitable fate – in the introduction, they clearly state “the information in this book is correct at the end of December 1971. As far as possible subsequent changes have been incorporated, but these cannot be guaranteed.” Their appendix demonstrated just how quickly things changed: it lists four pubs featured in the main body of the book, which had been demolished by the time of publication.
Thankfully, some of the gloomy apprehensions they raised about the future of pubs in the City have not been realised.
The seemingly unstoppable rise of the City wine bar was a twenty-year fad, and today many of these invaders have been supplanted in turn by branches of Itsu, Pret A Manger and vast corporate headquarters.
Richards and Curl lamented that “the traditional inn signs are fast giving way to neon atrocities”, but this too turned out to be a passing craze.
They also complained of a new ill: inexperienced barmaids, used only to pouring lager through a tap, who refused to pour natural beers into glasses and instead expected customers to come round the bar to do it themselves. They feared the solution to this problem would be pubs “refusing to stock the last few real beers containing sediment in the bottle. Despite a touch-and-go period in the 1980s when lager looked like it would batter bitter into submission, the demise of real ale never came to pass –today, you can probably get more varieties of natural beer in London that at any other point in its history.
In March 2014, I set out to walk in the footsteps of City of London Pubs, to see what changes have happened in the forty-three years since it was published. In an exact reverse of Richards and Curl’s work, I’ve kept my written notes to a minimum but have included photos of each pub (or if its been demolished, whatever’s replaced it.)
The main change I noticed, apart from the demolition of a number of pubs, is the total abscence of separate bars – the public bar, the saloon bar – some of which the book mentions were still in situ in the 1970s but all of which have since been removed.
Should you happen to have a copy to hand, this entry covers Richards and Curl’s first and fourth areas, which covers the ground from Fleet Street to Southwark Bridge (despite the numbering, Areas 1 and 4 border each other.) The numbering of the pubs is the same as it appears in the book.
No. 1 – YE OLDE COCK TAVERN, 22 Fleet Street, EC4
Like many pubs in the City, Ye Old Cock Tavern boasts a connection with Pepys (who visited in April 1668 with the actress Mrs Knipp, where he “drank, ate a lobster, and sang, and mighty merry”), but the present building is a relatively recent home dating from the mid-1880s. Previously, The Cock was situated in Apollo Court, on the opposite side of Fleet Street – the opening of a new branch of the Bank of England forced the move.
The dark, rather cavernous pub remains much as described in the book.
No. 2 – THE CLACHAN, Old Mitre Court, Fleet Street, EC2
A modern pub “with a small upstairs bar and a large dive bar and restaurant” built close to the site of the ancient Mitre Inn (Dr Johnson’s ‘place of frequent resort’), this has disappeared since the book was written – indeed, the lack of a specific address in the tiny square makes it hard to tell where it originally was. The only thing which remains is the Bishop’s Mitre above the door of a spectacularly boring looking office opposite.
No.3 – EL VINO’S, 47 Fleet Street, EC4.
One of the most famous of London’s drinking establishments, “the suitably sombre and discreet” El Vino’s is still going strong.
No. 4 – THE WELSH HARP, 3 Temple Lane, EC4
Back in 1971, the Welsh Harp was “a large pub of four storeys, the ground floor having an arcaded treatment of late Victorian date. Above, the stock-brick facade has rubbed red-brick arches over the windows, and there is a plain crowing cornice.” In 2014, there is absolutely no trace left of the pub but the “arcaded” ground floor can still be seen.
Bar the ancient looking stone bumper on its corner (which is clearly still protecting the building from the side-swiping construction lorries constantly winding through these narrow roads), the building in its place felt so uninspiring, I forgot to even see what it was.
No. 5 – THE WHITE SWAN, 28-30 Tudor Street, EC4
In 1971, the White Swan, with its interior “in mid-1930s style”, was “a good homely local, known to everyone as The Mucky Duck.”
In 2014, it has gone – in its place is a sandwich / salad bar with the not particularly sandwichy-salady-bar-name of ‘Hilliard’. On each side of the door remain two stone white swans, the only reminder of the building’s former life.
Since the 1970s, even the road layout has changed. Where the White Swan was once the corner building on Tudor Street, Tudor Street no longer exists – its former route is now covered by the vast monolithic offices of an international global law firm.
No. 6 – THE HARROW, 22 Whitefriars Street, EC4
While the divided bars that were present in 1971 have been removed and numerous internal refits have been performed over the years, the Harrow is still serving. Unusually, it has entrances on both sides of the pub – front and back.
No. 7 – THE COACH AND HORSES, 35 Whitefriars Street, EC4
A pub with an original late Victorian facade, it had been modernised by 1971 so that “the charming front is all that remains.” Today, the pub – or as the front has it, “local beer house” – has changed its name from The Coach and Horses to The Hack and Hop, presumably a late nod to the area’s journalistic history. Having walked the whole of the area, this is the only contemporary-looking pub-restaurant I came across.
No. 8 – THE TIPPERARY, 66 Fleet Street, EC4
Proclaiming itself “London’s oldest Irish pub”, the pub was opened on the site shortly after 1883 (although the name The Tipperary is more modern.) In 1971, it was “a long, narrow pub in traditional Irish urban style, with rich, dark panelled walls; engraved green glass panels with gilt lettering advertising whiskey and stout; carved display stands; mirrors; and resplendent lamps.” It’s largely the same four decades later.
No. 9 – THE FALSTAFF BAR, 67 Fleet Street, EC4
A “small, narrow bar in the basement of a restaurant” which was all that remained of a “once much larger house called The Falstaff, which closed in 1971”, there was absolutely nothing to signify any bar had ever existed on the site in 2014.
No. 10 – YE OLDE CHESHIRE CHEESE, Wine Office Court, 145 Fleet Street, EC4
One of the capital’s best known inns, it is probably the last pub in the City which will ever be changed. While the tourists enjoy the smoky fires and the faux-grubbiness inside, it’s worth taking a moment to admire the less remarked-upon exterior “with its sash windows, wooden panels, fanlight, and great hanging sign…an excellent example of the sort of pub front that existed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
No. 11 – THE KING AND KEYS, 142 Fleet Street, EC4
Almost next door to the Cheshire Cheese, in 1971 the King and Keys could boast a ceiling which “lowered by means of large wooden square” and which “incorporates lights and two applicable motifs. One is a rose, crossed keys, and a knight’s head; the other an orb, crossed maces and a crown.” The pub closed in 2009, and the building is now a Mexican takeaway snack bar.
No. 12 – THE COGERS, 9 Salisbury Court, EC4
In 1937, the eighteenth-century inn (whose name came from the Ancient Society of Cogers, a debating group who made the pub their home) was reincorporated into a modern building built for Reuters by Sir Edwin Lutyens. In 1971, Richards and Curl reported that the Cogers was large and “very much of its period…subdivided spaces give it a pleasant atmosphere…the screens have opaque glass set in; leaded lights are provided, even in the doors; and the bar is panelled, with rails.”
Today, the pub has disappeared – in 2009, the redevelopment of the building saw it replaced with a Sir Terence Conran-designed restaurant called Lutyens. The restaurant is actually on the other side of the road from where I took this picture – when I saw the restaurant, part of the grand deco building, it didn’t strike me that a pub could ever have been there. It was only later I was able to place where it was – so until I go back, here’s the view that the Cogers used to look out on.
No. 13 – THE OLD BELL, 95 Fleet Street, EC4
Originally built in 1670 for Sir Christopher Wren’s workmen, who were rebuilding St Bride’s after the Great Fire of London in 1666, the pub has changed its name numerous times over the centuries. The glass window which Richards and Curl admired in 1971 is still present in 2014, and the pub itself is little changed.
No. 14 – THE RED LION, Poppins Court, EC4
In 1971, Richards and Curl admired the Red Lion, “a decent three-storey building…good panelled ceiling and mirrors contribute to the late Victorian atmosphere…the dark wood of exterior and interior, yellowed walls and old ceiling all bear witness to a distinct lack of youth.” They also noted that “above the alleyway’s entrance one can still see the original tavern sign with a popinjay (a corruption of which gave the court the name Poppins) or parrot carved in stone.”
In 2014, all this has been comprehensively wiped away. The gap between the buildings is still called Poppins Court, but it couldn’t look any less like a Court, or any more like a service road cowering in the shadows of the towering office block it serves.
No. 15 – THE PUNCH TAVERN, 99 Fleet Street, EC4
Largely unchanged since 1971, the Punch Tavern has some lovely brassy Victorian plasterwork and decor – the closest one comes to seeing a gin palace on this walk.
Carvings of Punch and Judy above the bar, paintings of Toby the Dog in the tiled mosaic entranceway, a great glass skylight, dark wood and mirrors everywhere…
…but as Richards and Curl pointed out 40 years ago, “originally the space would have been subdivided and much more intimate in character. It is far too open and almost intimidating now.” It may be too open, but it’s not intimidating – when I went in, the staff couldn’t have been nicer and the clientele consisted of a few businessmen and two women with babies eating lunch. That said, it’s hard to deny that the entrance is much more fun than the inside.
No. 16 – THE ALBION, 2-3 Bridge Street, EC4
Still open, the Albion is still “a popular lunchtime rendezvous for eating, set within an undistinguished late-Victorian building.” When I walked past, even though it was gone 3pm, it was still full of City workers stuffing sausage and mash into their mouths.
No. 17 – THE ST BRIDE’S TAVERN, Bridewell Place, EC4
Up past a huge Premier Inn – the largest one I’ve ever seen, it looked like a terrifying battleship – is St Bride’s Tavern. In 1971, the authors of City of London Pubs said it was the type of comfortable pub which could become anyone’s local – but it’s a rather severe building which today hides a fairly unremarkable interior. It was the only pub I passed in the entire walk which was empty when I looked in. Good for the rest.
THE TALLY SO FAR:
Pubs covered in 1973’s City of London Pubs still open: 10 (1 renamed)
Pubs covered in 1973’s City of London Pubs now closed: 7
NEXT UP: AREA 4!
January 23, 2013
The thing I love most about London’s history is how it often pops up in the most mundane of settings.
Just after Christmas, I set out to close a Co-Op bank account that I’ve not used for years. The nearest branch to me is in Islington, just opposite Angel tube station. Look, I’m aware neither of those are the most dynamic opening sentences, but bear with me. I did say the setting was going to be mundane.
It’s one of the more perplexing names in the tube network – why did they go for Angel? Why not Islington,or Upper Street, or something a bit more geographically helpful?
The answer is that it’s one of five tube stations named after a pub (the others are Elephant & Castle, Manor House, Royal Oak and Swiss Cottage) and when the Angel tube station opened in 1901, the Angel Inn was still thriving on the corner of the High Street – much as it had done since the fifteenth century.
But within twenty years of the tube station taking its name, the Angel Inn was closed. Today, the tube station is the only reminder that it was ever there.
According to Henry C. Shelley’s The Inns and Taverns of Old London (1909):
The Angel dates back to before 1665, for in that year of plague in London a citizen broke out of his house in the city and sought refuge here. He was refused admission, but was taken in at another inn and found dead in the morning. In the seventeenth century and later, as old pictures testify, the inn presented the usual features of a large old country hostelry. As such the courtyard is depicted by Hogarth in his print of the Stage Coach. Its career has been uneventful in the main.
Its career may have been largely uneventful, but the inn survived for generations and the galleried interior was immortalised by some of the most celebrated English artists of the day: not just Hogarth in The Stage Coach: Country Inn Yard (1747)…
…but later by Thomas Rowlandson (in Outside the Angel Inn, Islington)…
…and Charles Dickens, who called the Angel “the place London begins in earnest” in Oliver Twist.
Despite an 1819 rebuild as the area rapidly transformed from a rural to an urban one (some of its land was sold off to realise some healthy profits), the Angel Inn was eventually demolished in the dying years of the nineteenth century.
In 1899, they rebuilt the old pub as an ornate, six-storey, terracotta-brick building which still stands today.
Renamed the Angel Hotel, the new building was intended to do justice to what the brewers described (with some marketing hyperbole) as “the widest-known hostelry in the world.” The ground floor was faced in polished Norwegian granite; carved stone cherubs look out from the higher eaves; a mahogany and green-marble staircase led from the bar to a smoking room upstairs; and crowning the entire heap sat a grand baroque cupola, which quickly became one of Islington’s landmarks.
But within twenty years, the Angel Hotel had closed – its grand, high-Victorian design swiftly looked out of date and unfashionable, and the building’s three-hundred year history as an inn came to an end in 1921. The brewery sold the building to the Lyons catering empire, most famous for their vast Corner House restaurants which dominated the West End in the post-war period.
Staffed by waitresses affectionately known as ‘nippies’, the Corner Houses were more like department stores than tearooms, with several restaurants, numerous floors and hundreds of staff. In the 1950s, the company could boast it was serving over a hundred million meals a year to the British public.
The Angel Cafe Restaurant was opened in February 1922 as a grand, two-storey restaurant – large, but not on the same scale as the massive centrally located Corner Houses. The novelist Arnold Bennett came for lunch in 1924, and wrote that he preferred the “brightness and space” of the Lyons house to “the old Angel’s dark stuffiness.”
It lasted until 1959, when the Lyons company sold the building to the Council. Road widening schemes had been constantly mooted throughout the century (one estimate claims the corner was subject to seventy individual road-widening schemes from 1890 until the 1970s) and with a compulsory purchase order about to come into effect on the building, Lyons sold the site to the council a few years before they would have had to.
The decision was made easier for the company due to the increasing cost in the upkeep of the now shabby building – a slow and steady decline in Lyon’s trade from the end of the Second World War onwards meant the company were already feeling the downturn in fortunes which would see them go under in the 1970s.
The building was leased to the University of London’s Geology department until 1968, and then spent a number of years empty until the council finally abandoned their road widening schemes. Having escaped demolition by the skin of its teeth, it is now listed and has been fitted for bank use since 1979.
And that’s where we come in, with me popping in to close a bank account in the Co-Op, who occupy it today.
And that’s when I noticed this inside the front entrance.
The huge gold plaque commemorates the day in 1925 when the building was still the Angel Cafe Restaurant, and Victor Watson stopped by for lunch.
Watson was the managing director of Waddingtons, a firm of printers from Leeds who in the 1930s had started to branch out into card and board games. In 1935, the company sent a game they’d devised called Lexicon to the Parker Brothers in America, hoping they might agree to produce it in the States. In return, the Parker Brothers sent them one of their board games that had not yet gone into production: Monopoly.
Following a weekend of play, Victor’s son Norman urged his father to quickly snap up the rights, and three days after Victor had received the game, Waddingtons obtained the licence to produce and market Monopoly outside of the United States.
Watson felt that for the game to be a success in the United Kingdom, the American locations on the board needed to be replaced, so he and his secretary, Marjory Phillips, travelled to London for a day to work out which street names they would put on the board.
By all accounts, Victor and Marjory’s single day in London was a hectic one – Victor later admitted he’d slipped up by putting ‘Marlborough Street’ on the board when it should have been Great Marlborough Street – but in a short period of time, they managed to pick a broadly accurate selection of roads to represent the varying values across the board.
One of the only known facts about their day out (which would turn out to be a very lucrative one for the Waddington’s company) was that Victor and Marjory sat in the Angel Cafe Restaurant in the afternoon and reviewed their work.
And whether it was to celebrate completing their job, or just because he liked the name, Victor decided to include ‘The Angel, Islington’ on the board. Unlike all the other property squares, it’s the only one which isn’t a street, but a specific building.
You can find this plaque, unveiled in 2003 by Victor’s grandson (who is also called Victor and is also the managing director of Waddingtons), just as you walk into the Co-Op bank at 1 High Street, Islington.
A couple of doors away, there’s a Wetherspoon’s which has taken the name The Angel, but don’t be fooled. This Angel can only trace its history back to 1998.
July 13, 2011
At 29 Great Marlborough Street, W1 (but most often approached by Carnaby Street, where it’s situated on a corner where the street meets Fouberts Place) stands The Shakespeare’s Head.
The sign outside the pub claims the inn was established on the site in 1735 and was named after the owners, Thomas and John Shakespeare, who claimed to be distant relations of their famous namesake. Nothing of the original establishment remains – the building which stands today is late nineteenth-century (albeit in a Tudor style) – and there are serious doubts over whether it has any connection even with Shakespeare’s descendants. After all, The Shakespeare’s Head is a fairly common pub name in London – others can be found in Holborn, the City, Kingsway, Finsbury and Forest Hill.
It’s likely Thomas and John Shakespeare form part of a colourful story about the pub’s origins, and one which has been stated with increasing conviction over the years. The presence of the claim on a nicely-painted board outside the pub certainly helps attract the passing tourists ambling down Carnaby Street, but it doesn’t make the story any more likely to be true.
What the pub does have, however, is one of London’s most charming Shakespeare statues.
There are others dotted around the capital – Leicester Square, Westminster Abbey, on the front of City of London school, a bust in the churchyard of St Mary Aldermanbury – but none with the playfulness of the one which peers out from a window-like recess of the pub.
There’s just something perfectly realised about the position of the body. While the face is cold and fixed, the stance of the body really conveys him casually examining the crowds below – a fixed moment where the greatest playright of all time is half-looking for inspiration in the throng that passes outside his window.
I have no idea whether the bust has always been painted in these cold colours, but there’s more than a touch of “zombie Shakespeare” about the hue (a zombie Shakespeare made an appearance in The Simpsons’ 1992 Halloween special Treehouse of Horror III, looking surprisingly similar to the pub’s statue.)
The sign outside also claims the bust lost a hand in World War 2 “when a bomb dropped nearby.”
While the bust is definitely one hand down, I’m inclined to take everything that sign says with a pinch of salt.