Historic Lamb and Flag pub in Covent Garden, shot from far with street and outdoor tables
Distilled Spirits

Historic Pubs in London: 10 Time-Honored Taverns

As you wander through the bustling streets of London, it’s easy to overlook the historic pubs that have stood the test of time, quietly witnessing the city’s transformation. These are not just historic pubs; they are vessels of history, each holding a myriad of stories, secrets, and legacies within their age-old walls. From poets and pirates to literary legends and notorious criminals, these pubs have served them all. Let’s embark on a journey through time as we explore some of London’s most historic pubs, where every pint comes with a tale as rich as the ale.

The French House, Soho

This pub’s history is intertwined with the bohemian culture of London. Known affectionately as ‘The French’ by its regulars, it has been a bustling spot in the heart of London for decades. The pub gained a unique reputation during World War II when Charles De Gaulle and the Free French used it as a base, which is why the pub continues the tradition of serving beer only in half-pints. Notable patrons have included Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Lucian Freud, and Suggs​​.

The Grapes, Limehouse

The Grapes in Limehouse, dating back to around 1583, is steeped in notable literary and historical connections. Charles Dickens, who knew the pub well, is believed to have mentioned it in his novel “Our Mutual Friend.” The pub’s location on the Thames provided a perfect backdrop for Dickens’ narratives. Additionally, it’s rumored that Sir Walter Raleigh set out for his voyage to the New World from near this pub. Also,  Ian Mckellen was the previous owner of the pub and you can still see the wand he used in the movie behind the bar. Its enduring presence on the banks of the River Thames makes it a significant landmark in London’s rich tapestry of historical pubs.

The Lamb & Flag, Covent Garden

Tucked away in the backstreets of Covent Garden, this pub was notorious in the 19th century for hosting bare-knuckle prize fights. Its history goes further back to 1679, when poet John Dryden was attacked by thugs in the alley beside the pub. The Lamb & Flag has since transformed from its rough-and-tumble past into a more convivial establishment​​​​.

The Mayflower, Rotherhithe

This pub is steeped in maritime history, claiming to be the spot from which the Pilgrim Fathers set sail on the Mayflower. Its charming old oak beams and nooks add to its historic ambiance. The pub’s connection to America is so strong that it has been licensed to sell U.S. stamps since the 1800s​​.

The Prospect of Whitby, Wapping

As London’s oldest riverside pub, dating back to 1520, it has a storied past involving smugglers, sailors, and pirates. The pub features a flagstone floor from its early days and a replica of the gallows, referencing its association with the infamous ‘Hanging’ Judge Jeffreys. Notable figures like Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens are said to have frequented it​​​​.

The Spaniards Inn, Hampstead Heath

Dating back to 1585, The Spaniards Inn is one of London’s oldest pubs. It is famed for its literary associations with Lord Byron, John Keats (who reportedly wrote ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ here), and Charles Dickens. The pub also has connections to the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin, believed to have been born there when his father was the landlord​​​​​​.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street

Rebuilt in 1667 following the Great Fire of London, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is known for its Victorian-era atmosphere. The pub’s history dates back even further, with a pub existing on this site since 1538. It’s a place steeped in history, where you can almost feel the presence of its past patrons​​.

The Guinea, Mayfair

Though the current building dates back to the 1720s, a pub has stood on this site for nearly 500 years. Known as the oldest steakhouse in the city, The Guinea has hosted famous patrons like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Greta Garbo. It’s famous for its premium dry-aged British beef, served since 1960​​.

The Old Bell Tavern, Holborn

This pub, located on the site of the earlier tavern The Swan, carries centuries of London’s pub history. While details about its earliest days are scarce, its long-standing presence in Holborn speaks to its endurance and popularity among locals and visitors alike​​.

The Star Tavern, Belgravia

Famous for its connections to the Great Train Robbery, The Star Tavern is a traditional establishment with a criminal past. It was a meeting place for the criminals who planned the infamous heist. The pub has also been a favorite haunt for notable figures from the sixties, such as Diana Dors, Peter O’Toole, and Albert Finney​​.

London’s historic pubs are more than just places to enjoy a good drink; they are the keepers of stories, the silent witnesses to centuries of change, and the social hubs that have seen the ebb and flow of London’s history. In their dimly lit corners and beside their crackling fireplaces, the past lingers, inviting us to take a moment, raise a glass, and immerse ourselves in the narratives that have shaped this magnificent city. So the next time you find yourself in London, remember to step into one of these time-honored taverns – not just for the beer, but for the incredible journey through history they offer.

1 Comment

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    Wendyt June 28, 2024

    What a great read! The humor was a nice touch. For further details, click here: READ MORE. Let’s chat about it!

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