Pubs - a little history...
(but not enough to stop you enjoying that drink...)
Pubs are still pretty important to Londoners as you'll see from some of their recommendations. They've been around since Roman times (pubs & Londoners). The Romans also developed a network of inns alongside their new roads, offering lodging and refreshment. In later years monks also provided beer (safer than the water) for weary travellers & food. Nowadays you don’t necessarily have to be weary when you go into a pub…but you still need to mind your “P’s and Q’s”. The saying comes from when customers got unruly, landlords would shout to them to “mind your own pints & quarts and settle down”.
There's a long history behind pub signs too. Romans began hanging signs outside buildings such as a picture of the Roman god of Bacchus to denote a wine merchant. The practise continued through the ages, with simple illustrations for the largely illiterate population to recognise.
Early pub names were often religious, such as The Cross or Crossed Keys (emblem of St. Peter) or influenced by local landowners. A red lion was the personal badge of the Duke of Lancaster (one of the most powerful men in the 14th century) and later also of King James I so there were many pubs called the Red Lion. Richard II decreed that all London innkeepers should use his sign of the White Hart – a pub name which is still found in many areas of London today. Names like the Royal Oak refer to the Oak in which King Charles hid and there are many pubs named after famous battles and admirals. Other pub names refer to special events or features such as the Railway, Smugglers’ Arms or Cricketers.
Pub games are less popular than they used to be but darts is still played. It probably dates back to the Middle Ages and is an indoor version of archery, using the end of a barrel as the target.
Here are just a few London pubs worth seeing for their history, but we haven’t tested the beer…
London’s oldest riverside inn is the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping. Built in 1520 it started life as the Devils’ Tavern and was popular with smugglers. Its famous clients were reputedly Dickens, Pepys and Whistler. The George Inn is the only galleried coaching inn left in London and is in Borough High Street. In summer there are sometimes play performances in the inn yard.
The Black Friar is relatively modern, being originally built in 1875 on the site of the Blackfriar’s Monastery but has distinctive mosaics and carved figures. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is just off Fleet Street and was already described as being lop-sided in the 19th century. It was apparently a popular meeting place for Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Conan Doyle and Dickens – although not all at the same time!
We’d welcome your recommendations for your favourite REAL pubs in London (ones that still feel like pubs), especially those with a history or quirky anecdote attached to them. The very best may even be rewarded with a bottle…just email with your recommendations and why your favourite pubs are so good.