Cannon Street

20/07/2014 at 13:22 | Posted in Crawls | Leave a comment
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For my crawl in July 2014, I felt it was high time to pay another visit to the City of London, with an evening centred on Cannon Street.

The first port of call was directly under Cannon Street railway station, and a few short steps from the Underground, in the shape of the Pelt Trader. This new (2013) pub has one of the best beer ranges in the City, and is run by the same people as the better-known Euston Tap. From the outside you wouldn’t necessarily suspect it is a beer oasis, the entrance is modest and little of the interior can be seen, but once inside, and your eyes acclimatise, a beer wall is revealed behind the bar, with a very wide range of interesting beers, both craft keg and real ales on draught, and a cracking range of bottles. We had quite a variety of drinks between us, but the best of the bunch was a delicious Kent Elderflower Saison; I was a little jealous that I only had a taste of someone else’s rather than a pint to myself, as this was the best beer of the evening.

WhittingtonOn leaving the Pelt Trader, we crossed into College Street, passing Innholders Hall, home of the Worshipful Company of Innholders, a traditional City livery company for the pub trade, this year celebrating 500 years since its first charter was granted by King Henry VIII. Turning up College Hill we passed the site of the house Lord Mayor Richard Whittington – he of Dick Whittington and his cat folklore fame – lived in, and the church he founded and was buried in, in 1423.

Soon we came to the Hatchet, the most traditional pub of the evening, a classic City watering hole, tucked down a narrow side street with a snug front bar and another room behind, although we joined the throngs outside in the street, enjoying the balmy evening and the view down Garlick Hill to St James Garlickhythe, with the street and church named after the wharf where garlic was imported from France in medieval times. This is a small Greene King pub, so there was only IPA and Abbot to choose from, which were not quite as cool as they could have been.

Next up, a much more modern pub in the form of the Sea Horse, on a corner site on Queen Victoria Street. This had a slightly larger beer range to choose from, with most of us going for Landlord or Doom Bar, and despite the generous outside drinking space, we opted to stay indoors this time and enjoy the lovely cool air conditioning, while some of us had a very amateur a game of darts!

Just along from the Sea Horse I paused at St Nicholas Cole Abbey to pass on a bit of family trivia; to cut a long story short, if you’d been in this church on 3rd May 1689, you’d have seen some of my ancestors here, for the wedding of Jan Lieftinck, or as he was now Anglicising his name to, John Lofting. Recently arrived from Holland, John was a prolific businessman and inventor, who industrialised manufacturing (his thimble factory turned out 2 million thimbles a year), was the successful plaintiff in the first legal case to establish the principle of “no taxation without representation” in the American colonies, and invented a mechanical fire engine.

London Gazette 1691However amongst his many achievements was a scaled down version of his fire engine; the beer engine, and as a result, he had invented draught beer. Patented in 1691 and described in the London Gazette on 14 March 1691 as “a very useful Engine for Starting of Beer, and other Liquors, which will deliver from 20 to 30 Barrels an hour, which are compleatly fixed with Brass Joynts and Scrues, at reasonable Rates.” Lofting’s beer engine revolutionised the serving of beer in pubs, allowing staff in the main room to serve beer without running down to the cellar each time to tap the cask/barrel. As a result, the bar, and the modern pub as we would recognise it, was born.

After this digression, we headed downhill to the river and the Samuel Pepys pub, tucked incongruously down an unpromising-looking dead-end alleyway. The pub is modern, being situated within a building which was recently rebuilt. The beer range was limited to Tribute and Doom Bar, both fine if a little unexciting these days, but the real selling point of this place is its riverside location and views. There are tables inside with lovely views, but arriving after the main wave of post-work drinkers had already left, we were able to go out onto the narrow balcony overlooking the Thames. Our timing was perfect, because what had been a very hot day was changing fast as a storm rolled in, and we had a prime view of the dramatic black clouds and thunderstorms moving in.

Pepys

A short walk east along the river from here, past the Little Ship Club where I got married, brought us to the Banker, a larger and rather busier Fullers pub, tucked into the arches under Cannon Street station, also with river views, although they are looking out under the bridge so are lacking the aspect enjoyed by the Samuel Pepys. There was a nice light summer ale on, which was a bit bland but well suited to the muggy weather.

Leaving the Banker we walked along the passage under the station which has been very brilliantly improved in recent years with sound and lighting to brighten up what could be a dark passageway. The station was built on the site of the Steelyard, formerly the London trading post of the Hanseatic League, a middle ages trading league and at one time a walled German enclave. The land was only sold by its owners, the cities of Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg, in 1853.

Around the next corner lies the Oyster Shed, a new pub very unlike the traditional City pubs. Traditionally City pubs were small, dark buildings on narrow streets, full of men in suits imbibing liquid lunches and knocking back pints after work. The Oyster Shed feels nothing like this at all, being a large, bright airy space with a large outdoor space with wonderful views over the River Thames. Approaching 11pm most City pubs are down to the last few besuited workers, who’ve ended up having several more beers than they planned. This one was still very lively, full of a much younger crowd, and felt much more like a city centre pub than a City pub. The beer range was very limited, but what was on offer was interesting; we all opted for the Cronx Kotchin, a very nice hoppy ale.

As 11pm approached we knew we wouldn’t get to the next target in time, so opted to stay here for a final one; however, annoyingly, having started to order before 11pm, by the time the barman had established that the beer we wanted had run out and we’d have to choose something else, he suddenly decided we were too late, so we missed out on a final round despite ordering before 11pm and before last orders had been called. Poor show, Geronimo, poor show.

Post-11pm options are a bit limited locally, as most City workers have already fled for their trains by now, so in a bit of a break from tradition we returned to one we had already visited but which I knew was open late, the Sea Horse, for a final leisurely pint before calling it a night.

A final heated debate ensued for the vote for the Pub of the Crawl, a difficult choice tonight with such a wide variety of pubs, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Finally the vote was won on the basis of the balcony view where we watched the storm rolling in, so congratulations to the Samuel Pepys!

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