Cheapside

03/02/2018 at 13:26 | Posted in Crawls | 3 Comments
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To kick off 2018, I led a walk around the Cheapside area of the City, taking in some old and new pubs, and eventually a philosophical discussion about what a pub actually is.

We met at the Ship, a small traditional Nicholson’s pub, tucked away down a small alley connecting Gracechurch Street with Cheapside. It sits on the site of an old coaching inn, the Talbot, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, but still gives its name to the alley; the pub itself was renamed the Ship after its 17th century reconstruction. It is small and cosy inside but there’s plenty of room to spill out into the alley outside, and they manage to pack several good ales onto the bar.

Leaving the 17th century, we headed east and past a symbol of the 21st century, the Walkie Talkie, which looms large over Cheapside, and along Plantation Place, which has a fascinating piece of art on the paving, commemorating 2,000 years of the City’s history. Across the road in the lower level arcade of Minster Court we came to the Tank & Paddle, a large and modern craft beer and pizza bar. There are no real ales here, but its key feature is that it sells Meantime Brewery beer fresh from tanks (as opposed to casks or kegs). Accordingly we went for a rare lager, to test their brewery fresh concept, and it was pretty good, certainly a big step up from one of the mainstream keg lagers.

The ShipThe third pub of the night was the second called the Ship, this time in a beautiful tall, narrow Grade II listed building. Inside you feel a long way from the City of London, the small bar serves a couple of ales and the atmosphere feels like a small local.

Next we turned the corner into Seething Lane at the church of St Olave’s, named after Norwegian King Olaf who fought alongside Ethelred the Unready against the Danes at the Battle of London Bridge in 1014; the church was built on the site of the battle. It was the church frequented by Samuel Pepys, who is buried here with his wife. Other interesting burials include Mother Goose, recorded in the burial register in 1586; and Mary Ramsay, who is believed to be the carrier of the plague to London in 1665; she was the first Londoner to die of the disease, and that year just this tiny church alone registered 365 plague victims. It is worth pausing to look at the graveyard’s gates, described as “ghastly grim” by Charles Dickens; the gates are inscribed with their date of erection (1658 – they survived the great fire) and contain a trio of skulls with cross bones.

Cheapside crawl (5)A few paces down we came to the Draft House Seething, a large modern square bar, and another to offer tank beer, this time Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic. There are just one or two cask ales, but a very wide range of keg and bottled beer.

At the other end of the street lies another historic church, All Hallows by the Tower. As the name suggests, it is just next to the Tower of London, but is in fact much older, having been founded in 675; the oldest part of the church today is a 7th century arch, which was partially built with recycled Roman tiles. The bodies of those executed at the Tower were brought to the church before burial. Happier moments include the baptism of William Penn, who went on to found Pennsylvania, in 1644, and the marriage of John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States, in 1797.

Across the road lies the next pub, the Hung Drawn and Quartered, named for the grisly end that came to some of those executed at the Tower. It is a fairly standard Fuller’s pub with the usual decent ales on the bar (and on Paul’s trousers on this occasion…)

Cheapside crawl (4)Back along Cheapside now, we paused to admire 33-35 Cheapside, now beautifully lit in the shadow of the Walkie Talkie behind. Back when Cheapside was London’s main meat market (cheap being the Old English for market), the main pub in the area was the Boar’s Head Inn, made famous by references in several of Shakespeare’s plays, and it was the base of Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1. The pub is sadly long lost to a road scheme, but this building commemorates it through the sign of a boar’s head poking through grass, and portraits of the heads of Henry IV and Henry V on the facade.  The original Boar’s Head Inn sign is now at Shakespeare’s Globe.

We walked down the beautiful Lovat Lane next; this used to be Love Lane, on account of the ladies of the night that used to frequent this alley, to the Walrus and Carpenter, another Nicholson’s pub with a pretty good range of ales on the bar. The pub is very close to Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of London started in September 1666. It was not taken so seriously at first; the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, said “Pish! A woman might piss it out!”

Cheapside crawl Tony Paul Dimo Dave EdAs it was it destroyed most of London’s civic buildings, St Paul’s Cathedral, 87 churches, and around 13,000 homes; the death toll was reportedly as low as six, although it is believed now to have been much higher. The Monument itself stands sentry in the heart of this neighbourhood, a 62 metre high stone column with a viewing platform at the top. The inscription for many years falsely blamed Catholics for starting the fire; the words were only chiselled out in 1831.

Around the Monument lie three pubs; we chose the Hydrant, a modern Fuller’s format which sells their usual ales but also a large range of craft beers, mainly on keg. The Hydrant is attractively fitted out with a fire theme, including ceiling lights made of fire extinguishers and a nice room upstairs with fire station doors. A shame they didn’t commemorate my distant ancestor, John Lofting, who in the aftermath of the Great Fire registered patents for two of his inventions, the fire engine and its scaled-down cousin, the beer engine – giving the world draught beer!

Anyway, the Hydrant provoked an interesting discussion; is it a pub or a bar? And what’s the difference? Some are obviously one or the other, but some are harder to pin down. I’m not sure that we really resolved this, but I think most generally bought into a theory I passed on (can’t remember where I first read it); that a pub is purpose-built and a bar is not; if a pub closes and is converted into something else, you look at it and think straight away “that used to be a pub”. A bar is a retail unit that sells alcohol; if it turns into an estate agent, who would know it had ever been a bar? It’s not a perfect system, as some of the oldest pubs started out as houses, and many of the newest micropubs started out as shops, but I think it’s a fairly good rule of thumb for most, so I’m sticking with it!

The second long debate was the Pub of the Crawl. There were wide views on this, proving that there’s no such thing as the perfect pub, everyone has different perspectives. But in the end there has to be a winner, and we voted for the first Ship (in Talbot Court); some of the newer pubs may have been more spacious and able to serve a wider range of beers, but for me, they can be replaced; if we were to lose a 17th century pub down an alley, a part of our history is lost. So congratulations to the Ship!

We also occasionally nominate a Beer of the Crawl; and being suckers for Citra, we (mostly) went for, and greatly enjoyed, Siren’s Suspended in Citra at the Hydrant. Congratulations to Siren!

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