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6 Of London's Best Historic Pubs

6 Of London's Best Historic Pubs

London has watering holes that have been about for centuries. Here are six boozy beauties.

Photo: Tere Sue Gidlof

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Look: 'olde' is in the name. If that doesn't convince you of its history, surely nothing will. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was originally built in 1538 but like much of the city, burnt down in the Great Fire. It was swiftly rebuilt in 1667.

This is the first of many pubs on this list to have literary greats among its clientele — Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, PG Wodehouse, Charles Dickens (is there a pub Dickens didn't visit?) and, of course, Dr Samuel Johnson, for whom this place was a local.

Our readers voted the Cheshire Cheese the best old London pub and its status as the populist choice is reflected in that it's always bustling (the cheap drink prices help too).

It was once busy for another reason: eight erotic Georgian tiles were discovered in the pub's nooks, leading to conjecture that is may have once been a brothel.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 154 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BU

Photo: Tony Avon

Ye Olde Mitre

Ye Olde Mitre in Holborn lies mere metres outside the City of London. This was vitally important to many of its past patrons — felons on the run who used the pub as sanctuary from the City's police force. Another interesting facet of Ye Olde Mitre's location is that up until the 20th Century, the land the pub and surrounding area was owned by the Bishops of Ely. There's an argument that it's still technically part of Cambridgeshire:

Ye Olde Mitre, 1 Ely Place, EC1N 6SJ

Photo: Jacob Surland

The Spaniards Inn

The Spaniards Inn is a massive annoyance to motorists as it forces vehicles into one lane for both directions, due to its past life as a tollgate. However, if you're watching the chaos through the pub window with a pint, it's not all that bad.

A pub that has great literary pedigree — featuring in Dickens' Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker's Dracula — it also counted romantic poets John Keats and Lord Byron amongst its regulars. The former client the pub is most proud of is infamous highwayman, Dick Turpin. Rumours abound that his father was a previous landlord and Turpin's twin pistols even used to hang over the bar until they were ironically nicked.

Nowadays the pub offers respite for walking enthusiasts looking for a rest from Hampstead Heath. Definitely worth popping into if it's frosty outside, as there's nothing like an old fashioned log fire.

The Spaniards Inn, Spaniards Road, NW3 7JJ

Photo: Tere Sue Gildof

The George Inn

Another pub that succumbed to fire (this one in 1676), The George Inn's current incarnation dates back to 1677. There's evidence that a pub's been on the land since medieval times; it was a last stop-off before travellers entered the City.

Another one of Dickens' old haunts, the pub featured in his novel Little Dorrit, and The George now proudly holds Dickens' life insurance policy framed upon of its walls.

The George Inn, 77 Borough High Street, Southwark, SE1 1NH

The French House

History comes in many forms, and The French House is a great example of this: built at the end of the 19th century, it has lived a storied existence ever since.

It was originally called The White House and opened in 1891, then it became York Minster in 1914. It was a rallying point for the French Resistance under Charles de Gaulle during the second world war — hence the name.

It changed its name from the York Minster to The French House in 1984. This is because after a fire at the actual York Minster, people kept sending contributions to help with restoration to the pub. Upon forwarding them, the landlord discovered that the cathedral had been receiving deliveries of wine belonging to the pub for years!

The fact that mobile phones are banned makes the experience closer to that of a traditional pub, where you might actually have to — God forbid — talk to someone else. Don't worry, it needn't be in French.

The French House, 49 Dean Street, Soho, W1D 5BG

The Mayflower

As its name suggest, The Mayflower in Rotherhithe has its history intertwined with that of pilgrims heading to America. The Mayflower (the boat) docked right outside the pub, then called The Shippe, picking up passengers before it went via Plymouth and onto the New World.

The pub has gone through a few rebrands through the years; it became The Spread Eagle for a bit, before settling on The Mayflower to honour that momentous journey. It claims to be the oldest pub on the Thames, but what is of little doubt is the place's charm. With low ceilings and dark timber beams the place is lovely and cosy. Just make sure you book though if you're hoping to sit down.

The Mayflower, 117 Rotherhithe Street, SE16 4NF

Let us know about your favourite historic London pub, in the comments.

Last Updated 23 November 2016

Jane Hewitt

That's 6

Joe Slavin

It's only a list of six. Is this a sobriety test :-)

Edgar Johns

Hello I,m not joining in a discussion rather starting one. if I May? I am Born and raised in Canada. My Gr. Grandfather left London 1870 with his young family to emigrate to Canada. I have a photo copy of an edited letter he wrote to The City Press of London 1901. Headlined"Reminiscences of Old Cripplegate".
" Mr. Johns was born (1835) in one of the Plaster frame houses #56 on the east side of Red Cross Street.-----Mr Johns proceeds to mention a large number of residents of whom he has vivid recollection. In Red Cross Street was the Distillery of Messrs. Harmer and Pearson , between the distillery and St. Paul,s Alley stood The Hales Brewery , close by stood offices of A. J. Baylis, vestry Clerk, which was close to The Grapes and Crown public house, where a society called The Judges used to meet nightly to discuss parish and ward business. This Society afterwards removed to The Fountain built at a later date on the opposite side of the street."
As my grandfather was born in 1835 this time period probably was 1840,s 50,s. Also this area was a century later erased during WW2. Little remains of photo,s etc. Haven, found any mention of Grapes and Crown Or The Fountain.