In an extract from his book, Liquid History: An Illustrated Guide to London's Greatest Pubs, John Warland remembers four legendary London drinking holes that called last orders a long time ago.
Eleanor Bull's Tavern
There is much conjecture as to whether it was actually a tavern, or simply a well-kept house down Deptford way. Either way, Eleanor Bull has become famous for owning the house in which esteemed wordsmith Christopher Marlowe met his maker.
The date was 30 May 1593, and the 29-year-old Marlowe had been enjoying a day of feasting and boozing with a selection of men thought to be from the British intelligence service. Nobody enjoys that awkward moment when a bill is presented after a day's indulgence; unfortunately, receipt of the "reckoning", as it was known, was too much to bear for Ingram Frizer, who stabbed Marlowe just over his right eye, killing the self-proclaimed atheist almost instantly.
Frizer escaped with a royal pardon, leading to claims of a state cover-up. Perhaps Marlowe was a man who knew too much? Marlowe himself, one of our greatest playwrights, ended up buried in an unmarked former plague pit just down the road within 48 hours. A strange and humble end for someone so revered.
But did he really die? Or was his death faked and did he move to Europe and pen the poems and plays later attributed to the one and only William Shakespeare? Where could such befuddled, gossipy murkiness occur but in a timeless London tavern?
The Tabard Inn
The Tabard was the famous starting point for Geoffrey Chaucer's 29 Kent-bound pilgrims in his 14th century Canterbury Tales — often marking their first time away from the confines of the religious order. Finding themselves in the heart of the Southwark 'stews' (brothels), awash with 'Winchester geese', bawdy and humorous tales abound. The landlord of the pub himself joins the group to judge the quality of each forthcoming tale, and promises the prize of a fine dinner to the winning narrator.
Visitors to the George Inn can see a picture of the Tabard in the downstairs bar. And that’s about as good as we've got to imagine what this rambling caravanserai-styled entrepôt of trade, debauchment and pilgrimage looked like. The inn would have provided stables, board and lodging just to the south of the City of London. A place of loose laws lost in time to a large fire in 1676, with the later reincarnation later pulled down in 1873 to make room for the burgeoning railway at London Bridge. The stagecoach era was coming to an end, and the requirements for such characterful offerings were simply no longer there.
All that remains is the works of Chaucer as the "father of English literature" and his legacy being the first writer to be buried in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey.
Stroll along the bustling Strand and stand opposite 395. Look down and you'll likely see a tourist tat-fest; but look up and you get some idea of the grand pub that once stood here.
The movement of Irish people to these shores has ebbed and flowed over time. Peaking in the 19th and 20th centuries as they fled the potato famine or joined in the post-war booms, it is often said that it was the Irish that built modern London. A rugby club bearing their name remains to this day, and their yearning for home and the craic can be seen and felt in the rich tapestry of pubs.
It's not difficult to imagine the long, panelled bar being thronged by those in search of hand-pumped Guinness with an oyster or two on the side. The barmen came directly from Dublin to ensure the finest pull, and the humble food offerings drew regular and repeat clientele. Patrons included commuters dashing across Waterloo Bridge, market porters from Covent Garden slaking their hard-won thirst, or journalists popping to Bush House or Savoy Hill for a BBC recording. Not forgetting those coming from or going to the many theatres hosting plays, ballets and operas in the area.
Here are journalist Maurice Gorham's thoughts on what we've lost: "It takes all sorts to make a world, and I have taken many a horse to water and found him too saucy to drink. But anybody who is interested in London pubs should not rest from searching until he has once leaned his elbows on the pink marble bar at Mooney's on The Strand."
Crocker's Folly is lost as a pub but not gone forever, and still accessible if you enjoy your hummus as much as your hops. Harking back to the speculative and moneyed Victorian era, the urban legend suggests that Frank Crocker heard that a new terminus for the Great Central Railway was to be established in St John's Wood. With rail travel being quite the thing, he thought building a splendiferous hotel nearby would be a total no-brainer. In order to attract the well-heeled travellers he spared no expense. He used over 50 types of marble, flamboyant crystal chandeliers, soaring marble columns and the innovative concept of a women-only bar. Hints of Versailles meet a classic gin palace aesthetic reminiscent of the later work in the Blackfriar.
Unfortunately for Frank the railway never came to fruition in the locale, so the hotel festered slightly off-grid once complete in 1898. Struggling to find its place in the world, it was later often frequented by England cricketing legends from nearby Lord's, with Beefy, Gower and Lamby leading the crusade at a time when 12 pints of lager was simply de rigueur when relaxing after a long day at the crease.
Originally known as The Crown, the pub was renamed Crocker's Folly to remember the misplaced financial stake, and poor old Frank Crocker's ghost is said to haunt the premises to this day.
Beautifully renovated and reopened as a restaurant in 2014, it's well worth a visit to enjoy the palatial ambition and grandeur alone.
Liquid History: An Illustrated Guide to London's Greatest Pubs by John Warland, RRP £12.99