6 Of London's Best Historic Pubs

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 21 months ago
6 Of London's Best Historic Pubs

London has numerous 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 count 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. Its status as the populist choice is reflected in the ever-bustling atmosphere (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 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 important to many of its past patrons — felons on the run who used the pub as sanctuary from the City's police force (or so the legend goes). 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 on 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 among 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 (he wasn't), 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 near 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, which eventually led to another name change.

It became 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 namesake 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 — as does the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping and the London Apprentice in Isleworth — 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 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 31 May 2017