33 Actually Interesting Facts About London Pubs
How many Red Lions are there?
1. There are at least 34 Red Lion pubs within the M25. The name originally came from a very common heraldic symbol, used by a number of different noble families.
2. In The Red Lion on Great Windmill Street, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels drafted the Communist Manifesto. It's now a Be At One.
3. The Argyll Arms in Soho claims that there was once a secret tunnel that ran from the pub to the Palladium across the road, which at the time was the mansion of the Duke of Argyll.
4. De Hems in Chinatown was turned into a Dutch pub when a retired Dutch sea captain made it an oyster house, and later became the central meeting point of the Dutch resistance exiles after Holland was invaded by Germany in WWII.
5. Meanwhile, the French House in Soho was where General Charles De Gaulle wrote his speech rallying the French people after Germany took France.
6. The Boar's Head Inn at Eastcheap was used as a location by Shakespeare in his historical plays, most notably Henry IV, Part I, when Falstaff meets there with Henry.
7. The George and Vulture near Bank is mentioned repeatedly in The Pickwick Papers by Dickens, who also liked to drink there. There's been a pub on the site since 1268.
8. A small number of London pubs still have 'snob screens' installed, which are frosted glass screens installed to allow posher drinkers to drink without having to see working-class drinkers on the other side of the bar. Examples are at The Lamb in Bloomsbury, the Prince Alfred in Maida Vale and Princess Louise in Holborn.
9. Ye Olde Mitre in Holborn has a cherry tree inside the front wall that Elizabeth I once danced around, according to the pub's legend.
10. That pub is also technically a part of Cambridge, since it was built for the servants of the Bishop of Ely, and until recently the licensees had to go to Cambridge to renew the license. However, as part of Ely place, the last privately owned street in London, City police still can't legally follow criminals into it without invitation from the streets elected governing body - instead having to cordon off exits and call the Cambridgeshire force.
11. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street has been at the location since 1538, and claims numerous significant literary figures drank there, such as Mark Twain, W.B. Yeats, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse Charles Dickens and Dr. Johnson.
12. Anthony Burgess was once drinking in The Duke of York in Fitzrovia when a violent gang stormed the pub, an incident that was said to inspire A Clockwork Orange.
13. The Sherlock Holmes near Charing Cross hosts a reconstruction of Holmes' sitting room upstairs in the pub, based on exhibits put together for a 1951 festival.
14. Hồ Chí Minh, who went on lead the Việt Minh independence movement and establish the Communist-ruled Democractic Republic of Vietnam once worked in the kitchens of The Drayton Court, in Ealing.
15. The Only Running Footman in Mayfair was originally London's longest pub sign (reading "I am The…") until a more recent trend of names being "deliberately contrived to appear at the top of lists such as these."
16. The various 'Castle' pubs in Camden (the Dublin Castle, Edinburgh Castle, Windsor Castle and Pembroke Castle) were so named because there were thousands of workers in the area building the railways, and separating them on nationalistic lines meant fewer fights, and more people showing up for work the next day.
17. The Devonshire Arms on Kentish Town Road is often considered the first Goth pub in Camden, an important moment in the developing of Camden Town's reputation as a home of alternative culture. It was also where members of the Pogues drank in the 1980s.
18. The Spaniards Inn near Hampstead Heath was a popular site for highwaymen (possibly including Dick Turpin) to watch the road - and the tree down the road was where they were hung when caught.
19. Pubs in Highgate used to participate in a ritual called "Swearing on the horns" - a mock religious ceremony used on confused visitors, which conferred upon them, "the freedom of Highgate," which mostly consisted of the right to sleep in a ditch if they so desired.
20. The first Wetherspoons opened in Muswell Hill in 1979, but was later sold, becoming The Spoons, and later Keenan's Bar.
21. But the oldest surviving Wetherspoons is also in London - the Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington, which dates from 1983.
22. Many people think that the nursery rhyme "Pop Goes the Weasel" refers someone selling a suit in order to have money for a drink. Specifically, the lyrics "Up and down the City Road, in and out the Eagle" refer to the Eagle pub in Hoxton, which has the song lyrics on a sign.
23. Dirty Dick's near Liverpool Street is so named because of a warehouse keeper, Nathaniel Bentley, who was so overcome with grief at the death of his bride-to-be that he closed up the room he had prepared their wedding feast in, living there alone for over forty years, allowing no one else in. The 'dirty warehouse' became successful as result, and this pub, which used to be owned by Bentley, named itself for him after his death and recreated the look of his filthy shop.
24. There was once a pub called The Fortune of War, on Pye Corner in Smithfield, which has now been demolished but used to be used to store corpses stolen from graves by resurrectionists, awaiting sale for dissection for the hospital across the road.
26. The Widow's Son in Bow gathered a collection of a huge number of hot cross buns hanging in a net by a window over many decades, as part of a tradition that has little explanation, other than tradition itself. (There is an apocryphal story involving a mother waiting for her son to return from war, but it's unlikely to be true.)
27. The Anchor on Bankside was where Samuel Pepys took refuge from the Great Fire of London. It survived, but burnt down in separate incident a few years later.
28. The Grapes in Limehouse is part-owned by Sir Ian McKellan and Evgeny Lebedev.
29. The Hare and Billet in Blackheath was mentioned in Parliament because it served Henderson's relish, which an MP had never heard of before, so assumed was "parasitic copying" of Lea & Perrin's. After the publicity, the pub received a boost in visitors originally from Sheffield, home of Henderson's relish.
30. The Half Moon in Herne Hill has been responsible for launching numerous music careers, including U2 and La Roux, as well as an incredible "barred list" that recently went viral. There's now a crowdfunding attempt to produce a book based on the characters, including 'One Armed Keith,' 'Mickey Two Suits' and 'The Ginger Drunk Twat Called Angus.'
31. The Winchester in Shaun of the Dead used to be a real pub, The Duke Of Albany in New Cross, but it has since been turned into flats.
33. Five London underground stations are named after pubs - or at least, after areas that were named after pubs - Angel, Elephant & Castle, Manor House, Swiss Cottage and Royal Oak. Arguably, Maida Vale is as well, as the area takes its name from a pub called the Hero of Maida after a British victory in the Napoleonic Wars.