London’s Historic Pubs, Part I

©Cheryl Bolen

Our whole family has a love affair with London, and since our sons have grown we’ve spent a lot of our time in its pubs.

Though my boys are far more discerning over their beer, bitters, ale, and stout (I may not have all that right because I’m not all that discerning about such) I, on the other hand, am more discerning about history. I love historical pubs.

In London, you can find a pub (this name a shortening of public house) on every block, but it’s much harder to find a historic pub in the world’s most urbane, international city. Nowadays, many pubs have morphed into wine bars. Others have eschewed traditional “pub grub” like shepherd’s pie for appetizers like . . . can you believe nachos? And many have gone Zen with their decor. We prefer dark with rich old wood bars. We love to get fish and chips and kidney and shepherd’s pies. If there’s a fireplace, so much the better. My last consideration is “associations.” What historical figures are associated with the pub?

The oldest pubs typically are in the oldest parts of London, around The City and the boroughs immediately surrounding it. (There are 32 boroughs in this vast city.) Most of the really old pubs will have low ceilings and often are housed in several smaller rooms.

Here’s a list of historical pubs we have sampled. It is not complete because we will continue adding to it with each new trip.

Dr. Bolen by his favorite place--Ye Olde Chesshire Cheese.

Dr. Bolen by his favorite place–Ye Olde Chesshire Cheese.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

One of the first historical pubs we ever checked out was Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (rebuilt in 1667) in The City. Though there’s a sign for it on Fleet Street, customers enter through a “close,” which is a narrow pedestrian street, off of Fleet.

Many decades ago my high school English teacher showed us slides from her 1950s trip to London. I remembered two things about those slides more than 20 years later when I took my first trip to England. I recalled all the post-war rubble of bombed buildings—and the name of an old pub where Samuel Johnson and many other literati had imbibed, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

Now, no trip to London is complete for us without a swing by the quaint, dark warren of rooms. We prefer the tiny front one with its own fireplace. We loved being there on weekdays and seeing all the bankers and journalists coming off Fleet Street in their suits for an after-work pint. Sadly, in recent years, it’s been discovered by tourists, and those British accents are becoming rare.

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My sons at the Spaniards Inn.

Spaniard’s Inn

The second must-visit pub for us each trip is the Spaniards Inn, which we first discovered on a 1996 trip, though it’s been in picturesque Hampstead alongside the Hampstead Heath since 1585. Hampstead is about four miles north of Charring Cross. The pub/inn is located by a tiny 400-year old toll house that’s no longer in use. A lot of history is associated with this inn. Famed highwayman Dick Turpin (1707-1739) was said to have been a regular, and poets John Keats and Lord Byron were frequent guests. It’s said Keats, who lived nearby, wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the inn’s gardens.

I prefer the interior’s low-ceilinged nest of rooms, some with cozy high-back benches of old oak. If there’s no rain and even a hint of sunshine, Londoners, on the other hand, will opt to eat and drink in the large garden, part of which is arbored.

Unlike Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, this has not been overrun by tourists. It is very popular with locals from the posh surrounding neighborhoods of Hampstead and Highgate, and its parking lot (a rarity for a London pub) is filled with Range Rovers and BMWs.

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The George is entered in the same way it was when it was a coaching inn.

The George Inn

Just as atmospheric as the first two, The George is London’s last remaining galleried inn. It is the only one on our current list located south of the River Thames, in Southwark. Just steps from the Tower Bridge tube stop and a minute’s walk from the river, The George is still entered the same way as coaches and horses entered when the inn was rebuilt in 1676. The former inn yard now offers ample outdoor seating.

The former inn yard now offers outdoor seating -- not a preference at chilly Christmas time when we were there!

The former inn yard now offers outdoor seating — not a preference at chilly Christmas time when we were there!

Though the National Trust bought the inn to preserve it, it’s no museum. It’s a popular hangout for food and drink, and the interiors are authentic English pub. Like Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The George is composed of many small rooms that offer that unique coziness that promotes good conversation and good times. It was visited by Charles Dickens and mentioned in his Little Dorrit.

 

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The Bolen Boys at the Cittie of Yorke.

Cittie of Yorke

Though there’s been a pub on this site since 1430, the current one is decidedly Victorian though it only dates to the 1920s. It’s located in High Holborn not far from the Chancery Lane tube stop. It was formerly known as Henneky’s Long Bar and was the subject of a Dylan Thomas ode.

Though it’s a vast departure from the low-ceilinged labyrinths of some of our favorite old pubs, this is a must-see. There’s a cozy front room, but the heart and soul of this wonderful pub is its high-ceilinged main room with the famed long bar. Something about it—perhaps its high clerestory windows—reminded me of the big hall in the Augustinian Brewery in Salzburg. There is plenty of dark wood here to add the patina of age.

Enjoying a pint (or half pint, in my case) at the Cittie of Yorke.

Enjoying a pint (or half pint, in my case) in one of the Cittie of Yorke’s cozy cubicles.

The pride of place at the Cittie of Yorke are the Victorian-style oak cubicles that line either side of this large, wood-floored chamber. We had to wait to claim one, but it was well worth it. An added plus is the pub’s endorsement by the Campaign for Real Ale.

Part II, Next Blog

Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, High Holborn/Chancery Lane

Red Lion in Westminster

The Cross Keys in Covent Garden

The Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden

The Old Bell Tavern in the City

A Brief History of Clarence House

©By Cheryl Bolen

Upon the 2002 death of his grandmother, the Queen Mother Elizabeth, Prince Charles moved into a newly remodeled Clarence House on London’s Mall near Buckingham Palace and adjacent to Britain’s most senior royal palace, St. James Palace, which dates to the 1500s. His son William lived at Clarence House until his marriage in 2011, and Prince Harry until 2012.

London's Clarence House

London’s Clarence House

Clarence House has been a British royal residence since it was commissioned by the Duke of Clarence in 1827, three years before he became King William IV upon the death of his brother, George IV. The gracious white stucco structure was built by John Nash, a favorite architect of the Duke of Clarence’s Regent brother. William IV preferred the four-storey house to the official royal palace of St. James. Upon his death, he passed it to one of his sisters, who enjoyed it the last three years of her life.

Queen Victoria then offered the house to her mother and following that to a succession of her many children.

The building was bombed during World War II and after repairs, housed the present queen before her ascension in 1953. Her daughter, Princess Anne, was born there in 1950. Upon the death of the queen’s father, George VI, she swapped residences with her mother. Her maiden sister Margaret also moved to Clarence House before taking apartments at Kensington Palace, another of the royal residences in London. The late queen mother lived there for half a century, edging out for longevity two of Victoria’s sons, each of whom lived there for more than 40 years, non consecutively. It will be a very long time before any royal can ever exceed in years that logged at Clarence House by Queen Elizabeth’s centenarian mother.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00072]Cheryl Bolen’s passionate Regency-set novel, One Golden Ring, re-released in December after being out of print for many years. It won the Holt Medallion for Best Historical of 2005. Eloisa James wrote of it, “Who can resist a marriage of convenience between a couple who have nothing in common—but passion!

A Brief History of London’s Somerset House

© Cheryl Bolen

Though the Duke of Somerset was executed in 1552, the huge building still bearing his name sits in one of the most prime locations in all of London. The massive structure that was built around a quadrangle stretches from the River Thames to the Strand, adjacent to the present-day Waterloo Bridge. (See an aerial photo of Somerset House here http://www.blom-uk.co.uk/2011/09/image-of-the-week-%E2%80%93-september-14th-2011/.)

Courtyard of Thames-side Somerset House in London

Courtyard of Thames-side Somerset House in London

This is not the palatial house begun in 1549 by Edward Seymour, one of the brothers-in-law of Henry VIII. Upon Henry’s death, Seymour became Lord Protector of the Realm under the reign of his young nephew, Edward VI, proclaimed himself the Duke of Somerset, and set about to build one of the finest mansions in London. Two years later he was interred, and he was beheaded in 1552.

The structure (far too large to be thought of as a house) that currently sits on the site of Somerset House was designed by William Chambers in 1776 and was extended ever further in the mid 1800s. During the Regency, a large portion of the building housed the Admiralty. An elaborate stairway within the building still is referred to as the Nelson Staircase.

For much of the 20th century, Britain’s Inland Revenue was housed there. A variety of artistic societies have inhabited Somerset House over the past century, and it has also housed King’s College and part of the University of London.

The quadrangle belongs to the people. During winter, it’s an ice skating rink. In summer, fountains cool off hundreds. Many concerts and entertainment venues are also held in the quadrangle. Throngs of Londoners who’ve never heard of the beheaded Duke of Somerset still enjoy the “house” that he envisioned almost five centuries earlier. – Cheryl Bolen, whose latest installment in her lighthearted, romantic Regent Mysteries, An Egyptian Affair, releases Dec. 15.

The Two Wives of George IV

©By Cheryl Bolen

Before England’s King George IV became prince regent (a title more identifiable with him than his eventual monarchy) at age 48 in 1811, he had taken two wives–and neither of the marriages were ever dissolved and neither woman ever truly shared his reign.

How can he have legally had two wives? He didn’t. One of his wives was illegal. As a young man of 21, he fell madly in love with Maria Fitzherbert, a wealthy and beautiful widow six years his senior. The fact that she was a Catholic was not the only obstacle in their path of matrimonial harmony. There was also the Royal Marriage Act prohibiting any member of the royal family from marrying without the king’s permission. As an act of Parliament, the Royal Marriage Act superseded any law of church; to violate it would be a crime.

For over a year the Prince of Wales courted Mrs. Fitzherbert and even resorted to a botched suicide attempt to gain her hand. Eventually she relented, and in 1785 they were secretly wed by an Anglican minister and fancied themselves married. But cognizant of the criminal act they had committed, the two never publicly acknowledged the marriage, nor did they ever live in the same residence. The prince was willing to let his brother Freddie (the Duke of York) sire children who would be heirs to the throne, and he planned to do away with the Royal Marriage Act when he became king. (Freddie, by the way, never had any children.)

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Maria Fitzherbert and the Prince of Wales (later George IV)

Troubles precipitated by Mrs. Fitzherbert’s hot temper, the prince’s wandering eye, and–most of all–his vast debts sent the marriage into the skids less than a decade later. Prinny had decided to take Brunswick’s Princess Caroline for his wife, an action that would increase his annual income and clear his exorbitant debts.

Though he had never met Caroline, a first cousin, the prince married her in 1795. He took such an instant dislike to her slovenly appearance he had to get himself excessively drunk in order to beget a child on her (Princess Charlotte, who died in childbirth in 1817). With that duty dispatched, he turned his back on his true wife, and they lived apart for the remainder of their lives.

Five years after his “legal” marriage, the prince persuaded Mrs. Fitzherbert to return to him. They stayed affectionate for almost a decade, parting ways because of his infidelity the year before he became regent.

Caroline of Brunswick

Caroline of Brunswick

Caroline died shortly after his coronation as King George IV, but he never remarried, and when he died ten years later in 1830 he wore about his neck a miniature portrait of Mrs. Fitzherbert. –Cheryl Bolen’s newest release is the first in the Brazen Brides series, Counterfeit Countess. Fans of her Regent Mysteries can preorder the newest installment, An Egyptian Affair, only on iBooks.

What Regency Gentlemen Knew

It is difficult for those of us in the twenty-first century to possess the knowledge our Georgian heroes possessed. As members of the aristocracy, they had studied with private tutors since the age of four or five. They were fluent in Latin and most could read Greek. They knew the ancient scholars as well as contemporary boys know baseball and football. Regency-era gentlemen spoke French as well as they spoke their native tongue. Most of them had undertaken the Grand Tour throughout Europe, and many had ventured as far away as Turkey, India, or Egypt.

Few of us today connect with the ancient Greeks and Romans as did those in Georgian England.

But it is now possible to — without laboring for years over Greek and Roman classics — to gain a cursory understanding of the knowledge our heroes possessed. For there is a succinct “cheat sheet” readily available on the internet.

This cheat sheet (actually about 90 pages) is an appendix of Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to Son, which has been digitalized by Google.

Cheryl prefers print. These are two of her volumes of Lord Chesterfield's letters, one of which dates to the Regency.

Cheryl prefers print. These are two of her volumes of Lord Chesterfield’s letters, one of which dates to the Regency.

The entire collection of the peer’s letters, edited by Oliver H. Leigh in 1901, is available by linking from Google’s home page, to the second page, then clicking on books.

The letters to Lord Chesterfield’s illegitimate son and only offspring were published upon his lordship’s 1773 death and were widely read.

To compensate for the disadvantages of the boy’s birth, the father attempted to give the boy every advantage he could in education and spent years writing long epistles to the poor lad, instructing him in every phase of deportment.

What is especially useful to those of us who write about the era is the information contained in the last section of the work, the appendix, “Juvenile Section.”

These letters covered the decade ending when the boy was fourteen. In them, Lord Chesterfield provides instruction from which most of us can profit.
__________


The Trojan Wars — which raged for ten years and which are treated in millions of words elsewhere — are encapsulated into a couple of pages by Lord Chesterfield’s ability to simplify into descriptions readily comprehensible to a young boy.

                                                                                                    ________________


Likewise, Lord Chesterfield explains the founding of Rome and the chronology of its early rulers. He does the same for the history of England, giving a brief paragraph to each English ruler, as well as to the island’s earliest inhabitants. For example, “The Romans quitted Briton of themselves; and then the Scotch, who went by the name of the Picts (from pingere to paint), because they painted their skins…”

The juvenile letters also list the twelve provinces of France and briefly tell what the capital city is of each and what the province is noted for. He similarly describes Asia, Germany, and many other geographical regions so that the modern reader (us) will have the same knowledge of 18th century geography that our heroes and heroines would have had, ie., “Indostan, or the country of the Great Mogul, is a most extensive, fruitful, and rich country. The two chief towns are Agra and Delhi; and the two great rivers are the Indus and the Ganges. This country, as well as Persia, produces great quantities of silks and cotton; we trade with it very much, and our East India company has a great settlement at Fort St. George.”

Here is another example: “The Lord Mayor is the head of the city of London, and there is a new Lord Mayor chosen every year; the city is governed by the Lord Mayor, the Court of Alderman, and the Common Council. There are six-and-twenty Alderman, who are the most considerable tradesmen of the city. The Common Council is very numerous and consists likewise of tradesmen…The Lord Mayor is chosen every year out of the Court of Aldermen. There are but two lord mayors in England; one for the city of London, and the other for the city of York. The mayors of other towns are only called mayors.”

Lord Chesterfield stresses that such knowledge as he is imparting to his son cannot be found in books, nor can it be studied in school. Because of his book of letters (never intended for publication), now we can profit from his vast knowledge.

On a Regency Exhibit

Cheryl Bolen toured the Regency Exhibit at California's Huntington Library in 2011, the two-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Regency.

Cheryl Bolen toured the Regency Exhibit at California’s Huntington Library in 2011, the two-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Regency.

©By Cheryl Bolen

As an author whose first Regency historical romance was published in 1998, I’ve long been a student of the period, and in 2011 I had the opportunity to visit a fabulous exhibit on the English Regency at the Huntington in Los Angeles County.

The Huntington (Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens) offered the exhibit to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Regency, which began in 1811 when George III was declared too mad to rule. His eldest son served as Prince Regent until his father died in 1820, whereupon the regent became King George IV.

I particularly enjoyed reading the era’s newspapers. The following advertisement (these were intermingled with news stories) I think must be geared to men, but could also apply to women:

HAIR

A new oil which gradually changes white, gray or red hair to a beautiful brown – gives softness, elasticity, curl and thickens – 7 shillings, 6 pence per bottle  

A loan office, located at 2 Craven, Strand, advertised that it gave loans “to persons of fashion, promisary notes to persons of known credit and consequence.” The office was open from 10-4.  
The most well-known jewelry store of the era offered this advertisement:

Rundell, Bridge, Rundell

Goldsmiths & Jewelers

to Their Majesties

Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales

and the Duke of York and Royal Family

Ludgate Hill  

And the last advertisement I’m going to feature was for an on-premises auction by “Mr. Christie.” Yes, that Christie’s auction house!

Valuable Library Richmond Surrey – By Mr. Christie on the premises by order of the Executors of Miss Hotham deceased, 6,000 volumes. Catalogues are preparing.  

The Huntington Library and Art Museum itself is a treasure to visit. The former estate of rail magnate Henry Huntington, it’s nestled on a few hundred acres of lush botanical gardens in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The Huntington collections of rare manuscripts and old master paintings is particularly geared for English history. It houses Gainsborough’s Blue Boy (as well as Pinkie), first editions of Jane Austen, and an original Chaucer manuscript. And almost half a million rare manuscripts.

This article was first published in The Regency Reader in September 2011.

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

©By Cheryl Bolen

The three most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs during the Regency — White’s, Brooks, and Boodle’s — were all located on the same street (St. James) in London’s west end, and all are still in existence today.

But don’t expect to see any signs out front.

Most members of these private establishments in the borough of Mayfair come from the upper echelons of society. Their male ancestors have likely held memberships since the clubs moved to St. James Street in the late 1700’s. When Prince Charles married Diana, he hosted his bachelor party at White’s. His son, Prince William, is also a member.

How White's looks today. Note the famed bow window on the ground floor.

How White’s looks today. Note the famed bow window on the ground floor.

White’s, originally a chocolate shop in 1693, moved to 37-38 St. James in 1778. During the Regency it was strongly associated with Tories. Members could take their meals at the club, and they especially enjoyed the gambling, as well as White’s well-known betting book. The book recorded bets about battles during the Napoleonic wars and often included bets on prospective matrimonial partners. It was at the club’s famed bow window that Lord Alvanley bet a friend £3,000 (over $100,000 today) which of two raindrops would fall fastest.

Brook’s, founded in 1764 by a group of men which included four dukes, moved to 60 St. James in 1778. While many prominent men of the era held membership in both clubs, Brook’s was a bastion for Whig leaders such as Charles James Fox, the Duke of Portland and the Duke of Devonshire. The Prince Regent was a member. Like White’s, Brook’s also had a betting book. One of its most interesting entries is, “Ld Cholmondeley has given two guineas to Ld. Derby, to receive 500gs whenever his lordship f**** a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from earth.” Boodle’s is located directly across the street from Brook’s. Established in 1762, Boodle’s has also boasted many famous members, including Beau Brummel. More recently (relatively speaking), it was author Ian Fleming’s club. He bases James Bond’s club on Boodle’s.

One of the chief attractions to gentlemen’s clubs was the select gambling. Gentlemen of their class always paid their debts of honor.