The UK and London has a long and varied history when it comes to it’s drinking culture. And sometimes, when out for a drink in the city, it’s easy to forget that some of our local pubs have a long and interesting history behind them. So here at Insider London we wanted to give you the run down of some of the best London pubs in terms of historical value, whilst also running through a brief history of drinking in the city.
Image Credit: Simon James/ Flickr
We’ll work in chronological order, so the first of the London pubs to keep your eye out for is the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Sometimes cited as the oldest pub in the UK, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was rebuilt in 1667, following the Great Fire of London and has been known to play host to iconic literary legends such as Charles Dickens, Dr Samuel Johnson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Polly the Parrot was also another iconic figure to visit the pub, and when she died in 1920 made the headlines. You’ll now find her stuffed remains a top one of the bars. This pub provides an atmosphere of what an early coaching inn would have been like. And with the architecture, in the chop room of the pub, having remained unchanged since the late 1600s you’ll even get to witness what the pub would have looked like all those years ago. The smaller rooms would have once been used by local business to sell their wears to travellers and the wealthy, whilst also providing a quite place to discuss private business.
Image Credit: Ewan Munro/ Flickr
Moving to the 17th Century now and with that another iconic London pub, the Old Bell Tavern , located on Fleet Street. During the rebuilding of St Bride’s Church after the Great Fire of London the Old Bell Tavern housed Sir Christopher Wren’s masons. And these masons, were like many others during this time and drank beer to keep them strong for their work. And for any of you who have uttered the phrase ‘liquid lunch’ you’ll be speaking a slightly historically relevant phrase here, as during this time you would have seen beer replacing meals for many of the cities poorest. But being a tavern, the Old Bell would have also served wine. But the wine we speak of is not what we have come to know of wine today. Adulteration was a big issue during the 17th century and many substances, both odd and harmful were used to preserve the wine, including olive oil, sulphur and even arsenic. It wasn’t until the 20th century that it was decided the lawful definition of wine was the fermented juice of grapes. Meaning that punters can now rest easy when taking a sip of red at the end of a hard days work in the city without fearing what they are drinking.
Image Credit: Tony Hisgett/ Flickr
The Punch Tavern is the next London pub, with lots of history behind it. This pub represents the drinking culture of the 19th century and with that comes gin. In 1893 the pub began its refurbishment into a Gin Palace, by the famous Baker Brothers. For those of you who aren’t aware a gin palace is just the English name for a lavish bar which sold gin. Although hugely popular with the locals, not everyone agreed that they were ‘lavish’ establishments and some even went as far to call them vulgar. As much as the gin palaces looked divine, with their beautiful gas lamps and ornamented facades, the alcohol was cheap and strong, which meant the poor arrived in their masses to escape the struggles of daily life.
And if you want to discover more about the history of drinking in London, whilst also getting to visit some of the pubs mentioned in this post, why not book a place on our History of Drinking and Pubs Tour? The tour runs every Saturday evening and can also be booked as a private tour for a time that’s more convenient for you. Just visit our website for more information.
By Sage Fitzpatrick