The Top 10 Historical Pubs In London

Photo of Sabrina Raven
4 November 2016

London is the cultural hub of Britain and nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than from within its plethora of quintessentially English pubs. Delve into the more obscure historical origins of the great British pub and enjoy our list of pubs with character, perfect for when you’re seeking an opportune thirst quenching experience or simply when craving a cultural place in which to relax.

© Love Art Nouveau / WikiCommons

The Black Friar

Pub, British, $$$
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The Black Friar, London
The Black Friar, London | © Crown Tavern
An architectural gem, the atmosphere of The Black Friar is heavily inspired by its striking art nouveau interior. The pub dates back to 1905 and the space was designed by architect H. Fuller-Clark and artist Henry Poole. The venue is adorned with figures of friars upon sculptures stretched across the parameters of the pub, as well as on mosaics and reliefs. This fascinating building has seen a tumultuous past after being threatened with demolition, before being swiftly rescued in a campaign led by poet Sir John Betjeman. Many influential cultural figures have fought for this pub, making it a historical haven worthy of maintenance.

Crown Tavern

Pub, Gastropub, British, $$$
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The Crown Tavern, London
The Crown Tavern, London | © Ewan Munro / WikiCommons
A charmingly traditional, British-styled pub, The Crown Tavern has reserved a place in British history. The interior may well be recognizable to some, as scenes from Judi Dench’s film Notes on a Scandal were shot in the Apollo Lounge area upstairs. Lenin and Stalin notably held a meeting at the establishment in 1905, providing the tavern with a discerning political dimension. Inviting for its aesthetics alone, the space is exceptionally bright and spacious having once been a concert hall.

The Dog and Duck

Gastropub, Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
Map View

A fixture on the streets of Soho, The Dog and Duck is an ornate spectacle with a Victorian-styled interior, grandiose mirrors and impressive tiling. The history is best seen within the lavish architecture, which has attracted extraordinary punters. Regular drinkers at this pub have included George Orwell, John Constable and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This pub differs from any other ordinary establishment as it has housed and perhaps inspired many great minds.

The Falcon

Pub, British, $$$
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Interior | © The Old Bank Of England
A British heritage pub, The Falcon still proudly showcases its affluent past. The interior is a piece of intricate design in itself, apparent in the stained glass windows and etched mirrors. The influence of Dutch artist MC Escher has left its mark on the pub’s design and the space also has the longest counter in England, resulting in a Guinness World Record. Delving deeper, the origin of the pub’s name derives from the St. John’s family crest, which, in turn, can be found in the stained glass.

The Old Bank Of England

Previously divided into two distinct taverns – then demolished to become a branch of the Old Bank of England – this pub was restored in 1994 to its former opulence by well known brewers Turner, Fuller and Smith. Located on the grand Fleet Street, the building has been standing, nevertheless, since the 16th century and is now a historical monument. Hidden in the cellar are original vaults belonging to the bank, previously used to store bullion, and the pub still holds some of the Crown Jewels from the First World War. Legends also surround the building; it is said that the venue stood between the barber shop of Sweeny Todd and Mrs Lovett’s pie shop. Certainly, this pub has enchanting Victorian elements that resonate throughout.

© Andrea Blauber / WordPress

Ye Olde Mitre

Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
Map View
The 14th century Ye Olde Mitre resides amidst streets showered with history. As expected, ceilings are low and wooden beams abundant; sitting in the pub evokes the sensation of being a Shakespearian writer. The pub curiously has a cherry tree located in the courtyard and it is rumored that around this very tree, Queen Elizabeth danced while her father Henry VIII married next door in St. Ethelredas. Further down the street is the location where William Wallace was hanged, adding to the mystique. Keeping tradition close, the pub prides itself on their real ale.

The Spaniards Inn

Bar, Gastropub, Pub, British, European, $$$
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The Spaniards Inn pub in Hampstead, London
The Spaniards Inn pub in Hampstead, London | © Alex Segre / Alamy Stock Photo

The idyllic Spaniards Inn, located on the London outskirts of Hampstead Heath, binds charm to history. The literary greats often took solace within the walls of this 14th century establishment. The pub is forever preserved in Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and it is said Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale was composed within the confines of the Inn. Other Romantic visitors include the notorious Lord Byron. The great odes to British literature were perhaps inspired by the picturesque setting of the pub, something to consider as you enjoy one of their craft ales.

The Star Tavern

Pub, British, $$$
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Star Tavern, Belgravia, London
Star Tavern, Belgravia, London | © Ewan Munro / WikiCommons
The Star Tavern offers a traditional experience that has garnered the institution a plethora of awards. The most intriguing feature however, is the list of the pubs past visitors. The criminal ghost of Bruce Reynolds is said to reside at the Star, he was the ring leader of the infamous Great Train Robbery, the heist bringing the criminal gang £2.6 million in cash. The gang would gather in the confines of the pub, amongst fellow criminals, and hatch their plan. In the mortal realm, the pub welcomed significant figures during the sixties, such as Diana Dors, Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney and leading film director Alexander Korda.

The Thomas-A-Beckett

Pub, British, $$$
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Interior | © The Viaduct Tavern
The decadently restored Thomas-A-Beckett is unable to mask its iconic history. Under the management of Beryl Cameron Gibons in the 1970s, the pub housed a boxing training ring upstairs and Gibons became Europe’s first female boxing promoter. The pub trained many of the boxing greats, including Sir Henry Cooper and visits from his contemporary, Mohammed Ali. Other acclaimed faces to grace the Beckett include David Bowie, who rehearsed the infamous Ziggy Stardust act in the confines of the pub. The pub offers a memorabilia gallery and on show are the very items the boxing legends owned and trained with. The pubs’ life span extends centuries before exploring the boxing niche; the first recorded evidence of the pub dates back to Chaucer’s time and is mentioned in the Canterbury Tales: ‘and forth we riden a little more than pas Unto the watering of St Thomas A and there our hoste began his hors’ arest’. Relive the memory of the pubs intricate past and enjoy the leisurely atmosphere downstairs.

The Viaduct Tavern

Pub, British, $$$
Map View
Amidst the art nouveau interior and between impressive succession art-styled paintings, the acclaimed Victorian Gin Palace – The Viaduct Tavern – is home to a great history of debate. The pub holds ties with the late 18th century Newgate prison. It is said the cellar of the pub was formerly four prison cells, however some argue the cellar has been redesigned to look this way. Despite the controversy, this lavish corner pub does have a shared history with the prison and a visit may still invoke an ominous undertone. Enjoy rare touches such as real ale and a unique ‘toll booth’ in which the landlord would previously exchange tokens for beer to avoid staff handling money.

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