The “Museum Pubs” of LondonCategory: Leisure
The country inns of Britain have a character of their own, each differing from the rest and yet inheriting a “clubbable” sort of cosiness as old as Chaucer.
London’s public houses (or “pubs’) are sometimes more anonymous, with fewer regular customers and a shorter tradition. But not all, and not always. And the latest development in their long and richly variegated history is the “museum pub”, an innovation which has brought colour and character to five houses, all the property of the old-established London brewers, Whitbread & Co. Each is newly decorated, furnished, and stocked with prints, pictures and photographs, with models, heraldic blazons, and show-cases of exhibits, to illustrate a special theme peculiar to its history, its name, or its geographical position.
The newest museum pub is The Railway Tavern, Liverpool Street, in the bustling heart of the City, hard by Liverpool Street Station (the terminus for the port of Harwich and the Continent, as well as for commuters who live north-east of London, Broad Street Station (another busy terminus), and a couple of stations on the underground railway. So, properly enough, the businessman snatching an evening pint of beer, a whisky-and-soda or a glass of wine before returning to his home in the suburbs — or the more far-flung traveller from abroad, making possiblyhis first acquaintance with London stout, a slice of York ham or Scotch beef — finds plenty to interest him before he continues on his journey. Here are vari-coloured crests and coats-of-arms that once emblazoned the locomotives of such ancient and leisurely lines as the Rhymney Railway or the Somerset and Dorset Joint, the South Eastern and Chatham or the Belfast and County Down— a couple of dozen of them, that all puffed and chuffed and had their separate beings before being swallowed up, directly and indirectly, into the monolithic British Railways.
Here is a vast working model of a hundred-mile-an-hour monster locomotive — a machine to take a schoolboy’s breath away; here a Currier and Ives print of an American railway depot of the eighteen-seventies, and a coloured French engraving of a railway of the time of Louis Philippe, and here a Victorian handbill forbidding engine drivers to smoke or to “skylark” — enchanting word! — on some forgotten company’s platforms.
Many a model-railway club has already made pilgrimages to The Railway Tavern, just as cricketers frequent The Yorker, in Piccadilly, and oarsmen The Coach and Eight, up river, at Putney.
Piccadilly is in London’s elegant and urbane West End, and here The Yorker (named after the ball that in cricket is pitched well up at the batsman’s stumps) is not only a public house and restaurant but a museum devoted to the ritual game of the English — an urbane and elegant pursuit that has lent itself to handsome prints and paintings and to nostalgic sights of Lancashire vs Yorkshire or Oxford vs Cambridge or England vs Australia battles of long ago — many of them pictured here.
Mention of contests between Oxford and Cambridge is a reminder of The Coach and Eight, at Putney, the riverside suburb that is the starting point of the historic four-and- a-half mile Oxford vs Cambridge Boat Race from Putney to Mortlake. No doubt the pub’s name once referred to a stage coach and its team of horses, but now it is meant to celebrate the trainer and his crew of equally hard-pressed oarsmen. Here, in bar and restaurant, are relics from prows to rudders of such famous craft as the Cambridge boat that deadheated with Oxford in 1877; oars and pictures of oarsmen. A museum — and yet a living and a lively museum for at the bar the oarsmen of today celebrate feats of oarsmanship, or recall in the restaurant historic struggles that were waged on water.
In the same way, The Printer’s Devil, in Fetter Lane, off Fleet Street among the printing works and the great newspaper offices, is frequented by journalists (men and women), printers and compositors, to say nothing of the lawyers and their clerks from the Law Courts and the ancient Inns of Court nearby. Upstairs one dines beneath gaily coloured prints — Gould’s birds, or nineteenth-century sporting scenes, and wickedly fin de siecle Beardsley drawings — all examples of the art of printing.
In the bar are exhibits of type, photographs of presses, and cases of historic early books. ?
This is perhaps the most unusual of all the museum pubs, but it may be that for many people The Nag’s Head in Covent Garden, close to the famous fruit, flower and vegetable market and London’s two most renowned theatres (the Royal Opera House and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) is the most enchanting.
The Nag’s Head is a house that (because of the law’s tenderness-towards the market man, who may wash the chill of dawn out of his throat ай,early as five o’clock in the morning) has the longest licensing hours of any pub in England. The food is traditionally British, as at the other houses
I have mentioned. Here one can eat roast beef in a room decorated with designs for opera and ballet sets and costumes, while downstairs, where playbills plaster the columns of the bar, many a man has lifted an innocent pint of bitter, his only drink of the day, under a Victorian poster proclaiming “The Road to Ruin!” (“Drinking is the road to ruin.”).
Here, of an evening, one may see at the bar, at one and the same time, a bowler-hatted businessman, having a sandwich between leaving his office and dropping in at “The Drury” (the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) to see a lavish new musical; a ballet-dancer, slaking a thirst acquired at rehearsal 0n the stage of the Royal Opera House; and a market man from one of the warehouses, whose colleagues will be unloading Brussels sprouts and broccoli, carrots and chrysanthemums, before the morrow’s dawn has broken.
(Le Lingue del Mondo)