There are pubs that stand out for all the right reasons, and there are pubs that stand out for all the wrong reasons, and in either case it’s sometimes nice just to sit and while away a few pints of beer knowing that you’re surrounded by a rich history (for good or bad), or you are in the company of the country’s finest chefs, or you are just in a very good, long established pub!
Whether it’s hauntings, murder scenes, great food, old wives’ tales or just a great pint that you are looking for, there’s a pub for you and often, once you’ve been to one that’s the best of its kind, you’ll want to return again and again.
It seems almost absurd to shortlist a few pubs for their ability to sell quality beer. Undoubtedly, anyone who appreciates a good beer will have their favourite ‘beer’ pub; simple, friendly and with knowledgeable bar staff. The Lamb in Farnham, Surrey is one such example, with a good range of bitters, ‘Oranjeboom’ Dutch lager on tap, a good duke box and an excellent hearty Sunday dinner. The ‘William Cobbett’ – a stone’s throw down the road – is the birthplace of the famous 18th-19th century writer and liberal politician of the same name. The staff here are often grumpy; the clientele a mix of students and locals; the juke box is often cranked up loud with the sounds of 60’s and 70’s blues, and the beer selection is good. The combination of these two pubs makes a great miniature pub crawl, and when you’re bored of the second you can always stumble back to the next.
If you’re after a range of continental beers, try the Dove Free House in Broadway Mews, which sells a vast array of Belgian beers and serves excellent continental fare. Also, try ‘The Rake’, tucked away in a corner of ‘foody’ heaven ‘Borough Market’, which supplies a wide range of excellent beers from around the world in a relaxed setting.
For history try the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, London, established in 1520 and, at one time, known as ‘the devil’s tavern’ due to its mixed clientele of smugglers, murders and whores. Chares Dickens and Samuel Pepys are also known to have drunk here. A few minutes walk away the Town of Ramsgate plays host to a further array of past tales. Legend has it that William Bligh and Fletcher Christian had a last drink together here before setting off on the H.M.S Bounty in 1787 from the Thames, which this pub backs on to. The trip was ill fated; Christian led a mutiny against Captain Bligh and died abroad, on the run; Bligh was later reprimanded for his harsh treatment of the ship’s crew. This was the story upon which the film ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ was based. The Prospect of Whitby has an upstairs restaurant, which is famed for its quality. Try both, with a meal, followed by a riverside walk.
The George Inn, just off Borough High Street, survived the Great Fire of London, 1666 (as it was just south of the River Thames), only to be burnt to the ground in a large scale, lesser-known fire, just one year later. It was rebuilt, and continued to serve pilgrims and tradesmen on this bus route from Northern to Southern England. The architecture is still pure 17th Century, and in the courtyard you can almost touch the atmosphere, where travellers used to drink olde-English ale, their horses and carts tied up alongside them.
Somewhat further North, the Old George in Newcastle, once harboured the ill-fated Charles I, whilst he was in Scottish captivity. Being allowed to stop there for a drink by his captors had a somewhat profound effect on the pub, which now has a ‘Charles I room’, replete with the chair that he sat in!
Theory has it that pubs attract ghosts of the dead, for much the same reason that they attract many of the living; they go there to find a shoulder to cry on! So next time you are in a pub and feel a ghostly chill, don’t fear, just lend an ear!
The Mermaid Inn in Rye, East Sussex is said to be the most haunted pub in England, with a history of duelling ghouls in the main bar, and several other sceptres that haunt the inn bedrooms. The inn serves excellent food, and has a genuine fire in the bar.
Pub hauntings are synonymous with old pubs. Perhaps try a ghost-pub crawl around your local area for a change: chase off your beer tasting evening with a different kind of spirit!
Others: try ‘The Green Dragon’, Beverly and Thainstone House Hotel, Inverurie, Scotland, haunted by a ‘Green Lady’.
If you have a passion for the arts try ‘The French House’ in Soho, London where gangsters, sex workers and artists such as Francis Bacon rubbed shoulders in the 1950’s and ’60’s. Notoriously awkward, the staff here are French, rude, only serve beer in halves and operate a strictly no-mobile phone policy: a great slice of the continent in Central London!
For more gruesome drinks, ‘The Ten Bells’ in Spitalfields, is known to have been frequented by at least one of Jack the Rippers victims, whilst up the road in ‘The Blind Beggar’ the Krays carried out their most famous murder.
Wherever you live, and whether you have a taste for beer, history, the macabre, or just a log fire, there will be a pub nearby that is famed for something… but don’t take others word for it; in these cynical times, it might just be worth checking out their reputation for yourself!