Saturday, 30 October 2021

Three heritage pubs in the heart of the capital

The trip up to London that I made last week with son Matthew, was the perfect opportunity of trying a few of the capital’s National Heritage pubs.  By heritage pubs, I mean those featured on the list originally drawn up by CAMRA, working in close conjunction with English Heritage.

The list acts as a long-standing repository of all the known pubs that fit the criteria laid down by the two organisations and acts as is the definitive guide to the nation's most important historic pub interiors. The pubs range from simple unaltered village pubs to glorious late-Victorian extravaganzas. Each is very special in its own way, but the common thread is the pub should possess an intact traditional interior or have features and rooms of national importance.

The list seems to have been expanded since I last looked at it, as it now includes those outlets which have interiors of regional importance, as well as those where the layout, and salient features of the inside, are considered important, nationally.

I’ve been in a fair few of these pubs, up and down the country, as might be expected from a drinking career that covers nearly half a century, but there are many more whose delights I have yet to experience. The visit I made to Stockport, earlier this month, with members of the Beer & Pubs Forum, allowed me to tick off a further three heritage pubs, and this is the sort of pub ticking I want to get back into.

I can undertake the task without too much effort, and it also means I will be able to experience some more of these national treasures for myself, so what better place to continue this activity than central London, where there are quite a few National Inventory pubs listed.  I drew up a short list of outlets that are considered of national importance, covering the area that is generally known as the “West End.” The idea behind this was we wouldn’t have to walk very far to find a pub that fitted the bill.

First on the list, and the pub where we enjoyed our first beer of the day, was the Red Lion, a handsome looking, building in the St James’s area, just to the south of Piccadilly. The pub is a “must see” for anyone who appreciates ornate engraved glass, etched, and cut decorative mirrors plus polished mahogany, as it has one of the best preserved, and most spectacular late-Victorian pub interiors anywhere.

The Red Lion dates from 1821 although 50 years later, it acquired a new and attractive brick frontage. It is quite small internally, with the bar space available for customers surrounding a central serving area. A century or so ago, it would have been divided up into separate areas, and evidence of this can be seen in the etched glass of the three outside doorways, displaying the names “public bar” and “private bar.” 

What makes the Red Lion so special are the splendid etched and cut mirrors lining two of the walls. The way that all this glassware catches the light, and the glittering reflections created, conjure up an atmosphere that is far removed from the world outside the pub. It’s almost as if your eyes don’t know which way to look, and whilst I took plenty of photos, they really don’t do justice to the pub in the way it deserves.

It was fortunate that the pub wasn’t that busy, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to take the number of photos that I did, but the late-Victorian splendour appeared lost on Matthew, as he suggested that we went and sat outside. Before doing so, we ordered our pints. The Red Lion is a Fuller’s pub, and alongside the London Pride and ESB, were a couple of offerings from Dark Star, plus former Gales’ brand, Seafarers. We both went for the Pride, which was drinking well, but rather expensive at £5.10!


I was quite happy sitting out at one of the tall tables, whilst watching the world going by. With the posh gentleman's outfitters of Jermyn Street at the end of the road, and upmarket wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd, just a block away, this part of  London is in a class of its own, but where were all the lunchtime customers?

 Our next port of call was a 15-minute walk away, to St Martin’s Lane, which runs up from Charing Cross towards Leicester Square. The Salisbury is one of London’s best preserved, and most spectacular, late nineteenth-century pubs, and takes its name from the Marquis of Salisbury, the local landowner, from whom the site was leased.

The Salisbury is part of a six-storey red-brick block, where the figures set in relief over the main entrance and at the tops of the solid pilasters, along with the etched and polished glass in carved wooden window frames, gives some idea of the splendour awaiting inside. It really is one of the finest examples of pub fitting, as practised at the height of the building boom that culminated around 1900.

The pub has retained one of its timber and glass screens, which marks off a small bar on the St Martin's Court side of the pub. There would have been other such screens originally, creating a cluster of bars round the servery in typical London fashion, as is the case at the aforementioned Red Lion. As with the latter establishment, the abundance of etched and polished glass again creates a glittering and almost spell-binding effect.

As a result of the loss of the partitions, the pub consists of a large L-shaped
main bar. It still retains its original long curved-ended mahogany counter, and the bar back fitting, with highly decorative etched mirror glass panels that extend right up to the ceiling. Towards the rear of the pub is some of the original fixed seating, sited in small, niche bays with more ornate mirrors behind, reaching to the ceiling. Much of the wood surround is said to be original with carved pillars regularly spaced along the wall.

Unlike the Red Lion, there were far more people in the Salisbury, so much so that we were lucky to get a seat. Unfortunately, the large number of customers made it much more difficult to photograph the interior, but you can just make out the small separate snug bar from one of the photos, as well as the separate “Dining Room” at the rear of the pub.

Although we didn’t see them there are reputed to be photos of a number of
famous visitors to the Salisbury, including Dylan Thomas, Marianne Faithful, Michael Caine (not that many people know that!),  plus Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor, who apparently celebrated their second marriage here in 1962.

As I wrote in the previous article, Mathew and I manged to find a seat at one of the tables and enjoyed a good lunch. The beer choice was impressive, and that’s without me spotting the second set of hand pumps, hidden around the corner. It was all very different from the standing room only, of my only previous visit, which took place, sometime in the late 1970’s.

Our next and final pub was a tube ride away and tucked away along the Caledonian Road at the side of Kings Cross station. The Scottish Stores is a pub with an unprepossessing exterior, but a totally original, early 20th Century three-bar interior. I admitted in my previous article that the pub didn’t really grab my attention; certainly not at first, but on reflection, this was a rather harsh judgement.

 The Scottish Stores retains an intact partitioned interior, consisting of three separate bars which is described as one of the rarest of the few surviving partitioned interiors in London. There
is a central servery surrounded by three distinct compartments, created by two floor to ceiling screens. One screen runs back from the street front to the rear wall and has some etched glass panels and lots of plain bevelled ones creating the right-hand bar. Another screen, parallel to the street, incorporates the bar back, which creates the front and rear rooms.

In 2016 the pub was extended into the adjacent property on the left-hand side of the pub. The connection is through narrow doorway from the front bar and despite a steady stream of mainly young male customers, has had no real effect on the ambiance of the original building.

  You win some and you lose others, and despite its hallowed status as a heritage pub of national importance, the Scottish Stores paled in comparison with the Red Lion and the Salisbury. 

 That isn’t to say I regret visiting it, as in the world of ticking, it was another “tick,” but to my mind, it does demonstrate the difference between a reasonable pub and a truly great one.

Visits to other heritage pubs will no doubt follow, sometimes planned, but often not, as I ramp up my domestic travelling, post-pandemic. Having significantly more spare time than I did, just a month or so ago, will no doubt assist this process too.  




Curmudgeon said...

Ticking off National Inventory pubs is surely a much more rewarding pursuit than ticking off the Good Beer Guide ;-)

And most are excellent pub operations in their own right too.

Paul Bailey said...

I totally agree Mudge, there's far more point to ticking off the odd real gem of a National Inventory pub, especially when combined with a visit to a new town or different location.

As you rightly point out, such establishments are usually well-run, making for a pleasant visitor experience. Much easier to achieve than ticking off GBG pubs, and far more rewarding, in my view, at least.

Contrast this to driving hundreds of miles, to bag a cricket club with limited hours that's only open a couple of days a week, or yet another brewery tap, in an identikit industrial unit, tucked away in a grotty part of town.

As always, horses for courses, so with no disrespect to the GBG completists we both know, the chance to experience a real national treasure, scores far higher in my view, than a new Guide entry, that's hardly ever open.

Ynysbwl said...

It is interesting that the Scottish stores kept its original fittings in all its years as a strip jount

Paul Bailey said...

Indeed! Presumably customers had other "attractions" on their minds?

I'm not sure how long ago the pub was used for such purposes, or indeed which part of the building it occurred, but I'm thinking that the adjacent property, to the left, which was connected to the Stores in 2016, might have been used for such activities.

retiredmartin said...

Visiting National Inventory pubs is a very worthwhile pursuit, but personally I enjoy the unpredictably and variety of the Beer Guide. My first week with a new GBG will no doubt see a Spoons, a brewery tap, a Cricket Club and a flat roof pub (OK, perhaps not a flat roof pub).

Paul Bailey said...

As I said Martin, horses for courses, and I totally understand what you are saying about the unpredictably and variety that the GBG brings.

On a higher plane, there are those who say there is wisdom in uncertainty. They also say that unless we embrace uncertainty, we might never grow, because we would never be pushed away from our comfort zones.

Wise words, and I think it depends on what we give our dominant attention to, and how much time we've got to devote to the task in hand.

So, for a person like you, who has devoted a substantial amount of your spare time to the pursuit of Beer Guide ticking, it obviously makes sense to continue down that road - given the time and effort already invested in it. Whereas a person with less free time available, has to cut his cloth accordingly by, for example, leaving out the uncertainty dished up by concepts such as the Good Beer Guide which, by its very nature, can be something of a lottery.

I'm not sure that makes sense, but to continue with the philosophical theme, we all need to follow our own particular star, irrespective of distractions, or what others might think of us.

ps, Good luck with tracking down one of those elusive, flat roof pubs, we shall await the photo(s) with interest!

retiredmartin said...

Blimey your blog is getting philosophical, Paul. And yes, it made perfect sense.

One thing the last couple of years shows me is the importance of meeting up with people in a range of pubs, as in Stockport, and not just focusing on new GBG ticks.

Paul Bailey said...

I did quite a bit of reading, during that first lock-down Martin, and that's where some of this philosophical stuff came from. It helped me get my head around what was going on at the time.

Yes, meeting up, and socialising with others, particularly in a range of different pubs, is part and parcel of what is is all about. I've only attended three of the "Proper Days Out," but they've all been enjoyable and informative as well, especially when there's an unfamiliar location to explore.

Closer to home, I had a good day out last Friday, with a group of friends, visiting pubs none of us normally go to. Our findings and experiences, were in the main, very positive.

Curmudgeon said...

That's why I like the regular Staggers that my local branch of CAMRA organises as they involve going in all the pubs along the route (or at least those that sell cask) rather than just the "usual suspects", and you get the chance to chat to a variety of people.

Paul Bailey said...

Sounds like a good idea, Mudge. My latest post details an attempt by my former branch, to cast the net beyond what you describe as the "usual suspects."