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 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. 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.” 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.
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.
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.
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.