London Heritage Pub Visitors’ Club – King’s Cross to Holborn

Readers will recall from our previous article in the February/March edition that we have carefully organised all 217 of CAMRA’s Greater London heritage pubs into manageable crawls. Our routes take ale enthusiasts to all corners of the city and give insight into the stories behind some of our favourite establishments. In documenting our experiences in London Drinker, we hope they provide readers with the inspiration to add a historical twist to their next pub visit (whenever that might be!).

We only have space for a brief synopsis, so please do give our website a visit for more information Instagram: @heritagepubclub)

Our route this time is as follows:

  1. Rocket (1899)
  2. Queen’s Head (1800s)
  3. Union Tavern (1800s)
  4. Lamb (1720s)
  5. Museum Tavern (1855-64)
  6. Princess Louise (1872)

This crawl carries some heft with 44 minutes of walking but with six pubs to visit, regular hydration breaks are encouraged. It takes us through some parts of central London that you may not usually travel through on foot and carries some interesting history with it. We originally undertook this crawl in the reverse direction but decided to change the direction to end on a high.

We start in King’s Cross at the Rocket. This pub was previously called the Rising Sun. Its name is possibly related to the builders Shoebridge & Rising who erected this pub in 1899 for the Cannon Brewery. On the south gable you can see a carved plaque of the sun rising over the sea and there are some Victorian features to look at, including the curved bar counter and fireplace. We didn’t find this pub particularly palatable for settling into but do go and see for yourselves! Moving swiftly on…

The Queen’s Head is a quirky side-street pub with a wonderful beer and cider selection, both on tap and in the fridge. Catering to the tastes of jazz-lovers, open-mic orators and board game enthusiasts, this pub is a nice one to drop into for at least one sampling of something different. In terms of its heritage, the establishment retains some Victorian features, including large mirrors, listed blue tiles and its fireplace, but we liked it for its character and quirks more than anything else. Oh and its Melton Mowbray pork pies!

To get to our next pub we walked past the Royal Mail’s London Central Mail Centre, situated in a somewhat ironically named Mount Pleasant. The street gained its name in the 1730s after it became known as the local dumping ground for a variety of refuse. One thing we can confirm is indeed pleasant about the area is the Union Tavern. It is a nice pub to visit, with a good beer selection and some nice original features; look out for its decorative glass panels and ‘Union Tavern’ mosaic floor tiling in the inner lobby. The pub seems to be first and foremost a modernised gastro pub so we didn’t hang around too long but have a look at the menu if you are hankering for some ham hock at this point.

The Lamb

If you are at all concerned regarding the ‘settling-in-ability’ of the first three pubs on this trip, fear not, because the Lamb will bring you the comforting heritage pub feelings you crave. Built in the Georgian era, the pub is named after William Lamb, who erected a water conduit along the street (Conduit Street) in 1577. Given its pre-Victorian build, you may not expect to see snob screens above the bar (typically a Victorian feature) but they are here thanks to a Victorian era refurbishment and are a good sign of heritage. Snob screens are devices found in some British Victorian pubs comprising an etched glass pane in a movable wooden frame. The hinges allowed staff to check on their middle class drinking patrons without disturbing them. They are always worth noting – and mentioning to anyone who will listen! Another feature of note as you walk past the right side of the bar is an original working polyphon (predecessor to the gramophone) displayed in a cabinet. It is rumoured to be played on occasion in aid of charity. Currently a Young’s pub, there is a good selection of their branded beers but you may also find Sharp’s Lamb’s End or Redemption Bloomsbury Blend (produced just for this pub). There is a small beer garden at the back of the house which is a perfect suntrap on a nice day. Sit back and soak up the heritage in a pub that is said to have been frequented by Charles Dickens, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

A stone’s throw from the British Museum is the aptly named Museum Tavern. Karl Marx is said to have been a notable regular at this pub given its proximity to the Museum’s Reading Room, where he wrote Das Kapital. The pub that originally stood here was called the Dog and Duck, signifying the local enthusiasm for duck hunting. The nod to the museum came with the arrival in 1762 of landlord John Creed. The mahogany back bar and stained glass windows are from early renovations. There is a good selection of Greene King beers plus a range of guests. If it is in stock, the Museum Tavern is a brilliant place to try a pint of Theakston Old Peculier. This beer has carried its name since the 1890s and takes its name from the peculier of Masham in Yorkshire, home of the Theakston brewery. (A peculier is a parish outside of the jurisdiction of the diocese.

Ending on a high, we come to the Princess Louise in Holborn. This Sam Smith’s pub has cheap beer and a recent refurbishment has left it feeling ‘even more authentic’, according to the Guardian’s 2011 list of ten of the finest London pubs. It won them CAMRA’s Best Refurbishment award in 2008 and has also been mentioned in the Times’ ten best pubs in London. It’s worth a visit to soak in the atmosphere and imagine yourself in Victorian London. Snob screens are present as expected as the pub dates from 1872, and the wooden partitioning with etched glass throughout the pub gives it a cosy and private feel; just perfect for settling in and reading the London Drinker!
James Arwyn-Jones

Editor’s note: I hope that he won’t mind me mentioning this but James is a doctor and recently been working in the COVID-ITU of one of London’s major hospitals. I’m sure that readers will join me in sending our very best wishes and thanks to James and all of his colleagues across London.