HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – The Lamb and Flag

THE LAMB AND FLAG                                                           


33 Rose Street, London




The name of this pub is derived from the Bible verse John 1:29, where John the Baptist sees Jesus and exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The flag is the flag of St. George. The symbolism was long associated with the Knights Templar and the Fleet Street entrance to the Middle Temple of the Bar has a sculpture of the Lamb and Flag on its keystone with the date 1684.

Known as the oldest tavern in Covent Garden, the basic building for this establishment was built in 1623 during the reign of James I, although the specific association of the site with an inn or tavern is less certain. The structure has undergone a great many renovations and rebuilds, but the original timber frame remains. Over the years the rebuilds and alterations have sought to keep the original details of the building. This includes a parapet that runs the width of the top of the building. There is even a carving of the Lamb and Flag at the center or the parapet.

Parapet of the Lamb of Flag

The spot has a connection to a number of poets and writers, even before any recorded history of its use as a tavern. Poet and satirist, Samuel Butler (1613-1680) did live on Rose Street (formerly known as Red Rose Street) in the area of the narrow alley where the Lamb and Flag is now located. If there was a tavern there he is said to have been a patron. Dickens was a customer there in his youth as he worked at a boot blacking establishment nearby when he was in his teens. The playwright, Richard Sheridan frequented the tavern at this location and even fought a duel on the corner of nearby Bedford Street in 1772 over an insult printed in the Bath Chronicle.

A more documented link to the poet John Dryden (1631-1700) is associated with what was called Rose Alley where the present day entrance to the saloon bar of the Lamb and Flag is located.

Rose Alley aka Lazenby Court







Today from Rose Street to Floral Street down the side of the Lamb and Flag is a very narrow alley, Lazenby Court, so narrow that in order to pass people must turn slightly sideways. The event that took place on December 18/19, 1679 was called the Rose Alley Ambuscade. John Dryden was attacked and nearly killed by a group of masked ruffians. He was supposedly on his way home from Will’s Coffee House on the corner of Russell Street and Bow Street. Dryden wrote a great many poems and essays vilifying the elite of London and the royal court. Rumor has it the thugs were hired by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (author of some very naughty poetry himself) and / or the Duchess of Portsmouth, mistress of King Charles II at the time – two of Dryden’s targets. The culprits, however, were never made known, in spite of a handsome reward offered for their names.


“Whereas John Dreyden, Esq. was on Thursday the 18th instant, at night, barbarously assaulted and wounded in Rose-street, in Covent-Garden, by diverse men unknown: if any person shall make discovery of the said offenders to the said Mr. Dreyden, or to any Justice of the Peace, he shall not only receive fifty pounds, which is deposited in the hands of Mr. Blanchard, goldsmith, next door to Temple-Bar, for the said purpose, but if he be a principal or an accessory in the said fact, his Majesty is graciously pleased to promise him his pardon for the same.”

London Gazette, No. 1472, 29 December 1679

It was first recorded as a tavern in 1772 when it was known as the Cooper’s Arms. During this era the establishment gained its second name – The Bucket of Blood – due to the bare knuckle fights that took place in the room upstairs or in the courtyard outside the tavern on a weekly basis. This nickname continued to hold true even after it finally became the Lamb and Flag in 1833.






These activities made the Lamb and Flag a popular spot for the bruisers, bucks, and gentlemen of the Georgian Era. It also provided the pub with its current ghostly resident, George. But, I’ll let someone who works there tell you about George.


The Dryden Room – The Lamb and Flag

Interior the Lamb and Flag

The bouts of bare knuckle fighting are over at the Lamb and Flag these days. Although rumor has it one might have to put up one’s “fives” to access Sunday roast in the Dryden Room upstairs as it is a very popular spot for Sunday dinner with the locals. Just don’t take any bets with a French sailor named George. Nobody likes a gentleman who doesn’t pay his bets. And if you write poetry poking fun at the nobility it is best to stay clear of the alley next to the pub.

HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – Town of Ramsgate



62 Wapping High Street, London




The first pub on this site was established during the War of the Roses (1460’s.) It was called The Hostel. The street numbers changed over the years, but the site was always home to a pub under various monikers. In 1533 it became known as The Red Cow, supposedly in honor of a barmaid with flaming red hair who worked in the establishment. At some point it was the Prince of Denmark, no idea why. In 1766 it was renamed the Ramsgate Old Town and eventually in 1811 it acquired its present name – the Town of Ramsgate.

Why the Town of Ramsgate, you ask? Good question, and I have a slightly nefarious answer. Sailors from Ramsgate in Kent landed their catches at the Wapping Old Stairs, next to the pub, in order to avoid the river taxes charged further up the river at the Billingsgate Fish Market. It is debated whether the pub was named to attract the fishermen or if the fishermen named the pub after their own safe harbor. Either way the harbor at Ramsgate as seen in 1850 graces the pub sign now and is etched into the mirror at the entrance to the pub today.

Now about those stairs.

Wapping Old Stair

Those stairs led up to the execution docks where prisoners of the Admiralty Courts were hanged on short ropes for their crimes. Why short ropes? Because short ropes took longer to finish the deed and patrons of the Town of Ramsgate often stood outside the pub to watch and cheer. Most of these prisoners were convicted of smuggling, mutiny or piracy. Not all pirates were hanged. If one looks today one can see the chains where pirates were locked on the stairs waiting for the rising tide to come in and drown them.

Old Wapping Stairs as the tide comes in

The stairs were depicted to great fame in the works of Rawlinson (cartoons) and Dibden (poems.)

Wapping Old Stairs – Thomas Rawlinson

Many returning sailors arranged to meet their sweethearts at the Wapping Old Stairs when they returned from the sea. This aspect of the history of the pub and the stairs is commemorated by the verse on the wall of the pub.

“Your Polly has never been faithless she swears, since last year we parted on Old Wapping Stairs”

The Town of Ramsgate shares a great deal of its history with the lives of England’s sailors. Many a drunk would wander from the safety of the pub to be pressed into service in the King’s Navy.

A press gang at work.






The pub’s cellars served as jail cells for convicts who were set to be deported to Australia.

Legend has it Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian had their last drinks before setting sail on their ill-fated trip to Tahiti at the Town of Ramsgate in 1789. Likely true, as it is documented this is where Bligh and his voyage sponsor Sir Joseph Banks met at the pub to inspect the Bounty before purchasing it for the voyage.

These days the pub is only known for lively arguments on quiz night.   






Should you decide to explore the alleyway to the side of the pub that leads to the Wapping Old Stairs you might encounter the local ghost, a ghost the Thames Police have reported seeing to this day. Judge George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys, (15 May 1645 – 18 April 1689) rose to prominence during the reign of James II. He became Lord Chief Justice and eventually Lord Chancellor. His loyalty to the king was without question. However, after Monmouth’s Rebellion in 1685 he was sent to the West Country to conduct the trials of those rebels who participated in the rebellion. He gained a reputation for his abuse of the attorneys of the accused, his sometimes biased application of the law and his tendency to hand out death sentences like drinks at a political rally. He became the most feared and hated judge in England.

After James II fled England and William and Mary ascended the throne, Jeffreys waited to long to follow his king to the Continent. In 1688 he disguised himself as a sailor, shaved his distinctive bushy brows, and waited at the Town of Ramsgate to catch a ship. Unfortunately, a victim of his cruelty – either an accused rebel or an attorney for same recognized the judge. He was captured by a mob at the Town of Ramsgate and narrowly missed being hanged at the top of the Wapping Stairs. He was taken to the Tower of London and died there of kidney failure in 1689.

It is said his ghost can be seen leaving the pub and trying to take the stairs down to the docks to meet the ship he missed, ever looking over his shoulder in search of the angry mob that captured him so long ago.





15 and 16 Fountain Court – London

Louisa Cornell


Originally established in 1815, The Coal Hole was a tavern that had formerly been known as The Unicorn. It was located in a corner of an alley called Fountain Court, just off The Strand. Fountain Court received its name from Fountain Tavern, an eighteenth-century establishment where the opponents of Sir Robert Walpole met.

In its early days, The Coal Hole, appropriately enough, was the haunt of London’s coal heavers.  These burly men with strong backs and stronger work ethics saw to the unloading of coal from ships and barges and also delivered coal to the homes of London’s citizens. Which made for a rough and rowdy establishment when the work was done, and the coal heavers did their bit to unwind after a hard day’s labor.

Eventually the famous actor, Edmund Kean (1787-1833) established the Wolf Club at The Coal Hole. The purpose of the club? Drunken orgies and general high jinks. Kean was the chairman of the club and usually called the group to his idea of order around eleven in the evening. Though it had no real platform it was very well attended by celebrities of the day. Songs, soliloquy, limerick composition, and various drinking games were on the program so far as most records show.

Edmund Kean

After the death of Kean, John Rhodes directed the tavern’s entertainment in the form of a forerunner of the nightclub. He had a passion for silver plate and furnished the establishment with silver tankards, goblets, loving cups, and flagons enough to put many of London’s finest hotels to shame. He is said to have had a fine baritone voice and was one of the most popular singers to take a turn at entertaining The Coal Hole’s patrons. But he went to great lengths to provide every sort of entertainment available.

‘John Rhodes begs to inform his friends and the public they will find every variety of Vocal Entertainment at the above old established house, commencing every evening at Eight o’Clock precisely. Glees, Duets, Solos, Catches, Comic Singing &c., executed by the most numerous and talented company of vocalists in the metropolis, under the direction of the celebrated Mr. Baldwin, for sixteen years Vocal Director at Mr. Rouse’s Grecian Saloon.’

‘The celebrated writer of comic songs, Mr. John Labern, is engaged exclusively for this establishment, where only can his original and humorous productions be heard and obtained.’

The above advertisement appeared in the newspapers to advertise the various amenities available at The Coal Hole. The Judge and Jury Society were performances led by Renton Nicholson (1809 – 1861) an impresario, actor and writer. These acts mocked and satirized members of London society and the preoccupations of the popular press. Though his acts were derided by some for their crudeness, they were attended by many aristocrats, politicians, and other prominent citizens.

Whilst the supper club aspect is gone, The Coal Hole remains one of the few pubs in London to retain its original decor and ambiance. Its proximity to the city’s theatres promises an influx of the after performance crowd and one never knows who might stop in for a pint after the curtain falls.





HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – The Bunch of Grapes



76, Narrow Street – London

Louisa Cornell

This post is the first in what I intend to be a series of posts on some of the historic pubs in London and throughout the UK. I realize that the phrase “Historic Pub Crawl” could actually have two meanings. I intend it to mean visits to historic pubs. However, it could mean a series of visits to pubs one after another that ends up being a historical event. If you know the motley crew associated with Number One London, you know any trip we take can and usually does end up being a historic event. But I digress.

Although the current name of the pub is simply The Grapes, a tavern of some sort or another has stood on the present site for almost 500 years. And for most of those years it was known as The Bunch of Grapes. The first tavern was built on this spot in 1583, but the current building dates from 1720. Imagine the history it has seen, surviving the Blitz during World War II, and still operating as a pub to this day.

Painting of The Bunch of Grapes in the 19th century.


I will confess I first discovered this fascinating pub whilst I did research for my novel, A Study in Passion. My heroine had to visit a Chinese apothecary in search of aid for her pet pangolin. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Limehouse area of London was home to England’s largest Chinese community. Not surprising when one realizes much of the Chinese community in London was made up of sailors and tradesmen from the many ships bringing in goods from the Far East and their families. They left the East India Company ships coming into the Limehouse Dockyards and established every sort of business from apothecaries to trading and import companies to boarding houses, to yes – opium dens.

Before the pub was built the location was in proximity to lime kilns, customs houses, docks and shipyards. By the Elizabethan Era Limehouse was established as the doorway to world trade in London as most of the ships embarking on trade trips across the British Empire left from these docks. Supposedly, Sir Walter Raleigh set sail on his third voyage to the New World from a spot just below the Bunch of Grapes.

The pub’s greatest claim to fame may well be its thinly veiled description used in the first chapter of the novel Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Again, not a surprise as Dickens was said to be a frequent visitor to the pub in the 1820’s when he visited his godfather who lived in Limehouse.

“A tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.”

A rather more sinister aspect of the history of The Bunch of Grapes associates it with the watermen who operated ferry services on the Thames for both passengers and freight. Because of the stringent rules against dissection and obtaining corpses for same, a great deal of supplemental income might be made by providing London’s medical schools, anatomists, and physicians with fresh corpses. Apparently these watermen would lurk about the back stairs of The Bunch of Grapes and drag inebriated customers down said stairs to drown them in the Thames before taking them by boat to their waiting customers.

Back stairs at The Grapes – Current view. Imagine the steps 200 years ago!


Note to the characters in my Regency romances: Do not leave The Bunch of Grapes by the back stairs if you have indulged in too much drink.






Note to those who wish to visit The Grapes today: If at all possible visit on a Monday as the current owner of the pub, Sir Ian McKellen, has been known to run the pub quiz on Mondays from time to time.

Sir Ian McKellen