Looking for a London boozer with a bit of character and history? Author David Long lists the capital’s oldest pubs, some of which can trace their origins back to 1500 and beyond
The White Hart, Drury Lane, WC2
With ‘roots’ in 1216, the White Hart claims to be the ‘oldest licensed premises in London’ and numbers Dick Turpin among its erstwhile regulars. (Turpin was born in a pub, of course, as his dad had one out at Hempstead in Essex.)
The Red Lion, Whitehall, SW1
The Prime Minister’s local has been the closest pub to Downing Street for years, but predates the street (which was laid out in the 1680s) by a good 250 years. Occasionally, PMs are snapped with a pint in hand, an attempt to appear like they’re one of the lads, but rarely this close to home. (A working facsimile of the pub is also rumoured to have been installed in a secret Cold War-era government bunker in Wiltshire, somewhere for civil servants to relax during the Third World War, but this has not proved possible to verify.)
The Cittie of Yorke, High Holborn, WC1
A pub has been on this site since around 1430 and, although the present building is Grade II-listed, the Tudor facade is decidedly faux and dates from no earlier than the 1920s.
Prospect of Whitby, Wapping Wall, E1
With early 16th-century origins, the Prospect claims to be the oldest surviving riverside tavern and takes its name from a vessel that frequently tied up outside. Artists such as Whistler and Turner painted views from the tavern, and Londoners came here en route to see pirates hanged at Execution Dock. But the building itself is certainly not that old, as the original was almost entirely destroyed in a 19th-century fire.
Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Place, EC1
The hardest pub to find in London traces its history back to 1546 when it was built by the Bishop of Ely for his servants. It is popularly but erroneously said to be in Cambridgeshire, not London, because the bishops had their palace nearby and claimed the land for themselves.
The Grapes, Narrow Street, E14
Established no later than 1583, and a rare Blitz survivor, Narrow Street also avoided being swept away during the docklands developments of the 1980s and the pub now offers one of the best views of the river. It is owned by actor Sir Ian McKellen and a couple of chums.
The Seven Stars, Carey Street, WC2
Popular with lawyers as well as tourists – the Inns of Court are nearby, as well as the Royal Courts – the lovely Seven Stars celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2002.
The George Inn Yard, Borough High Street, SE1
Famously the last galleried coaching inn in London, and now part of the National Trust. Rebuilt in 1667, and still highly atmospheric, it has part of the old stabling yard remaining and occasionally Shakespeare’s plays are performed outside.
The Old Bell Tavern, Fleet Street, EC4
Supposedly built by Sir Christopher Wren for masons working on the nearby St Bride’s church, the building itself is at least 300 years old, although the likelihood is that pre-fire another tavern occupied the same site.
The Lamb, Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1
Built in the 1720s, the pub takes its name from philanthropist William Lamb who provided a conduit to supply the area with relatively clean, fresh water. Its delightful interior, unique in London, features etched glass ‘snob screens’ to enable guilt-ridden drinkers to remain out of sight, and it boasts what is almost certainly London’s oldest working jukebox.