You can hear some pretty amazing and unlikely tales while propping up a bar, but a few London pubs are legends in their own right…
1. The Magdala, South Hill Park, NW3
Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK, shot her racingdriver lover outside the Magdala on Easter Sunday 1955. He died on the spot and the bullet holes are still in the pub’s wall. ‘When I shot him,’ said Ellis, ‘I intended to kill him.’ Which settled the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ side of things. She was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint on July 13 1955.
2. The Eagle, Shepherdess Walk, N1
In the 1800s Shoreditch and Hoxton rivalled the West End for offering thirsty Londoners a great night out, or ‘knees up’. As the Victorian music hall version of the nursery rhyme ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ made clear, this fine corner house was where most of that kneeing-up went on… ‘Up and down the City Road, in and out the Eagle/That’s where all the money goes, pop goes the Weasel.’
3. The Freemasons Arms, Long Acre, WC2
Given the behaviour of many modern footballers, you won’t be surprised to learn that the rules of the game they play were drawn up in a pub. And this is it – site of the inaugural meeting of the Football Association in 1863. In a precursor to today’s Premier League Twitter scandals, it was at the bar of the Freemasons Arms that stovepipe-hatted legislators first attempted to prohibit players sending ‘offensive pictures of their privates by the telegraph’.
4 The Assembly House, Kentish Town Rd, NW5
Established on this once-rural site over 250 years ago, the Assembly House owes its name to its past as a late eighteenth-century meeting place for those who wanted to travel further north through highwayman infested forests – the theory being the more mob-handed they were, the less likely Dick Turpin would be to try to grab their family jewels. A few pints of Dutch courage also helped.
5. The Ten Bells, Commercial St, E1
If you sense something in the air of this regularly packed pub, it’s probably not spilled Hoegaarden. It was a favoured haunt of Victorian prostitutes, and in 1888 Jack the Ripper came here to pick his victims. Or her victims: as it’s now widely accepted that the Ripper was Queen Victoria. Or was it Gladstone? No, Disraeli? Arthur Conan Doyle?
6. The Mitre, Ely Court, EC1
As property of the Bishop of Ely, this ancient pub (built 450 year ago) was once guarded by the bishop’s frockcoated beadles. Today – a straightfaced barman claims – it’s still part of Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s turf. ‘When jewel thieves run in here from Hatton Garden,’ he tells us, ‘The City police seal the exits and wait for the Cambridgeshire police force to arrive.’ Yes, and they serve free beer as well…
7. The Blind Beggar, Whitechapel Rd, E1
When founder of the Salvation Army William Booth preached his first ever public sermon outside the Blind Beggar in 1865, he pressed his face to the pub’s window and declared, ‘There is a heaven in east London for everyone!’ Good news for local villain George Cornell, then, who was at the bar on March 9 1966 when Ronnie Kray walked in and shot him dead.
8. The Grand Union, Kennington Rd, SE11
The Bethlem Royal Hospital (now the Imperial War Museum) was the world’s first health institution to specialise in mental illness. Although this nearby pub has had several name changes and facelifts over the years, there’s no doubt its south-facing roof terrace dates from the mid-nineteenth century. It was designed as a viewing platform to allow drunk Victorians to peer over the wall and observe the poor inmates.
9. The Widow’s Son, Devons Rd, E3
Easter 1824, and a lonely widow bakes a bun to celebrate her son’s return from a tour of duty in the British Navy. Tragically, he’s lost at sea and never comes back, but the widow continues to bake hot cross buns until her death in 1848. Upon her sad demise, her sympathetic London neighbours immediately turn her house into licensed premises but, ever since, a Royal Navy sailor hangs a bun from the ceiling of this pub every Good Friday.
10. The Anchor, Bankside, SE1
In mid-seventeenth-century London, health and safety regulations had yet to fully develop, so when the Great Fire broke out in 1666, and diarist and womanizer Samuel Pepys found his office ‘in a state of ye conflagration’, his response amounted to no more than ‘Get thee to an alehouse!’ After a terrifying boat trip across the Thames, being bombarded with ‘fire dropes’, the singed Pepys came here to hold the roll call.
Find places to drink at timeout.com/london/bars.