Lovers of London, Unite!
I might go on these walks alone, but sometimes I feel as if I am part of a quintet. Nearly every day I am accompanied by at least one of my fellow London lover/walker/writers: Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens. While only two of us were contemporaries (and we’re all just a little tired of hearing about how much fun they had together), we still chase each other around the city, drinking in the same pubs, writing in neighbouring cafes, living next to each other and going for long walks through London’s “innumerable little lanes and courts”.
Today I passed the homes of three of these London chums (ok, technically Boswell never lived in this building, but he was nearby). That might sound significant, but considering they all moved frequently (Johnson had 17 known addresses and Dickens’ are innumerable), it was inevitable that they would all be neighbours at some point.
In this neighbourhood, Johnson’s house is the most notable and has been turned into a museum about him (replete with two copies of his original dictionary). The building has had a really interesting history, housing a bed and breakfast, canteen, print studio and a social club for fireman (aka “heroes with grimy faces”). Read all about it here. Apparently, the most important resident though was Hodge, Johnson’s cat, who gets his own statue in the square.
If I could have any London dream fulfilled, it would be to spend a day wandering around the city with these chaps then posting up at our favourite pub around the corner where we get drunk and take bets on Boswell’s chances of pulling.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
So many wonderful old pubs have been modernised and converted into high end gastros, serving breaded haddock, chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce in their chic, fashionably designed dining rooms (with Bruno Mars crooning in the background). While fancy food obviously has its place, these establishments simply cannot call themselves pubs.
The Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, on the other hand, serves fish and chips (and, of course, countless pies) in a quintessential pub setting: low ceilings, dark rooms, endless nooks and crannies, sawdust on the floor, fireplaces in the winter. This pub has been pulling pints since 1538 (minus a year or two for a little post-fire rebuilding). Along with my previously mentioned gang of regulars, Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins were all known to belly up to the bar here after a long day of writing. They may have even spilled a pint or two in a fit of excitement over their newest novel, contributing their share to the beer-soaked floorboards, which exude that well-known pub aroma.
What has saved this classic pub from certain death-by-interior-design? It is owned by Sam Smith’s, a traditional, independent brewer from Tadcaster that believes in keeping things old. Their pubs remain independent, serve their own brew at reasonable prices, maintain their buildings in a traditional manner and play no music at all. They run over 300 pubs around the country (all just as charming) with 35 in London alone (someone has even been so kind as to map out every single Sam Smith’s pub here for your pubbing pleasure). I can’t speak for the others, but I am very glad to know the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese won’t be changing any time soon.
Walking in Modern Times
While the five of us have certainly walked the same streets and have gotten tipsy at the same pubs, I venture to guess it has looked a little different in each of our times. I can safely say, I have more technology available to me than any of the others to help me document the experience. For the sake of those who will join our club in the future, I thought I’d share a few photos of what a day out looks like through my eyes.
In case you can’t tell from the bemusement on their faces, lots of strangers wonder what exactly it is I am up to. Most often they think I am lost and offer to help me with directions. When I tell them what I am doing, they inevitably tell me their favourite place in the area so I don’t accidentally pass it by. Don’t believe what people say about London being cold and impersonal. It’s one of the friendliest places around and people love talking about it.
Case in point, The Londonographer, who helped me solve a mystery from Day 20 with this tweet: “Waterhouse was built as the Prudential Assurance offices. Architect; Sir Alfred Waterhouse, of Natural History Museum fame.”
No wonder I loved it.
See you next time!
149 days until the Congestion Zone Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.