Old London Pubs and Landscapes.
Seven Sisters, North London, 2018.
Old London Pubs and Landscapes
Old London pubs and landscapes and their history 200 yrs ago is always interesting. In this article we can see some of what London looked like before development and place some old pubs within this historical landscape.
Most people know that the existence of London was in place before the Romans arrived in Britain in AD43. Sometime later, estimated at AD47, they established a fort at the site of an existing settlement. The name London is recognised to have been Britonic in origin and part of the pre-Roman culture as a settlement.
The original Roman London existed as a fort, later reinforced with a wall, on the north bank of the Thames. From this foothold at an important river site, the armies set forth and built roads into the British hinterland. As they progressed they set up wayside inns which served wine and let the passing people know when their barrels were ‘tapped’ by sticking a branch of leaves out of the door frame. This, so many think, was the birth of the pub sign, a not uncontested idea!
By the time of Chaucer little had changed in 600 years and the old medieval city walls held firm.
Old London Landscapes
The city grew slowly over the years but until the 16th century remained mostly confined behind the medieval boundaries. Beneath the streets the Roman city was buried and all but parts of its wall had disappeared from view. What did remain was the old Roman roads. One of the key arteries of transport to the north of England, Ermine Street, was covered over in part by the Holloway Road (earliest date for the name is 1307) after it left the city boundaries.
Old London Pubs
As we can see from this 1745 engraving of what became the Holloway Road, this area of London beyond the city boundaries was rural and filled with small villages. In the distance we see the church on the hill which marks Highgate. The road today, as seen in roughly the same place, reveals how this London landscape has changed.
If we were to proceed up the Holloway Road from the point shown above, after about a half mile we will come across The Archway Tavern.
An old London pub?
Nowadays, this old pub is surrounded by a pedestrian precinct whereas not long ago it was besides the road. Times change. This poor old pub has had many incarnations, new management teams have come and fled, re-modelling and re-purposing have been applied to its fabric. Past desperate times, it is now fighting back and trying to regain a respectability and social importance it had in the past but lost in recent years.
However, London is not a simple place defined by easy maps. One of the great charms of our city is the way the roads twist and turn through the metropolis. This is because as London grew it absorbed the outlying villages and brought into its infrastructure those old country lanes. The meandering of our roads marks out old field boundaries and dry routes between small hamlets of the past.
As the expansion progressed, the old pubs were also absorbed into the fabric of the city. Over time some of these were re-developed to meet the needs of changing conditions. Some were rebuilt on site but some were altered to meet the new perspective of the roads.
Old London Pub
Old London Landscape
By 1825, the route to the north was being plied by the mail coaches. The old Roman road led to York and the first real gateway out into the wilds of England was at the place where the Archway Tavern stood. Not the building we see today but an older itteration serving a different market entirely.
At 6.30 am, The Stamford Regent mail coach left The George and Blue Boar Inn in Holborn (not to be confused with the Blue Boar Inn Holborn which was another pub). The first stop out of London was on the periphery of the city at the Angel, in Islington village. After that, on down the Holloway Road, past the Archway Tavern, through the toll gate and up over Highgate Hill and on to The Green Man at Barnet village.
In the other direction came the drovers and cowherds, the farmers and traders, bringing their livestock and wares to the markets of London.
The Old Scrapbook
An investigation into a 1950s scrapbook of pub history which examines the ways we can look at historical source material.
How we look at images in the historical records is all about knowing the skills of being a history detective. The Old Scrapbook is a manual on historical source analysis which provides an adventure of discovery for the enquiring mind.
The Old Crown Inn was thriving on this passing trade further up the hill. But, as with The Archway Tavern, once the urbanisation of this outlying areas took hold the old pubs benefited from the increased population. This led to their redevelopment in a new, grand, Victorian London city style.
Now styled as a ‘lounge bar’ to serve the tastes of the 21st century, the site of the Old Crown Inn was rebuilt into an imposing grand city pub once the railways had dragged the housing into place in the 1850’s.
Rural England subsided beneath the evolving development of civilsation. Today, we little imagine what history lays behind the streets we look at as we go about out lives. We lose all connection with our landscape in this manufactured environment we call London. Whoever thinks, when they arrive at Seven Sisters in north London, that the name refers to seven elm trees which once stood at the place.
I would hope that you have enjoyed looking at these old engravings of London and its pubs and landscapes. If you have enjoyed this easy journey into some of our pub history then maybe you would consider buying my work “The Old Scrapbook”. This book is all about pub history in England from the 1950s and examines the way we look at historical material to analyse its hidden depths.
Contemporary images taken from Google Maps and used for educational purposes here.
All other materials sourced from my library.