london pubs

Geoffrey Fletcher’s favourite London pubs, 1966

In a small booklet called Offbeat in London, published in 1966, writer and illustrator Geoffrey Fletcher provided a list of his favourite London pubs.

Fletcher’s list is unusual and interesting for various reasons.

He knew a lot about architecture but wasn’t an architectural critic in the formal sense.

Nor was he a beer geek. In fact, he rarely mentions drink at all.

What really mattered to him was the vibe. In particular, he loved anything that felt like a relic of times past.

His books often focus on ghost signs, buildings that had dodged demolition and elderly people who remembered Queen Victoria.

Pubs, many of which were built in the high Victorian period, were one more aspect of this.

The pub list in Offbeat in London comes after a description of Henekey’s, “the sole representative of the vanished gin palace of Victorian London”. (It’s now a Sam Smith’s pub called The Citties of Yorke.) After notes on its fixtures and fittings, such as “the famous Waterloo stove”, Fletcher writes:

Having made a digression in the direction of refreshment, I take the opportunity to introduce a short list of my favourite London pubs, recommended for architecture and atmosphere, as well as for food and drink.

Here’s his list, with a brief quote from the more extensive notes in the book for each entry.

  • The Salisbury | St Martin’s Lane, WC2 | “You go through the doors and find yourself at once in the London of Beardsley and Wilde.” | still trading
  • The Red Lion | Duke of York Street, SW1 | “a perfect hall of mirrors, quite untouched since the Victorian age” | still trading
  • The Albert | Victoria Street, SW1 | “a curiously American-like exterior with superb balconies” | still trading
  • The Jolly Butchers | Stoke Newington | “fantastic Gothic ironwork” | still trading
  • The Crown | Aberdeen Place, NW8 | “The interior has a strong flavour of the Diamond Jubilee about it…” | now a Lebanese restaurant but well preserved
  • The Black Friar | Queen Victoria Street EC4 | “the most remarkable Arts and Crafts period pub in London” | still trading
  • Mooney’s Irish House | Strand, EC4  | “Upright drinking, talk, stout, Irish whiskeys and crab sandwiches…” | now The Tipperary, temporarily closed was at 395 Strand, now closed (see correction in comments)
  • The Nell Gwynn(e) | Bull Yard, WC2 | “Porter on draught… was sold here until only a few years ago.” | still trading
  • The Final | William IV Street, WC2 | “a pile of turned mahogany, gold lettered mirrors and stained glass” | gone, we think
  • The Paxton’s Head | Knightsbridge, SW1 | “the name is derived… from the designer of the Crystal Palace” | still trading

It’s interesting how many of these are still trading and retain some or all of the features that made Fletcher love them.

The Final, on the edge of Covent Garden, is the only one that seems to have completely disappeared. It’s not listed in any of the other ‘great London pubs’ books on our shelves, either.

So, with that in mind, let’s have a slightly extended quote:

The saloon has a mosaic floor Street to cool your feet, and a brass rail to rest them on when you are called to the bar… Best of all, perhaps, is the Schweppes advert for Soda Water and Dry Ginger Ale, with an Edwardian nymph, an Albert Moore-like figure, at a spring. Watching her from the opposite wall is a group of natty, whiskery gents in titfers, with the day’s shoot at their feet.

It turns out, however, that Fletcher wrote about The Final in a couple of other places. We don’t have a copy of London by Night but we do have Geoffrey Fletcher’s London from 1968 in which he recycles a chunk of the note above, adding that he rates it “almost as highly as Mooney’s”.

How interesting, and how sad, that a beautiful Victorian pub can completely disappear, not only physically, but also from the collective memory.

Thank goodness for Big Geoff F. and his eye for nostalgic detail.

8 replies on “Geoffrey Fletcher’s favourite London pubs, 1966”

That looks a bit like the very first edition of the “London heritage pubs” book !

There’s a brief mention of The Final in Leopold Wagner’s More London Inns and Taverns (1925, p45) in which he reveals that it was originally the William the Fourth in King William Street (sic) but was renamed The Final “because patrons of Toole’s Theatre opposite always crowded into its bars for a last drink at the close of the performance.” PubWiki says it was renamed The Final by 1891 at the latest.

That’s interesting – thanks! We did see a tantalising glimpse via ‘snippet view’ of another story about the name: the landlord was a former medical student who named the pub after the failed final exam that ruined his life. (Absolutely nonsense, obviously.)

In my copy of ‘London after dark’ by Geoffrey Fletcher, (pub. 1969) he mentions the Final in William IV Street near Charing Cross hospital as on of the “easily accessible London pubs worth seeing by night from outside”. Also included in that list were the Museum tavern, the Paxton’s Head and the Camden Head. No sketch unfortunately.

As someone who’s walked down William IV Street a fair few times, I wondered where The Final used to be. In case anyone else was wondering, it occupied part of what is now the (recently closed?) branch of Rymans on the south side of the road. Fortunately, the London Metropolitan Archives has a few exterior photos – one from 1958 (proclaiming “Flowers Bitter on draught” – and two from 1971 (with Watney’s branding – & Closure must have happened by 1973, as the premises appear to be vacant in a photo from that year ( Such a shame there’s no photos of the interior, as described by Fletcher.

The block in question (the Strand/William IV Street/Adelaide Street triangle) was originally designed by John Nash, though later significantly altered and acquired by Coutts as its headquarters. It was the subject of various post-war redevelopment proposals, including the GLC’s plan for Covent Garden which envisaged its destruction to make way for a new road, but ultimately, Coutts redeveloped the block in the 1970s, retaining most of the facades as part of a scheme drawn up by Frederick Gibberd. Presumably it was this work that led to The Final’s demise. The LMA has photos of the block during redevelopment in 1976 ( and post-redevelopment in 1979 ( &

Of course, London was subject to a fair amount of large-scale redevelopment in the decades following World War 2 and so perhaps it’s unsurprising that one pub has left little trace. It’s a sobering thought to consider how much else might have been lost had some of the post-war plans for comprehensive redevelopment, such as the GLC scheme I mentioned above and others of its ilk, come to pass.

It was annoying me that I couldn’t make out the wording of the projecting sign in the 1958 photo, but I’ve finally
cracked it – it reads “Wm Younger’s Scotch Ales”.

Found it!! The Final was actually the renamed William IV pub in King William Street – see Now that was King William Street, St Martins in the Fields WC2, which was later renamed William IV St to avoid confusion with the King William Street in the City. A pub is indeed shown on old maps on the south side of the street towards the Strand end, about the middle of the back of Rymans store now, so it would presumably have been demolished when that whole block was redeveloped (1980s?).

Very interesting piece.

I think the Mooney’s Irish House that Geoffrey Fletcher refers to was at 395 The Strand. It’s long gone, but was listed in Green & White’s Evening Standard Guide (1973).

The Tipperary is at the far end of Fleet Street.

JS Radmore

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