20th Century Pub london pubs

Henekey’s Long Bar and the birth of the pub chain

Henekey’s was one of Londons most famous pubs and kickstarted a pub chain more than 50 years before Wetherspoon ever existed.

In 1831 a London wine merchant called George Henekey, born in 1784 and in the trade since at least the 1810s, opened a new wine and spirit bar:

“THE PUBLIC are respectfully informed that business commenced in the Wholesale Department of this Establishment on the 26th of September, on an entirely New System by which the consumer will be convinced that every article purchased must be free from Adulteration… For Draught Wines, the advantages proposed the Public are these – there will no Secreting in the recesses of Vaults and Cellars of any one thing offered or intended for Sale; nothing will be hid from the Public; every article cleared from the Docks will warehoused in view the consumer, and there will be always on Draught from 40 to 50 pipes of different Wines, the purchaser may make his selection, and, if he thinks fit, may have it measured off in his presence, and sent at once to his residence.”

The bar was at number 23 High Holborn, at Gray’s Inn Gate, an entrance to one of London’s four inns of court.

An engraving of a cellar with huge barrels and a vaulted stone roof.
A view of the vaults at The Gray’s Inn Wine Establishment from an 1830s advertisement.

The building was probably built in the 17th century, although a plaque on the site claims there was a pub there from 1430. It was originally called The Queen’s Head Tavern or, in later years, The Queen’s Head Coffeehouse (“Frequented by professional gentlemen”).

Under Henekey it came to be known as The Gray’s Inn Wine Establishment.

After Henekey died in 1838, at the age of 55, the wine importing business carried on under his name. There were, however, no Henekeys involved in its running and his son, George Henekey Jr, actually set up a rival business right across the road.

During the 19th century, the firm changed hands multiple times, becoming Henekey Kislingbury & Co, then Henekey Barker & Co, then Henekeys Abbott & Co, then Henekey Rogers & Co., and eventually just Henekey & Co.

Enter the Callinghams

At some point around the turn of the century the Callingham family took control of Henekey’s and oversaw a serious expansion of the pub estate.

In a company report from 1934 the chairman, L.F. Callingham, said the firm was doing well and the increase in expenditure was down to acquiring or building new pubs. At that point, a site in Brighton had just been acquired and construction was underway.

In 1935 Henekey’s was advertising 17 branches:

  • The head office at High Holborn (now The Cittie of Yorke)
  • Churton Street, London SW1 (AKA The Constitution)
  • Lupus Street, London SW1 (gone)
  • High Street, Guildford (AKA The Vintner’s Arms, closed)
  • Strand, London WC2 (now The Lyceum)
  • King Street, Hammersmith (AKA The Lord Raglan, gone)
  • George Street, Richmond (AKA The Artichoke Inn, closed)
  • Camberwell New Road, Camberwell (AKA The Athenaeum, closed)
  • Freemans Court, London EC2
  • King Street, Twickenham (The George)
  • Rye Lane, Peckham (AKA The Hope, closed)
  • Kingly Street, London W1 (AKA The Red Lion)
  • Robertson Street, Hastings (AKA French’s)
  • High Street, Hounslow (Gio’s Bar is now on this site)
  • High Street, Bromley (gone)
  • The Town, Enfield (AKA The Beaconsfield Arms, closed)
  • Ship Street, Brighton (AKA The Ship, now Hotel du Vin)

The original pub, the old Queen’s Head Tavern or Gray’s Inn Wine Establishment, was demolished in 1920 and rebuilt in 1923-24.

The new building was a typical interwar architectural fantasy – a sort of medieval theme pub in what Historic England calls ‘neo Tudor’.

Perhaps this historical tendency explains some of the odd claims they made about the firm’s history. Advertising from the 1930s started referring to the firm as dating back to 1695.

And they’d even claim that the Callingham’s had been involved since around then, too.

Maybe both of these statements are true but we can’t find evidence to support them.

A pub with a faux-medieval interior, including galleries and sherry casks.
A branch opened in Ramsgate, Kent, in 1939, following the house architectural style. SOURCE: Bill Finch via

In one of his contributions to the 1950 survey of trends in pub design Inside the Pub Maurice Gorham wrote approvingly of the Henekey’s house style:

From the [beginning of the evolution of the pub]… we find the other type of house which set out to provide something grander than the patron normally had at home. This might be either the tavern or the inn. Professor Richardson’s reconstruction of the Mermaid Tavern in Cornhill in 1420, soon after Chaucer’s time, shows us a big lofty room under an open-timbered roof with screen and gallery, with a log fire blazing on the stone hearth, and oaken tables scattered here and there, at which the patrons sat drinking the blackjacks of strong ale, Rhenish wine in silver mazers, and bottles of Bordeaux, brought to them by the drawers from cellars where they were carefully counted out by the cellarers using their tally-sticks. Making due allowances for the changes of five centuries, this seems to me not at all unlike the big bar at Henekey’s in High Holborn, where the medieval style has been reproduced with more than usual success. Take away the long bar-counter down one side, strew the floor with well- trodden rushes amongst which dogs and rats snuffle for bones, and you might well be going into a fifteenth-century tavern when you penetrate into that long high-raftered hall; all the more so if they would only borrow those heavy oaken doors, iron-studded, swinging on strap hinges, from Henekey’s in the Strand.

In The Local, published in 1939, he described some other branches:

[Henekey’s] specialize in a style of antique decoration that is much more pleasing to the eye than antique styles usually are in pubs. The big Henekey’s in the Strand, near Wellington Street, is a good example of the sort of thing-heavy doors swinging on straps, panelling that looks dark with age, a step down into the bar, and so on. Henekey’s in High Holborn is even more old-world, since it has a row of cubicles each containing a table and chairs, which give a comfortable illusion of privacy. There is another big Henekey’s in Kingly Street, behind Regent Street, which is a gay scene on Christmas Eve, when the girls from the big dress shops make up parties and buy each other drinks. And there is a smaller Henekey’s in Marylebone High Street, which is interesting as showing how the style looks when it is quite new. Only a year or two ago this was the Angel; then Henekey’s took it, rebuilt it, and made a very nice job of it, clean and bright in spite of being conscientiously antique.

Enter Lady Docker

Clement Callingham (1892-1945) became chairman of the firm in 1938 and his playboy tendencies would put Henekey’s in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

He met Norah Docker (1906-1983) at London’s Café de Paris where she worked as a ‘dance hostess’. They had an affair and she moved into his house before his divorce was settled. They married in 1938 and were together until his death in 1945.

The cover of Norah: the autobiography of Lady Docker showing her dancing in a sailor's hat while an approving crowd watches.
Lady Docker’s tell-all autobiography published in 1969.

When Clement died he left Norah with a son, a big wedge of cash, and a substantial share in Henekey’s.

What made her famous in later years was her knack for marrying rich men like Clement. In 1946 she married Sir William Collins, head of Fortnum & Mason. And after he died in 1948 she married Sir Bernard Docker, chairman of the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) and became Lady Docker.

Through Lady Docker’s influence, Sir Bernard became chairman of Henekey’s in 1954 and stayed in the job until 1967. During his time, the chain had more than 40 pubs across the UK.

Pubs with a cult reputation

Almost every post-ear guide book to London, pubs, or London pubs, mentions Henekey’s in glowing terms.

In his amusing book London Pubs (Batsford, 1963) Alan Reeve-Jones says:

“The Henekey houses, of which there are fourteen in London, have a perfect right to consider themselves a cut above the rest if they feel like it, because every one of them looks like that romantic ideal of an English pub usually existing only in the mind of a Christmas Card designer.”

In his entertaining architectural guide Nairn’s London (Penguin, 1966) Ian Nairn says this of the High Holborn branch of Henekey’s:

“Any long bar implies serious drinking, but this has a sense of dedication that is far beyond mere commerce. Perhaps because of this it is often cram-full: it is more of an experience to be un- comfortable here than to relax amongst a farrago of clichés. It does not depend on Victorian ornament either. The effect is due to the long, tall proportions, the dark woodwork and especially to the scale of the huge oval barrels behind the bar, as concise as an airliner’s skin. A walkway high up connects rooms tucked under the roof and you expect to see acolytes coming out on it to perform some liturgy of alcohol. Cabins all round the walls, as a souvenir of Belfast or Dublin; but this place needs no stage props. They sell spiced buns.”

He also calls the pub The Long Bar – the name by which it’s most often remembered these days.

Oddly, the earliest reference we’ve come across to this name is from 1951, but didn’t turn up until 2014. It’s in a note attached to a lost poem by Dylan Thomas, discovered among his wife’s papers: “This little song was written in Henneky’s Long Bar High Holborn by Dylan Thomas in 1951.”

In their Guide to London Pubs (Sphere, 1968) Martin Green and Tony White call it ‘Henekey’s Long Bar’. It’s also referred to this way in a 1966 article in Tatler. So, clearly, this name had taken by the mid-1960s.

And it does, to be fair, have a very long bar. Is it, as is often claimed, the longest bar in Europe? We’ll let someone else investigate that question.

In his 1964 novel Funeral in Berlin Len Deighton’s nameless spy (Harry Palmer in the films) has a few words to say about the Portobello Road branch:

“Henekey‘’’s is a great barn of a place, bare enough not to be spoiled by the odd half-glass of best bitter being spilled across the floor; cashmere, suede, straw, leather and imitation leather jostle, jabber and posture with careful narcissism.”

Might this be the earliest instance of a chain pub being described as ‘barn-like’?

The medievalish exterior of The Cittie of Yorke.
Adapted from ‘Cittie of Yorke pub, London’ by the Wub, via Wikimedia Commons, under a licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Goodbye Henekey, hello Samuel Smith

As the 20th century wound to a close, many old brewing and pub businesses found themselves in trouble. Henekey’s was no different.

When Sir Bernard Docker stepped down in 1967 he sold his shares to a mystery buyer. After much speculation it was revealed to be catering and hospitality magnate Sir Charles Forte. By the 1970s, the Henekey’s chain was part of the Trusthouse Forte empire.

Then, towards the end of the 1970s, Trusthouse Forte began selling off pubs. Samuel Smith of Tadcaster snapped up some of the best in around 1979.

Henekey’s on the Strand, for example, became what we now know as The Lyceum.

Henekey’s Long Bar was also renamed. As a grand Yorkshire embassy in the capital it became The Cittie of Yorke – the name by which it still goes today. (Ye Olde English Pube?)

The 1970s logo for Henekey Inns.

Whitbread bought what remained of Henekey’s (or Henekey Inns, as it had become) in 1984, amounting to 22 ‘steakhouses’.

This was around the same time it also took a share in Pizza Hut, being keen to move into the growing market for pub grub.

They extended the brand to some of their existing pubs including their former London flagship The Samuel Whitbread – now Burger King on Leicester Square.

Because the closure of chains is rarely announced – they just tend to peter out with a pasted notice on the window – it’s hard to say how long the Henekey’s name lingered on.

There are few references to it in the 1990s and most of those are nostalgic, or refer to pubs losing their Henekey branding.

One interesting story, though, is from 1996, when the Morning Advertiser published a collection of publicans’ ghost stories.

The former landlady of the Henekey’s in Ramsgate, which burned down in the 1960s, claimed to have once seen a beer barrel move across the cellar floor.

She reckoned she knew the identity of the poltergeist: “old Henekey outraged at the pub’s refit”.


bristol pubs

Notable pubs: The Palace Hotel, Bristol’s Victorian wonder

The Palace Hotel is a grand, beautiful pub – perhaps Bristol’s only true gin palace. It is also closed and invisible in the cityscape.

Anytime you walk from the city centre to the east via Old Market, you pass it. Or, rather, it towers over you.

At ground level, covered in graffiti and posters, you might not notice at all.

Glance up, though, and you’ll be struck by its scale, and it’s Parisian style – or maybe it’s Bruxellois? It’s certainly continental.

And too fancy, really, for a block of kebab shops and taxi offices. Yes, hold on: why is it there?

The Palace Hotel at full height, with three floors and a loft, with clock.
The Palace viewed from Midland Road.

This neighborhood has changed a lot since the pub was built in 1869. Back then, before the Blitz and slum clearances, Old Market had breweries, sugar refineries and tanneries, along with street traders.


Notable Pubs: The Rhubarb Tavern, Barton Hill, Bristol

The Rhubarb Tavern

The Rhubarb is a rare survivor – an old backstreet pub that hasn’t gentrified or closed down, where locals still drink.

It’s one we’ve had on our #EveryPubInBristol tick-list for a while having noticed the unusual name on the Pub Stops of Bristol poster that hangs above our usual spot in our local.

A quick Google told us what to expect: a pub catering to its locals, down-to-earth, but not unfriendly to strangers.

We walked there in darkness through eerily quiet industrial estates, past wasteland and roadside caravan shanties, and finally into a residential area with the smell of weed on the air as squat, muscular dogs were taken for their evening walks.

The pub, by a railway line and opposite a hulking, boarded-up Victorian school building, dazzled from afar: there’s a painted sign advertising Georges & Co Ltd, either fake, or a recreation of a lost original, but convincing; decorative brickwork with swags and other pseudo-classical details; and fairy lights. The building is oddly truncated – there surely ought to be an extra floor or two – which only adds to the sense that this is a pub just hanging on in hostile territory.

The history is a bit vague. Its apparently old, though we can’t dig up a definitive founding date, but came into something like its present form in the late Victorian period, finding renewal with the growth of the Great Western Railway.

On Saturday evening we found it busy, if not perhaps quite busy enough for its size.

A large family group with children was enjoying a table-obscuring, wonderfully aromatic feast of Caribbean food, centred around a tray of rice the size of Captain America’s shield.

There were multiple TV screens showing football along with several furiously illuminated fruit machines. Some strange lighting scheme meant that one entire corner was cycling through the Joel Schumacher Batman Forever colour scheme of lurid greens and purples. Several people were staring towards this electrical storm, either watching match highlights, or perhaps just hypnotised.

Brew XI beer pump.

The sight of Mitchells & Butlers Brew XI on cask was momentarily startling but the barman assured us that, no, the pump-clip wasn’t just a nostalgic decoration and, yes, they do actually serve it. We had to order a pint, of course, having a weakness for orphaned brands. (Brewed by Brains these days, the internet tells us.)

He then did something we’d like to see in more pubs: not liking the look of the first pint, he sniffed it. “Hold on,” he said, before consulting a colleague who said: “Pull a couple of pints through and try again.” Our man pulled through four pints in all before giving up and suggested GWB’s Hambrook Pale Ale instead. What he didn’t do – what happens too often – was give us the dodgy pint and hope we wouldn’t know better. And the Hambrook, after all that, was pretty good.

Despite the bar being decked with bunting advertising Carling there was a plastic moneybag over the keg handle signifying that the bestselling lager was off: “I’ll have to have Grolsch, then, won’t I?”

Local twenty-somethings played pool in the back bar and a tentative group of what seemed to be foodies arrived for dinner, placing a complex order punctuated by the barman’s gentle murmur: “Yes, sir… Yes… Yes, sir… Thank you, madam…”

A bloke perched on a stool and drank a pint while he waited for takeaway which emerged from the kitchen in four bulging carrier bags. On his way to the door he stopped to banter with what seemed to be his neighbours at the feasting table, telling an appalling dad joke that made the six-year-old giggle with delight. He left waving, and being waved to.

Our favourite detail? On the dark red patterned carpet, a freestanding yellow sign with a handwritten note sellotaped to it: ‘Carpet wet, please go round’.

A strangely normal pub. Uniquely typical. A different arrangement of the same old pieces to create something that is all itself.


Notable Pubs: The Royal Forest Hotel, Chingford

The Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford is a mock Tudor behemoth deformed by fire and forced to live out its old age bedecked with Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre branding.

When Jess told her Mum that we were staying there her reaction betrayed her memories of The Royal Forest’s reputation in the 1960s: “Ooh, get you!”

As a child growing up in Walthamstow Jess knew it as a place where you parked to eat your fish-paste sandwiches but wouldn’t dream of entering. It was alien territory — Essex culture, with Essex prices, not posh but still out of reach. We think with research that it was a Schooner steakhouse, Watney’s answer to the Berni Inn, if that helps place it in terms of culture and class.

Certainly its location between golf course and a genuine Tudor building, along with the sheer raging pretentiousness of its architecture, permits a certain grandeur to linger.

The approach to the Royal Forest along the main road.

Ray’s first encounter was this weekend, rounding the corner on foot to see its high flank with black-and-white timbering and multi-pane windows peering between the branches of old oak trees: “Bloody hell, it’s Nonsuch Palace.”

Brewers Fayre.
Faded sign on the front of the pub.
“Scotch Ales”

The corporate makeover isn’t elegant — plastic signs glued here, gaudy menus nailed there — but there’s the ghost of some old brewery livery at the front and a magnificent stained glass window inside, which you’ll probably only find if you’re staying over, or nosy.

Stained glass pub-hotel window.

Pinning down its history proved tricky, even with a trip to the local library on Sunday morning. Was it terribly ancient, or built in 1880, 1890, or the 1920s?

Eventually we decided the most efficient approach would be to contact London tour guide and Chingford history expert Joanna Moncrieff. We’ve followed on Twitter (@WWalks) for years and know that runs a guided tour of Chingford.

She laid it all out for us in an email (lightly edited):

It was built in 1879 as a hotel to accommodate the hordes of people visiting the Forest. It was renamed the Royal Forest Hotel in 1882 after Queen Victoria’s visit to Epping Forest to dedicate it to the People.

It was originally built by Edmond Egan, the Loughton architect who was responsible for some of the very decorative houses in The Drive and Crescent Road, Chingford.

The hotel’s busiest period was around 1910 but then there was a serious fire in 1912 which resulted in the hotel being re-built minus its top storey.

Until 1968 it was a terminus for buses.

Because it was a centre for tourism there are quite a few contemporary sources, such as A Forest Holiday from around 1890:

On the walls are some fine water-colours of forest scenery.

The wide staircase is decorated with a fine stained-glass window representing Queen Elizabeth and her Court at the famous Epping Hunt.

The landing is of noble dimensions, and lighted by another large window, opening on a broad balcony, from which is obtained a charming and extensive view of the Forest.

This source goes on to tell us of the great dining hall with its tapestries and heraldic designs, and of the six private dining rooms: Japanese, Watteau, Spanish, Queen Anne, Indian and Queen Elizabeth themed, with “furniture and appointments in harmony”. (An early theme pub?)

Lawn Tennis at the Royal Forest.

The fire is interesting. Of course “legend has it”, according to to hack-work local histories, that guests and firemen were killed and of course they are “now said to” haunt the hotel. But we looked at some contemporary newspaper articles and if anyone was killed, journalists were oddly silent on the matter, suggesting instead that most of the guests were out at the time.

At any rate, it didn’t feel haunted to us, as a lively 50th birthday celebration rocked the wooden beams, and the beer garden heaved with drinkers despite the whisper of drizzle.

Or did we perhaps hear the chug of a spectral beanfeast charabanc in the night?

london pubs

Notable Pubs #1: The Eagle Tavern, London

The Eagle (Shepherdess Walk, N1) is known to generations of children from the nursery rhyme ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’: ‘Up and down the City Road/ In and out the Eagle’.

Charles Green as painted by Hilaire Ledru.
Portrait of Charles Green by Hilaire Ledru, 1835, via Wikipedia.

On Monday 4 April 1825, the aeronaut Charles Green ascended in a balloon from the gardens at the Eagle. After much trouble, he got airborne at 5:30 pm and drifted away south. He returned to the Eagle for another ascent on a later occasion, this time seated on the back of a ‘very small Shetland pony’ (Stamford Mercury, 01/08/1828).

Famous as the site of a theatre and other entertainments, The Eagle was the subject of one of Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz (1833-1836) entitled ‘Miss Evans and The Eagle’:

[The] waiters were rushing to and fro with glasses of negus, and glasses of brandy-and-water, and bottles of ale, and bottles of stout; and ginger-beer was going off in one place, and practical jokes were going on in another; and people were crowding to the door of the Rotunda; and in short the whole scene was, as Miss J’mima Ivins, inspired by the novelty, or the shrub, or both, observed—‘one of dazzling excitement.’

The present building dates from around 1900.

Not to be confused with The Eagle, Farringdon, ‘the original gastropub’. There will be more on balloon ascents in a future post on The Star & Garter, Richmond. Main image: ‘The Eagle Tavern Pleasure Gardens, from an old print’, from Dickensian Inns & Taverns by B.W. Matz, 1922, via