Category Archives: pubs

To the Elephant

I once reckoned Shakespeare named several inns.

The Boar’s Head

This is the best recognised, the usual resort for Falstaff and his cronies.

Hold it right there: the two references in II Henry IV are only in stage-directions (II.iv and III.iii) and similarly a stage direction in II Henry IV (II.iv). A bit earlier (II.ii) in II Henry IV, there’s a cryptic reference:

PRINCE HENRY: Where sups he? doth the old boar feed in the old frank?
BARDOLPH: At the old place, my lord, in Eastcheap.

This allusion, says A.R.Humphreys, editing the now-discontinued Arden text:

is the nearest Shakespeare comes to naming the Boar’s Head Tavern — ‘the olde Taverne in Eastcheap’ of F[amous] V[ictories of Henry V — i.e. the ur-text ].

Humphreys then quotes from Shakespeare’s England; an Account of the Life and Manners of his Age, a source-book from 1916-1917 which has been ruthlessly pillaged, often without attribution, ever since:

This famous hostel … was on the N. side of Gt. Eastcheap.  … The tavern abutted at the back on St Michael’s in Crooked Lane, and was just where the statue of William IV now stands.

However, says Humphreys, further pillaging that source:

There is no evidence that it existed in Henry IV’s time; the first reference to it as a tavern dates from a lease of 1537.

Malcolmian aside

Oh, and by the way, don’t go looking for the statue in that location. When the King William Street traffic was sorted (You think? Never travelled on the Route 43?) in 1936, the sailor king was shifted to Greenwich Park. Worth a visit, because, if approached from the left side, William’s telescope could be misinterpreted.

The miscue might be suggested by William’s curious sex-life. He shacked up with Dorothea Bland, a.k.a. Mrs Jordan, an actress from Waterford. Together they had a brood of at least ten children, all illegitimate, and collectively (from the father’s title) the Fitzclarences.

To alleviate his debts with a parliamentary subscription, William was induced into a legitimate marriage to Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, from whom the Australian city takes its name.

Other named Shakespearean resorts

One play that didn’t, just didn’t appear on school syllabuses was Measure for Measure. It was treated as a ‘problem play’,  not just because of the sexual theme, but because its structure is dodgy, and no-one is wholly convinced it’s a ‘comedy’.

In Act II, scene i Pompey, servant to Mistress Overdone, is interrogating Froth, a foolish gentleman, before Duke Angelo:

He, sir, sitting, as I say, in a lower chair, sir; ’twas in the Bunch of Grapes, where indeed you have a delight to sit, have you not?

The Bunch of Grapes is a generic name for boozers — and this one is implied to be a low dive:

this house, if it be not a bawd’s house, it is pity of her life, for it is a naughty house.

In The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, scene iv, Tramio encounters ‘the Pedant’, outside the house of Baptista. ‘The Pedant’ claims a previous association:

… but I be deceived Signior Baptista may remember me,
Near twenty years ago, in Genoa,
Where we were lodgers at the Pegasus.

The Comedy of Errors has Antipholus of Ephesus telling Angelo to rush home and collect a chain that will be a way of seducing mine hostess there:

Get you home
And fetch the chain; by this I know ’tis made:
Bring it, I pray you, to the Porpentine;
For there’s the house: that chain will I bestow —
Be it for nothing but to spite my wife —
Upon mine hostess there: good sir, make haste.

Finally, in Twelfth Night, Act III, scene iii, we arrive at one that we ought to be able to locate. Antonio is none too keen to be seen in the streets because of ‘previous’ with Duke Orsino. He passes his wallet/purse to Sebastian and tells him:

Hold, sir, here’s my purse.
In the south suburbs, at the Elephant,
Is best to lodge. I will bespeak our diet
Whiles you beguile the time and feed your knowledge
With viewing of the town. There shall you have me.

Which, too often, the schoolmen try to associate with the Elephant and Castle, in Southwark. Just down the road from the South Bank and Shakespeare’s Globe. After all, The Globe was put up around 1599, and Twelfth Night dates from a couple of years later.

That Bill Shagsper would have needed a hostelry in the neighbourhood.

Too convenient, I fear.

The Elephant and Castle would, indeed, have been a coaching inn, serving routes to Kent and the south coast: it sits conveniently at the junction of the modern A2 (the Dover Road) and the A3 (the Portsmouth Road). Unfortunately there is no record of a pub of that name, at this site, before the reign of George III.

Those medieval misericords and choir-stall ‘poppyheads’ include several elephants. The earliest seems to be at Exeter, from around AD1240. There’s another at Manchester, and one at Chester. The latest, early sixteenth century, is down the road here at Beverley Minister — but better is the elephant in Beverley’s St Mary’s Church. All derive from medieval bestiaries.

That takes us to the liveried companies, each of which would have a strong church connection. In the late sixteenth century the Worshipful Company of Cutlers was granted a crest: an elephant bearing a castle.

There was, it seems, a cutler’s shop nearby — and that’s a better origin than various perversions of La Infanta de Castilla, for one or other royal bride.

But here’s an off-the-wall thought

Georg Ludwig became George I, King of Great Britain and Ireland, by default:

  • his nominal religion fitted the job description;
  • cousin Anne spawned regularly, but none of her brats made it to adulthood. Even William, Annes’ son and the Great Protestant Hope, fell foul of meddling medics, shuffled off his mortal coil, aged eleven, and so provoked the Act of Settlement, 1701;
  • the Scots were suborned by English threats of trade embargoes to go along with a continued joint monarchy (the Act of Security, 1704);
  • a whole catalogue of uncles, who would nominally have preceded him, disqualified themselves by premature deaths, failures to produce male heirs (that dratted Salic Law, which prevented Little Vicky getting Hanover) and penchants for boyfriends;
  • mother Sophia (by most accounts, quite a bright lady) pegged it a few weeks too soon;
  • nobody came up with the idea of a potion to squelch Georg and the Hanoverian males, and so improve the royal gene pool, and tgive his sister, Sophia Charlotte (another bright lady, who had to settle for being Queen of Prussia) a clear run.

So Georg got his regal crown by Anne’s death (1 August 1714). It took him until 18 September to show up in England, with a company of eighteen cooks and — note this — two mistresses. He never learned to speak English, which suited his Whig ministers very nicely, thank you. To show their gratitude the Whigs amended the Act of Settlement to allow Georg leave to make repeated trips back to Hanover.

The Elephant and the Maypole

Georg had particular tastes in his female company, all on the ‘substantial’ side. Arlene Foster would have been in with a chance.

The very-political marriage to his cousin Sophia Dorothea, then aged just sixteen (another bright lady) was — shall we say — ‘open’. She was short of avoirdupois, and a bit of a looker, which is more than any image of Georg ever managed to convey. She resisted the marriage as much as she could, and fainted when she was introduced to her prospective groom. Sophia Dorothea, scorned and neglected, formed an over-close attachment to dashing Swede Philip Christoph von Königsmarck (and his saucy and revealing letters to her became public knowledge). Sophia Charlotte and Philip Christoph were on the point of flitting off, when he was cruelly done down by the court guards, and she was whisked off to spend the rest of her life in captivity. On her death-bed she cursed Georg, and predicted he would die within a month: he obliged.

Georg’s tupping-list included Sophia Charlotte von Kielmannsegg (as right: and that would be a posted up image), the married daughter of his father’s mistress — and, to common gossip, thereby his own half-sister. The sexual relations between Georg and Sophia Charlotte were always formally and firmly denied: but the courtiers knew and chattered about the bedroom goings and (err) comings.

Sophia Charlotte came wholesale, a large lady: hence, when the English were able to snigger, ‘The Elephant’.

The ‘official’ mistress was Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, by whom he had three illegitimate daughters, all to be awarded titles. Melusine acted the part of Georg’s spouse, but — to those sniggering English detractors — was ‘The Maypole’ (by the look of her portraits, only because she was a whit less gross than ‘The Elephant’).

There was, it seems, a risqué line about Georg and Sophia Charlotte: ‘the king in his castle’.

 Sarf Lunnen humour could easily twist that.


Filed under History, pubs, Quotations, Shakespeare

Yesterday’s lunch: the Durham Ox, Crayke

The Lady-in-my-Life, #2 Daughter and I lunched in this cosy corner of the Bar at the Durham Ox:

Ignore the candle: this was lunch. Do note the carved panel, with the fox-and-geese fable.

Check out the number 40 timetable for a perfect illustration of how Tory austerity has denuded rural areas of any kind of public transport. As a consequence here we have an excellent village pub, in a delightful setting, with no access except for motorists. Breaks one’s heart.

That said, the view from the car-park, southwards across the Vale of York, is worth the trip in itself:


  • Ordnance Survey Landranger map 100: Malton & Pickering.
  • Grid Reference: SE 56205 70514


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Filed under pubs, travel, Yorkshire

A skeleton argument

Spot the word that had me puzzled:

And here it is, from the Oxford English Dictionary, no less:

Etymology: Of uncertain origin; perhaps shortened < skeleton n.
In New York: a homeless person or derelict, esp. one who sleeps in the subway system.
To which we can add — since Montauk Harbor is some 110 miles, and three hours on the Long Island Railroad from Grand Central — this term has travelled a bit from its origin.The OED gives five citations, all specific to the vocabulary of the NYPD and New York’s Finest.
Oh, and The Dock is well worth the visit. Manspreading, mansplaining, and general chauvinism part of the “atmosphere”.

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Filed under New York City, Oxford English Dictionary, pubs, travel

Friday, 8th September, 2017

Business of the day:

From Crouch End to Greenwich.

Stage 1: to Muswell Hill on W7, to find the Muswell Hill roundabout is now a major excavation.

Stage 2: from Muswell Hill to Bank on a 43 bus, to discover that whole stretch through Islington is now re-routed via Caledonian Road. Even more major excavations. Retreat into the Phoenix, Throgmorton Street, where I was joined first by Pert Young Piece, then by the Lady in my Life.

Stage 3: DLR from Bank to Greenwich, Cutty Sark. I used to be supercilious about the DLR, but it is truly a marvellous piece of kit, somewhere between a toy train and a proper grown-up railway — yet something more substantial than a tram. The weave through the towers of Canary Wharf is an experience worth the journey in itself.

At Greenwich, the task is to inspect the ceiling on a Painted Hall Ceiling Tour:

Up close, and personal, this is astonishing. I hope to live long enough to see the finished result.

And so, back the way we came,

Stage 4: DLR back to Bank. This time in the front seat, to play train-driver — and London has no greater thrill-ride for this Bill Hoole manqué.

Stage 5: from Bank, the 43 to Muswell Hill.

Stage 6, post-prandially, the W7 back down to the Maynard.

Carte du jour:

Something of an experiment: the “Miller and Carter” steakhouse, housed in what was once the cavernous “The Church” (a.k.a. O’Neill’s) in Muswell Hill Broadway.

For all of the pretensions, this is yet another branch of yet another tentacle of the Mitchell and Butlers octopus. Which makes it also a subsidiary in the Molson Coors megalo-brewing brand.

I felt obliged to see the place, having known it through various incarnations. For many years the former non-conformist tabernacle (all florid red brick and flint work) was being left-to-decay. It had been leased for a while as local council offices, but was then in a state of limbo and pigeon-crap. It was on the point of being demolished for a supermarket (the supermarket chains have eyed various properties — notably the Odeon cinema — but in each case have met the rising tide of middle-class N10MBYism). Eventually the teetotalist covenant was broken, and for a brief but happy moment it was “The Church” with a brew-house. That didn’t last long, and it went to being O’Neill’s, a barn of a sportsbar — a good place to watch the Rugby only available to Sky subscribers, but not a place to linger for the non-fizzy beer crowd. The arrival of Wetherspoons, taking over what was originally the old Express dairy on Muswell Hill roundabout (then, unhappily, as the teenies’ drink-and-drugs mart of choice), at what is now the Mossy Well changed the whole boozing culture of N10 — and for the better. Even if it also meant the loss of the Wetherspoons houses in Crouch End and at Highgate’s Gatehouse.

I’d have to presume that the Mossy Well, along with wider availability of international Rugby, drained the life out of what had been O’Neill’s — and so M&B are having another go.

I’ve now tried it once. It’s OK-ish; but I doubt we shall return.

Beers of the day:

A pint of Camden Pale Ale at the Phoenix. Err, well … if one must.

A pint of London Pride at the Gypsy Moth in Greenwich: definitely a step up in the world. If I can’t get ESB “lunatic broth” or — yet better — HSB (originally Gale’s Horndean Special Bitter from Hampshire) then London Pride is as good as Fuller’s gets. I’d have preferred a Young’s Special, when it was a London brew, but … horses-for-courses.

Finishing the evening: a taste more of that rather-toothsome East London Brewery’s Jamboree, on draught, at the Maynard.

Quote of the day:

Banner on Pentonville goal: “Serving the community for 175 years”. The “service” of 120 prisoners was abbreviated by the hangman,

Readings of the day:

The New Statesman and the New European.

Then A Great and Noble Design, the catalogue of Sir James Thornhill’s sketches for the Painted Hall at Greenwich. This really needs a complementary volume for the finished work: that will presumably follow from the conservation work. Oh, and a little pamphlet — just a dozen printed pages (English and French on opposites) of Thornhill’s own Explanation of the Painting. The bit of that which caught the Pert Young Piece’s eye went:

In the Middle of the Gallery next the upper Hall, is the Stern of a Britiſh Man of War, with a Figure of VICTORY filling her with Spoils and Trophies taken from the Enemy.

Under the Man of War is a Figure that represents the CITY of LONDON fitting on THAME, and ISIS, with the ſmaller Rivers bringing Treaſures unto her. The River TINE is there pouring forth his Plenty of Coals.

Her attention was that of an avid student of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, and re-reading (and audio-booking) the lot before we get volume seven.

My interest there was as much in the typography of 1726. What exactly were the rules of initial capitalisation (presumably for all nouns — easy), of ENTIRE CAPITALS (was this for Proper Nouns?) and for italicising (which seems just weird)?


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Filed under Beer, London, Muswell Hill, pubs, Quotations, railways

Wall art bites

When we’re down in The Smoke, the Lady in my Life and I perch in “edgy” Crouch End.

“Edgy” in the sense it has evolved a Waitrose supermarket (wow!) and a new Waterstones book-shop. Not to forget The Queens (one of north London’s surviving gin-palaces) and The Maynard (more pub-bistro, but wider choice of beer and better bogs). Add in a whole selection of coffee shop/eateries — personal favourite is Monkeynuts (nearest thing to a good American diner — named, by the way, because it was once a tyre-fitters).  Everything any metropolitan yummy mummy with a seven-figure Victorian terrace could desire.

Eat yer heart out, ‘Ampstead.

As “senior citizens”, we old wrecks have free bus travel — thank you, Gordon Brown. So we waft down town on the 91 bus, which diesels its Metroline way to Trafalgar Square.

That established, this post can truly begin.

Along the Caledonian Road (“The Cally”, per-lezze), and two stops past “Her Majesty’s Prison Pentonville” (as the audio in-bus announcement has it) the bus pulls in beside Faith Inc studios, outlet of yet another anonymous North London street artist, “Pegasus”.

“Pegasus” left his mark there on the wall of Faith Inc. It is now, wisely, protected by a thick acetate sheet:

Nip across to Camden, where Hungerford Road and York Way intersect, and there’s another “Pegasus” work:

All around Amy Winehouse’s old stamping ground of Camden, you’ll get graffiti attempts — but Fallen Angel shows how it should be done.

Nearly as good is “Bambi’s” in Bayham Street, Kentish Town:

I have found it hard, without the signature, stylistically to separate “Pegasus” and “Bambi” — though she seems a smidgeon closer to “Banksy” (and borrows shamelessly from Warhol, of course).

Why am I bothering with this?

Because in a way it has a strange importance.

“Tagging” has been a phenomenon and an eye-sore these several decades. As that regency novelist didn’t generalise: it is a truth internationally acknowledged, that a streetwise youth in possession of a spray-can must be in want of a wall.

In recent years the quality of such “vandalism” had improved exponentially. Competition is good.

Back in the street-art stone age, once the tagger had evolved bubble-lettering and a moniker, what mattered was size and location.

Then it became multi-colours.

Then it became more pictorial.

Then it became “art”, and the artist had to have a personal tweak. Around Shoreditch, in particular, a Mexican arrival, Pablo Delgado made his mark with Lilliputian figures at the base of his walls, casting long shadows across the pavement:

Make of that what you will. Around the time of the London Olympics, Delgado was adding street-walkers (“because everyone is selling themselves”):

And the last stage of this progress is the art becomes — not just “saleable” and tee-shirt-able — but exploitable by third parties. In London (perhaps inspired by the Belfast “mural” tours) one can now sign up to guided walks of the best street art in a particular ‘hood.

The once-“edgy” is now mainstream.



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One last 1970/2016 thing … Lola!

Four New Years since I was in the Bald Faced Stag in East Finchley. The boozer was crowded: a ticket-only affair.

It wasn’t going too well. The DJ had tried several rabble-rousers; but the rabble remained unroused. So he went therm0-nuclear: played The Kinks’ Lola.

The joint was suddenly jumping. It helped that the Davies brothers sprang from half-a-mile back up Fortis Green.

The clip above is from the Jools Holland Hootenanny a couple of years back. It’s Ray Davies solo — but, if you’re so dumb not to have numerous versions already saved (and I’ve half-a-dozen at least on just one iPod), YouTube will oblige.

So: I’m back to Norf Bleeding’ Lunnun for this New Year (though not at the Stag); and confidently expect Lola to show up.

One last mystery: how the heck can a narrative of not the wold’s most physical guy being picked up in a clip-joint by a tranny sell so well, everywhere?

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Filed under Kinks, London, Muswell Hill, pubs, Quotations

Easy on the madeleines

We each have triggers for involuntary memory.

I’ve just recovered some lost time.

It was a prompt from a prompt about Tesco and the Great #Brexit Threat of a Marmite Famine.


So I had to rush out and buy a pot.

Ah, but it brought back the Old Times.

For, you see, there was a time in my chequered career when “lunch” was a couple of Ryvita, with a smear of Marmite, washed down with two mugs of tea-bag tea (as likely as not, both made from the same tea-bag) — milk optional. Then back to the chalk-face.

When retirement intervened, I lost the taste, in large part because the Lady-in-my-Life remains sternly anti-Marmite.

Now the pot is almost empty, and I may be suffering withdrawal symptoms.

Stratford and Hook Norton

9781472577542Recently I was down to Stratford-upon-Avon for a double header: Aphra Benn’s The Rover for the p.m. matinee (which I would gladly see again), and back for the evening session for Two Noble Kinsmen from Bill Shagsper and John Fletcher (though the new Arden edition puts those two names in alphabetic order).

I have to say, it came close to reversing the old Himalaya pun: “Loved her; none too keen on them”.

Which isn’t the point; because the pub on the corner of Bridge Street (where Lady-in-my-Life and daughter expect to find me when I go AWOL) is The Encore. And the beer on the bar was Old Hooky. At 4.6%, the odd decimal point or two above a sessional quaffing beer; but just what a drouthy man needs during and after a culture-fest.

Also, another memory trigger, rewinding the counter many years to a well-spent day being driven around the Cotswolds with a long, leisurely, late and liquid lunch at the Pear Tree, within sniffing range of that excellent brewery itself.

Pear Tree.jpg



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