On a sunny October afternoon I strolled from my meeting in Farringdon, across Holborn Circus and down through Lincoln’s Inn Fields to my first ‘Tavern in Town’.
When you walk through the Inns of Court, past barristers and QCs in their finery, it’s not like you are in the city at all. Quiet, leafy courtyards are surrounded by imposing buildings from a bygone age.
The Seven Stars purports to be London’s oldest pub. A sign outside suggests that the building has been present since 1602, pre-dating the Great Fire by 64 years and saved from disaster by its position, in those days, right on the outskirts of the city.
Taverns in Town says that ‘Apart from being one of the smallest legal pubs, it is also one of the most praiseworthy’ and goes on to tell a little of the history of the place, surmising that if it was erected while England was still under Elizabethan rule then it would have been one of the earliest buildings here, because the Fields of Lincoln’s Inn really were fields in those days.
I came across a cosy and attractive pub, tucked away behind the Royal Courts of Justice, already busy with early Friday evening trade. I ordered an excellently kept pint of Dark Star Hophead and retired to the snug at the side of the bar to read about the pub circa 1973.
The pub was originally called the ‘Leg and Seven Stars’, a corruption of the ‘League of Seven Stars’, an allusion to the United Provinces of the Netherlands. So originally this was probably a watering hole for Dutch sailors and tradesmen. There had been some debate over whether it had also been the basis for the ‘Magpie and Stump’ in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, however the book asserts that this is unlikely to have been the case and that another nearby pub, no longer with us, was the a more likely candidate.
My next task was to Google the pub to understand whether the 1973 account was accurate and to see how people feel about the pub today. The pub has the same good food reputation that it had in the 1970’s (‘the patrons demand good food and wine and they receive them both’) and is still a well kept secret of ‘in the know’ Londoners and the legal profession. In addition, these days it is also famous for its colourful landlady Roxy Beaujolais and its well known pub cat, often to be seen atop the bar enjoying some treats. Sadly, neither was present in the bar on my visit, but I did get to experience the precipitous climb up an atmospheric, very old and narrow staircase to the toilets upstairs.
This is a good pub and with its low, beamed ceiling certainly does have a feeling of antiquity and something to attract the tourist who would like to see something of traditional London. As an added bonus for those wanting a photo opportunity there is a row of old red London phone boxes across the street.
I’d like to think that it can survive another 40 years in the same rude health, having managed more than 400 to date. If it’s not a pub you are familiar with, then I would recommend popping in for a pint and to soak up the history.