Taverns in Town #7: The Magpie and Stump, Old Bailey EC4

My next Tavern in Town was a modern incarnation of an older building. In 1973 the old building was still standing as shown by the pen and ink sketch in the book. I am unsure of when things changed but the old timbered building with ancient leaded windows is no more.

The author was somewhat gushing about the Magpie and Stump of 1973.  He describes it as “one of the best pubs in the City” and “an extremely civilised institution, patronised by a widely varied clientele and well deserving of a visit.”

As depicted in the book and less inspiring today

As depicted in the book and less inspiring today

It has a famous connection with London history. It is opposite the UK’s central criminal court – the Old Bailey. The Old Bailey lies on the site of the infamous old Newgate prison. From 1783 public executions took place here before crowds often numbering in the tens of thousands. In the early days this included poor unfortunates being burnt at the stake. Public executions ended in 1868 and proceedings moved inside the prison walls.

This was not before the Magpie and Stump received a reputation as having the best seats in the house. The wealthy and well-to-do would pay to witness the barbarous end of various criminals:

“Successive landlords drew good money from renting rooms so that those interested might obtain an unobstructed view of the butchery beneath.”

These days the prison is gone and we live in more civilised times. On my visit it was a pretty busy Friday evening as Christmas party season was just kicking off. The crowd was one of well-presented and well-oiled City types.  Rather than a pub this is more like a trendy wine bar in décor. In fact this place converted to a wine bar called ‘Firefly’ for a time during the last decade. It reverted back to its historic name again as the beer scene took off.

I enjoyed a well kept pint of Adnams Ghost Ship. This compensated for the rather sterile surroundings, but not so much the drinkers more interested in Prosecco and cocktails than good beer.

The Magpie and Stump comes recommended because the beer selection is both broad and well-kept. But neither the building, nor the clientele live up to the 1973 billing and it’s not worth going out of your way for.


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