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Angel crawl map - for more detail click on map or press 1 to be taken to









Nag's Head








King's Head




Finnock and Firkin




Camden Head















Anticipate - Look forward to...

Ale - Liquor made from an infusion of malt by fermentation, flavoured with hops etc.; beer; ~-house, house selling ale.

"When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England", was what Hilaire Belloc once said. Let's face it...he was right. What better way to prepare your constitution for the forthcoming rigours of Christmas than to partake of the products of Britain's finest brewers.
Robert Burns, perhaps, sums it up better than most: "...a now-and-then tribute to Bacchus is like the cold bath, bracing and invigorating". I couldn't have put it better myself (although after ten pints, who knows?). Invigoration, then, is what it's all about and there are few more invigorating places on a Friday evening than the Angel, Islington.
Let us delve deeper...

'Islington' was known by the ale-swilling Anglo-Saxons as 'Gislandune' (meaning 'Gisla's hill') and is recorded in the Domesday book as Iseldone, when it's land in the forest of Middlesex was held by the canons of St. Pauls. It's earliest church is mentioned in 1317.

By the mid-16th century, the hilltop village of 'merry Islington' was noted for it's handsome mansions, gardens, orchards, good dairy farms and pure water from it's springs (rather like it is today).

The area was a natural stopping place for royalty travelling to and from the capital. Later (and not so merrily), being outside the city, the area was a refuge during plague outbreaks and after the Great Fire. From Jacobean times, 'The Angel' was known as the nearest staging post to London. It was a coaching inn 'opposite some large elms' on the busy Great North Road where the traffic included herds of cattle being driven to the market at Smithfield.

'The Angel' was especially useful to night travellers, when the unlit fields, on the outskirts of the city, were dangerous. The inn was rebuilt in 1819 and again in 1899 (when it's dome became a noted landmark), was a Lyons tea house in the 1960s and is a CO-OP bank.

By the late-eighteenth century, Islington was still little more than a cluster of houses grouped around the village (Islington) green, with the smaller, distant hamlets of Holloway and Canonbury nearby. The lower reaches ran into tea gardens and spas (notably at Sadlers Wells, since 1683) and it rivalled Clerkenwell (I kid you not) as a recreational resort for Londoners. However, Pentonville Road was now patrolled at night, by mounted escorts, to protect homeward-bound revellers from entertainments such as 'a learned pig' (recorded in 1783).
The spas, also, were claimed to cure 'dropsy, jaundice, scurvy, greensickness and other distempers not to be mentioned'.Still, Islington was a good place to be (Arsenal football club had not yet been founded). As a London character in a novel of this time states "....give me fresh air, and Islington!". William Blake mentions "...the fields from Islington to Marylebone". Goldsmith records the area as "a pretty, neat town, mostly built of brick, with a church and bells. It has a small pond in the midst though at present much neglected."

Health - Soundness of body, mind etc.
Good ~ Toast drunk in person's honour

Even in the 19th century, when Dickens wants to banish a character from the action of one of his novels, he exiles him to distant Islington. However, by the end of the century, improved transport 'decreased' the distance to London and made development inevitable although, still, the people who lived here generally confined their lives to the district (a bit like people from Kent do today).

It is up to us, tonight, to try and recreate the hearty, healthy times from the 'merry Islington' of old and probably the best way to do this is via the medium of a pub crawl.

Merry - Mirthful, hilarious; full of animated enjoyment; slightly tipsy.

  1. The Nag's Head (Fullers) Upper Street
    A popular, lively pub to begin with, selling London (Laarndan?) Pride, Wadworth 6X and Webster's beers. The pub is, basically, a long, wide, wood-panelled corridor which displays old postcards and posters of the area. A pinball and jukebox provide extra 'excitement'. On my visit, there were a couple of drunks in here (or maybe I was seeing double?). The pub is close to the corner of Liverpool Rd, which was the site of the Islington turnpike from 1790 to the late 19th century. Very near this was the other famous coaching inn of the area, 'The Peacock' of which nothing remains except for a commemorative plaque almost opposite the station.

  2. Minogue's (Freehouse?) Liverpool Road
    "A pint of plain is your only man" - Flann O'Brien
    A five minute walk, now, along Liverpool Rd., to this 'Irish' pub, to enjoy the craic. It is difficult to believe, now, that this road ended in fields, cattle lairs and dairies until the late 19th century. As we walk along, past Chapel market, the large building on the right was the Royal Agricultural Hall. The hall covers three acres and opened in 1862. It was famous for it's military tournaments and cattle shows, after which, no doubt, the attendants got 'well slaughtered'. In 1869, the hall staged a grand ball for 5000 guests. It closed in 1939 (after staging an 'arrers' match, watched by 20000 people) but was re-opened, in 1981, as a trade exhibition centre. Anyway, the pub is one large bar with a wooden floor. Pictures of Irish literary heroes decorate the walls. Courage Director's and John Smith's ales are on draught for those who want, but a fine pint of Guinness or Beamish stout is served here.
    An adjoining restaurant serves hearty fare from 7pm and is usually busy. There is live music at weekends. At it's best, the pub can seem almost 'Dublin-like', at it's worst...well, we'll see tonight, won't we?!
    As we leave 'Minogue's', note Cloudsley St. on the other side of Liverpool Rd (the road was once part of the Cloudsley and Milner-Gibson estates). Turning right into Theberton St.(once an old field path), we walk through one of the area's many picturesque squares, Gibson Square, which was built in the early 19th century. Later in the 1960s, construction of the Victoria underground line necessitated building a ventilation shaft in the square's gardens. Local opposition resulted in this being designed like a temple to harmonise with the surroundings (eh?). The 'temple' stands at the far end of the square.

    Verbose - using, expressed in, too many words

    Back on Upper St. and on to the next watering hole:

  3. The King's Head (Freehouse)
    Opposite the 18th century St. Mary's church, this pub is a 'back-to-basics' affair with an ambience more of a chapel than a pub (at least when I was here). James I passed through this area in 1603 and the predecessor of the pub was probably named to commemorate this event.
    Serving Benskin's Best, Adnam's and Burton bitters, the pub was Islington's first 'pub-theatre', in 1971, and this is still open today. Huge stagelights illuminate the bar and 'This is a residential area - please leave quietly' signs are everywhere. A piano may provide entertainment and a dartboard may not. Theatre posters and photographs adorn the walls and are, perhaps, worthy of quiet contemplation as the pint slowly permeates your personality. A few hundred yards back and we reach:

  4. The Finnock and Firkin
    This pub is built on the site of a house where Sir Walter Raleigh once lived (Elizabeth I allegedly visited him here). A tavern, 'The Pied Bull' stood here until recently when the Firkin 'boys' moved in. The building dates from 1830 but the pub is a modern, large-windowed 'jobbie' selling 'Angel' and 'Finnock' beers as well as the legendary 'Dogbolter' ale - all brewed on the premises. There may be live music when we visit. For some, the spiral staircase may prove particularly difficult to navigate.

    Tipsy - (Partly) intoxicated; unsteady, staggering, from effects of drink.

    Leaving 'The Finnock...' we cross Upper Street and pass by Islington Green. Upper Street, at one time had a high causeway, green, stocks, watch house and cattle pound. The green remains and has, at it's southern end, a statue of Hugh Myddelton, a Welsh entrepeneur and goldsmith who was behind the construction of the New river, in the early 17th century which brought water from Hertfordshire to the edge of the city, to relieve it's water problems. The northern end of the Green (near the 'Slug and Lettuce' pub) was the site of Collin's Music Hall, which opened in 1862. The owner and performer was Sam Collins, who sang comic, Irish songs. The hall was a great success, mostly for the fact that ladies were admitted and drink could be consumed during the performance. It was taken over, during the Second World War and never regained it's appeal. The interior was destroyed by fire in 1958 but the building still stands (albeit in a delapidated state) and a blue plaque commemorates it's illustrious past.

  5. The Camden Head (Youngers) 2 Camden Walk

    Intoxicated - Made drunk; excited, exhilarated, beyond self-control.

    		"O gude ale comes and gude ale goes;
    		Gude ale gars me sell my hose,
    		Sell my hose, and pawn my shoon -
    		Gude ale keeps my heart aboon!"
    				     Robert Burns

    Well, it is a Younger's pub! This grand Victorian tavern is a comfortable place to sup, with ornate windows and mirrors and plush seating. A circular, central bar provides easy access to Theakstons Best and Younger's IPA ales for those in need. Food is served all day. Notice the absence of public bars in trendy Islington?
    From here, it a short stroll through Camden Passage to the next pub. The Passage is full of antique shops and stalls, so if you're into that sort of thing - get a life.

  6. The York (Taylor Walker)
    Self-proclaimed as "Islington's favourite local", this Victorian pub is, also, a pretty comfortable place with good value food served all day. Although the pub is billed as 'Taylor-Walker', the only beers on my visit were Burton, Tetley and Thomas Hardy Country. The 'blurb' on the outside of the pub also says that it was a popular meeting place for travellers from the North (hopefully, "was" means just that).

    Blotto (slang) - Very drunk
    Mumble - Speak or utter indistinctly or with lips partly closed.

    OK! It is time to force one last effort from our suffering, booze-wracked bodies. We have a 5-10 minute walk (who will want to go?) to the final pub. Walking across the Georgian Duncan Terrace, past the Regents canal, we emerge on City Rd. Built in 1761, the road was historically a main route to the city. The final pub on our perambulation is mentioned in a popular nursery rhyme:

    		"Up and down the City Road,   
    		In and out the Eagle,   
    		That's the way the money goes,   
    		Pop goes the weasel"

  7. The Eagle - (Freehouse) 2, Shepherdess Walk
    Set in Shepherdess Walk, this pub was once the site of a tea-garden and the area was part of a 'health farm' famed for it's recuperative properties and fresh air. Turned into a music hall in 1825, the present tavern was built 1901 and has a good selection of music hall prints about it's walls. Charrington IPA and Bass must be drunk and, when I visited, Felinfoel Dragon and Belhaven 80/- added a distinct ethnic flavour. The pub is spacious and dark with tasteful brown wallpaper and carpet. The public bar is of the wooden-floor variety and has a pool table which may very well be busy.
    Just to explain the rhyme: Pop - is slang for pawn, Weasel slang for tailor's iron. There!
    PGTW also became a popular country dance in which the rhyme was sung as one of the dancers darted under the arms of the others. Well, there you go!

    		"...My griefs are over - my glass runs low,
    		Then for that reason, 
    		and for a season,
    		Let us be merry before we go".
    				John Curran (1750 - 1817)

    As we depart from the final hostelry of the crawl, and head towards Old Street station, we pass by Moorfields Eye Hospital. The name is taken from the moor outside the city walls which was drained in 1527. Apparently, we can leave anyone who is blind drunk here for free treatment (arf! arf!).

    And, so, it is over for another year. Surely, by now, we have heard angels aplenty singing our praises and, indeed, feel invigorated and ready to face the relentless countdown to Christmas with renewed heart. If not, the pubs open at 11 tomorrow.

    Le crawl de les tetes du piss est fini! Au revoir, mes amis, au revoir!!

Aidan Laverty. December 1994