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Fitzrovia W1

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









The Grafton Arms








King & Queen








Valiant Trooper




One Tun




Northumberland Arms




Fitzroy Tavern



England was merry England when
Old Christmas brought his sports again
Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale
Twas Christmas told the merriest tale
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
A poor man's heart through half the year
Sir Walter Scott

Welcome to another seasonal excursion into a magical world where apathy, ignorance and sheer bloody-mindedness are briefly forgotten (only to return later, usually by the fifth pint).

Yes, it is time to fling ourselves into festive action once more, as King Eric said:

"When the pissed gulls follow the pub crawl, it is because there is no more booze indoors". Or something like that.

Towards the beginning of the second world war, Bloomsbury had passed it's 1920's heyday and the centre of avant-garde intellectual life moved a few hundred yards west to the other side of Tottenham Court Road, to 'Fitzrovia'. In this area, bounded by Oxford St., Euston Rd., Tottenham Court Rd. and Great Portland St., flats were numerous, good restaurants were springing-up, the British museum reading room was still within walking distance and.....there were lots of good pubs nearby.

Fitzrovia takes it's name from the nearby Fitzroy Square and has long been known as a haunt of artists and writers, or, as they are frequently referred to, Bohemians.

Bohemia - Slovanian kingdom of central Europe. Became a province of Czechoslovakia by the Treaty of Versailles (1919).

Bohemian - Person (esp. artist or writer) of free-and-easy habits, manners and sometimes morals (from mistaken belief that gypsies came originally from Bohemia).

In Fitzrovia, the archetypal Bohemian artist, Augustus John, introduced the archetypal Bohemian poet, Dylan thomas to his future wife, Caitlin. George Orwell also regularly drank in the pubs of the area and George Bernard Shaw did what came naturally to him. What times they were, as Dylan Thomas explained:

"Oh how I hated those recumbent Bohemians! Slowly, I went upstairs to bath. There was a man asleep in the bath. And tears ran down my cheeks. Two creatures stretched dead in my bed...............

P.S. I am sorry to add to this that by the end of the day I was happy as a pig in shit myself, and conducted the singing of hymns with my broken arm, and chased people and was caught, and wound up snug as a bugger in Rugby. Oh, my immortal soul, and oh, my tissues!".

Fitzrovia has lost it's Bohemian air, now being full of 'mee-jar'-types, but, as we shall see, it still has some fine pubs (and a lot of them) with a wide range of the best of British beers (as well as 'Hooch', 'K' and 'Diamond White').

The first pub is:

  1. The Grafton Arms (Whitbread 'Hogshead' Free house)

    "...To Mister Whitbread forth he sent a page To say that majesty proposed to view With thirst of wondrous knowledge deep inflamed His vats, and tubs, and hops, and hogsheads famed"

    A crowded, lively pub with an unusual layout, a loud jukebox and a wide range of beers, several of which are in barrels behind the counter. A huge lamp, with 'Pub' written on it, reminds you of where you are. More seating can be found upstairs but will, invariably, be busy. A 'sun-trap' roof garden is here, if anybody fancies visiting in warmer months. Beers from Castle Eden, Wadworth, Greene King and Marstons, plus several guest beers were on when I visited. The pub is decorated with a rainforest of posters advertising various drinks and Sky TV.

    Suitably protected against the, no doubt, biting wind we now cross Fitzroy Square. You want to know why it's called this? Well......

    Henry Fitzroy was the son of Charles II and was married by the age of 9 to the 5-year old daughter of Lord Arlington (This was later known as 'a 9 to 5 job'). Between them, these two were given a lot of land: she was given the manor of Tottenham Court, he was made the Earl of Euston and later, the Duke of Grafton (hence the Grafton Arms). Now, the son of these two, Charles Fitzroy (2nd Duke of Grafton) built the Euston Rd. and their great grandson, the 1st Baron Southampton, developed Fitzroy Square. The famous Adam brothers (no, they were not trapeze artistes) designed the east and south sides, which were built in the early 1790s. The south side was destroyed in the second world war but has since been replaced. The west and north sides were added in 1825-9. The square is a pedestrian precinct. Various notable people lived here including George Bernard Shaw (blue plaque at #29), Lord Salisbury (prime minister) and Robert Adam. The park contains a sculpture, 'View', by Naomi Blake to commemorate the Silver Jubilee. We initially pass by the London Foot Hospital, where we'll lose all of those who fancy a toe-job.

  2. O'Neill's (Charrington)
    One of the Irish theme pubs that are springing up all around London. Apparently, there are various 'Irish-style' interiors that can be chosen (anyone who has visited the new 'O'Neills' (ex-'Three Tuns') in Blackheath, will find this place familiar). This crowded pub has various snug areas, draught Bass, decent-enough Guinness and a range of 'Irish' food. Appropriately, Irish music tries to create the sort of atmosphere that pub designers just know happens all the time in Dublin. Ponder such cynicism as you stand on the table singing rebel songs. There is live music upstairs on Fridays.

    As we leave O'Neill's, you may notice a huge erection up ahead. The G.P.O., sorry, British Telecom tower looms. Opened in 1965 and standing 620ft (or 186m, as we should say) high, the building has become one of London's landmarks. Eric Bedford was the man responsible and he and his family live at............

  3. King and Queen (Scottish & Newcastle)
    We turn down Cleveland Street, built in 1745-70 and now occupied mainly by buildings of the Middlesex hospital. Samuel Morse, the American inventor of the morse code, lived at No. 141 in 1812-1815. This old-fashioned pub has an old-fashioned till (no 'push-screen' jobs here) plus Ruddles County, Best and Adnams Extra on draught. In addition, a new, 'smooth' John Smiths can be sampled (keg beer is on it's way back?) and a wide range of whiskies and other spirits is available. Pictures of various kings and queens are above the bar (no picture of Elvis, strangely). Behind the bar are photographs of professional cheeky chappies Bob Hoskins and Phil Collins. Are they kings? Are they queens? There is a (quiet) jukebox but I didn't feel like 'checking it out' after seeing the picture of Mr. Collins. When I first visited, the place was so lively that the barman was playing dice with the other customer. Happily, it is usually busier than this and the pub is a finalist for the Evening Standard 'pub of the year'.

    Beer! Happy produce of our isle,
    Can sinewy strength impart,
    And weaned with fatigue and toil,
    Can cheer each manly heart.

    So, the walk to the next pub (5 minutes) should be easy.

  4. The Hope (Whitbread 'Hogshead' Free house)
    A large selection of ales here with one or two barrels usually available behind the counter. Draught Perrier features as well. Sausage and mash (including vegetarian sausage) can be used to soak-up anything you wish. The jukebox was unfortunately playing Meatloaf when I visited but was otherwise OK. Sky TV was showing riveting Grand Prix practise (I suppose it could have been an Arsenal game). Underneath the TV, twenty pence buys you a handful of jellybeans. The gents loo was well covered with intelligent graffiti (someone had cut out a hole saying "look through here to see women" and somebody added "laughing at your dick", what can this mean?!) although this 'wit' has now been painted over. Wags, the world needs them.

    Out of hope and right into Whitfield Street, which takes it's name from George Whitefield who founded Whitefield's tabernacle (Methodist) in Tottenham Court Road in 1756. Now known as the American church, in 1760 it was the largest non-conformist church in the world, holding 7-8000 people and was called 'Whitefields soul trap'. It has been rebuilt several times due to fire and war damage. Down this road , we pass Pollock's Toy museum. Benjamin Pollock (Penjamin who?) was one of the last publishers of toy theatre sheets which in Victorian times were sold for "a penny plain and two pence coloured". "If you love art, folly or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock's", wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. Further down the road, we pass the 'Cyberia' cafe, where you can surf the Internet over a cappuccino.

    Right, now, into Goodge St. Can you believe that this street was built on a meadow called Crab Tree field which belonged to the wife of John Goodge, a carpenter and that their nephews began developing the field in the 1740s? No? You need another drink then, to hear those lush, green pastures call out to you.

  5. The Valiant Trooper (Courage/Scottish & Newcastle)
    The first pub we meet in Goodge St. is a large, fairly lively place serving Courage Best & Directors plus Theakston Best bitters. Office parties seem to be big here and the 60's to 80's music may be a factor in this.

    Decorative (some might say) plates are around the walls and Sky TV probably shows some British team getting hammered in one sport or other.

  6. One Tun (Youngs)
    A good, lively Youngs pub, which means pints of 'Ordinary', 'Special' or 'Winter Warmer' for those who feel festive and bottles of 'Smirnoff mule' for those who don't. Wood panelling at the front of the pub gives way to wallpaper which may, for some, cause dizziness, headache and nausea. Food is served all day, for the rest of us.

    Across the road to:

  7. The Northumberland Arms (Nicholson Free house)
    A small, warm, comfy pub with Burton, Tetley, Wadworth 6X and a guest beer that should keep all tissues well perfused. Art-nouveau style lighting, large windows and luxurious drapes make this a fine, cosy place to spend a winter's evening (or 40 minutes anyway). Music from the 1980s was playing when I visited (like quite a few in this area) which shows the age of the crowd that visit. The spiral staircase to the gents loo is one of the most demanding obstacles faced by a London pub-goer.

    Finally, we reach the most famous of the Fitzrovia pubs

  8. The Fitzroy Tavern (Sam Smiths)
    A lively, atmosperic pub where being bohemian comes naturally (especially if you've had a pint in each of the previous 7 pubs). Loud dance music keeps a 'buzz' going. The term 'Fitzrovia' was first coined in this tavern, by a group of the aforementioned Bohemians, who frequently congregated here in the 1930s and 40s. Pictures of these 'artists' adorn the walls and there is a 'Writers & artists' bar downstairs. A book, 'The Fitzroy' has been written about this pub by Sally Fiber.

    The pub, built to the designs of W.M. Brutton in 1897, is on the corner of Windmill St. which takes it's name from an old windmill, probably of the old Tottenham Court (Totnam Court), that stood at the junction with Charlotte St until the middle of the 18th century. The road was, therefore, originally a farm track but was developed by 1770.

    And so it is over for another year, perhaps now is not the time to attempt the mediaeval rhyme in praise of good ale:

    Bryng us in no browne bred, for that is made of brane,
    Nor bryng us in no whyt bred, for therin is no game;
    But bryg us in good ale

    But perhaps you can now understand what Sigmund freud was saying:

    "I do not think that anyone completely understands its mechanism, but it is a fact that there are foreign substances which, when present in the blood or tissues, directly cause us pleasurable sensations; and they also so alter the conditions governing our sensibility that we become incapable of receiving unpleasurable impulses"

    Can you?

    And, lest we lose our heads, a cautionary tale for the journey home:

    Krzysztof Azninski, 30, had been drinking all day in his garden with three friends. The four men put on traditional ‘toughness bonnets’ and played macho games. Franciszek Zyzcosusko, 41, put his hand on the chopping board and dared Azninski to cut it off. Azninski hacked at it with a knife, partially severing the wrist, then put his own head on the block and challenged Zyzcosusko to chop it off - which he did, with an axe. The revellers then decided things had gone too far, stopped the contest and began to sing a folksong called ‘Roll the head of the giant’, waking the neighbours.(Polish News Agency, 25 October, 1994)

    So, remember this when your relatives suggest party games after Christmas dinner.

    Well, we've done it again and are now fully-fledged Bohemians. Christmas will be a let-down after this, I'm sure.

Aidan Laverty. December 1994