Cutty Sark Tavern
4-7 Ballast Quay, Greenwich, SE10 9PD
BEERS: Fuller’s London Pride, St Austell Tribute and Greene King Abbot
Over the years, customers looking out of the large upstairs windows of this fine pub must have seen thousands of ships pass by.
Visitors arriving by boat to see the Cutty Sark can hardly fail to notice its large name emblazoned on its imposing Georgian façade. Built in the early nineteenth century, it is easy to feel the part it has played in the ebb and flow of time. Inside, a large sweeping staircase takes customers up from the downstairs wood-beamed bar to panelled rooms with panoramic views of the new city of London, Canary Wharf and the Millennium Dome. The décor is dark and minimal. In one room hangs an Admiral Robert FitzRoy barometer. He was one of the first men to attempt a scientific weather forecast and he introduced the first daily weather forecasts, which were published in The Times in 1860. He also picked Charles Darwin to travel with him on the Beagle.
A tavern has stood here from at least the 1740s when it was called the Green Man. At the time it was a common London pub name with possible links to pagan festivals and the celebration of May Day. In 1810 the pub was renamed the Union Tavern, possibly as a mark of support for the union of England and Ireland in 1801. It changed its name again in the 1950s when the famous tea clipper Cutty Sark docked in Greenwich. The pub’s address gives away the prevailing business of the area; empty cargo vessels returning home would dock to fill up with ballast before heading out to the open seas.
Nearby, on the Thames Path heading back towards Greenwich, is the attractive Trinity Hospital, the oldest building (1613) in Greenwich town centre. Set in the wall is a modern curiosity, a series of small three-dimensional murals called ‘Thames Tale’ by Amanda Hinge. The whimsy follows Stan and his dog along the Thames path. A children’s delight. it baffles most adults even before they’ve had a beer in the Cutty Sark.
Park Row, Greenwich, SE10 9NW
BEERS: Adnams, Sharps
If only more pubs were like the Trafalgar – it offers great food, good beer, fabulous views and a real sense of history.
Charles Dickens is to London what James Joyce is to Dublin, except Dickens’ London is one of dark shadows, labyrinths and intrigues. Today, the insanitary slums are long one but you can still sit where his sometime heroic and often unsavoury characters supped ale. One of the most potent symbols in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend is that of the River Thames – its flowing waters are a sign of renewal and rebirth, and it is here at the Trafalgar that the book’s central characters, Bella Wilfer and John Rokesmith, held their wedding feast.
The Trafalgar stands like a piece of crumbling, iced cake, faded but not down. It is famed for its whitebait dinners often held upstairs in the Lord Nelson Room with its sweeping view of the curve in the Thames, the Isle of Dogs and towards the O2. In the nineteenth century senior Liberals and Tories would annually board rival barges and travel down the Thames for such a dinner. They must have marvelled at the cargo boats bringing wealth from the four corners of the Empire. Today the view is still impressive, but the cargo boats have been replaced by modern clippers taking tourists and commuters from the O2 to the London Eye.
Close to the Greenwich’s World Heritage site, the pub was built on the site of the George Inn in 1837. In 1915 it became the Royal Alfred Aged Merchant Seamen’s Institute and became a pub again in 1965 when it was painstakingly restored. Take a sip of the appropriately named Nelson’s Bitter, enjoy a plate of the famed whitebait and imagine the happiness of John Rokesmith, who not only married his true love Bella but had his inheritance returned to him. Whoops, I’ve given away the ending.
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