Williamson’s Tavern

 

Pubs are a fascination of mine.  Some of the older ones in London are tiny, hidden gems.  Some have much written about them, others have hardly anything.  The latter is the case with Williamson’s Tavern, located in the City of London, down the street from St Paul’s Cathedral and several pubs Sir Christopher Wren himself would frequent.  The following is the result of an exhaustive search on Williamson’s Tavern, its history, and physical building description.  Next time you’re in the City, pop in for a pint.  It’s worth a look.

WILLIAMSON’S TAVERN
1 GROVELAND COURT
LONDON EC4M 9EH

Tavern, rebuilt after the Great Fire c.1667, major alterations in 1934.   Architect unknown.

MATERIALS AND PLAN

Brick structure with a timber and glass window box on the ground floor. Timber and wood-framed fenestration.  The building is L-shaped with two entrances. Two taverns on the ground floor are linked by a small hallway.  Three storeys plus a basement.  The roof is flat.

EXTERIOR

The exterior is primarily brick.  The ground floor is mostly a large window box with a bay of twelve, 4/6 wood-framed windows. Two cloth awnings hang over the window box.   The first and second floors are brick with four, 6/6 wood-framed windows on each floor.  An iron, spiral staircase is attached to the east elevation extending the full height of the building.

The tavern has two entrances:
• Entry Number 1 (north-facing): Four, black and white tiled steps lead to the slightly recessed single entry with wooden overhang.  A large outdoor lantern sits on a brick podium to the  right of the stairs.
• Entry Number 2 (east-facing):  An 18th century wrought iron gate with William III and Mary IIʼs monogram on the overthrow stands in front of the entrance.  Three steps lead to 2/2 glass and wood double-doors and two arched  sidelights.   A post-1930s “Williamsonʼs Tavern” sign hangs above the entrance, along with a flower box that runs the length of the  entrance.  Above  the entrance are two brick storeys with wood framed windows, similar to the rest of the building.

A plaque on the outside of the building states that Williamsonʼs was built shortly after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and that until the Manor House was built in 1752, Williamsonʼs housed the Lord Mayors of London.

Williamson's Tavern London
Alleyway which leads to one of two entrances of the Willaimson Tavern
Photo ©Heather Shimmin 

INTERIOR

The interior is that of a traditional English Pub.   The ground floor consists of two large rooms, the smaller of the two is referred to as The Tavern, and the larger room, Williamsonsʼ Tavern. These two rooms are connected by a narrow, 15 foot hallway.  The Tavern is a large rectangle, with the bar on the south wall. A small hallway to the left leads to private offices. The walls are covered with red, textured wallpaper, with dark, oak wainscoting and cornices.  The (possibly 18th century) hardwood floor is covered in a dark, grey-green stain which has worn thin in places,   exposing the wooden floorboards beneath.  The ceiling beams and leaf-carved cornices are dark oak.  The 15 foot, circular bar is probably from the 1934 renovation, when bars were reconfigured to allow the bartender a clear view of the entire tavern. There is a large fireplace on the west wall of The Tavern.   The fireplace surround is made of Roman bricks that were uncovered during the 1930s renovation.   A bench seat, possibly from the 18th century, topped with red cushions, runs the length of the bay window.

Williamsonʼs Tavern is twice the size of The Tavern and is papered in red and beige textured patterns.  The other walls are painted beige or have a red on off-white floral wallpaper.  The dark oak wainscoting and ceiling beams are similar to The Tavern. The bar, however, is much smaller and is topped with grey granite.   The room is divided into two areas by a wall  running 1/3 of the length of the room. The kitchen and more private rooms are on the ground floor.

 

Only accessible from Williamsonʼs Tavern is a single flight of stairs leading to Marthaʼs Bar downstairs,   the smallest of the three tavern areas.   Marthaʼs is a private bar let out for parties and functions.   The low, groin vault ceiling is of lime- washed plaster.   The half-circle bar is in the middle of the space, with seating all around. The first and second floors are offices and residential flats.

HISTORY

Williamsonʼs Tavern is an operating tavern in the City of London on a small alleyway (Groveland Court) between Wattling Street and Cheapside, about 100 metres from St Paulʼs Cathedral.  The tavern claims to have the longest excise license in the City.  It also claims to be the exact centre of the City of London.

Williamsonʼs Tavern was built “shortly after the Great Fire of 1666” on the site of the home of Sir John Fastolff, an English general in the French Wars, on whom William Shakespeare allegedly based his character John Falstaff.  Until Mansion House was built by George Dance in 1753, Williamsonʼs was the official residence for all of the Lord Mayors of London, from 1670-1753.   In 1739, Robert Williamson bought the building and converted it into a hotel and tavern, naming it after himself.   Matches were banned inside the tavern because of the flammable whitewashed canvas ceiling and exposed wooden beams.

The 18th century wrought iron gates were a gift from William III and Mary II after they dined as guests of the Lord Mayor at the tavern.  William and Maryʼs monogram, the
intertwined WM, is placed inside a circle on the elaborate overthrow.  The wrought iron gates are Grade II listed.

From 1923-1927, the Williamsonʼs was the headquarters for the City Livery Club,  a members only club established in 1914.   The Club was mainly a lunching and socializing club for the liverymen working in the City.  In 1927, the Club moved to the Chapter House in St Paulʼs Courtyard.

During the 1934 renovation, Roman bricks were unearthed on the premises and were incorporated in the fireplace surround in The Tavern bar.   Unfortunately, they have been painted red.

Some believe that a ghost haunts the tavern.   The story is that during the 1934 renovation the spirit of some soul was disturbed and has been making “queer noises” in the tavern on Saturday nights ever since.   Witnesses say that the ghost floats across Groveland Court, knocking down tree branches and performing other “poltergeist” like activities.  One  longstanding barmaid at the tavern refuses to work the night shift because she has had one too many ghostly run-ins.  Others say that police dogs wonʼt come near the place.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

“City Livery Club: History.”  City Livery Club.  City Livery Club, n.d. Web.  28 January 2012. <http://www.cityliveryclub.com/history/history.html>.

Gyford, Phil.  “Samuel Pepysʼ Walk through the City of London.”   The Diary of Samuel Pepys.  Pepysʼ Diary,  n.d. Web.  28 January 2012. <http://www.pepysdiary.com/dl/PepysCity Walk.pdf>.

Jones, Richard, “Ghosts of London Haunted Walks.” Walks of London.  Richard Jones, n.d.  Web. 28 January 2012. <http://www.walksoflondon.co.uk/35/ghosts-of-london-haunted-.shtml>.

“List Entry.”  English Heritage.  English Heritage, n.d.  Web.  25 January 2012. <http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1064674>.

Pevsner, Nikolaus & Bradley Simon.  The Buildings of England London I: The City of London.  London: Penguin Books, 1997. Print.

Richards, Timothy & Curl, James Stevens.  City of London Pubs:  A Practical and Historical Guide.  Plymouth:  Latimer Trend and Company Ltd, 1973.

Silgo, Roger.  “London Pubs.”  Knowledge of London.  Knowledge of London, n.d.  Web.  27 January 2012.  <http://knowledgeoflondon.com/pubs.html>.

“Williamsons Tavern.”  City Pubs.  Citypubs, November 2009.  Web.  28 January 2012. <htt p://www.citypubs.co.uk/pubs/williamsonstavern.html>.

“Williamsons Tavern Still Has the Magic.”  The Evening Standard.  ES London Ltd.  17 December 2007.  Web.  1 February 2012. <http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/bars/review-23428296-williamsons-tavern-still-has-the-magic.do>.


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