Some of the oldest buildings in London are pubs that have served their regulars for centuries. And a fair few have a grizzly secret or a shady story connected to London’s past criminal underworld. So if you want a London pub experience with a layer of dark intrigue, these are the public houses that don’t just serve a traditional pint, but come with a unique criminal past.
The Ten Bells, Spitalfields
In the heart of Spitalfields, the Ten Bells has connections with not one but two Jack the Ripper murders. In September 1888, Annie Chapman was beckoned out of the pub by a stranger and slaughtered within hours. Then, two months later, Mary Kelly left the same pub, and her body was discovered in a nearby alleyway the next morning. This notorious history and its original Victorian interior made it the perfect location for the Johnny Depp film From Hell. Today, Spitalfields is a trendy and safe London neighbourhood for visiting a pub, and Ten Bells is popular with locals and welcoming to curious visitors.
The Star Tavern, Belgravia
This pub is infamous for being the place the Great Train Robbery gang planned their notorious heist. The masterminds behind this violent 1963 robbery met upstairs at The Star Tavern in groups no larger than four to avoid arousing suspicion. This mews boozer was a popular choice for shady characters and a few glamorous celebrities, such as Diana Dors and Albert Finney. ‘King of the Cat Burglars’ Peter Scott once stole a £200,000 necklace from Sophia Loren then strolled into The Star Tavern and declared “I hear poor Sophia has been robbed” before pulling out a wad of rolled up notes. These days, patrons get home-cooked food and a warm welcome. Just keep an eye on who’s walking through the door.
The Old Bank of England, Fleet Street
Fancy pie? This grand former bank stands between Sweeney Todd’s barber shop and Mrs Lovett’s pie shop. The legendary 18th-century demon barber of Fleet Street slit the throats of his victims here, and his mistress, Mrs Lovett, would dispose of the bodies by making them the meat pie filling. It’s debated whether there’s any truth to these fictional characters. But the Old Bank of England pub is worth visiting, anyway. The pub is gorgeous, with ornate high ceilings and chandeliers and in the courtyard, there’s a classic double-decker bus serving drinks. And yes, you can get delicious pies and ales.
The Prospect of Whitby, Wapping
Sitting on the bank of the Thames, the Prospect of Whitby is a 16th-century pub once known as the Devil’s Tavern. London’s oldest riverside pub has abundant tales of skulduggery in which highwaymen and smugglers would trade and spend their ill-got earnings. Today, you can still see a noose hanging from the pub balcony. This is to commemorate the patronage of the ruthless Judge Jeffreys, who sentenced hundreds to death and reportedly watched a few hangings from the comfort of his pub seat. The patrons are much better behaved these days, and you can get a delicious Sunday roast with fantastic river views.
After visiting a pub with a shady past, return to one of our bright and grand heritage hotels, The Clermont, Victoria or The Clermont, Charing Cross. Both are rich in period charm and exceptional service. For more London venues with a dark history, read our Creepy London blog.