Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a pub in London that people often ask me about, and in fact, we regularly pass by on the Saturday morning walk. It would appear to be one of those old or historic drinking holes that has managed to wedge itself in to the public consciousness, as it is a name familiar with many visitors, either through guide books or a friend of a friend who suggested they should visit. In my opinion, there are many good reasons for this, and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese's reputation as a place to literally soak in history is well justified.
You can approach 'The Cheese' from a couple of directions, but if you are walking down Fleet Street, you turn off in to Wine Office Court, a narrow alleyway that gets its name from the wine licences that were once granted in a nearby building. Next to the well worn front doorstep to the pub is a sign listing all the monarchs that have reigned since the pub was rebuilt in 1667 (yes, it's the 'new' pub), having burned down during the Great Fire of London the previous year. There's actually been a guest house on the site since 1538, and prior to that it is thought to have been a guest house for the Carmelite monks who in the 13th century occupied much of the area. If you have a look around the surrounding streets, you'll discover, there's a nearby Carmelite Street and also a Whitefriars Street and a small part of the old monastery is hidden, but visible beneath a much newer building on the other side of Fleet Street.
Stepping inside the pub, you'll be plunged in to near darkness, but once your eyes grow accustomed to the light (or lack of it), you'll notice the floor is covered in sawdust. To your left is the old chop room, and to your right, you can enter in to an atmospheric, wood paneled room, that was once the domain of 'gentlemen' only, but is now a cosy bar, complete with a fire place, above which is a painting of a former waiter William Simpson, who began working at 'The Cheese' in 1829. The painting gets passed down through successive landlords and in the photos below, you can see him on the right of each picture gazing down on customers in 1919, and still there today in the same place.
Being careful not to bang your head, you can venture down another couple of floors in to the old cellars, where there is another bar, and depending on how busy the pub gets, they can open up further rooms at the back, and have another couple of floors above which are used mostly for private functions. Perhaps not surprisingly, due to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese's proximity to Fleet Street, the pub has a long line of literary connections, including Samuel Johnson, who compiled his dictionary in the mid 18th century just around the corner in Gough Square (now Dr Johnson's House), Oliver Goldsmith, who lived opposite at No. 6 Wine Office Court, Mark Twain, E.M Forster, Alexander Pope and George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps the most often asserted literary connection is that in Charles Dickens' novel 'A Tale Of Two Cities', Sydney Carton leads Charles Darnay along Fleet Street and 'up a covered way, in to a tavern' and invites him to dine. Although not mentioned by name, it is thought that the scene takes place in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
The pub is now run by the Sam Smiths brewery and the food they do is what I call 'no nonsense bog standard pub grub', so don't expect too much. It does the trick and to be honest, you'll find that most people go there for the atmosphere, as it's perhaps the nearest you'll get to feeling like you've gone back in time to the 18th century or 19th century if you'd prefer that. Like I suspect many people, the little bar on the right as you go in, is my favourite and as you sit there you can almost sense all the people who have sat, just like you for the last three hundred odd years. It's a great place to while away a few hours on a cold, wintery evening, much like the ones we have now, and much like the ones they had back then.
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