View London Review
Independent On Sunday
Pub Guide Review
This oldie (established 1546) is only accessible through a narrow
passage – incongruously described as 25m long. Still, the Mitre needs no
yard conversion or ‘ye olde’ embellishment to prove its worth. Walk into
its venerable, cramped three-room space, see what’s on as the guest ale
(Orkney Dark Island on our visit) then settle down amid the portraits of
Henry VIII and sundry beruffed luminaries. The taps of Adnams Bitter and
Broadside, Deuchars and Guinness will be easier to pick out than the
extended history in small type lining the hatch of the bar counter. The
handful of wines – Chilean San Rafael merlot, La Serre cabernet
sauvignon – are well priced at under £15. There are stand-up tables in
the courtyard too.
The View London Review
Historical and homely, Ye Olde Mitre delivers a slice of the past dished
up with an affable atmosphere. This down to earth drinking den is
definitely one to hunt down in Hatton Gardens.
With religious roots as the tavern for the Bishop of Ely’s men and a
past dating back to 1546, the historical atmosphere is inescapable. A
covered alley from Hatton Gardens jewellery quarter takes you away from
21st century glitz and back in time. Scarce natural light and deep wood
pour darkness into the ancient cracks and crannies. Through a low
doorway, you’ll find the back room with its fireplace and patterned
carpet. It feels close and cosy, and cosier again is a tiny closet room
to the side, big enough only for a close group of six or eight. If all
this doesn’t take you back to an Elizabethan era, the outdoor men’s
toilet certainly will.
As a weekday only place, the crowd is expectedly heavy at peak hours.
The exceedingly knowledgeable yet down to earth staff are consistently
good. They put people so at ease that it seems most punters have been
coming here for years; some maybe centuries. Firmly an olde crowd, the
air is utterly good natured.
Lunchtimes are jovial and lengthy, while after-work cheery hoards of
gents fill the alleyways, leaning against beer barrels and scoffing the
most traditional of bar snacks. When food prices in London still have
pence on the end, it’s something of a rare sight to see. For the
homemade bar food, though, sausages are 75p each and quartered Scotch
sggs, pork pies with chutney and sausage rolls come in at just £1.60.
Cheap toasted sandwiches cut into triangles complete the spread. And
although lunch is the big meal time, service continues until they run
Excelling as an alehouse, Ye Olde Mitre always has on at least six ales.
Biscuity and light golden ale Discovery, a Fuller’s favourite, is joined
by sturdy London Pride and toffeeish Deuchars on a permanent basis. The
deeper malty Seafarer’s, £3.20 a pint, is another mainstay, but more
unusual and seasonal guest ales regularly rotate, often with a monthly
theme. As a real ale champion, beer festivals dot the calendar for Ye
Olde Mitre, but despite impressive and changing variety, there are other
good options for the uninitiated or unconvinced. For wine, the Trivento
Pinot Noir (£13.30 a bottle) is dark
and earthy, conjuring outdoor landscapes from whence it hails.
The Last Word
Somewhere to soak up London’s history without the feeling of it being
flaunted, Ye Olde Mitre is a
winner on tradition and service. If you
like proper beer, the pub offers up ample choice and sound advice as if
it were nothing. Effortless excellence in Ely Court.
The Independent On Sunday - Talk of the
Town (1st February 2004)
There is a
part of London so secret that it's not actually a part of London at
all. It's a part of Cambridgeshire. It is the Mitre Tavern,
which nestles in Ely Court, a tiny passageway off Hatton Garden.
first Mitre Tavern was built on this site in 1546, to refresh the servants
who worked at the Palace of the Bishops of Ely. This magnificent
residence was used by the bishops when they came up to town from
Cambridgeshire, and boasted a vineyard and an orchard, as well as gardens,
fountains and ponds. So beautiful was it, in fact, that the bishops
built a wall around it, to keep out those nasty little Londoners.
The community inside was then declared part of the mother county and this
became a corner of some foreign city that would be forever Cambridgeshire.
And what a corner. The strawberries they grew were considered the
finest in London. If you trust Shakespeare on fruit, that is: in Act
Three of Richard III, the Duke of Gloucester says to the Bishop of
Ely, "When I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your
garden there: I do beseech you, send for some of them." (A "strawberrie
fayre" is still held for charity in Ely Place every June.)
Royals have been linked to the site in fact as well as fiction.
Elizabeth I used to visit her favourite Sir Christopher Hatton when he
lived there (it was his garden that gave the street it's name). In
the front bar of the Mitre you'll find the preserved trunk of a cherry
tree around which the Virgin Queen is said to have danced the
Another famous visitor to the pub was Dr Johnson, whose
house is nearby. The trenchant wit may not fly as it did in his day,
but the food's up to scratch - the toasted sandwiches are a firm favourite
with regulars. Prices have gone up since the Ely Place feast of
1531, though, where among other items, 91 pigs were supplied at sixpence
each. Thirteen dozen swans (that's 156 in all) were on the menu as
well, although no price is recorded for them, as they may have been given
by the guest of honour, Henry VIII.
In 1772 the bishops sold the
property to the Crown for £6,500 and decamped to Piccadilly. Apart
from the Chapel of St Ethaldreda round the corner (worth a visit in itself
- It's where Henry VIII met his compliant Archbishop Cranmer), the Mitre
is the only building which dates from the bishops' time. Its
licensing hours are dictated by the fact that the gates at either end of
Ely Court are locked each end at 10 and the licence used to be issued not
not in London but by the Cambridge justices. Another activity in
which London kept its nose out of the place was policing. Bobbies
refrained from entering Ely Place unless they were invited.
with no romance in their hearts will tell you that Cambridgeshire
officially handed over jurisdiction of Ely Place to Camden Council
sometime in the 1970's. But I refuse to accept it. I repeated
an experiment that someone had successfully carried out in 1924, and
posted an envelope addressed to "The Mitre Inn, 1 Ely Court, Holborn
Circus, Cambridgeshire." It was delivered two days later.
You know what they say - you can take the pub out of Cambridgeshire - or
rather you can't.
Ultimate Pub Guide Review:
and legitimate are three words that can be used to describe Ye Olde
Mitre, and the same three words are scarcely and tenuously used in
depicting most other pubs of this age. Ye Olde Mitre is a small, dark
and cosy Elizabethan alehouse that first opened its door to the boozing
multitude in 1546. Its claim to be the oldest pub in London is
questionable due to it technically being in a part of Cambridgeshire.
Demolished and quickly rebuilt in 1772 on land owned by the Bishops of
Ely, Cambridgeshire, the pub was originally built to intoxicate the
servants at the Bishop's nearby London home.
A further questionable claim of the pub
is that it was Dr Johnson's local. We're all aware that Dr Johnson lived
nearby, but his love of pubs and beer surely meant he had more than one
Beware of head and body injuries in Ye
Olde Mitre, as the ceilings are low and the rooms are small, dark and
crammed with furniture and people. The furniture will be familiar to
anybody who's been in a pub of this vintage before: harsh wooden upright
seats that resemble electric chairs and solid wooden tables that look as
through they were used to lay-out dead bodies in the local mortuary. A
sign requests that furniture is not moved away from the authentic wood-panelled
walls, and consequently there are chairs everywhere, most of which are
accompanied by a mini-table like a child's desk.
Finding Ye Olde Mitre can be a challenge
because it's located mid-way along an alleyway that connects Hatton
Garden with Ely Place, the ends of which are covered and accessible via
a doorway between two buildings. Look for the Bishop's Mitre picture
above a doorway between two jewellers on Hatton Garden. Ye Olde Mitre
seems to be a bastion of official, and unofficial, pub-walks, as the pub
is quiet one minute and heaving the next when hordes of walkers with
guidebooks swarm in.
The central bar is split between the two
rooms and Ye Olde Mitre's snug is 'Ye Closet': a coffin-sized cubby-hole
off the back room that is large enough for a single table and four very
close friends. The overall effect of the pub is wonderful, but the tatty
plates, as seen in every other mock-Elizabethan pub, lose credibility.
The women's toilets are upstairs in the
Bishop's Room and the men's toilets are outside in the yard. It would be
too temping to have the men's toilets in the Bishop's Room for fear of
jokes about bashing it! The only hand-basin in the Men's is in the
cubicle so be weary of pissing on your hands if somebody's taking a
Probably desperately needed due to the
dark interior, the backroom of the pub has a modern skylight (modern in
the scheme of things); only the front of the pub has windows, of the
medieval leaded type. The lampshades in the pub are 3D; 3D, that is, in
an Elizabethan sense. The shades contain an ancient street scene with
'real' light shining from the windows, a novelty effect created by
cutting a hole in the shade to represent the glass.
To the north
is Hatton Garden, the world-famous centre of the jewellery business, where
another remarkable pub awaits us. The shops offer a great choice of
jewels and watches but it is best to avert your gaze unless you have a
special relationship with your bank. Keep your eyes open, however,
for an old-fashioned street lamp on the right which marks the entrance to
The Olde Mitre, tucked away down a court-yard that leads
into the elegant Ely Place, has a fascinating history. It is a
careful replica of a tavern built in 1546 for the servants of the Bishops
of Ely who held sway over the area. The bishops' diocese was Ely in
Cambridgeshire and for centuries the pub was licensed not in London but by
the Cambridge magistrates. Although the rule is not enforced, the
City of London Police should get permission from the licensing bench to
enter the premises.
Ely Place was the centre of religious and
political power. John of Gaunt's 'This sceptr'd isle' speech in
Shakespeare's Richard II was made there. In 1576 the bishops'
power was diluted when Sir Christoper Hatton took control of Ely
Place. A preserved cherry tree (around which Good Queen Bess is
alleged to have danced) in the environs of the Mitre marks the boundary
between the land leased to Hatton and the bishops' garden. During
the English Civil War the tavern was used as both a prison and a
The present pub has a small front bar and a larger back
one, with beams, old settles and oak-pannelled walls. The two bars
are linked by a central serving area. At busy times, drinkers spill
out of the bars into the tiny area, with a few seats, between the pub and
St Ethelreda's church, itself an interesting historical curio. It is
the only London church that has reverted to Catholicism since the
Now take a wander back past St Paul's and through the
heart of the City of London. Pass the doors of the Bank of England
itself and make your way to Lendenhall, where another excellent pub, the
Lamb Tavern, awaits you.