Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese English Pub on Fleet Street


The sign of the Old Cheshire Cheese pub in London.

The English pub has long been an integral part of British culture and one of the symbols of Britain. There are thousands of them in the capital alone. Some of these London pubs have become like hobby clubs for regulars. But old-fashioned pubs with a long history are especially loved by the British and tourists from different countries. One of them is the famous London pub Ye Old Cheshire Cheese.

The history of the Ye Old Cheshire Cheese in London

This long-lived pub is lost in a small alley off Fleet Street, in what’s known as the Wine Excise Yard. Its sign, resembling a head of cheese, proudly reads “rebuilt in 1667” and next to the entrance is a plaque with an impressive list of kings who ruled Great Britain during the institution’s many years of existence.

London's oldest pub.

The inn on this place was located in the 16th century (it is mentioned in chronicles of 1538), but it burned down during the Great Fire of London in 1666. Reconstructed a year later, it was given its current name, The Old Cheshire Cheese. One of the best authentic pubs in London is famous for its old oak panelling (some of which is said to have survived the Great Fire) and the unmistakable atmosphere of a true English establishment.

Ye Old Cheshire Cheese pub occupies several floors. It is a labyrinth of chaotic piles of bar rooms, fireplaces, dining halls, narrow passages and staircases. It is one of the few London pubs to retain the atmosphere of past centuries, from the reign of Charles II (1660) to the present day. Each of the ten rooms of this three-story building belongs to a different period and has its own distinctive style. The dark wooden interior, almost no natural light, sawdust floors, and charcoal fireplaces give the pub a somber charm.

The vaulted cellar is a remnant of the Carmelite monastery that stood on this site in the 13th century. Interestingly, in the 18th century, the upper floors of the pub contained rooms for intimate pleasures. A collection of very frivolous facing tiles found during the reconstruction of the building in 1962 bears witness to it. The erotic artifacts are now stored in a museum in London and are closed to public view because of the depiction of explicit sexual scenes.

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The Old Cheshire Cheese is especially proud of its multi-volume guest book with the names of distinguished visitors, ranging from royalty to show business stars. But this English pub is especially proud of its literary regulars.

The 300-year-old London pub.

“The Old Cheshire Cheese is rightly called a “literary haven”. Who hasn’t been here? Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Percy Bishop Shelley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Paul Granville Woodhouse – it seemed that the whole flower of English literature considered it their duty to visit the pub.

Samuel Johnson's chair.

Samuel Johnson, one of the greatest English writers of the eighteenth century, often sat here by the fireplace in the company of friends. He once said: “The chair in the tavern is the throne of human happiness. As a reminder of that saying, the pub reverently holds the famous writer’s worn chair.

In the room on the second floor, members of the Rhymers Club, founded by William Yates and Ernest Rees, met in the 1890s. Decadent poets and their friends, who called themselves “the latest romantics,” held poetry tournaments in the pub.

Where once there was “Ben’s tribe” On Fleet Street, And the table rumbled like a stage, And verse boomed like a foam, And everyone was a poet, – There at the cup of wine We rhymed, Kicked out the Science in the lion’s skin, Covered the ass of the unscrupulous times. Ernest Rees

Artist Walter Dandy Sadler Punch at the Olde Cheshire Cheese

“Punch at the Old Cheshire Cheese Pub in London,” by Walter Dandy Sadler.

Mentions of the Old Cheshire Cheese can be found in Charles Dickens (“A Tale of Two Cities”), Anthony Trollope (“Ralph the Heir”), in the novels of Woodhouse and in the works of other famous writers. Hercule Poirot, the hero of Agatha Christie’s detectives (“Stolen Million”) had lunch in the pub and private detective Cormoran Strike (“Silkworm”), the main character of the series of novels by Joan Rowling, also met his client here.

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Boris Pilniak, who visited here in 1923, so describes his impressions: P omniu, then, after Westminster, we went to the “Old Cheese”, a favorite Dickens’s tavern, there in a cage screaming parrot, we were given a meal – “pai” – which loved Dickens, breakfast we finished the old cheese, after which is named the tavern – and when we left, the tavern owner, noticing that we were foreigners, gave us a book of three hundred pages, which recounted the history of the tavern since 1647, who had been in it, what painter, poet, and Duc of York had spent the fogs of London in it, how a gentleman had kissed a beautiful lady on the stairs in the tavern and what had come of it, and which place Dickens had sat there at what hours, and which page in A Tale of Two Cities described the tavern; the owner of the tavern was proud to inform us, bowing that he too was a co-worker of culture… ” Boris Pilniak, the story “The Old Cheese.”

England Chester Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese- Williams

Even today this London pub is still full of visitors. A motley crowd from journalistic circles and tourists planning to spend an evening in an atmospheric place love to drop in. Writer Valery Popov, in his 2018 travelogue “Mushrooming in London,” has described his visit to this iconic place in his usual manner:

Then we ended up on Fleet Street Press Street. Markelov (our experienced “rider”) led me down some narrow alleyway to the famous journalistic pub “Old Cheshire Cheese” (“Old Cheshire Cheese”). The pub is located in a seventeenth century building, up a narrow wooden staircase, the pub itself is gaunt and small, on the wooden floor sawdust to collect dirt from the soles. But the simpler and gaunt (and therefore older) a pub is, the higher it ranks in London! – Markelov explained… He didn’t hold office for nothing! He worked it out. This “pub” turned out to be the noblest. In a small room with narrow wooden benches on each side, leading London journalists gathered to exchange ideas, settle disputes, and make bets. And the payoff is sometimes quite unexpected: a gray-haired respectable gentleman, after listening to the other at length, nods, puts his pipe on the counter, takes up his pants and quickly but calmly shows his ass to those present. That’s how prim Englishmen are! The buzz, the laughter, the shouting grew.” Valery Popov, “Mushrooms to London” (2018)

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Polly the Parrot is the mascot of the Old Cheese English pub.

Talking about celebrities, it’s impossible to ignore the parrot Polly, who delighted visitors with his antics for 40 years. Polly was a species of gray jackoos, known for their skill at imitating sounds. Settling in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese around 1895, the parrot soon became a local celebrity for his extensive vocabulary as well as his sonic imitation of opening bottles and the sound of kissing. During World War I, when vacationing soldiers dominated the visitors, the parrot enriched his vocabulary with many swear words. He would hurl them at visitors who, for whatever reason, he did not like.

Polly the parrot is the pub's mascot.

Legend has it that during a celebration of the end of the war, Polly repeated his signature number – imitating the popping of a cork followed by a “bull-bull-bull” – so many times that he fell off his perch from exhaustion. In 1926, when the parrot went to bird heaven, his death was announced on the BBC, and more than 200 newspapers around the world published sad obituaries about the parrot’s demise. The modern owners of this oldest London pub still keep a stuffed parrot in the bar, considering it a historical landmark and the mascot of the Old Cheshire Cheese.

The Old Cheshire Cheese pub is a landmark in London.

The Old Cheshire Cheese pub is a London landmark.

It’s enough to even glance at a map of London – here and there you’ll come across the marks of taverns. Probably no one can calculate how many of them there are in the British capital. And among this huge number stands out noticeably a pub called The Old Cheshire Cheese.

After seeing all the main, well-known sights of London, travelers should take a look at this very institution. Not because it’s the trendiest, but because it’s the oldest of London’s many pubs.

In an inconspicuous tiny alley on Fleet Street lurks this long-lived pub that has outlived fifteen British rulers. It appeared in the sixteenth century, and in the seventeenth it had already become widely known. Which, of course, is far inferior in its scale to the current fame of the pub.

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In any guidebook about London you can find a mention about the Old Cheshire Cheese. So it shouldn’t be too hard to find it.

Right above the entrance is a sign in the shape of a whole cheese head that reads “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Rebuild 1667,” which translates to “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Rebuild 1667.” The dreadful fire that occurred in 1666 left a terrible mark on London’s history and certainly didn’t spare the place – the pub was destroyed. But as you can understand from the sign, it didn’t take long for the “Old Cheshire Cheese” to come back from oblivion – the pub was rebuilt a year later.

To the right of the front door is a plaque with a long list of the names of fifteen kings and queens who have ruled England since the pub’s inception.

Through the corridors of time.

The interior of the pub is rather grim. But not creepy – don’t be afraid. On the contrary, the rooms filled with wood in dark colors make quite a cozy impression. Many different halls with bars and hearths are connected by staircases and passages, which form a fascinating maze.

In most of the rooms is preserved furniture from time immemorial. So, a visit to the Old Cheshire Cheese can be compared to a visit to a museum or an exhibition – interesting and informative.

The premises of the pub occupy several floors. There is even a basement that you can visit too. However, the stairs that lead up to it are terribly uncomfortable and extremely narrow, but history buffs shouldn’t let that stop them.

Downstairs there are plenty of tiny rooms that were once part of the courtyard of the thirteenth century Carmelite monastery. The walls of these rooms are stone; in the basement part of the pub, you don’t have to look for wooden decorations.

Among the ingenious and famous.

Especially this pub will be of interest to bibliophiles and book readers. Of course, during so many years of existence, the pub has been visited by many historical personalities. In the guest book of the Old Cheshire Cheese, which has long been turned into a multi-volume book, you can find both royalty and prominent political figures. But the number of writers who have visited this pub is off the charts.

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“The Old Cheshire Cheese” has rightly earned the title of “a haven for writers.” There were: poets – Alfred Tennyson, Percy B. Shelley; writers – Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oliver Goldsmith, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Mark Twain, James Boswell and many, many other great authors.

The Rhymes Club, a company of decadent poets from late nineteenth-century England, met in the second-floor room for years. The founder of the club, William Yates, and the members of the club liked the Old Cheshire Cheese pub for their meetings.

And in conclusion, perhaps another “celebrity” should be mentioned. Polly the parrot, who lived in the “Old Cheshire Cheese” half of the twentieth century, became famous on the day when the pub celebrated the end of the fight against fascism. The elderly parrot reproduced the sound of a champagne cork flying out 400 times and fell off its perch from fatigue.

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