The UK’s past reads like a thriller, packed with intrigue, murder and fascinating events. From the Roman Conquest to the present day, one thing has remained constant – the need for drinking and dining venues. Whether a Roman frontier soldier, an invading Viking or a pilgrim on a journey, people loved going to taverns and inns; not much has changed today. Up and down the country there are some truly amazing venues bursting with history and they all have tales to tell.
Blackfriars in Newcastle can lay claim to being the oldest dining hall in the country. Dating back to 1239, Blackfriars has seen more than its fair share of Newcastle’s history and is still going strong today. Now a multi award-winning restaurant, Blackfriars retains a strong sense of history and is proud of its past as a Dominican friary and banquet hall. Newcastle supporters may have more than just Blackfriars to thank the Dominican friars for; the friars wore black cloaks over white tunics and that, legend has it, is why The Magpies play in their distinctive strip. The banqueting hall was once frequented by elite members of society and entertained the likes of Henry III and Edward III. Meanwhile, the lower level of the dining hall was restricted to paupers. Soak up the atmosphere over a coffee and imagine what life was like in the friary, or book into one of the quarterly medieval banquets to be served by the costumed team and experience a little piece of the past.
Dating back to around 1150, the Jews House is one of the oldest buildings in Lincoln and thought to be the oldest dwelling in Europe. This amazing structure would have been one of the finest houses in the town, which itself was one of the wealthiest places in the country. Lincoln had a large Jewish community and was an important national hub. Although much of the building’s history is undocumented, stories of it have been passed on from generation to generation. Before the Edict of Expulsion was issued in 1290, violently forcing Jewish families out of the country, a ritualistic murder of a small boy was alleged to have taken place in the house. Naturally, thanks to its longevity, rumours abound of ghosts and unexplainable noises. There is an atmospheric medieval undercroft which today serves as a wine cellar. Now an award-winning restaurant this house allows history and contemporary dining to fuse perfectly. Pretty Lincoln also boasts Brown’s Pie Shop, once home to Lawrence of Arabia.
Punt down river from Cambridge to The Orchard Tearooms in Grantchester and imagine yourself in the company of some of the 20th century’s finest minds. The Orchard was established after a group of students asked to take tea there, and increased in popularity after poet Rupert Brooke made it his stomping ground. His circle of companions included the likes of economist J.M. Keynes, philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, as well as literary giant Virginia Woolf. Brooke once took up residence in the neighbouring old vicarage, giving rise to one of the nation’s favourite poems, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. Now immensely popular thanks to its attached Brooke museum and stunning scenery, you can still often find a quiet spot under the trees on a lazy summer afternoon and picture the Granchester Group deep in debate.
Cornish history is influenced in large part by the tides; the wild ocean batters the coast, bringing in bounty as well as destruction. The Halzephron Inn was built in 1468, named the Helzephron Inn, an Old Cornish term for Hell’s Cliff. Perched on the jagged cliffs, the inn has played witness to many a shipwreck and owes such of its structural integrity to these disasters. The bar itself, as well as much of the timber in the pub, was salvaged from wrecked ships hundreds of years ago. Hell’s Cliff showed no mercy to any vessel in danger, from Spanish galleons to Portuguese treasure ships. The Inn was at one time linked by tunnel to a nearby monastery, since destroyed during the Dissolution. The shaft is still visible in the 8’6” wall. Huddle in the cosy interior with a pint on a stormy night and picture the smuggler’s at work on the coast below.
Thanks to Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous novel, Cornwall’s Jamaica Inn has found international fame in the past few decades. Often used as a filming location and with its Smuggling Museum and Daphne du Maurier Room, the Inn is now famous for its literary connections. However, at one point this Inn was a hive of, often disreputable, activity. Built as a coaching Inn in 1750, many say it was named for the rum smuggled in from Jamaica; others say it was named after the exploits of the local Trelawney family one of whom was the Governor of Jamaica – a name familiar with fans of R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Thanks to its equal distance between the rugged coastlines and secret paths, many smugglers used the inn as a storage base for their dark deeds; du Maurier wrote that smugglers would often head out at night and deliberately shine lights at incoming ships, wrecking them on the treacherous rocks. Jamaica Inn is still a haven for weary travellers, as it was back when it was first built, but it is now a successful destination venue in its own right.
Ships like those wrecked on the Cornish coast needed miles of rope just to function. The Ropewalk, in Barton-upon-Humber, was built in 1767 and produced rope until its closure in 1989. Now a successful café, art-gallery, museum and concert venue, this bespoke venue retains its industrial heritage and works to preserve local history. The rope produced in the long ropery here was of a world-class standard. It was used in whaling boats docked at Hull and later Icelandic and Canadian fishing fleets exclusively used Barton’s rope. It’s often said that the rope made here was used in the first ascent of Everest. Once employing hundreds of local workers, it was a central part of life in the area. Now proudly carrying on that tradition, the renovated Ropewalk offers a tranquil place to enjoy a barista coffee or a meal with friends. In the evenings, check out the stellar line-up at the Ropery Hall, the attached venue where you can see everything from Shakespeare to Alan Carr.
Ropes are central to this inn’s fame; known as the birthplace of British climbing, the Wasdale Head Inn was made popular by pioneering rock climbers including Owen Glynne Jones and Walter Parry Haskett Smith during the 19th century. Nestled in the middle of some of England’s highest mountains, the inn is still used as a base for climbers who’re heading up to Scafell Pike, or starting the National Three Peaks Challenge. Wasdale is home to Britain’s favourite view, St Olaf’s Church and Wastwater, respectively the smallest church and deepest lake in England. With all this hyperbole going on, it’s unsurprising that Wasdale was once home to the world’s biggest liar. Will Ritson was once landlord at the Wasdale Head Inn and has gone down in legend for his elaborate tall-tales. The annual World’s Biggest Liar contest is now held in his name. The inn has played host to many a literary figure too, with Nicholas Monserrat buying his first pint there. Coleridge, Dickens and Wordsworth also visited the hamlet. Stay in one of the rooms available or pitch up your tent and experience this slice of British climbing history for yourself.
Rather less tranquil than the Lakes is the bustling city of London, home to The Star Tavern. Once frequented by the rich and famous in the 1950s and 60s, the tavern still cuts an elegant figure in Belgravia. Famous clientele included Peter O’Toole, Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Margaret and, allegedly, John Profumo. The Great Train Robbery of 1963 was orchestrated in large part here, with the dapper members convening in the pub to plot the century’s biggest heist. In 2014 the tavern threw an event commemorating the crime, with one of the original members turning up unexpectedly!
Who needs a time machine when we’ve got so many amazing venues around us? So go on, get out there and explore!