Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese: Famous Old London Pub

A few days ago, reading a reference to a part of London I once worked in, took me back to my favourite pub there, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, one of the oldest pubs in the City of London.   There has been a pub at this location since 1538 but it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt a couple of years after that. Its atmosphere speaks to me of another time and another place, and as one would expect, it has many literary connections.   The etching below of Ye Olde Cheshire Cat dates from 1887 and is from a collection in the British Library.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a labyrinth of rooms connected by jumbled up passageways but no one is quite sure which parts are original.  Some of its earlier wainscoting has gone, most of the interior wood panelling dates from the nineteenth century, but it is claimed that the extensive vaulted cellars below, belonged to a 13th-century Carmelite monastery which once occupied the site. 

The pub looks deceptively small from outside, but once entered you will find nooks and crannies in the rooms both upstairs and downstairs, with open fireplaces in winter.  The “chophouse” (restaurant) is on the ground floor and the pub serves an excellent selection of ales, wines and spirits. 

List of Famous People connected to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese: Photo Marion Dutcher, Wiki Commons:

In A Tale of Two Cities, Sidney Carton leads Charles Darnay through Fleet Street “up a covered alleyway into a tavern” where they dined after Darnay’s acquittal and today, patrons still enter via the narrow alley by the side. 

The Monarchs who have reigned during the lifetime of Ye Olde Cheshire Cat

The interior walls are decorated with plaques detailing the many literary figures that patronised the pub over the centuries.  The famous Dr. Johnson lived just down the street and there is a plaque there to him which is not surprising, aone to Charles Dickens whose characters haunt this area of London, but it was a surprise to find the likes of American Mark Twain, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and P.G. Wodehouse, all regular visitors, honoured in the same way.  P.G. Wodehouse famously mentioned the pub in one of his letters when he wrote “I looked in at the Garrick at lunchtime, took one glance …… at the mob, and went off to lunch by myself at the Cheshire Cheese”.

Ye Old Cheshire Cheese is just a few steps from St. Pauls

Although Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is very much on the tourist route along Fleet Street down to The Tower of London and the city, it is still ‘the local’ for those who work in the area and anyone wandering in from the street will immediately feel they are in a London pub.  There is a buzz, an atmosphere, and an indefinable aura of the past about the place.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson’s cat wandered in looking for the good Doctor.

20 thoughts on “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese: Famous Old London Pub

  1. Oh yes yes yes to this and to the thought of returning to favourite London pubs. This pub is on my favourites list, but if I was to start to reply with a list of my favourite London pubs I’d run out of space before I was ten per cent through! The Cheshire Cheese is a great one, its history lives with you from the moment you walk in.

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    1. I agree. The Cheese is very special and I love it that it’s not just a tourist place, it’s genuinely loved by the local workers who use it all the time. Have you also been to The Tipperary? That is the oldest pub in London, less well-known because it lacks the patina of age that The Cheese has, but if’s worth a visit.

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      1. It seems there’s several pubs which claim to be London’s oldest – I thought it was The George in Southwark, it certainly lays the claim! I don’t think I’ve been to The Tipperary, but I may have been, I’ve been to an awful lot of London pubs over the years. We love doing a pub crawl where we can research the history of each pub.

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    1. I love ’em too, but I’m probably a bit prejudiced. There are so many old pubs in that area of London, down by the docks and around Shakespeare’s old area of Shoreditch, that are well worth visiting. I was lucky to work in that area for some years and we always went to a pub in the area after work for a drink before the commute home. Those were the days…..

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    1. Sometimes though, it’s tourists who keep the pubs going. Where I live we rely on them spending their holiday money in our pubs in the summer so that we have the pleasure of being able to use them in the winter. After this year though, there are an awful lot up for sale. What the future holds I dread to think.

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      1. Yes, the hospitality industry has been hit very hard worldwide. Many countries rely too heavily on the tourism and the local trade don’t spend enough. I am thinking the next few generations will be picking up the tab.

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    1. And in case you haven’t already visited, The Tipperery, Irish pub, just down the road from there, is supposed to be the oldest pub in the City of London. Worth a visit but nothing on the style of the Cheese.

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      1. I’m not mad about Irish pubs away … unless we’re really stuck!!! But I’ll have a look inside if it’s that old …. keep going… we’ll have the makings of a London pub crawl soon …!!😂😂

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  2. It’s not an Irish Pub like the pastiche of today. It was built in 1605 with stones taken from the Whitefriars Monastery which allowed it to survive unharmed in the Great Fire. It claims to be the first Irish pub outside Ireland and the first to sell Guinness in England. Mooney’s Brewery of Dublin bought it 1700. You can read a bit about it o the web and I can recommend the food. 66, Fleet Street.

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  3. I like the Cheshire Cheese – as you say it’s quite a warren inside. And I always enjoy a pint of Sam Smith’s Old Brewery. I actually walked pst here last week and wished I could pop in!
    But I don’t think I’ve ever been in the Tipperary – will have to try it our some time

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