London Pubs. #1 The Cockpit

Post Date: Wednesday 14th August 2013
Author: Matt Gedge

7 St. Andrews Hill, London. EC4V 5BY

The Cockpit is a hidden gem nestled in a backstreet near St Paul’s Cathedral. It has a decent range of beers and ales on tap, and the bar staff are friendly which helps create a warm, homely atmosphere. You’ll see a diverse mix of clientele, with city workers and regulars during the week mixing in with construction workers and people spilling out of St Paul’s at the weekend.

But what stands out is the history of the place.

Walk down a few historic alleyways, and you’ll see the pub at the head of a sweep of buildings, appearing like the head of a ship driving up a hill. Step through the curved door and you sense that this place has seen its fair share of action.

The pub was built in the 1840s and became famed for its cockfights. Look up and you’ll see the 18ft high ceiling and a balcony where Londoners would have bayed for blood and gambled while the cocks fought for their life. Breathe in, and you could imagine the flurry of feathers and screams of excitement.

Sitting in the small area where this rather unsavoury blood sport used to take place, you’ll no doubt be comforted that by 1849 cockfighting was prohibited, and the pub’s name was changed to the far more stately Three Castles.

But let’s go further back in time, for where you are sitting would – in an earlier incarnation – have been known by William Shakespeare. The pub suggests that this would have actually been the exact location of his house, and corroborate it with research from the Times newspaper in 1928. According to the information inside the pub, the first mention of an inn on this site was in 1352, then called the ‘Oakbourn Inn’, situated on what would then have been the eastern edge of the Dominican friars – or ‘Blackfriars’ – monastery.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in the late 1530s by King Henry VIII, these buildings were mostly left intact. Ireland Yard nearby was the main entrance into Blackfriars, and Shakespeare purchased the gatehouse – probably with other actors – in 1613 at a cost of £140 for use as a theatre.

All of this adds to the intrigue and sense of history in the Cockpit.

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