Drinker’s London. Photos Paul Barkshire, text David Secombe. (2/5)

Princess Louise, Holborn,1986. Photo © Paul Barkshire.

The Princess Louise is one of those carefully time-locked London pubs where one is invited to experience a idealised ‘heritage’ drinking experience: the Louise escaped post-war redevelopment and refurbishment and has survived into the 21st century as an authentically preserved/recreated Victorian boozer. At time of writing, the only beer on offer in the Louise is Sam Smiths, a rather dense, tawny ale brewed in Yorkshire; its main appeal is that it is remarkably cheap, but it is perhaps no coincidence that Sam Smiths currently lay claim to several other historic London pubs: these include the legendary Fitzrovia hangouts The Wheatsheaf and The Fitzroy Tavern, both much-frequented by the likes of Augustus John, Dylan Thomas, George Orwell, etc. – and also The Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street, known to writers from Samuel Johnson (allegedly) and Charles Dickens up to Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound. (The Cheese was where Wilde came to hear John Gray, the model for Dorian Gray, read his poems, and where Pound demonstrated his impeccable Modernist credentials by eating two red tulips during a recital by Yeats.)

Since Paul Barkshire’s photo was taken in the 80s, the Princess Louise has had another make-over, reinstating ‘authentic’ Victorian mahogany & etched glass partitions, the original purpose of which was to divide up the patrons according to class and occupation. The end result is undoubtedly charming, and Sam Smiths should be congratulated for the sensitivity of their management of these historic pubs. The problem is that the loving restoration reinforces the sense of theme park, that creep of  ‘Heritage’ (a tainted word if ever there was one) which imprisons London. The ghosts of the past are marooned amongst the tourists, and the centre of town is closed off to the truly louche and experimental. The Fitzroy Tavern and the Wheatsheaf can never be what they were in the 1920s and 40s; and where would The Rhymers’ Club, that austere flower of the Aesthetic movement which met at the Cheshire Cheese from the 1890s up to 1914, attracting Wilde, Yeats, Dowson, Pound, etc., meet today? A loft in Peckham or Dalston, probably.  D.S.

… for The London Column.