SITUATED down an alley in the heart of Fleet Street, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has had a long association with the written word. Although the majority of the newspapermen have now moved out of the City, the Cheese, and its literary connections, remains.
The sign on the front of the building advertises that it was rebuilt in 1667, after the Great Fire of London, but there has been a pub located on the site since at least 1538. At some point prior to that, a Carmelite monastery stood there, and the basement vaults of the Cheese are thought to have been the monastery’s cellars. The history of the pub is evident in every inch of the four-storeyed building, with different rooms dating from, and furnished from, different time periods, and a list of reigning monarchs dating back to Charles II adorns the street front.
In terms of its literary history, Samuel Johnson, author of the first English dictionary, is known to have lived just around the corner, and Charles Dickens’ Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton make their way through an alleyway off Fleet Street in search of dinner and wine in A Tale of Two Cities. P.G. Wodehouse, R.L. Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and W.B. Yeats were all regular attendees at different times, and there have even been children’s books set in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, including the story of Skilley, a cat who loves cheese but has no interest in eating mice.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is not famous only for its age and literary pedigree, but also for the curiosities housed within. A set of 18th Century tiles depicting erotic scenes (now removed) suggested that the upper floors might have been home to a brothel at one time, and the Cheese’s beloved pet parrot, Polly was known throughout the world. Famous for her fluency of speech, and knowledge of obscenities, Polly’s meeting with Princess Mary (daughter of King George V) caused the pub’s owner some nervous moments, but she was on her best behaviour that day, and more than 200 newspapers wrote obituaries for the bird, when she died in 1926.
Physical address: 145 Fleet Street, London
Phone number: +44 20 7353 6170
Business hours: Monday – Friday 11am – 11pm; Saturday noon – 11pm; Sunday noon – 4pm
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