R E X,
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, Ely Place, Holborn, E.C.4.
In wanderings round London’s pubdom, it is inevitable that
many good things have to be missed. Perhaps later we shall have
an opportunity to make good such omissions. But we certainly
could not leave out, in any circumstances, a visit to the oldest tavern
in the City of London.
Not only is Ye Olde Mitre the oldest tavern to have kept its
original form, but it does not belong to London at all, but to Cam-
bridge. As we have already seen, there are no end to the agreeable
anomalies in The Trade.
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St. Etheldreda’s Church
In relating briefly something of the story of this venerable house
we must ﬁrst turn to St. Etheldreda’s Church, for if there had been
no church there would assuredly have been no tavem.
St. Etheldredals is an ancient chapel of the Bishop of Ely. The
story of St. Etheldreda’s and of Ely Place alone is extremely interest-
ing. It starts in the month of October, 12 50. In this year a baron,
named john le Franceis, who was also Treasurer of England,
Treasurer of England
rented a house and some land near the site of the present church.
On December 1st, 1251, John obtained a licence from the Dean
and Chapter of St. Paul’s to build an oratory on his land. Tradition
has it that the crypt (which you can still visit) was that self-same
oratory. The entrance was from what is now known as Hatton
Garden, named after Sir Christopher Hatton, the favourite (for a
time) of Queen Elizabeth.
The arches in the crypt are of the transitional period from
the Norman to the Gothic arch.
The ,door of the crypt was lowered two and a half feet some time
in the last century when Roman foundations were disclosed. These
foundations date back to the year A.D. 310, and are presumed to be
those of a Roman outpost of the City of London; others think
that it might have been a pagan temple. Specimens of the brick
taken from these foundations can still be seen.
King’s Clerk in Chancery
John le Franceis died in the year 1268, and the new tenant,
John de Kirkby, who was the King’s Clerk in Chancery, became
Treasurer of England in 1284, and two years later Bishop of Ely.
He it was who built the church and began also to erect the palace.
When he died in 1290 he left his property, together with its con-
siderable -rights and liberties, to his successors in the Diocese of
The only liberty now left to Ely Place and it is an important
one, we may well think”is freedom from the entry of the police.
This interesting relic of another day arises from the fact that
although, territorially, it is in the City of London, it is not of London
“-hence the police may only enter by invitation.
There is a uniformed official who keeps the place in order, and
at ten o’clock at night shuts the gates to all comers, except to those
who enjoy right of entry. He calls out the hour of the night until
ﬁve in the morning when he re-opens the gate.
This ancient custom was and is of great interest to American
visitors who have a passion for the quaint where the ordinary
Londoner takes so much that is venerable as a matter of course.
Ely Place had yet another liberty which they lost during the
last century”a liberty which was probably cherished less then than
it would be now. This was freedom from taxation, and it was a
liberty that was lost in a curious way.
An abandoned baby was placed on the doorstep of one,of the
houses, and the tenant took it to a foundling hospital. The
authorities proceeded to intimate that as foundlings were “kept by
the rates, the owners of property in Ely Place would be taxed
accordingly. Thus was a liberty, or privilege, lost in an almost
trivial way. But we may well think that it would have been lost in
any case in course of time.
The History of Ely Place
The history of Ely Place and the Palace are linked closely with
the history of England. The Black Prince lived at Ely House and
attended the Church in 1357
Henry VIII, about whom so much imperfectly informed non-
sense has been written and, ﬁlmed, brought Katharine of Aragon
to the banqueting hall of the Palace. The festivities lasted ﬁve days.
The palace was ‘the scene of many great banquets.
In. 1576, Queen Elizabeth forced Bishop Cox to lease a portion
of Ely House and lands to Sir Christopher Hatton. The consideration
for this transaction was that Sir Christopher was to pay to the
Bishop a red rose at midsummer with ten loads of hay and £10
per annum for the garden.
And from this transaction sprung the
name of Hatton Garden which is famed throughout the world,
even in these days, for its dealings in precious stones and jewellery.
In the time of Sir Christopher Hatton the crypt of the church
was used for “butteries and offices”.
And then it seems that it was used as a drinking-house, and to such an exclusive extent that the
noise of revelry seriously disturbed Divine Servicein the church
And that is why The Mitre was built in 1546 for the sole use of the
Sir Christopher, in addition to having a rare gift for securing
cheap accommodation, was a keen gardener. He would not, for
example, allow a particular cherry tree of which he was very fond.
to be uprooted for the building of the tavern. It was, therefore,
built round the tree. And to this day you can still see in the bar of
Te Olde Mitre Tavern the stump of that self-same tree, encased in
glass.The Palace was pulled down about 1772 which, one presumes,
removed the Bishop’s household from the exclusive enjoyment of
the tavern; the era of the common man was a small stage nearer,
for better or worse.
Our tavern stands proudly as when it was built, a little battered,
no doubt, but still in good heart for all that. It was at any rate,
sturdy enough to withstand the ravages of two wars and was luckier
than the church which received a hit from a high explosive bomb.
The bomb exploded on one of the seven hundred years old
Rex -The Cocker Spaniel
To the great strength of the remaining beams
can be ascribed the fact that The Mitre still stands, with its cherry
tree, its precious old oak tables, and chairs, the prints by “Spy”
from Vanity Fair, its bronze vases, the original bottle glass windows,
its pewter mugs, and above all the wonderful atmosphere of the
And so we come to Rex, who has gone to the Valhalla of all
good dogs. His memory survives, however, in the affections of all
who knew him. I never met him, and to that you must ascribe a
certain ghost-like quality in his portrait.
He passed away with that canine complaint which has proved
fatal to so many dogs and whose secrets modern veterinary science
still cannot wholly ‘probe”distemper.