The Apple Tree, Mount Pleasant, N.1
PUB, poet, post and prison.
There doesn’t, on the face of it, seem much connection between
them. But there is and the ‘connecting link is The Apple Tree.
This ﬁne house was built when North London was a pleasant
stretch of open country. Now it’s a tavern in the town, far removed
from the countryside.
If you want to drink a pint of cider ’neath the shade of the old
apple tree, you might well walk south down Grays Inn Road until
you arrive at Mount Pleasant, which is to the left; to the right
stands The Apple Tree. Alas, there is no tree, but there is plenty of
good company, human and canine.
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The Apple Tree
Before Mount Pleasant became the London headquarters of
the London Post Office, there stood on its site Coldbath Fields
Prison. One wonders if the name was symbolic; prison was certainly
meant to provide a cold bath to the ardour of the wrongdoer.
The Apple Tree, not unnaturally, acquired great popularity
among those who had business with the – House of Correction,
including turnkeys and prisoners who had received their discharge.
For a long time Coldbath Prison, like most prisons of long ago,
had a reputation for there brutal severity. Dickens, who sang the
praises of the old English tavern as no one has ever done, had
something to say about the prisons of the early nineteenth century.
Coleridge and Southey summarized their opinions of it when they
As he went through Coldbath Fields, he saw a solitary cell;
And the Devil was pleased, for it gave him a hint for improving his
prisoners in hell.
There is, however, another version in Old and New London.
This records that, built on a plan of the benevolent John Howard,
the reformer, Coldbath Prison soon became the scene of great
Men, women and children were herded together in this,
his chief county prison, and smoking and drinking were permitted.
The Prison Governor of the day strove vigorously to lessen the
abuses, especially the tyranny of the turnkeys. On 29th December,
1834, it is recorded, a population of 914 prisoners were suddenly
apprized that all types of communication”~word, gesture or sign
“were prohibited. Had the 914 souls been enjoying a good (and
perhaps over-noisy) Christmas? Hence, at any rate, the rise of what
became known as the Silent Associated System.
But all this squalid treatment of human beings was a century
and more before the institution of prisons without (iron) bars.
Topham, the strong man of Islington, was at one time the land-
lord of The Apple Tree. The probability is that he was in need of all
his great strength round about closing time.
In the taproom of The Apple Tree, there were in olden times,
bell pulls. These were formerly handcuffs.‘ Hence the standing joke
of the house was the thirsty invitation to “agitate the conductors”.
It is said, too, that chains were part of the furnishings. So that
when turnkeys or Bow Street Runners were arriving at Coldbath
with their charge they would chain him quite securely and be able
to quench their thirst in comparative peace and quiet. The fact
that this, in itself, was a form of reﬁned torture to the unhappy
prisoner would no doubt be counted an irrelevance.
Gone now are the bell pushes and chains of former days”lost
in the march of time. And now, in the place of the prison, stands
Mount Pleasant Post Ofﬁce.
The Apple Tree’: Sandy always reminds me of the advertisement:
Dog for sale; will eat anything; very fond of children.
Sandy is an Alsatian, sandy in colour, and has just celebrated
his third birthday. He posed for me in the manner born, which is
another way of saying that he is a thoroughbred. He is hardly a
perfect specimen, but it’s character more than anything that
counts in a dog. ‘
Fondness of children is the whole key to Sandy’s character.
Sandy has become the protector of the landlord’s baby, and
is himself the much-loved playmate of the children in the neigh-
bourhood of a The Apple Tree.
I have met so many ﬁne Alsatians who spend useful lives
guarding pubs that I sometimes wonder why we do not have a
licensed victuallers’ training school for guard dogs. Sandy would
make a ﬁne instructor.
Meanwhile, Sandy is delighted to rest under The Apple Tree
which has itself the pleasant and peaceful task of providing cheerful,
homely refreshment to thousands of City workers under its old and