The Princess Louise *****

The Princess Louise - forget the British Museum, try this out for history.

The Princess Louise - forget the British Museum, try this out for history.

One step inside the The Princess Louise, and you will understand why this is regarding as one of the most magnificent public houses of London.  This late Victorian gin palace was originally built in 1872, and then remodeled in a high Victorian fashion in 1892. It is situated within a Grade II listed building which recently went under a refurbishment in 2007, and the now restored pub is something not to be missed. Literally, you will do yourself a disservice by not going inside.

This Samuel Smith pub must be a jewel in their crown: the interior is the most impressive and well-preserved  of any pub I have seen.  It has consistently been ranked in many good beer guides as being one of the prettiest pubs in the City, and although it has made its way into the tourists books (see below) it does not just warrant a visit, it demands one.

The crowds – several things to be aware of when planning a visit: it’s around Holborn, i.e. the British Museum and plenty of other sites within the tourists’ walkabout of central London.  However, once you step inside, and secure a position within one of the small wooden private screened areas you will be thankful you did. No detail of this place it to be overlooked.  From the tiled floors throughout the entrance and halls up to the ornate ceilings.

Hand laid tiled floors of the Princess Louise

Hand laid tiled floors of the Princess Louise

The visual delights of this pub were executed by highly regarded artisan firms of great regard.  The mirrors are the work of R Morris & Co. who employed a technique called French embossing.  This seemingly volatile process made use of acid for etching glass, and it was so-called French because it resembled the popular French style of the day called rococo.  Consider this fact as well though, that it had not been long since glass became affordable: the glass tax which was imposed upon British glass manufactures made their products quite pricey (repealed 1845), and then there was the tax on windows (yes, windows) which was repealed in 1851. So, in the aftermath of these Draconian measures, affordable glass infiltrated the market. 

The hand painted tile works belong to WB Simpson & Sons who you may know from the painted tiles in the London Underground, amongst scores of other contracts for this English institution. You can still find some hidden gems of Victorian WB Simpson and Sons’ work around the City, like the hand painted scene of Wren with plans for Monument on display at the Lamb in Leadenhall market.

Combine these with the explosion of affluence in the Victorian period along with the great competition amongst the throngs of public houses and gin joints in 19th c London, and you get what lies in front of you: a fanciful artisan creation unrivaled in its abundance as well as preservation in the City.

External tiles at the Princess Louise

External tiles at the Princess Louise

The pub has 7 rooms to filter yourself through so try to check this place out from every possible corner. The pub has 4 external doors: the 2 inside doors lead into the front center room which is nice to get a view into the booths on either side of the bar.

The bar of the Princess Louise

The bar of the Princess Louise

The 2 peripheral doors lead into narrow halls as below. Enter the pub on its left side, and take a gander down the hall lined with the wonderful etched mirrors and brilliant hand-painted tiles. This halls runs past the 2 side rooms (2 per side) with their dark wood partitions recreating the Victorian seclusion so sought after in the time period.

The left side entrance hall of the Princess Louise

The left side entrance hall of the Princess Louise

Pay particular attention to the detailed work about this living museum.  If open, try to duck into one of the side partitioned rooms with their high top tables, and unbeatable proximity to the bar.  There really isn’t much problem getting served here even when busy as like most of Sam Smith’s in the City which can get heaving, they are well staffed save for perhaps the immediate after work crowd.

Archway from partitioned area within the Princess Louise

Archway from partitioned area within the Princess Louise

It is a feast for the eyes: look all around and sit back while enjoying the Famous Taddy Porter.  Try to make sure you engage whomever you dragged along with you in a conversation, though at this point, they should be saying, ‘you were right, this place is pretty amazing’.

Look up!

Look up!

As if it was not enough even the men’s toilets are even Grade II listed. Indeed.

The men's toilets are even Grade II listed.

The men's toilets are even Grade II listed.

I suppose it is only fitting that this pub, the best Victorian pub in the city, is named after the most well-received of her daughters. Princess Louise was the sixth child (of nine) to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and the most accomplished daughter of Queen Victoria.  She was a recognised artist and champion of women’s rights. For her marriage she chose an English aristocrat, instead of a continental Royal as was expected of her. He might not have been royalty, but to give you an idea of his place in society check out his full name – John George Edward Henry Douglas Sutherland Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll. Not exactly a man of the people, but at least he wasn’t a prince I think was the point.

Interestingly, her marriage was a matter of international politics.  She was not to marry a Dane for this might upset the Prussians, while a Prussian prince would not sit well with the British people.  In breaking with centuries of precedent, she was to marry a ‘commoner’ (granted he was an aristocrat).  This was the first time since 1515 that a sovereign had chosen to marry a subject of the crown since the marriage of Mary Tudor.  The Queen supported this option, and well, what Queen Victoria wanted she was driven to attain.  And so it was.

Being born at Buckingham Palace and dying at Kensington Palace, she spent her 91 yrs pursuing a variety of causes and roles including sculptor as well as serving as vice-regal consort to her husband as Governor General of Canada. Her art still stands to this day: for example the statue of Queen Victoria in front of Kensington Palace.

An outstanding woman and one visually marvelous pub well-paired to deliver many great evenings of good pints.

Open 7 days a week thankfully. Check it out on my map of London pubs:

208-209 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7BW

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