The Fox & Anchor (1898) and its gargoyles beckon you to enter: the intricacies of this Art Nouveau building compel the eye to investigate. Tucked off a slight side street off of Smithfield’s Victorian meat market, this pub now draws more on the business folk who toil away around the market, rather than the historic clientele of the butchers themselves. However, a series of thoughtful black and white portraits of the local meat porters and butchers throughout the interior pay homage to the living history of the market, one of the city’s oldest and still surviving markets. For lover’s of Art Nouveau style pubs, in particular The Blackfriar’s Pub, this is another must see.
Now, what exactly is the story behind the fox and the anchor? Well, thankfully they have used the age old medium of beer coasters to tell the tale of one particularly intrepid fox. And this story is just a little too random not to reproduce here:
There are times when you tire of the chase and your surroundings. The fox was no different. Charging from wood to glade, never able to take in nature’s treasures. The endless fight with chicken wire and fence, the dodging of buckshot and hound. It was clearly time to make a sly change – a warmer climate. Maybe the feel of sand under paw, or to lands where the sunsets burned as rusty red as his coat. He thought of asking the geese, but thought better of it. They had history.
Despite being an average swimmer he followed the river downstream to the sea.Trickle became torrent and the fox thought he would surely be a goner. Sodden, wringing wet through and the beyond the point-of-no-returns, he abruptly felt himself hoisted out of the water by the anchor of a passing ship en-route for the Azores. Given a warm bed and just the sustenance he had been hoping form the fox had finally found a retreat where he was never hounded and the fowl ran free. You see if you’re determined you’ll always find aweigh.
With that fun little fable now explained, onto the pub! The Grade II listed frontage warrants some time spent outside for a proper study of not only the statues above the door, but also the striated marble archway, along with the beautiful and intricate detailed reliefs above the windows as seen below.
The striking artisan work may look familiar for those who have ever been to the food hall in Harrod’s, or strolled through the Royal Arcade in Norwich. The distinctive style of WJ Neatby who was employed under the Doulton Company of Lambeth is quite apparent when comparing. Take first, the Fox & Anchor Pub:
And now compare that to to this picture from the Harrod’s food halls. Notice the trees and their flame-like depiction:
Finally, see the Royal Arcade in Norwich. Again, you can see the characteristic fluid style in another beautiful piece of Art Nouveau work.
Again, back to the pub! Right, so the interior has a warm feeling to it. There are a few preserved screens along the right side while the bar top is a brilliant solid piece of pewter, which compliments the pewter tankards hanging from above the pulls. The etched glass and mohagany wood creates a regal environment throughout with the back mirrored piece being particularly pleasing. The ales are always in good order, usually with 6 to choose from coming from Nethergate and Sharpe’s amongst others. Compared to other pubs around Smithfield, this has the best selection of ales from different breweries on pull. The bottle selection is also impressive with several from Meantime.
This pub also acts as both an inn and restaurant (try the chips but just an FYI to those of the animal friendly persuasion – they are cooked in goose fat! So awesome for some, and guilty for others…). With it being so narrow, and quite bustling on weekdays, don’t be surprised to have stand outside around the dinner hours. No worries, just grab one of the fine ales, and park yourself outside and study the facade. This will be one of the downsides of the place, along with a slightly steep price for your ale. But for Smithfield, this is the bang for your buck if you are feeling like treating yourself a little.
If you get the chance, you should sneak to the back part of the pub. Although a later addition, this area has some of my favorite hiding places in the City. The snugs are perfect places to feel cozy amongst the dark woods, glass, and fireplace framed in some very nice tile work.
The pub is a stone’s throw away from Charterhouse Square, and as reviewed in the Sutton Arms, the area has a fascinating history. As noted in the review, the square itself is the final resting place for about 50,000 Bubonic plague victims, and has now situated adjacent to it some of the last London examples of Tudor townhouses.
All in all, the interior is that of a now up-market pub with lavish wallpaper to compliment the aged and intricate wood and glass work, while the ales offer a splendid variety unique to the immediate area. And the exterior leaves the observer fascinated with its detail. The pub itself, is an apt metaphor for the gentrified area surrounding the market with its modern clubs and eateries rubbing elbows with taxi ranks and greasy spoons where the market workers can still get an honest meal.
Thankfully open 7 days a week!
Take a gander at my handy London Pubs Map for its location: 115 Charterhouse Square, London, Smithfield EC1M 6AA
020 7250 1300