My friend Antony Clayton has an excellent book out called ‘The Folklore of London’, the purchase of which coincided neatly with my friend Jan sending me a list of London ceremonies, many of which I’d never heard of.
What happens at the Verdict & Pyx Luncheon? Knolly’s Rose ceremony? The Widow’s Buns Ceremony? (Easy, grandma) the Bubble Sermon, the Blessing of Throats, the Boar’s Head feast, the Lion Sermon? Actually, I know the answer to those questions, being a geek and all, but I’ve noticed that there are lots of other peculiar rituals which are now being revived. Antony has written an excellent chapter on London’s mummified cats, and has uncovered more strange pub lore than even I know.
And while he lays to rest the old story of the Viaduct Tavern ‘Newgate cells’, he directs our attention to the pub’s other odd features above ground. More intriguingly, he notes the pubs that had tunnels linking them to the Tower of London, including one from the Tiger Tavern, now blocked off. Elizabeth I, clearly the queen of underground tunnels, appears to have dashed all over the place under London, usually to neck a swift half or to meet with the Earl of Essex. Nell Gwynne is associated with at least five London pubs and connecting tunnels, including the Nell of Old Drury and the Red Lion in Crown Passage.
Contrary to popular belief, there are new London legends being spawned all the time. Given that so many layers of hearsay and gossip separate us from the past, part of the fun is discovering whether there’s any truth in the stories, and finding out how they originated.