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Where Dennis Severs Enjoyed A Pint

July 27, 2021
by the gentle author

The immersive tour of Dennis Severs House I created for the Spitalfields Trust, as a re-imagination of the tours that Dennis Severs gave in the eighties, commences this Thursday 29th July and booking is open until the end of November.

Click here to book tickets


One day, David Milne of Dennis Severs’ House in Folgate St took me along to the Hoop & Grapes in Aldgate for a pint, revisiting a special haunt that he was introduced to by Dennis Severs back in the nineteen eighties.

We walked together from Spitalfields up through Petticoat Lane until we arrived at the busy junction in Aldgate where traffic careers in every direction.“This was the major road in and out of London and it would always have been as full of people as it is now.” said David, as he peered down the road towards Whitechapel, wrinkling his brow to imagine centuries of travellers, before fixing his gaze directly across the road at three of the last remaining timber frame buildings surviving from before the fire of London. The central building, squeezed between its neighbours like a skinny waif sat between two fat people on a bus, was the Hoop & Grapes.

It is the oldest licensed house in the City, built in 1593 and originally called The Castle, then the Angel & Crown, then Christopher Hills, finally becoming the Hoop & Grapes – referring to the sale of both beer and wine – in the nineteen twenties. The first impression when you turn your back on the traffic to enter, is of the appealingly crooked Tudor frontage with sash windows fitted in the seventeen twenties at eccentric angles, and of two ancient oak posts guarding the entrance, each with primitive designs of vines incised upon them.

Stepping through the heavy door patched together over centuries, the plan of the narrow house is still apparent even though the partition walls have been removed. A narrow passageway ran ahead down the left of the building with small rooms leading off to the right, a structure which is revealed today by the placing of the beams in the ceiling and the bulges in the wall where the fireplaces in each room have been sealed up. Opening to your left is the bar, where the premises have expanded into the next house and to the back is flagged floor next to the largest chimney breast in a space that was a kitchen in the sixteenth century.

David and I enjoyed the privilege of access to the cellar where the landlady led us through a sequence of narrowing brick vaults built in the thirteenth century, until we reached the front of the building where she pointed out an old iron hook in the ceiling, held back by a lead catch. “No-one knows what this was for,” she admitted, prompting David to look down at his feet where a metal cover was set into the floor.“There was a well beneath,” he said, speculating,“the Aldgate pump was not far from here and the water table is high.” Then the landlady released the hook to hang vertical and it hung directly over the centre of the cover, perfect for hauling up a bucket. We all exchanged a smile of triumph at solving the puzzle, and stood together to appreciate this rare medieval space, essentially unchanged since Elizabeth I met Mary Tudor fifty yards away at Aldgate in 1553.

Upstairs, the landlady pointed out the site of a listening tube, centuries old yet covered over when a speaker system was fitted recently. This tube enabled whoever was in the cellar to hear what was spoken in the bar and vice versa. David believes it was used in the days of Oliver Cromwell by the landlord, who was in the pay of the authorities, to eavesdrop upon conspirators who chose this pub just outside the City gate for illicit liaisons, and there is no doubt that – thanks to the sparse renovations – once you have been here for a while you can begin to imagine the picture.

We sat down at the quiet corner table next to the crooked window with our drinks. “Dennis and I had this way of looking at things and making it more than it is,” confessed David to me with a contemplative affectionate smile “and that’s what we called ‘the theatre of life’. I used to come and visit him, and we’d go for walks around Spitalfields and end up here for a pint. We were looking for what remains – the signposts to the great City of old –  the street that ran down to the City of London was full of houses like this. We would sit here and create a story about the merchants who lived in these ancient houses.”

In this no-man’s land between the City and Whitechapel, the Hoop & Grapes is a reliably peaceful place to go where just a few commuters drop in for a pint and tourists rarely appear – because it does not readily declare its history. Yet time gathers here in the stillness of this modest Tudor building – constructed atop a medieval foundation with eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century accretions – while the world rushes past as it always has done.

Through his house in Folgate St, Dennis Severs’ reinvented the way that historic buildings are presented. When David Milne came here with Dennis Severs over forty years ago, all that was in the future, and today more than twenty years after his death, David is one of those who maintains Dennis Severs’ creation. “He was a remarkable man,” confided David, as we took our leave of the Hoop & Grapes, “and now this place is a signpost to my past with him.”


David Milne first came here with Dennis Severs over forty years ago

The thirteenth century cellars

An ancient hook above the well in the cellar

Two venerable oak posts carved with vines guard the door, and sash windows added in the seventeen twenties sit within a crooked sixteenth century structure

An insurance plate from 1782 still adorns the frontage

The three sixteenth century timber frame houses in Aldgate, predating the fire of London which came within fifty yards. The house on the right was refaced in brick in the eighteenth century

Archive photograph of the Hoop & Grapes courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

Other Dennis Severs’ House stories

Isabelle Barker’s Hat

Simon Pettet’s Tiles

14 Responses leave one →
  1. July 27, 2021

    This could become my favorite pub, indeed. A peaceful pint in this historic setting…. great!

    Yesterday I was in my pub “Ulenspiegel”, which reminds me a lot of Hoop & Grapes and I had nice conversations over my glass of Guinness.

    Love & Peace

  2. July 27, 2021

    Fascinating history, and I love the ‘technology’ of the day

  3. Billy permalink
    July 27, 2021

    That isn’t a fire insurance plate, it is a parish boundary marker.
    It says St.B.A. probably St Botoloph Aldgate.

  4. Hilda Kean permalink
    July 27, 2021

    I may be completely wrong but the pub seems to resemble the photograph of 1877 by John Thomson of people including children sat outside the pub with someone called Hookey Alf on a Sunday. It appears in the book of John Thomson and Adolphe Smith Street Life in London . The wooden ridges by the door appear similar. Can be seen at: The 1920s image at the top of the Gentle Author’s piece looks a tad like the earlier Thomson print? Any suggestions?

  5. Adele Lester permalink
    July 27, 2021

    Good to see it still standing! The frontage always fascinated me as I rode past in the sixties on either the 23 or 25 bus on my way home from work.

  6. John C. Miles permalink
    July 27, 2021

    Thank you, GA, for featuring one of my favourite London pubs. Let us all hope that this wonderful survivor remains safe and open for centuries to come and doesn’t suffer the fate of the poor little ‘Still and Star’ nearby. The 1782 ‘insurance plate’ in the second last photo – is this not a parish boundary marker? ‘St. B.A. = ‘St. Botolph Aldgate’.

  7. July 27, 2021

    The ‘insurance plate, is actually a parish boundary sign, that would be for St Botolphs without Aldgate. St Margaret Pattens have a collection of them in their Vestry. we have one on display, for us (St Lawrence Jewry) and our Vicar did a guided walk around our ‘parish, using our Parish Boundary Plaques which are still in situ.

  8. Diana Grieves permalink
    July 27, 2021

    Was wondering if your photo of an insurance plate from 1782 might actually be a parish boundary marker for St Botolph without Aldgate? A map shown on this site – – gives the north eastern boundary as Mansell Street.
    This flickr site – – shows examples of parish boundary markers in Norwich. Just a thought…
    Thanks for your wonderfully interesting site.

  9. Diane permalink
    July 27, 2021

    Facinating read – I used to love going to this pub back in the 80’s, also the “Still & Star” nearby. There were some great old pubs around the City in those days.

  10. gkbowood permalink
    July 27, 2021

    Enjoyed this glimpse into a very nice Pub! I am amazed and pleased it has avoided the wrecking ball of progress. Imagine having cellars from the 12th century…I wonder what building was there at that time?

  11. Chris Connor permalink
    July 27, 2021

    A lovely and venerable old place. It is the perfect example of the adage “If a building could talk, what secrets could it tell”. It is worrying in these times that places such as this are disappearing under a wave of concrete and glass. Indeed the Still & Star just behind seems destined to be swept away.

  12. Susan permalink
    July 27, 2021

    If I ever make it back to London, I need to visit here. I do love the little, offbeat places you write about.

  13. Cherub permalink
    July 27, 2021

    How I miss the historic old pubs and wine bars of the City. Back in the 80s I used to go to one called the Samuel Pepys, it had a balcony built out of wood salvaged from The Great Fire, but is now long gone. A friend took me to a very old place called The George near Borough High St a few years ago, I had no idea it was there. There also used to be an old place near St Paul’s that had a tree growing up through the middle, I wonder if that’s still there?

  14. Bernie permalink
    July 27, 2021

    What a treasure!

    And how little I knew of London despite being born in Whitechapel & brought up not far away. And despite at least four years working at the London Hospital.

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