Above: Pub sign and street entrance to the Punch Tavern.
Wherever there are newspaper reporters you will find that there is pub or a bar not far away. Fleet Street was for many decades the centre of the London newspapers and, while waiting for a story, they spent many hours in the nearby ‘watering holes’ dotted all along Fleet Street. Plenty of the original pubs remain today although you will not find newspaper people in them any more. To write an article on the pubs in Fleet Street – and the endless stories about the goings-on within their walls – would probably fill a substantial book. This blog picks out one of the unusual ones, as an example.
The tavern is on the south side of Fleet Street, a few doors up the road from Ludgate Circus. There has been licensed premises on the site since the 17th century and the name was once the ‘Crown and Sugar Loaf’. It would probably still retain that name today if it were not for it being used by the staff of the satirical magazine called ‘Punch’. That magazine was founded in 1841 and was rather like today’s ‘Private Eye’ publication.
Sadly ‘Punch’ – also called ‘The London Charivari’ – ceased publication in 2002. It was a weekly magazine of humour and satire which was most influential in the 1840s and 1850s, when it helped to coin the term ‘cartoon’ in its modern sense as a humorous illustration. After the 1940s, when its circulation peaked, it went into a long decline, closing in 1992. It was revived in 1996, but closed again in 2002. The name ‘Punch’ was taken from the name of the puppet show about ‘Mr Punch’ which made its first appearance in London in 1662.
Because the magazine’s staff met in the pub, the owner is said to have changed its name to ‘Punch’. It is an interesting interior having been given a re-fit in the 1890s in the style of an old-fashioned ‘Gin Palace’. The term Gin Palace originally applied to a lavishly-decorated bar selling gin which was a very cheap and popular drink at the start of the 19th century. Today the term is still used as a short-hand way of describing an ornate interior of a pub – particularly with glass decoration, cut-glass mirrors and etched windows with decorated wording or decorative designs.
The pub is still as popular today as it ever was but the times of being frequented by the hard-drinking newspaper journalists has faded into the oblivion of just memories.