It is possible that this commemorative whiskey label was once affixed to a bottle belonging to my great grandfather Archibald Gracie Ogden Sr. I doubt this, however, as he died during Prohibition and while enforced temperance does not appear to have affected the drinking habits of this decidedly "wet" family, it does argue against thumbing one's nose at the authorities to this extent. I am far more confident that the "Archie Ogden" brand of Fine Blended Whiskey refers to my Great Uncle Archie Ogden, whose life and letters were recently the subject of a four-part series of posts here at Walking the Berkshires (I, II, III & IV). As I recently discovered this well preserved label in our family archive, and just received my own copy of Archie's 1966 guide London For Everyone - with a whole section devoted to Pub Crawls - it seems these posts require a coda.
I should say at the outset that it would have been much better if before attempting this post, one of my valued readers with deeper pockets than mine had been able to fly me off to London to do the field research necessary for an exclusive look at the Pubs of Archie's day and see how they -and their wares -have changed in the last 40 years. My sole trip to London was on a singing tour with my high school choir in 1985, and while I did manage to sample some of Britain's best bitter along the way - I was barely 17, after all - I was unable to make as thorough a reconnaissance of the pubs of London as I would have preferred. Nor, alas, was my great uncle still living to spirit me away from chaperones and cathedrals and tackle the Sloane Square Pub Crawl, the Belgravia Pub Crawl, or even the East End Pub Crawl - by car - , that he describes in such delightful detail in his book. Here is a taste of what those pages contain.
Two blocks down on a left-hand corner is another interesting pub, the John Snow, named after a famous doctor...He was the first to conclude that cholera was carried by water polluted by sewerage. When, in 1854, 200 persons died of this dread disease in Soho, he discovered that they all got their water from a pump only a few yards away from the present pub. With the usual amount of difficulty of the presenter of an original thought, he finally persuaded the Board of Guardians to remove the handle of the pump and thereby signaled the end of the epidemic and, in fact, the end of cholera in this country. For some reason, at the John Snow I always prefer a half pint of bitter to a whiskey and water (pg 160)."
"The Cockney Pride, 6 Jermyn Street, S.W.1. The word 'Cockney' is allegedly derived from 'cock's egg', i.e., a small egg with no yolk, and was a term of derision by farming folk for foolish town dwellers who didn't understand country ways. There is nothing foolish about the townsmen who flock into the Cockney Pride. Opened late in 1965, this has become a very popular oasis both at noon and in the evenings. Complete with a My Fair Lady flower girl in the vestibule. Bowler-hatted bartenders in colorful Victorian waistcoats and barmaids in straw "boaters" or gray derbies add to the supposedly Cockney touch and eight pence to every double drink; but it is a very pleasant tourist trap, well frequented, however, by neighboring natives (pg. 167)."
"The Black Lion is the only pub that I have visited that has its own original skittles alley, housed by itself in a corner of the patio. A.P. Herbert was for many years captain of the local team. It's a backbreaking game of ninepins. The bowls are tremendously heavy, each shaped like a huge discus, and to be authentic must be hand carved, as are the pins (pg. 161)."
"The Town of Ramsgate. Another sixteenth-century pub, the present building was erected soon after 1700. There is an old post in the river behind it to which pirates were lashed at one time until they were drowned by the rising tide. This is said to be true also of the rings in the wall of The Prospect, which you can see see at low tide...Read the framed manuscript on the saloon-bar wall. You will learn that the inn was originally called the Red Cow. The fishermen from Ramsgate, Kent, regularly came up the river to sell their fish in the London market. Playing on local chauvinism, the then owner changed the name to attract their custom, which, according to the script, 'he succeeded in doing.'
It was here that the notorious 'hanging judge' Jeffreys was captured in 1688. After James II had fled at the end of the Glorious Revolution (also known as the Bloodless Revolution), the Judge who was his henchman considered it prudent to visit the continent itself. He boarded a German vessel, disguised as a common sailor, but the lure of drink proved his undoing. He slipped ashore to visit the Town of Ramsgate, where he was recognized and almost lynched. He was rescued from the mob by soldiers from the Tower, and there he eventually died 'of a wasting disease.' There must be a moral in this little tale. Strangely enough the Judge's body is now, or will be shortly, interred in Fulton, Missouri. It was here that Winston Churchill made his famous 'Iron Curtain' speech and as a memorial to him the blitzed Wren church of St. Mary the Virgin is being rebuilt in Fulton. In a vault under the east end of the church lies Judge Jeffreys. His is the only tomb to go along with the remains of the church (pg. 152)."
With stories like these, there is hardly time to mention the porter and provender, but knowing Uncle Archie he would have availed himself of both - in plenty - and as one who appreciated an inexpensive glass and a pretty face one imagines that the contemporary attractions of these pubs were as appealing as their marvelous histories.
If you are in London, and cannot find an out-of-print copy of Archibald G. Ogden's London for Everyone (1966); you can still visit the John Snow, the Cockney Pride, The Black Lion (still with its narrow skittles alley but alas, no longer in use) and Town of Ramsgate. One of these days, I shall surely walk in Archie's footsteps and drink in something of the atmosphere he so lovingly details.