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Zythogeography: The Jerusalem Tavern and The Gunmakers, Clerkenwell

June 10, 2011 8 comments

There’s a great feeling of history to certain parts of London, much of it lumped together incongruously. Smithfield is a good example: the hygenic but necessarily gory work of butchers and poulterers in the covered market goes on as it has on the site for 1,000 years, just beside the nightclub Fabric; the site of the Carthusian monastry on Charterhouse Square; the 900 year old but extant St Bart’s Hospital; and the sprawling ’60s brutalist Barbican complex.

I decided to walk back from the City to Kings Cross after a meeting this week, taking in a bit of London on a warm June evening. I walked through Smithfield’s Grand Avenue when the stalls were very much closed (Smithfield is a hive of refrigerated lorries full of carcasses and traders trading in the very early hours) and up into the area where everything from the Michelin-starred restaurant, to the street names, to the presence of a striking museum shows the name of St John, because of the Priory of St John of Jerusalem founded here by the Knights Hospitallers in Clerkenwell in the 12th century.

Another remnant of the monastic order is the name of the Jerusalem Tavern on Britton Street, a pub which, as Martyn Cornell explains in the post that inspired me to visit, only dates back to 1996 but recalls the St John of Jerusalem Tavern on a site around the corner. The building however is much older than the pub (c.1720), and is decorated with a pleasant wooden austerity, with Hogarth prints on the wall (Beer Street and Gin Lane included, of course). Oh, and a stuffed fox.

It’s run by St Peter’s Brewery from Suffolk, who I generally think of as having nice bottles but unmemorable beers. However I did enjoy an Old Style Porter from the attractive cask-themed tap on the back bar. It had a surprisingly dry hoppy freshness paired with a cocoa powder sweetness.

Moving on, I wandered North West through Clerkenwell to find The Gunmakers on Eyre St Hill. I don’t know if The Gunmakers is a historic pub, or has any links to The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, one of 108 livery companies that you see referred to in names and buildings (such as Plaisterers Hall) across the City of London: the various Worshipful Companies of Butchers; Poulters; Vintners; Brewers; Apothecaries etc.

The landlord of the Gunmakers is Jeff Bell, aka ex-beer blogger Stonch. It was a bright, airy pub inside on this summer teatime, with a selection of four beers on the handpumps, including Purity Mad Goose. I was obviously struggling to decide at the bar and was offered a taster if I liked. I tried Ascot Ales Gold Cup, and liked it enough to order it and a homemade Scotch egg.

The Gold Cup was in great condition and had a nice light red apple and orange flavour to the bitterness that made it a good pairing with the Scotch egg and English mustard. I decided that I really liked the Gunmakers, which seemed to have a good, welcoming and chatty atmosphere, just the place to relax for a while with a crossword or chat with friends over a few pints of a nice pale ale. The full menu looked appealing too.

With just a single pint of beer in me, I had to get back to Leeds, so wandered up towards Kings Cross. I found out that I’d been lucky in deciding to walk it and explore a bit of London, as those who had rushed to get back had been caught up in the delays caused by a lineside fire in Doncaster. Fortune favours the leisurely.

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