Esoteric London

No. 422: Argyll Street, W1

Posted in Interiors, Pubs by esotericlondon on October 11, 2011

The Argyll Arms, Argyll Street, London, W1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

Fifty Years Ago – Walter Besant, 1890:

Some time ago I saw, going into a public-house, somewhere near the West India Docks, a tall lean man, apparently five-and-forty or there abouts. He was in rags; his knees bent as he walked, his hands trembled his eyes were eager. And, wonderful to relate, the face was perfectly blue —not indigo blue, or azure blue,- but of a ghostly, ghastly, corpse-like kind of blue, which made one shudder. Said my companion to me, ‘That is gin.’ We opened the door of the public house and looked in. He stood at the bar with a full glass in his hand. Then his eyes brightened, he gasped, straightened himself, and tossed it down his throat. Then he came out, and he sighed as one who has just had a glimpse of paradise. Then he walked away with swift and resolute step, as if purposed to achieve something mighty. Only a few yards further along the road, but across the way, there stood another public house. The man walked straight to the door, entered, and took another glass, again with the quick gasp of anticipation, and again with that sigh, as of a hurried peep through the gates barred with the sword of fire. This man was a curious object of study. He went into twelve more public houses, each time with greater determination on his lips and greater eagerness in his eyes. The last glass, I suppose, opened these gates for him and suffered him to enter, for his lips suddenly lost their resolution, his eyes lost their lustre, he became limp, his arms fell heavily – he was drunk, and his face was bluer than ever.

[ The Argyll Arms is an amazing survival, particularly given its location. The building itself dates from 1868 although the fittings are from the 1890’s and it is for these that the pub is renowned. Cut glass screens and mirrors abound together with a fabulous ceiling and a lovely glazed office within the servery. It is Grade II* listed and is in the CAMRA National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors Part One. For more on Britain’s historic pub interiors click here and for the Argyll Arms website click hereR.D.]

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