Three star - A pub interior of exceptional national historic importance
Listed Status: II60 Victoria Street
The long, narrow building plot plot no doubt reflects a medieval site but the present building dates back to the mid 17th-century. Inside is a bar stretching right back to another entrance which faces the late-medieval Temple Church bombed out in the Second World War. Along the right hand wall is a magnificent mid-Victorian bar-back with a series of arches and high-level lettering advertising various drinks. It has a marble shelf. The panelled counter no doubt dates from the same scheme (although the top is from 1998). Most of the rear part of the pub contains the delightful ‘Tramcar Bar’ – a snug supposedly shaped like an old tramcar! Its insertion, presumably in the late 19th or early 20th century, led to the cutting back of the counter, hence the ‘stranded’ bar-back in this area. Prior to this, apart from the small seated area at the front, this was presumably a largely stand-up drinking establishment. Don’t miss the glazed panel advertising ‘Burton Ales and Dublin Stout’ and, beside this, an old pressure gauge from the days of gas lighting. Two gas fittings survive in the Tramcar Bar and four (converted to electricity) in the servery. There are two tiny WCs formed by part-glazed partitions adjacent to the rear wall: note the ‘Ladies Only’ on the glass door panel.
A mid 17th-century building with a wonderful long, narrow, one room bar, the Kings Head can justifiably boast a unique interior and some of the oldest bar fittings in the whole of the UK. In the early 1970s it was under threat from redevelopment of the area and only a petition by regulars which included getting it statutory listed saved both the pub and its rare interior. The interior was refurnished about 1865 and again probably about the turn of the nineteenth century. Running all along the right hand wall is a wonderful bar-back of c.1865 with a series of arches and high-level gilded, green and black glass panels advertising various drinks. This may be the oldest surviving bar back in the country, with the other possible contenders being the Victoria, Bayswater, London W2 dating from 1864, and the Red Cow, Richmond
There is a bar counter also of c.1865 (the counter top, however, is of 1998 and replaced a Formica one from c.1960) with decorative brackets stretching halfway into the building with only a narrow area for drinking in front of it and around the front window where they is some old fixed seating.
The majority of the rear half of the pub contains the curiously named 'Tramcar Bar' - a snug shaped like a tramcar with just a narrow passage running alongside it to give access to the snug, toilets and rear door. It looks as though the counter was much larger but it seems it was cut back for the insertion of the delightful partitioned-off area probably around c.1900. There’s no proof but all of the fixtures and fittings bear all the hall marks of George Parnall’s, a company based nearby to the pub as they were one of the finest bar and hotel fitters who claim one of their last ever jobs was fitting out the QE2. Prior to the insertion of the tramcar bar, apart from the small seated area at the front under the window, this was probably a stand-up only drinking establishment. Originally the bar counter with a marble top ran all the way to the rear.
The six sections of the bar back fitting in the front area have gilded panels at the top advertising 'Claret', 'Hollands' (a Dutch gin), 'Cigars', 'Mineral Waters', 'Cigars' and 'Port & Sherry'. In the Tramcar bar part the wording above the five panels is 'French Brandy', 'Irish & Scotch Whiskey' (note the 'e' - nowadays the Irish product is always spelled with an ‘e’ and the Scotch one without, a distinction that only became normal in the twentieth century.) 'Jamaica Rum', 'London Gin', and 'Cordials'. Note that the shelf of the bar back fitting at bar counter level is of white marble. Most sections of the bar back have a mirrored panel. The fourth section of the back fitting contains a colourful large glass panel in gold, green, cream and red advertising 'BURTON ALES AND DUBLIN STOUT' (signed by one, Fred Brean of Bedminster and dated 1860). A restoration in the early 1970s saw this brought back to its finest glory having previously been covered in 16 coats of emulsion. The fifth 'Cigars' panel is also a door to private quarters. The back fitting has columns with capitals holding up the top section. Look for the old gas pressure gauge that enabled the landlord to adjust the pressure within the pub to accommodate fluctuations in the supply – such as when the street lights were turned on!
All the way down the left hand side of the pub is old dado tongue and groove panelling, which is also on the right hand side of the 'tramcar' section. The entrance to the snug is via a door at the rear held open by an iron rod. The wooden partition walls of the snug have a glazed panel at both the front and rear. The short section the other side of the door is held in place by a cast-iron stay to the ceiling, it has seating round the sides and bell-pushes from the days of waiter service. Look for the gas lit Cigar or Pipe Lighter on top of left-hand bench-back in the Tramcar Bar. There is a hatch / flap / doorway at the bar end of the tramcar bar for service and access for staff. There are two tiny toilets (WCs) formed by part glazed partitions situated adjacent to the rear wall - note the 'Ladies Only' in black and red on cream coloured glass panel on the door. The inner rear door has a 'Bar' etched glass panel.