A historic pub interior of national importance
Listed Status: II1 Middle Street
A modest corner-site building whose delightful interior, with simple woodwork of fairly indeterminate date, is unlike anything else in central London. The island servery is still surrounded by a series of mostly panelled drinking spaces, including a cosy little private bar (so named, along with a saloon, in the door glass which looks like work of the 1950s or early 1960s). A sensitive refurbishment about 1990 expanded the gents’ slightly into the rear bar area, installed the diagonal shelving over the servery and replaced the iron columns but, thankfully, the overall traditional character was kept. The pub name comes from the cutting of the first cloth by the lord mayor at Bartholomew Fair, England’s greatest cloth fair from 1133 until it was suppressed in 1855 amid fears of public disorder.
Popular with office workers at lunchtime and early evening, this is one of the best-kept secrets among City pubs and looks as hundreds, if not thousands, of plainly furnished London pubs did a century ago. The pub was rebuilt in 1849. The pub name comes from Bartholomew Fair when the Lord Mayor cut the first cloth at what was England’s greatest cloth fair (the fair was granted a royal charter in 1133 but suppressed in 1855 amid fears about public disorder). The upstairs function room is named after 'The Court of Pie Poundre' which was held in the upper room of the old Hand & Shears. Meaning the 'Dusty Feet of the Suitors', the court sat during Bartholomew Fair to set weights and measures, grant trading licenses, and impose penalties on fraudulent traders.
The corner entrance has an unusual pair of curved doors. There are in fact several doorways, each leading into a separate drinking space around the central servery. Two of these spaces are named in the door glass, which looks like a refitting (along with the window glazing) from the 1930s. So we have, on the right, the ‘saloon’ and left of this is a cosy little ‘private bar’. There are two doors into the front room so this may indicate there was an off sales here. The whole room has full height panelled walls. There are 1930s brick fireplaces in the left hand room and the rear room. The island bar back fitting is wonderful with a baking of etched and frosted mirror panels on both sides.
The pub had to close for 18 months in 1982/3 following structural damage caused as a result of piling at the Founders Hall opposite. The underpinning exercise that took place included a new concrete floor in the cellar and the ground floor has a new wood laminate floor. To lay this the island bar counter, island bar back fitting and the partitions/screens were moved and returned to their places. While the screen that creates the left hand room is a good fit apart from where the bar top meets the rear part; and the rear and front right screens appear to be in their correct positions, there are gaps between the end of them and the bar counter. Also the bar counter has a number of joins indicating it was cut into sections in order to move it to lay the new floor.
A sensitive refurbishment in 1989 expanded the gents’ slightly into the rear bar, installed the diagonal shelving over the servery, and replaced the iron columns but the overall character of the pub was carefully kept. A modern pot-shelf is suspended above three sides of the servery. The ladies toilet was added after the war being the conversion of a store room.
The Hand & Shears claims amongst its famous visitors Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister on 20th Oct 1930 and Winston Churchill, MP on 11th Feb 1931. They also claim that the term 'On The Wagon' originated here - this pub was used for the last drink when convicted men, brought here on a wagon, were on their way to Newgate Prison to be hanged - if the landlord asked "do you want another' the reply was "No, I'm on the wagon" as the rule was one drink only! Back in the 1930s the Hand & Shears was famous for its meals - in 1931 it served 650 lunches a week and in 1930 it served 28,500 lunches during the year. Lunches cost 10d in the public bar and 1s 3d in the saloon bar and sweets were extra.