Princess Louise

Greater London Central - London

A historic pub interior of national importance

Listed Status: II*

208 High Holborn
London, Holborn

Tel: (020) 7405 8816

Real Ale: Yes

Lunchtime Meals: Yes

Evening Meals: Yes

Nearby Station: London Charing Cross

Station Distance: 1050m

Public Transport: Near Railway Station (Charing Cross) and Bus Stop

Bus: Yes

View on: Whatpub

A visit here is an amazing experience and shows how late Victorian London drinkers and publicans liked their pubs when there was money to spend. The 1870s building seems to have been remodelled in the 1890s, whence the sumptuous display of tiling (by W.B. Simpson & Sons) and mirrors, which give the building a sense of fantasy and gaiety. The layout worked with a bar at the front and corridors down each side giving access to a series of drinking spaces, separated by glass and timber screens. These wrapped around a peninsula-style servery from which staff could reach customers in all parts. The screenwork had gone by the late 1960s (and perhaps long before that). Then in 2008 a remarkable thing happened. Owners, Samuel Smiths of Tadcaster, Yorkshire, put them back. Some surviving etched glass panels provided a model for authentic replacements and the discovery of a plan in the Crown Estate archives confirmed the Victorian layout. The lovely mosaic floors are of 2008 showing, along with the screenwork, that skilled craftsmanship is still alive and well. Your tour must also include the gents’ downstairs with three spectacular urinals which are second only to those at the Philharmonic in Liverpool: ladies are welcome to view if they aren’t in use! Three other classic London pubs with small drinking spaces are the Prince Alfred, Maida Vale, Barley Mow, Marylebone and the Argyll Arms, Soho.

One of the great historic pubs of London, famous for its remarkable interior. The outside is a rather modest, slightly Italianate design of 1872 but the interior was completely remodelled in 1891 by the otherwise unknown Arthur Chitty. There is a most sumptuous display of tiling and mirrors which give the building exactly the sense of fantasy and gaiety its owners and architect must have wanted. The tiles are by W. B. Simpson & Sons and the glass is signed R. Morris and Son. See how the counter (with its island bar back) projects out into the bar so that staff could reach the customers easily.

The ground floor layout is like it was in Victorian times with a series of seven drinking spaces separated by mahogany partitions with decorative etched glass panels abutting the large U-shaped bar counter. However, in 2008 Samuel Smiths carried out an expensive refurbishment returning the lost screenwork that form the corridors down the left and right hand side, two small snugs on each side of the pub, and small separate bars at the front, rear left and rear right. The layout of many small drinking compartments is a style also seen at the Prince Alfred, Maida Vale, London W9 , the best example, Argyll Arms, Soho, London W1 and Salisbury, Covent Garden, London WC1. The original partitions at the Princess Louise had certainly disappeared by the late 1960s, and maybe a long time before that to leave an open plan pub around the original island bar counter. The splendid island bar-back fitting is in two parts and is also the original mahogany one by W H Lascelles and Co. It is decorated with etched and frosted panels, an archway through the centre of the main fitting, which has lost all its lower shelving to fridges and is topped with a working four-sided clock.; a smaller fitting abutting a dumb waiter has some tiled panels as well as mirrors.

The exterior walls of the whole room has one of the finest displays of decorative tiling and gilded & etched mirrors anywhere, although there is also some very fine work at the Viaduct Tavern, Smithfield, London EC1; not far away. There is a tiled dado mainly of diagonally laid tiles and above it is a series of wide colourful tiled panels and gilded & etched mirrors alternating. Above this is a polychrome tile frieze decorated with urns and swags in deep relief. The floors of the two corridors and the entrance lobbies have mosaic floors. Highly ornate patterned ceiling is held up by a series of Corinthian columns with decorative capitals. The front space has double doors with deep etched panels from both lobbies, the counter front has decorative brackets but the fixed seating is more modern.

In the rear left bar, which has a modern lino tiled floor laid diagonally, you will see some more of the alternating tiled panels and mirror panels above a timber dado and topped with a polychrome tile frieze of urns and swags in deep relief. Some old fixed seating, two splendid colourful stained glass windows by W H Lascelles and Co. with titles of ‘Music’ and ‘Drama’ and three small stained and leaded panels above of mainly fruit. There is a Victorian fireplace with a fine wood surround featuring tiled panels (but a modern interior) with a large gilded and etched mirror above and lit by a skylight with yellow coloured pattern glass panels (probably modern). From the rear left room go down the staircase which has tiling on the walls and you will find another wonderful coloured stained glass window entitled ‘Painting’.

The rear right small room has more of the alternating tiled panels and mirror panels above a timber dado and topped with a polychrome tile frieze of urns and swags in deep relief, a good wood surround fireplace with decorative brackets holding up the mantelshelf and a mirror above, but the fixed seating is modern. The bar counter in this room was shortened and changed from one that was straight and finished at the rear wall to the present curved counter created by Samuel Smiths in 2008. Before you leave, gentlemen, have a pee(k) at the loos - a piece of lavatorial elegance exceeded only by those at the Philharmonic in Liverpool! It has floor to ceiling tiling, a (modern) tiled floor and three massive urinals by J Taylor & Sons Ltd.

Upstairs is a bar that may be closed at times e.g. opens at 6pm Sat. It has a bar counter and bar back fitting that are Samuels Smiths replacements but are in a slightly different position to the previous ones. Look behind the servery and you will see some Victorian tiling on a passage and the room has a good cornice.

Princess Louise (1848-1939) was the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. Described by her mother as 'difficile', she led a racy life-style. There were several affairs with men from the world of art which was Louise's other great interest. Notoriously her mentor in sculpture, Sir Joseph Boehm died in her arms in 1890. She sculpted a statue of Queen Victoria which stands in the gardens of Kensington Palace. She was cremated at Golders Green Cemetery, thus becoming the first royal not to be buried.

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