Greater London Central - London

A historic pub interior of national importance

Listed Status: II

90 St. Martin's Lane
London, Charing Cross

Tel: (020) 7836 5863




Real Ale: Yes

Lunchtime Meals: Yes

Evening Meals: Yes

Nearby Station: London Charing Cross

Station Distance: 400m

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

Bus: Yes

View on: Whatpub

In the heart of Theatreland, the Salisbury has an impressively lavish interior. It opened in 1898 and takes its name from Lord Salisbury, three times Prime Minister between 1885 and 1902, and whose family still own the freehold. The ‘SS’ in the lavish window glass stands for the original name, ‘Salisbury Stores’ – ‘stores’ being a not uncommon tag in pub names at the time (it was dropped from the title in 1960). There is a good sense of how pubs around 1900 were divided up as each outside door would have led to its own drinking space. The change in bar counter tops on the St Martin’s Lane side is a clear clue to such a division. There is a small snug along St Martin’s Court (named as a saloon on the brass door plate) formed by glazed screenwork and typical of the intimate spaces that late Victorian London drinkers liked. In the main bar, presiding over the plush curved seating are original metal statuette lamps with nymphs out a-hunting. Here the counter has a white marble top. In contrast to the glorious Victorian glass, the modern etched glass is sadly feeble.

Rebuilt 1892 and refitted in spectacular style in c.1898. One of the great turn-of-the-nineteenth-century palace pubs of London. It is part of a six-storey red-brick block built about 1899 and which incorporates a much older pub site (in the same way as the Paxton's Head in Knightsbridge) with. This site was leased from the Marquis of Salisbury in 1892 - hence the present name. Previously the pub had been variously known as of the Coach & Horses and the Ben Caunt's Head. The exterior with the deep relief figures over the main entrance; figures in the capitals of pilasters; and etched and polished glass in carved woodwork to the window frames gives some idea of what to expect inside - a splendid example of pub fitting as practised at the height of the boom around 1900.

First of all the planning. The pub is remarkable for retaining one of its timber and glass screens and which defines and marks off a small bar on the St Martin's Court side of the pub. There would have been other such screens originally creating a cluster of bars round the servery in typical London fashion. 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 Princess Louise, Holborn, London WC1. It is not hard to work out where they would have been. You will note, for example, the way the counter top changes from wood to white marble and clearly this denotes what would have been separate areas within the pub. The abundance of etched and polished glass creates a glittering atmosphere: note that the etching on the large mirrors on the long wall and in the room at the rear of the pub is modern (it dates from some time in the last third of the twentieth century). The 'SS' motif you will see stands for the original name, the Salisbury Stores.

Grand vestibule on the corner entrance with engraved patterned glass in the doors. The two central panes are now plain glass whereas in recent times they would have been frosted and cut glass panes in them! The pub consists of a large now L-shaped main bar as result of a loss of some partitions. It retains its original long curved-ended mahogany counter, which along the left hand side of the room has a white marble top. It also retains the splendid original bar back fitting with highly decorative etched mirror glass panels right up to the ceiling; some lower shelving lost to fridges. Decorative cast iron columns holding up the Lincrusta ceiling. Old/original fixed seating in small niched bays with another display of mirrors behind reaching to the ceiling. Only the mirror on the left near the door is original, all the others are modern additions/replacements. All the wood surround is original with carved pillars regularly spaced along the wall. Note the Art Nouveau candelabra in copper taking the form of sinuous draped female figures holding aloft bouquets of flowers containing the light bulbs.

The small separate snug has its own door in St Martins Court but only in use as emergency exit. It is small and has an original counter with carvings on pilasters where one section looks like a cupboard that folds down (?). Partition/screen above the original fixed seating is of four bays with highly ornate mirror glass (one has been broken for about 12 months so one wonders if Spirit Group will ever get around to it!) and reaches the ceiling with a narrow row of plain mirrors. The exterior windows in two bays have more decorative etched panels in them. Good carved mahogany surround fireplace with modern interior. There is a dumb waiter here in use for meals. Baffle by the door with deep etched glass panel in the top. There is a door out to the rest of the pub and this room can be closed for private parties.

There is a separate ‘Dining Room’ at the rear with more modern mirrors all around the walls but the wood surrounds are old/original and no fixed seating. The then owners Scottish & Newcastle sensitively restored the pub in 1999. The work amounted to no more than a thorough cleaning of the inside and outside and reupholstering of the seats and is thus a model of how historic pub fabrics should be treated - in the old maxim of conservationists, 'do what is necessary but as little as possible'.

There are two old brass tables in front of the seating and these appeared in the famous black and white photograph of Marianne Faithful by Gered Mankowitz which was taken here for her album ‘Come My Way’ – the photo is on the wall and also hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. There is a photo of Dylan Thomas in the dining room which records his visit to the pub. Other famous people who have drank her include Michael Caine, Terence Stamp, Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor who celebrated their second marriage here in 1962.

The Salisbury has appeared in films such as the 1961 ground breaking film “Victim’ (Director: Basil Dearden); featuring Dirk Bogarde & Sylvia Syms – it was the first English language film to use the word ‘homosexual’; and Travels With My Aunt (1972, Director: George Cukor) which starred Maggie Smith.

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