It was the slightest movement that gave him away. The left turn, confident and quick, that took the dark haired man from main street to alleyway in less than five seconds.

To anyone unfamiliar with the Ye Olde Mitre, the city businessman’s disappearance down a narrow alley might have raised some eyebrows. But those in on the secret know that just a few meters along is a pub that has earned the reputation of being London’s most hidden and difficult to find.

Ye Olde Mitre
The big sign on the wall only helps once you have found the alleyway it is located in. (Photo Credit: Heather Tucker)

Located in the heart of London, close to Smithfield Market, the Ye Olde Mitre was a pub built in 1546 for the servants of the nearby Palace of the Bishops of Ely. With a political career that kept him in London, an early Bishop of Ely established a church here and then later began building a self-supporting palace complex complete with a seven acre vineyard and orchard.

The establishment of the palace was not only advantageous to those who lived within its walls but also to those who lurked around nearby. Despite being located in the city of London, the Bishops of Ely controlled the district, meaning that the palace complex area was considered part of Cambridgeshire (you were technically no longer in London when you passed from Charterhouse Street to Ely Place). This geographical anomaly made the pub and its surrounding alleyways a popular location for criminals who were just out of reach of London’s jurisdiction.

Ye Olde Mitre Outside
The front part of the pub dates back to 1547. (Photo Credit: Heather Tucker)

In 1576, Queen Elizabeth I commandeered a good portion of the palace grounds for her favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton. Hatton rebuilt the pub and incorporated into its front wall a stone mitre (a mitre is a bishop’s hat) from the palace gatepost and a cherry tree that once marked the boundary of the ground he had been given. The tree, rumoured to be the tree that Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Christopher Hatton used as a maypole to dance around, is still in place preserved in the panelled front room of the pub.

Nowadays the tiny three-room pub is filled with small-scale furniture, a crooked bar, and plenty of atmosphere to go with all the history it contains. The current building is from the early 1770’s but the front, made of oak and opaque leaded windows, dates from 1547. Inside you won’t find TVs, loud music, or a single electronic game. Instead you find friendly faces – a mix of locals, businessmen, and the occasional tourist – with hands clamped around beer glasses.

Ordering a Drink at the Bar
Things can get a little cramped at the bar. (Photo Credit: Heather Tucker)

The pub prides itself on not serving crisps, so staff glide through the huddled groups delivering toasted sandwiches and home-made bar snacks, including an English twist on the classic Spanish tapas. While at the bar, a crowd three deep patiently wait to order a pint of George Gale Seafarers, Caledonian 80, or Adnams Broadside. Three times a year the pub plays host to a beer festival that allows visitors to sample offerings from all over the world as well as enjoy the old favourites.

In the pre-middle ages, the production and sale of ale was often occurred in private houses by the housewife who would brew her own ale and sell any surplus. Later these houses became more professional and known as a place to gather and relax. The counter transformed these informal pubs from a “house” into a “shop”. The beer engine, invented in the 1790’s, took it a step further. No longer did the beer stored in the cellar need to be brought upstairs to customers by pot-men and pot-boys. The customer was now literally sitting in the tap room, previously the private domain of the landlord, with the beer engine pulling the beer up from the cellar.

Despite the busyness of the pub and its small size even with an enclosed courtyard, nothing but a good vibe flows through the air. No one glares at you from the side in an attempt to move you on and the patrons themselves are pleasant rather than loud and grating. A surprise as the Ye Olde Mitre has had its own brush with fame – being featured in the films Snatch and The Deep Blue Sea.

So if you are looking for a traditional ale, want to pass through the alleyways that brushed shoulders with criminals, or just want to stand in a former film scene, the Ye Olde Mitre is well worth a visit – if you can find it!

Pack Your Bags

Despite being part of the European Union, the United Kingdom’s official currency is the UK Pound Sterling (GBP), also known as the pound. Five pound notes are the smallest paper bill you will receive, while coins are abundant. They include the one and two pound coins, as well as 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50-pence coins.

The UK uses Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Western European Time (UTC). During daylight saving time it is British Summer Time (GMT +1)/Western European Summer Time (UTC +1).

The weather in the UK is a constant point of conversation and change. Typically the summers are moderately warm and the winters are cold. Spring, early summer and early autumn can be nice times to visit. While the stereotypical view of constant rain is a bit dated, an umbrella may indeed be needed.

Getting There

Finding the Ye Olde Mitre is all part of the fun but it wouldn’t be fair of us to not give you a few hints. Nearby public transport stations are Chancery Lane (tube), Farringdon (tube and rail), and Charterhouse Street bus stop. From Hatton Garden be on the lookout for an alleyway between numbers eight and nine.

Address: 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, London, EC1N 6SJ

Food Glossary

The Ye Olde Mitre is known for serving real ale. But just what is real ale?

Ale is a type of beer brewed from malted barley using warm-fermentation with a strain (saccharomyces cervisiae) of brewer’s yeast. The saccharomyces cervisiae is a top-fermenting yeast meaning that it rises to the top of the brew during fermentation. The fast (as little as seven days) and warm fermentation mean that ales tend to be stronger and more forceful in flavour.

Further Information

Ye Olde Mitre website:

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday, 11am to 11pm; closed weekends

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About Heather Tucker

Heather is a writer, photographer and explorer of the world with bylines in Archaeology Magazine, Porthole Cruise Magazine, Taste & Travel, amongst others. She is addicted to pen, paper, hotels, organisation and hippos. In addition to Travel Gluttons, you can find her over at Cloggie Central.


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One Response to "Criminals, Movie Scenes, and Beer in London"

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