Just coffee

WE HAD JUST CROSSED the River Stour, leaving the county Essex and entering neighbouring Suffolk when we felt the need for coffee. We pulled up next to what seemed to be the only pub in the tiny village of Stoke by Clare and entered.

The village’s name includes the word ‘stoke’, which when used as a geographical term means hamlet or small settlement dependent on a larger place nearby. Stoke by Clare, which was in existence by the 12th century AD if not before, is only about two miles from the far larger and once important town of Clare. In 1124, Richard de Clare, the first Earl of Hertford, moved the Benedictine priory that had been established in his castle at Clare (now in ruins) to Stoke by Clare, thus giving some importance to the place. Today, Stoke is a picturesque, sleepy little village (population less than 500) with a few old houses, some with thatched roofs and some decorated with pargetting. Some of the thatched roofs are adorned with straw animals’ One has three dogs and another a pair of boxing hares. There is also a fine old church that was established at the time the Benedictine Priory moved to Stoke.

Entering the pub was like stepping back more than seventy years except that the diligent publican had equipped the interior with transparent plastic sheets, hanging like shower curtains, to prevent the covid-19 virus from being spread from one table to another. There was one elderly gentleman nursing a pint of beer and no other customers.

We asked the publican if coffee could be obtained. To our surprise and relief, he said that it was available although from the quaint old appearance of the place, which seems to have remained unchanged despite the passage of the centuries, we feared it might not be. My wife asked him:

“What kind of coffee do you make here? Espresso? Cappuccino? Cortado?”

The publican looked bewildered. Then, he replied:

“Coffee … just coffee.”

The coffee he produced was unexceptional, but it was just what we needed, and we enjoyed it in the lovely garden behind the pub. Before we left, we asked him if business had picked up since the easing of the pandemic ‘lockdown’ rules. He told us that it had not. I felt sorry for him as he has done everything to make his delightful old establishment safe for customers including providing hand sanitisers and instituting a one-way system through his tiny pub.

Roll out the barrel

barrel

 

It always amazes me how often one misses the obvious when wandering around London. A few days ago, my friend, the author Roy Moxham, took us to a delightful pub, The Angel, near to Tottenham Court Road Station in central London. 

Just before we entered the pub, Roy pointed at a stretch of pavement outside it. The usual paving stones had been replaced by granite slabs surrounded by granite cobble stones (see illustration above).

The reason for these harder stones is that they are less likely than paving stones to be damaged when heavy barrels are dropped on to them by the men delivering beer to the pub.

Since having been shown this localised special surface outside The Angel, I have checked outside other pubs and seen the same thing. For over 25 years (maybe over 7000 times) I have walked past the Churchill Arms in Kensington and NEVER noticed that it also has this arrangement, an area of tough stones close to the pavement entrance of its cellar. And, I consider myself to be more observant than average! It pays to keep your eyes open and to be curious – you never know what you might discover!

Leave the high street to discover hidden history

Ball Court_240

 

The City of London, the traditional business district of London that stands on the site of the old walled London of Roman and mediaeval times, is full of delightful surprises. Although much of the area was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666 and the aerial bombing in the 1940s, what has persisted to a remarkable through the ages is the mediaeval street layout.

Another charming feature are the narrow alleyways that pass between or even through buildings. Step through some of these, and suddenly you find yourself stepping back into history.

Recently, we ‘discovered’ Ball Court, which leads south from Cornhill just a few yards west of the Church of St Michaels Cornhill. A narrow alley leads beneath a building to a wider courtyard open to the sky. Two sides of this rectangular  space are occupied by Simpsons Tavern, a pub (and chop house) established in 1757. Ball Court itself is even older than the tavern, appearing on a map dated 1746. 

I can not tell you why Ball Court has that name, but I feel sure that there must have been a good reason, but it had no name on the 1746 map. In any case, when in London, leave the main streets, explore, and enjoy!