Wednesday 14th August 2013
The name of this pub has a considerable history as it comes from erstwhile Priory of St John, Jerusalem, which was located nearby. The name of the Abbey has its origins with the Knights Hospitallers of St John. They were formed in Jerusalem in 1099. When they were driven out of the holy land the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, granted them a permanent home on Malta. This is the origin of the present day St John's Ambulance Brigade and the German-based Malteser International agency which deals with relief aid.
History tells us that this is the fourth pub named Jerusalem Tavern. The Abbey was burnt down during the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 but was slowly rebuilt over subsequent years. It's imposing South Gate of stone was constructed in 1504 and is the only part of the Priory with us today. The remainder of its buildings were destroyed by Elizabeth I.
The gate is in parallel St Johns Street and alongside it is the third Jerusalem Tavern, now an office for the Order of St John, although it can be seen that it was once a pub.
The first two taverns were located on the northern side of Clerkenwell Road, which was built much later partially on the site of the Priory.
The first pub was around in the 15th Century and was very close to the Priory's North Gate and was named the St John of Jerusalem Tavern. It was located near to where the present day Aylesbury Street met Clerkenwell Green and it closed in 1758.
Further along the Green there was a junction with Red Lion Street, of which later. This street got its name from the Red Lion pub and shortly after the closure of the old tavern, this pub was renamed Jerusalem Tavern. This one succumbed around 1794 and the name was transferred shortly afterwards to a premises located in the structure of St Johns Gate. In 1873 the Order of St John acquired title of the Gate and in 1876 the pub moved to the side of it. This pub closed around 1915 and is now the offices refereed to above.
The fourth and current Jerusalem Tavern is to be found in Britton Street. This was the Red Lion Street also referred to above and below. The story behind the change of name is inextricably connected to the Jerusalem Tavern as in 1787 a young man called John Britton was apprenticed to work in the cellar of the pub, the one on the corner of Red Lion Street. He stayed for six years and after leaving made a name for himself as an antiquarian and architectural expert and wrote a large number of books on these subjects. The street was renamed to Britton Street in 1936 in recognition of his work.
The history of the present day Jerusalem Tavern is a lot easier to unravel than that of the earlier pubs. The building was constructed in 1720 as a town house. In 1810 the frontage we see today was installed and it became a watchmakers. Following the Second World War it was mostly used for offices.
It was purchased in 1992 by Julian Humphreys and in January 1995 he opened the Jerusalem Coffee House, a reproduction of an eighteenth century coffee house. This closed in October 1996 and was leased to the St Peter's Brewery, which was looking for a London outlet then.
I am indebted to Martyn Cornell's web blog (www.zythophile.wordpress.com) and www.pubshistory.com, both excellent resources, for a lot of this info. So as you see, it is a fake, yet it is a beautiful fake! Don't believe what you might read on some web-sites.
St Peter's Brewery is based in the small village of South Elmham, which is near Bungay in Suffolk. It is located on a former farm and the brewery and bottling hall are located in former agricultural buildings.
They also have a bonus inasmuch that St Peter's Hall is also on the property. This is their restaurant and "Brewery Tap" bar. Parts of the Hall date from 1280 but most from 1539, when parts of Flixton Priory were incorporated including some stunning stained glass windows. This was possible after the dissolution of the monasteries and of course, the owner was on the King's side.
Back in London, I entered the pub at a quiet time; not always possible, but it was mid-afternoon. The interior is small with a few tables at the front, looking out of the historic frontage. Then I found the bar on the right and there is a tiny seated area beyond with an open fireplace. In the front room there are some Delft tiles on the walls and there are bare floorboards throughout.
The only thing changed from its 1990s Coffee House days is the installation of a bar. The draught beers are served by air pressure which is perfectly normal method as no unnatural gasses (i.e., CO2 on its own) come in contact with the beer. I guess this is because the pub does not have an accepted cellar. In addition to the draught beer there is a large selection of St Peter's bottled beers; I counted sixteen on offer.
The pub normally serves six cask beers from St Peter's and when I visited these were: Mild (3.7%), Ruby Red Ale (4.3%), Golden Ale (4.7%), Best Bitter (3.7%) and Cream Stout (6.5%). There was one other and this was labelled "Fruit Beer". To my regret I didn't ask what it was, mainly because I don't normally drink this type of beer; sorry! It could have been anything, as they have brewed beers with orange, grapefruit, blackcurrant and gooseberry, amongst others.
Food is served from 12.00 to 15.00 Monday to Friday. So, if you happen to be in this part of London on a weekday, you should pay a visit to make a (virtual) step back in time.
The Jerusalem Tavern, 55 Britton Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 5UQ
Tel: 0207 490 4281
Open: Monday-Friday 11.00-23.00; food is served 12.00-15.00
The pub is just over five minutes stroll from Farringdon station which is served by London Underground (Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines).
Also the cross-London (North-South & vv) trains of First Capital Connect.
The following bus routes run along Clerkenwell Road, a few minutes away: 66, 153 and 243.