Ye Olde Mitre is a highly eccentric pub in the best City of London tradition, with small rooms and a court out front. It's hardly overburdened with space, but is dripping with history, charm and atmosphere. Originally built in 1546, the present building dates from sometime in the 1780s. Yes, that preserved tree trunk in the corner of the bar is significant, it used to mark the boundary of Hatton Garden and the Diocese of Ely (the original owners of the land leased it to Christopher Hatton in the late 16th century, under duress from Elizabeth the first). It's reputed that the Queen also danced the maypole around the tree. Technically the area around Ely Place (including Ye Olde Mitre) is still owned by the Diocese of Ely (in Cambridgeshire) and it's understood that local City police do not have jurisdiction here. Should something heinous happen, Cambridge Special Branch, would be raised on the blower - not the Met.
However, the Metropolis Management Act of 1855, 'ironed out' many of these curious jurisdiction anomalies. The Metropolitan Board of Works became the central organ of power in Victorian London's development, once the act was passed. Everything apart from 'watching' was deferred to this London authority in 1855, which is why there's a 'Beadle' ever present, at the end of Ely Place. Watching is a more passive type of early policing (the role of 'night watchman' still survives), with thief taking being the more pro-active form of early crime management. As a result, The Met will be summoned in all criminal matters.
Christopher Hatton was a Privy Councillor (like a cabinet advisor) and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. He featured in many of her money-making schemes, though is usually absent from popular histories. He was the main backer for Sir Francis Drake's exploits in the South Atlantic and Pacific, aboard the Golden Hinde. They looted so much gold that the stones in the ship's bilge acting as ballast, were replaced with gold coins and tableware. When the Golden Hinde returned to London, Drake was knighted (not by Elizabeth though, for sensitive political reasons) and the Golden Hinde was permanently displayed at Deptford - the world's first museum ship. The entire English national debt was paid off by Elizabeth's share of the Spanish booty. Drake is still reviled by the Spanish to this day - nicknamed 'El Draque' and is regarded as a pirate, rather than an adventurer.
My first trip to Ye Olde Mitre was when I worked nearby, in Fetter Lane. It was a summer's evening sometime in the 1990s, the kind when even lawyers and accountants slip on their shades. When we entered the courtyard there was a troupe of Morris Men dancing a jig. Ordinarily this would have me rushing for the exit. However, I was forced into a knot of spectators who were visiting from the States and had been taken by a friend for a drink in a traditional pub. I couldn't help but be swept along by their enthusiasm - the bright costumes, the squeezebox player, bells on toes and their hosts explaining how it was all a pre-cursor to 'getting it on' during Springtime ('The Wicker Man' covers this phenomenon very well). The ancient tradition of synchronising births with these Spring rituals allows infants to be born after the harvest in Winter, when there's more free time available to look after them. It's easy to become inured to your own rich history, but that evening at Ye Olde Mitrereminded me how unusual British culture can be and how grateful I am, that it's preserved by so many.
Ye Olde Mitre's very busy weekday evenings, but comfortable enough during lunchtimes. Also after 9pm, it gets less brisk as workers hurry off for their commuter trains. It's won numerous awards from CAMRA and good pub guides, but it's certainly not fancy. It is steeped in history and has the kind of atmosphere you can't synthesise. Not hard to find, but you'll never stumble upon it (check the map below - the entrance is pictured left). Food is basic, but aimed at local workers not as a dining experience - so that hardly matters.
Open: Monday-Friday only 11am to 11pm. Closed weekends and Bank Holidays.
Ye Olde Mitre, 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, London, EC1N 6SJ.
Nearest Tube: Chancery Lane or Farringdon Tube (it's in an alley just off Hatton Garden)
Call: 0207 405 4751