Fitzrovia’s most well-known public house is to close for a year in order to undergo a complete refurbishment intended to restore it to how it would have looked in the late nineteenth-century when it first opened.
Fitzrovia News has learned that The Fitzroy Tavern, on the corner of Charlotte Street and Windmill Street, will close in April or May and reopen in the spring of 2016.
Yorkshire-based company Samuel Smith Old Brewery who own the pub will refurbish the entire building with the intention of returning the pub to as close as possible to its original design. The former Fitzroy Coffee House was converted to a public house in 1897 and named “The Hundred Marks”, a reference to the large number of German immigrants living locally.
In 2011 Samuel Smith drew the ire of locals near Westminster Cathedral when after restoring a pub called “The Cardinal” they renamed the pub with its original nineteenth-century name: “The Windsor Castle”.
Regulars in Fitzrovia, however, need not worry as drawings lodged with the planning application approved by Camden Council clearly show the new pub signs as saying: “The Fitzroy Tavern”.
The historical restoration will include sustainably-sourced polished mahogany timber shopfronts, acid etched and brilliant cut glass panes, wrought iron pub signs, and a traditional glass lantern is to be re-introduced on the corner of the building. The inside of the ground and first floor will be subdivided into “snugs” and there will be additional entrances onto Charlotte Street and Windmill Street.
Samuel Smith have around 200 pubs, more than 30 in central London, and The Fitzroy Tavern is one of seven Sam Smith pubs in Fitzrovia. The brewery is owned by two tight-lipped Yorkshiremen who take a pride in imposing a strict rule of no music or televised sport and while their pubs feature no visible branding all the food and drink adheres to a standard menu laid down by the owners. The Fitzroy does however host a regular comedy night.
The pub was first called “The Fitzroy Tavern” in 1919 by then licensee Judah “Pop” Kleinfeld, a Polish Russian immigrant.
It went on to have such a rich history that there is a whole book about it: The Fitzroy, The Autobiography of a London Tavern, by Sally Fiber, (published 1995).
Its heyday was from the 1930s to the 1950s when its customers famously ranged from cabinet ministers to road sweepers. And in the days when homosexuality was a crime punished by long prison sentences, the pub was well known for its tolerance of gay customers. (These times were recalled by comedian Kenneth Williams in his diaries). Eventually the pub was prosecuted by police in 1955 for being a “disorderly house” and a “den of vice.” The popular governor Charlie Allchild was found guilty on nine counts and suspended by the brewery. He won on appeal but was so disgusted with the brewery that he resigned.
The Labour MP and journalist, Tom Driberg, was a regular in the 1930s when he wrote the William Hickey column for the Daily Express. He was credited with coining the name Fitzrovia for the area around the pub. Although another regular of the pub, poet and publisher, Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu claimed to have used the name first.
A public executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, and a convicted murderer, Douglas Burton, both drank in the pub. Burton was found guilty of bludgeoning a satanist to death with a sculptor’s hammer in the 1930s but was saved from hanging by being declared insane.