27 September 2022

Spies, floods, pub crawls
and drink-laden claims for
so many in the King’s Arms

A prime location by the River Ouse makes the King’s Arms (left) an attractive venue in York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The King Street Run is one of the adventurous – if misguided – pub crawls in Cambridge, a bi-annual combined run and pub crawl that takes place along King Street, and involves having a drink in every pub on King Street.

When the King Street Run began in Cambridge in the 1950s, it involved having a pint in every one of the seven pubs on King Street.

King Street runs from the back of Sidney Sussex College to the Four Lamps roundabout and is parallel to Jesus Lane. At one point it had over a dozen pubs. The King Street Run at No 84 takes its name from this escapade. But many pubs have disappeared in recent decades, including the King’s Arms at No 1, once the first pub on the street and now the site of a modern block that includes the Cambridge Brew House.

In the past, I have enjoyed the welcome in most of the surviving pubs on King Street, including the Cambridge Brew House or former King’s Arms at No 1, the Champion of the Thames at No 68, the King Street Run at No 86, and St Radegund at No 129.

The Cambridge Brew House (left) is the site of the former King’s Arms at No 1 King Street, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I share with many the habit of comparing lists when I think of Cambridge and Oxford: which has the most elegant or the oldest Pembroke or Saint John’s?

Is it Magdalene or Magdalen? – an easy way to remember is that Cambridge end with an E, Oxford does not. Queen’s College or Queens’ College?

Why is there a King Street but no King’s College in Oxford? – Oriel College holds the answer to that question.

Why is there no cathedral in Cambridge?

Once again, I found myself making silly comparisons such as these when I found myself outside the King’s Arms in Oxford recently.

The King’s Arms claims not only that it is the oldest pub in Oxford, but that it is ‘Oxford’s most lively local pub’ and also, not only that it is one of the main student pubs in Oxford but that it is the brainiest pub in Oxford too, with the highest IQ per square foot of any pub or any bar anywhere.

But then, they are inclined to make claims like that in Oxford.

The King’s Arms it is the brainiest pub in Oxford, with the highest IQ per square foot of any pub or any bar anywhere (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The King’s Arms – known locally as the KA – stands on a prominent position on the corner of Parks Road and Holywell Street, opposite the new Bodleian Library building. The King's Arms pub is owned by Wadham College, just to the north.

The site was originally occupied by buildings erected by Augustinian friars in 1268. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, the land passed to the City of Oxford.

A new pub opened on 18 September 1607, and the new licensee, Thomas Franklyn, named his inn after King James I (1603-1625), who was involved with Wadham College.

The King’s Arms was a popular venue for plays in the 17th century. Later, it was both a coaching inn and an hotel.

But it has been a nest of spies too – the Cambridge spies, of course.

Graham Greene, who went to Baliol College, Oxford, worked with both Kim Philby and John Cairncross, and his novels may have inspired naming the ‘Cambridge Three’ and the ‘Cambridge Five.’

In his interviews with his biographer Norman Sherry, Graham Greene identified the King’s Arms as the pub where he drank with Kim Philby and other intelligence officers around 1944.

Philby’s recollections indicate Greene was a practical joker in the comfortable confines of the King’s Arms. Philby wanted to promote Greene, but the writer rejected promotion and resigned.

It is said that some dons held tutorials in the back bar as late as the 1970s. Until 1973, the back bar, known as the Don’s Bar, was not open to women, the last such bar in Oxford.

These stories of spies, misogynists and boozy tutorials in Oxford and of the King Street Run in Cambridge, came to mind again a few ago as I was walking along the banks of the River Ouse in the centre of York and came across the King’s Arms, on the corner with King Street.

The King’s Arms in York is the only surviving building to form part of First Water Lane, a mediaeval street that was demolished in a slum clearance programme in 1852 and was rebuilt as King Street.

The King’s Arms was built in the early 17th century, with the upper floor and north and east walls timber framed. The south and west walls are particularly thick, to provide some protection against flooding, and built of brick and stone, some of which is reused from mediaeval buildings.

The building originally had no fireplaces or internal walls, and so is believed to have been built as a warehouse or custom house from trade coming up the River Ouse. A legend claims that the bodies of executed criminals were laid out in the building, before being hanged from Ouse Bridge.

The ‘King’s Arms’ was renamed as the ‘Ouse Bridge Inn’ in 1867. However, the ‘King’s Arms’ name was reinstated when the pub was renovated in 1973, and the King’s Arms was Grade II listed in 1983.

The King’s Arms is known nationally as ‘The Pub that Floods.’ The pub floods, on average, four times a year, it does not hold flood insurance, and the plugs and sockets are fitted have halfway up the wall. In the past, it stayed open for regulars even when it was flooded. But this is no longer allowed, as the river water may be contaminated.

The brewery put a new flood protocol in place in 1982. A flood gate is put across the front door, and customers are served in the back bar. Once the flood waters reach the back door, the pub is closed, and all the fixtures and fittings can be dismantled and stored upstairs.

The beer and electrics are all upstairs and so are not damaged even by floodwaters 4.5 metres above usual river levels. A chart on the wall marks historic flood heights, the highest being 2000, when floodwater nearly reached the ceiling of the bar.

And yet, the prime riverside location makes the King’s Arms an attractive venue for local people and tourists alike, and it can be very busy on warm sunny days.

The pub sign depicts Richard III. How many customers at the King’s Arms, waiting in dread or in anticipation for the winter floods or in pleasure watching boats on the Ouse in summer, find themselves under that sign and saying:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.


The pub sign at the King’s Arms in York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Tuesday 27 September 2022

All Saints’ Church, Pavement, York, is the Guild Church and Civic Church of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of Common Worship, the Church of England today (27 September 2022) remembers Saint Vincent de Paul (1660), founder of the Congregation of the Mission (Lazarists), with a lesser festival.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This morning, and throughout this week and next, I am reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in York, where I stayed earlier this month after a surgical procedure in Sheffield.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in York;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Inside All Saints’ Church, Pavement, facing the east end (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) was born in at Ranquine in Gascony, was educated by the Franciscans and was ordained at the age of 19. He was something of a token priest until his conversion in 1609, when he resolved to devote himself and all he owned to works of charity.

He founded communities for men and, with Louise de Marillac, helped to begin the Sisters of Charity, the first community of women not to be enclosed and who were devoted to caring for the poor and the sick.

Vincent worked for the relief of galley slaves, victims of war, convicts and many other groups of needy people. He became a legend in his own lifetime and died on this day in the year 1660.

Luke 9: 51-56:

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

Inside All Saints’ Church, Pavement, facing west … the west window dates from 1370 and came from Saint Saviour’s Church in 1957 (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

All Saints’ Church, Pavement, York:

All Saints’ Church, Pavement, York, is a Grade I listed parish church at High Ousegate and is one of the York City Centre Churches. Its striking octagonal 15th-century lantern tower makes the church a local landmark.

All Saints stands in the centre of one of the earliest paved streets in York, which explains its unusual name. The name also helps distinguish this church from All Saints’ Church, North Street, which I am looking at tomorrow (28 September 2022).

The church is the Guild Church and Civic Church of York, and 34 Lords Mayor are buried there. It continues to play an important role in the civic history of the city.

The present building dates from the 14th century, but there has been a church on this site for much longer. One tradition claims All Saints’ Church was first built in the year 685 for Saint Cuthbert.

The position of the church, bordering Coppergate and High Ousegate, suggests there was a church on the site by the 10th century. A carved Anglo-Dane grave cover, revealed during excavation work in 1963, strongly suggests that a burial ground with an earlier associated church was on the site from Viking times.

However, the earliest mention of the church is in the Domesday Book (1086), when it was held by the Bishop of Durham in the name of the King.

The 12th-century door knocker on the north door is said to depict the Mouth of Hell, with a bizarre beast holding a human head in its mouth. Inside, there are some excellent 12th-century floor tiles.

The beautiful glass of the large 14th century west window depicts the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.

The elegant lantern on top of the tower, visible from many parts of the city, was built around 1400. Throughout the mediaeval period, the light was kept burning at night to guide travellers into the city through the wolf-infested Forest of Galtres to the north.

The distinctive blue panelled ceiling in the nave was installed later in the 15th century.

All Saints was a prestigious mediaeval church, and many of the parishioners were important city figures, including civic leaders and local merchants. There are brasses In the north aisle to Roger de Moreton (died 1382) and his wife Isabella (died 1412) and to Robert Crathorn, a knight who died in 1482.

The hexagonal oak Jacobean pulpit with its sounding board, dates from 1634, and was used in the 18th century by John Wesley.

The chancel was demolished in 1782 and the east end was rebuilt to allow space for the expanding York market. The north wall and the west end were rebuilt in 1834. The lantern tower was rebuilt in 1837. The vestry was added between 1850 and 1855.

The church was restored by George Edmund Street in 1887, when the stonework was cleaned, the pinnacles restored, and the central east window fitted with stained glass by Charles Eamer Kempe.

A stained glass window commemorates the confectioner Mary Craven, who, along with the Terry and Rowntree families, helped make York a centre for chocolate production.

The church was enlarged in 1912. The lantern tower was restored after World War I as the church’s war memorial.

The west window, dating from 1370, was removed from the redundant Saint Saviour’s Church, restored by the glaziers of York Minster, and was installed in All Saints’ Church in 1957.

In the north aisle are the regimental window of the Royal Dragoon Guards, painted and installed by Anne Sotheran of York, and the Afghanistan memorial window, designed and painted by Helen Whitaker of Barley Studios, York, and installed in 2015.

The parish lies within the walls of the City of York, to the east of the River Ouse. Today, it unites the original parish of All Saints’ Church, Pavement, with many neighbouring parishes:

• Saint Saviour’s Church became redundant in 1954, and is now home to DIG – An Archaeological Adventure. Items from the original church are now housed in All Saints, Pavement.

• Saint Crux Church was demolished in 1887, and the Parish Hall was build the following year. Items from the original church are housed in the Parish Hall, and in All Saints’, Pavement.

• Holy Trinity Church, or Christ Church, was rebuilt in 1861 but was demolished in 1937. The raised area in what is now King’s Square is all that remains to indicate the location of this church.

• Saint Mary’s Church, Castlegate, became redundant in 1958, and is now part of York Museums Trust. It hosts contemporary art installations, and at present is home to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience.

• Saint Michael’s Church, Spurriergate, became redundant in 1984, and now houses the Spurriergate Centre. The projects based in this church include Kitchen for Everyone York.

• The parish of Saint Peter the Little was united with All Saints, Pavement in 1586, and Saint Peter’s Church was demolished before the end of the 16th century.

• Saint Sampson’s Church became redundant in 1968, and now houses the Saint Sampson’s Centre.

All Saints’ Church Pavement is the Guild and Civic Church of York and the regimental church of the Royal Dragoon Guards. It is the preferred church of the ex-service associations in the York area.

All Saints’ Church Pavement is usually open during daylight hours.

The Revd Liz Hassall is the Priest-in-Charge. The Sunday services are: 9 am (Morning Prayer or Holy Communion); 10:30 (Sung Eucharist or Mattins, streamed on the first Sunday of each month via Facebook and YouTube); 6:30 pm, Evensong. The church has a strong choral tradition, and the 10:30 and 18:30 Sunday services, using the Book of Common Prayer, are sung services and are supported by the choir.

The stained glass in the East Window is by Charles Eamer Kempe and depicts the saints (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Tuesday 27 September 2022):

The Collect:

Merciful God,
whose servant Vincent de Paul,
by his ministry of preaching and pastoral care,
brought your love to the sick and the poor:
give to all your people a heart of compassion
that by word and action they may serve you
in serving others in their need;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful God,
who gave such grace to your servant Vincent de Paul
that he served you with singleness of heart
and loved you above all things:
help us, whose communion with you
has been renewed in this sacrament,
to forsake all that holds us back from following Christ
and to grow into his likeness from glory to glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Celebrating 75 Years,’ which was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Davidson Solanki, USPG’s Regional Manager for Asia and the Middle East.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for the many different ministries pioneered by the Church of South India. May we emulate their vibrant and prophetic witness.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

A set of 18th century memorials … many parishioners of All Saints were important city figures, civic leaders and local merchants (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The elegant lantern on top of the tower, visible from many parts of the city, was built around 1400 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)