25 October 2022

It’s a long way to Tipperary,
as a question mark hangs
over the pub on Fleet Street

The Tipperary on Fleet Street … it is now closed and its future looks grim (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Things are changing rapidly on Fleet Street.

When I was a working journalist and Foreign Desk at The Irish Times, I frequently visited Fleet Street. In those days, The Irish Times had an office in the PA Building, and there were colleagues to meet from other newspapers too.

There were visits too to Saint Bride’s, the journalists’ church on Fleet Street, which also had a family link through a former rector, the Revd Edwards Comerford Hawkins (1827-1906), father of Anthony Hope, author of The Prisoner of Zenda. During the 1980s and 1990s, there were constant vigils in Saint Bride’s for John McCarthy, Terry Anderson and other journalists held hostage in Lebanon.

In those days, liquid lunches were popular among journalists on the ‘Streets of Shame,’ and at a time when many journalists still worked on Fleet Street, Private Eye developed the character of Lunchtime O’Booze as the archetypal drunken journalist.

During those visits, many colleagues in London insisted on repeating the story that one of those popular pubs, The Tipperary, had given its name to the war song of soldiers pining to return not to provincial Ireland but to London, including Piccadilly, Leicester Square and the pubs frequented by the printers who worked on Fleet Street.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral seen from The Tipperary on Fleet Street … times are changing for journalists and pub clients (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The journalists, the newsrooms and the printers have long moved out of Fleet Street. The street continues to change. And now, as I found out last week, the Tipperary, one of the oldest Irish bars in London, has closed its doors at 66 Fleet Street for the last time.

The Tipperary is within sight of and just a stone’s throw away from Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and claimed to be the oldest Irish pub in London. Through the years it was better known as a journalists’ pub rather than an Irish pub, and it was a well-known haunt for editors and journalists, alongside barristers from the nearby courts.

The journalists have long gone from Fleet Street, although there are signs everywhere that this was once the hub of real journalism in the English-speaking world.

The journalists have long gone from Fleet Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Now, sadly, even the Tipperary has closed its doors and has been issued with a possession order, raising fears about the future of the Grade II listed building.

There has been a pub on the site since the 15th century, although 1605 is claimed as the foundation date. It became an Irish pub when JG Mooney and Co bought the Boar’s Head in the late 19th century. It claimed – not without contention – to be the ‘oldest Irish pub’ in London and was said to be one of the first pubs in London to serve Guinness.

I had always thought – and repeated on many occasions – that the World War I song, ‘It’s long way to Tipperary,’ took its name not from Tipperary Town but from The Tipperary on Fleet Street.

The Tipperary on Fleet Street … tall tales once graced the noticeboard beside the front door (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Tipperary is a beautiful building architecturally, it was known for its mosaic flooring and antique decor. A colourful noticeboard at the entrance has been painted over in the last year or two, but in the past it perpetuated many of the myths associated with this much-photographed pub.

The noticeboard was littered with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes that could have been corrected by every Fleet Street sub-editor who passed through its doors on the way to a liquid lunch. Perhaps all this was in jest, as a challenge to the sobriety of journalists.

The sign claimed the pub was built in 1605 with stones from the Whitefriars Monastery, and that these stones helped the pub to survive ‘unharmed in the raging inferno of the Great Fire of London.’

The pub sign also claimed that at the end of World War I, Fleet Street printers returning from the war had the pub’s name changed to The Tipperary and that it has kept this name for 100 years since.

However, Martyn Cornell, whose ‘Zythophile’ blog looks at ‘bars, beer myths, beer nonsense, pub names, pubs [and] rants,’ has challenged ‘the reliability of the information on the sign at The Tipperary. He identified at least a dozen errors in just 10 sentences, from the names of proprietors to details about the pub’s history, as well as stories about that war-time song.

The future of the Tipperary is now in doubt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The pub was called Mooney’s Irish House in Fleet Street into the 1950s, and the Irish House up to 1967.

The former Boar’s Head was sold ca 1966-1967, and in 1968 its name was changed from Mooney’s Irish House to The Tipperary. At the same time the name of the old Boar’s Head was revived and used for the upstairs dining room.

The pub closed for a few years for refurbishment in the early 1980s. It was a Greene King pub by 1986, but had been in private ownership in recent years.

During Covid-19 closures, the pub struggled to cope with the lack of office workers in the city visiting after work. They were working from home instead, and the pub has been closed since December 2020.

It was reported in March 2021 that one rare Victorian mirror advertising Jameson whiskey had been removed from the building to be sold to a museum in Ireland. However, a passer-by noticed that the mirrors were being moved and alerted the City of London’s planning enforcement team who swiftly returned them to the site.

Last January, local residents submitted an application for the pub to be registered as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ that would secure its continued existence as a pub. The City of London Corporation approved the application in May, and the designation will remain in place for five years. This means that The Tipperary cannot be sold without first providing the local community with a chance to bid on the land or building.

Signs on the door and the windows declares that Equivo Limited, a ‘Collections & Field, Legal Services and Enforcement’ company acting on behalf of Whitefriars Ltd, re-entered and secured the premises under an Interim Possession Order issued in the County Court on 9 August 2022.

Equivo said it at the time that it ‘simply assisted with removing some squatters under a Court order.’ But when I walked by last week, some of the windows were open, leaving it vulnerable to any squatter who had a mind to regaining entry.

The Tipperary on Fleet Street in its heyday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Tuesday 25 October 2022

‘It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches’ (Luke 13: 19) … ‘World’s Smallest Seed,’ 40”x30” oil/canvas, by James B Janknegt

Patrick Comerford

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (25 October) remembers Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian, Martyrs at Rome, ca 287, with a commemoration.

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

For the rest of this week, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, A reflection based on six churches or church sites I visited in London last week;

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

‘The kingdom of God … is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened’ (Luke 13: 20-21) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian were shoemakers who lived in the third century. They are reputed to have preached the Christian faith in Gaul while exercising their trade and so, like Saint Paul earning his living as a tent-maker, were no drain on the Christian community. They were put to death for their faith at the beginning of the persecutions of Diocletian and died about the year 287 in Rome.

Luke 13: 18-21 (NRSVA):

18 He [Jesus] said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’

20 And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

The buried remains of Saint Pancras Church, Soper Lane, are preserved in a courtyard on Pancras Lane, behind 70-80 Cheapside, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Pancras Church, Soper Lane:

Saint Pancras Church, Soper Lane, was a mediaeval parish church in the City of London. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was not rebuilt.

Saint Pancras was in the Ward of Cheap in the City of London. Soper Lane, where it stood, was renamed after the Great Fire, becoming Pancras Lane and Queen Street.

The church was first built in the 12th century. It was a small building, with a chapel on the north side and a tower that had five bells.

The patronage of the church belonged to the prior and chapter of Christ Church, Canterbury, until 1365, when it was transferred to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The church was a peculiar under the jurisdiction of the Court of Arches at Saint Mary-le-Bow.

The parish was small but had some wealthy residents, and the church received many benefactions. In 1617, it was presented with a monument commemorating Elizabeth I by Thomas Chapman. The renovation of the church in 1621 was financed by a group of benefactors, including Chapman, and a porch added in 1624 was paid for by Chapman’s son.

The parsonage house on the corner of Pancras Lane and Queen Street was leased in 1670 for 40 years, at an annual rent of £2.

Along with the majority of churches in the City, Saint Pancras, Soper Lane, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in September 1666. It was not rebuilt, and instead the parish was united with those of Saint Mary-le-Bow and All Hallows, Honey Lane. The rebuilt Saint Mary-le-Bow served as the church for the united parishes, and the site of Saint Pancras was retained as a graveyard.

The remains of the medieval parish church survive as below-ground remains, on low-lying ground between Pancras Lane and Cheapside. The buried remains are preserved in a courtyard on Pancras Lane, at the rear of 70 to 80 Cheapside. The ragstone walls and foundations of the church are about 1 metre wide and are preserved at about 0.6 to 0.9 metres below present ground level. It is approximately 14 metres long by 7 metres wide and includes a nave and apsidal chancel at the east end.

The site was partially excavated in 1963-1964, when part of the walls of the church and a barrel-lined well to the east were revealed. The north wall was externally faced with squared blocks above a plinth, and the length that survived was not pierced by doors or windows. The well was over 1 metre in diameter and contained 13th century pottery.

Partial excavation in 1992, in advance of adjacent redevelopment work, revealed a north-south ragstone wall of the nave or tower and part of a cleared burial vault to the north.

The site of Saint Pancras Church is marked in a courtyard at Pancras Lane, behind Cheapside (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Tuesday 25 October 2022):

The Collect:

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God of all grace,
your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry
with the bread of his life
and the word of his kingdom:
renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your true and living bread;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Theology in Korea.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

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

Let us pray for the Anglican Church of Korea. May we be inspired by their service to the people of Korea and their commitment to peace.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Sculpture on the site of Saint Pancras Church in a courtyard at Pancras Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Pancras Lane is on a corner with Queen Street, behind Cheapside (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)