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The Spaniard's Inn

by Kavitha Rao

After a long day spent on the Regent's Canal, stop for a drink at London's most historic and celebrated pub: the Spaniards Inn at Hampstead. Built in 1585, it has been used as an inn for wayfarers since the 17th century, and has remained largely unchanged since then. The inn is said to have been frequented by bloodthirsty highwayman Dick Turpin, who is believed to have used it as a base to plan his many robberies. Local legend has it that he stabled his equally famous horse, Black Bess, in the stables just around the corner. Turpin's father was the landlord of the pub, so it seems likely that he spent his childhood in the inn, at the very least. Turpin's pistols used to be displayed in the inn until they were sadly stolen some years ago. You can still see a ball from one of his pistols framed above the bar.

The inn got its name from two former Spanish landlords, Francesco and Juan Porero, who fought a duel over a woman. Juan was killed and buried in the garden, and his ghost is rumored to be one of the many who haunt the inn. The ghostly figure of a man, thought to be Turpin, is often seen on the road outside. A lady in white, perhaps one of his victims, is sometimes spotted in the garden, and some drinkers in the bar report feeling an eerie hand plucking at their clothes.

Perhaps these ghosts only appear when you have had a drink too many, but the inn is also a literary landmark. It is mentioned in Charles' Dickens "The Pickwick Papers" and Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Robert Louis Stevenson, William Blake, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron were patrons, as were the painters Hogarth, Reynolds and Constable. Keats was a frequent visitor, and is rumored to have written his "Ode to a Nightingale' after listening to the nightingales singing in the inn's garden.

The inn even has a place in Hampstead's political history. In 1780, during the anti-Catholic Gordon riots, a crowd of rioters were on their way to destroy the nearby Kenwood House because the then owner, Lord Mansfield, was a Catholic Scot. The quick thinking landlord of the inn plied them with free drinks until a convoy of soldiers arrived.

But even without its ghosts, history and famous clientele, the inn is a lovely place to stop for a drink, the snowy white exterior looking out onto one of London's prettiest beer gardens. On a rainy day, the oak-paneled rooms inside are worth seeing, especially the "Turpin Bar" with its uneven wooden floor.

Spaniards Inn
Spaniards Road, Hampstead NW3. Nearest underground: Hampstead.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8731 6571
Open Mon-Sat 11.00-23.00, Sun 12.00-22.30


Kavitha Rao is a freelance writer who has lived and worked in Mumbai, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Tokyo. She currently lives in London, and doesn't think she will ever tire of it. Her articles on culture, travel, literature and lifestyles have appeared in the Daily Telegraph, Asiaweek, the South China Morning Post and the Far Eastern Economic Review, among others.
Article © 2005 Kavitha Rao

 

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