Staff shock at bull in a pub, not a china shop

The Great Northern, Cleveland Street. (Picture: CHRIS BULL D4175CB)
The Great Northern, Cleveland Street. (Picture: CHRIS BULL D4175CB)

THE story behind the Cleveland Street hostelry The Great Northern includes a fascinating tale of when an uninvited beast dropped in for breakfast!

Our story unfolds when the pub was known as The Saracen’s Head.

The date was Tuesday, February 11, 1868, and breakfast was about to be served to customers when workers in the kitchen of The Saracen’s Head were startled by mysterious sounds of chaos in a passage way which led to the Cleveland Street entrance.

After a few moments the staff were facing the unwelcome appearance of a shorthorn cow. The animal was in fact on its way to the Market Place and decided, much to the consternation of its handlers, that it would call into this well-known hotel. No one moved a muscle or attempted to interfere with the intruder, who casually strolled around the unfamiliar surroundings.

There were colourful tea pots, cups and plates ready for the first meal of the day as the animal casually turned its head in a relaxed manner and swished its tail which, miraculously, brushed the tables but didn’t break a single item.

Then, with a nonchalant toss of its head, the beast made its way back out of the bulding the same way it came in, much to the relief of landlady, Mrs Dalby, who no was no doubt mentally recalling the traditional encounter of the bull in the china shop.

The Saracen’s Head dated back to 1826, the sign outside a reminder of Richard I’s crusade against Saladin and his followers. Other landlords then took over through the years, including William Johnson in 1827, Thomas Marriott, John Scargill, George Womack, John Elwiss in 1842 and John Cole in 1853.

The size of the pub and its facilities can be judged by a local advertisement in 1840 which stated that the Saracen’s Head was to be let on June 5 with vacant possession, “twenty years of good trade, and consisting of comfortable lodging rooms, large club room, billiard room excellent smoking rooms, good kitchens, two bars, extensive catering, good stabling, skittle ground and piggeries etc.”.

1902 saw major alterations to the Saracen’s Head both inside and out with John Smiths lettering being prominently displayed at the front. It was popular with both cyclists and horse riders, in fact “good stabling” was a major attraction. The beer was good too, with six gold medals for its pale ale and stout. The pub became so much different to the original, practically rebuilt between the wars, it is much more modern, both externally and internally. Even the face of the Saracen warrior was made to be much less ferocious in appearance.

Much later in its life for some unexplicable reason, someone, somewhere, decided that The Blue Lion & Pineapple was a good choice of name in 1998. Thankfully, that lasted only a year before in 1999 it carried the name Great Northern on its front, the name of a long-gone hostelry which once stood in St Sepulchure Gate.

At the time of writing it appears there are more, as yet unknown changes, about to happen at this drinking spot, refurbishment probably, perhaps the name will stay who knows?