Underground Greenwich (4) Underneath the (ex) Gloucester Arms

1, King William Walk SE10

I read an extraordinary thing the other day. That back in The Olden Days, where the Greenwich Park Bar & Grill is now – but some still think of as the Gloucester Tavern/Arms – used to be a prison. It’s unclear from the book I was reading whether it was also a tavern on ground level. Apparently lock-ups were often located under pubs – not a bad idea when you come to think of it – think of the felon-miles that could saved on a Saturday night if they put a cell under a few bars in the town centres of modern Britain…

But I digress (again.)

This was in use for some years, but most notoriously during the reign of Queen Mary, where Protestants were clapped in irons along with the regular perps, banged up awaiting the stake. I don’t know if the tit-for-tat religious persecution that went on when Elizabeth came to the throne meant that later on Catholics inherited the same chains.

The author of the 1902 book that I was reading, (Greenwich Park – Its History and Associations, if you’re interested,) A D Webster, inspected the cellars of what was then the Gloucester Arms and found, “attached to the cellar, a very likely prison, about 18 feet long by 12 feet wide, which in all probablility is the remains of that referred to,” though he admits that not all the bricks seem to be that old – presumably the result of later repairs.

How to find out if it still exists?

Difficulty rating: Hard.

I can’t see Greenwich Inc allowing phantoms to traipse down to their cellars, even if it hasn’t all either been bricked-up or turned into a funky downstairs ‘chillout’ lounge with annoying wavery music, low faux-fur sofas and seventies-style pendant lights.

Maybe I could wear a brown lab coat, a pair of thick glasses and an improbable moustache, carry a clipboard and pretend to be a Man From The Council. Or I could try to get a job as a bartender, with Special Expertise in “changing the barrel.”

There’s an ancient, albeit ceremonial, post of Ale Tester (not sure if it’s just for the City or not, but it’s quite a job – you get paid £ 10 per year, in two £ 5 instalments, but you do get all the ale you can drink.) Perhaps next time they put on a new beer, I could wear the special 18th Century frock coat and wig and insist that I see where the barrel is installed.

No. I don’t think I’d fall for it either. But maybe a Blue Badge Guide could “apply” officially to find out? Perhaps someone already has? Has the disguise already been donned? Does anyone know what’s under the GPB&G nowadays? Do tell…


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