In Britain: When Drinkers Rode Horses

The Warrington Hotel pub in London. Image courtesy Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd.

The Warrington Hotel pub in London. Image courtesy Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd.

They say the main entrance door to The Warrington is permanently sealed because long ago a customer insisted on riding his horse into the pub. “The theory is that the two doors on either side of the main entrance were too narrow to ride a horse through,” said Dominic Marriott, general manager of The Warrington.

At that time, the establishment then known as the Warrington Hotel had adjoining stables for its customers’ convenience. Maybe that rider wanted to buy his horse a pint?

Pub Primer

The pub is a place to socialize in, to have fun in, to flirt in, to commiserate in, to meet new friends in, to plot in, to argue about politics in, to be entertained. It has many functions,” explained Jane Peyton, London journalist, speaker and author of four books over Great Britain’s food and drink scene.

Image copyright iStockPhoto.The word “pub” comes from “public house,” a business allowed to sell alcohol. England’s first pubs, bare places called alehouses, originated in the 12th century and sold only beer.

“Then the inn started to develop. They … served large numbers of people traveling on pilgrimages to various cathedrals and abbeys around the country. They were licensed to sell alcohol, food and offer overnight lodging for humans and horses,” noted Peyton.

Pubs in large cities were called taverns. The 17th century brought coaching inns. The 19th century saw the rise of ornate gin palaces such as The Warrington. These were often divided into three different rooms to separate the three different classes of society.

In less formal English pubs people indulge in games like darts, pool, pinball and table skittles. Slot machines are growing in popularity as well as “pub quizzes,” a general knowledge game that rewards winners with cash or drinks. Live music and stand-up comedy may also be part of the program.

“If there is nothing else to eat in a pub they will always have crisps and nuts,” said Peyton.

Many pubs surpass simple potato chips and peanuts to serve sandwiches, or if they have a kitchen, English favorites such as meat pie, sausage and mashed potato or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Peyton says the wine selections have improved at pubs and beer on tap is mandatory. Bitter, stout, a lager or pilsner beer and hard cider are standard fare. “It is rare that a pub is just a drinking den,” noted Peyton. “Some country pubs, and occasionally city pubs, also offer accommodation. Things have not changed dramatically over the centuries in terms of function. Just the standards have risen, and the horses no longer need feeding and watering.”

Jane Peyton may be reached at www.jane-peyton.com

Whatever the case, The Warrington celebrates a grand drinking tradition dating back to 1859. Tucked away on a shady corner of London’s oh-so-trendy section of Maida Vale, The Warrington has a history as old as its neighborhood. The building first appeared on a map in 1863, but a developer may have built it in 1859 on what was once a pasture, later renting out the building.

“Warrington” may refer to Warrington, Lancashire, or possibly honors Sir Henry Booth, first Earl of Warrington (1651-1694), who was known for his support of the Church of England.

“The Warrington Hotel” is emblazoned in block letters on the top pediment of the stucco-finished brick building. This is a bit of a misnomer, because although it has many bedrooms on the top floor, there is no record of its having been a hotel. Two sculptural busts, one of which could be the Earl of Warrington, silently observe outdoor customers from the north side of the building.

“Gordon Ramsay was able to walk into the old building and see The Warrington’s former glory,” said Marriott. It took imagination, however. Ramsay, a celebrity chef and former customer, had to look beyond the pub’s blackened carpets and hazy windows to recognize its good architectural bones. Ten million dollars later, this landmark building has been polished into its former state and operational as a Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd. pub and restaurant.

Entering the ground floor pub is a jaw-dropping experience. It is a red/gold, carved, gilded, arched, mirrored, mahoganied, marble-topped extravagance. The crowning point of the room is the curved bar. Stretching from its carved mahogany base to its cool gray marble top, the back bar reaches ever higher, past the very angels of heaven to a mythical mural of elegant nudes zigzagged by chained hanging lamps and brass seashells.

If a city pub’s purpose during the 1800s “gin palace” times was, as pub expert Jane Peyton suggests, to transport working-class people into another world, The Warrington must have taken them to the moon. It’s hard to imagine a horse in there.

“Because the building has landmark status we couldn’t really touch anything. All we could do was to clean it up and give it a nice makeover,” said Marriott. “Anything that needed to be replaced had to be replaced with a replica.” The building was given new life by duplicating and replacing yards of red-patterned carpeting. Hanging alabaster lamps were specially made in Italy, and handsome leather seating was crafted. Its elaborate Art Nouveau stained-glass windows were carefully cleaned. The enormous marble fireplace was made ready for use. Years of dirt were removed from The Warrington’s complexly carved arches and column capitals, and its brass fittings were burnished to a new sheen. On the opposite side of the bar, the saloon room maintains its separate entrance.

Today the saloon room is just a more intimate bar that overflows into the informal outdoor seating on the north side. The frosted glass windows and circa 1912 textured wallpaper, repainted a deep burgundy color, are perfectly preserved. Marriott hopes to get the petite fireplace working for the winter season.

At the top of a brass-railed mahogany staircase and under the lovely canopy of an Art Nouveau glass skylight, is the entrance to the second floor Gordon Ramsay restaurant. This floor was originally divided into two billiard rooms, hence the name “The Billiard Room” for the small, private dining room. Lurking along the windows in the restaurant, but not active by daylight, is The Warrington’s official ghost.

“This used to be the bottle shop, where you got your takeaways from,” said Marriott.


WARRINGTON HOTEL IMAGERY click on any image for a slideshow


{rokbox album=|warrington| title=|When Drinkers Rode Horses :: The Warrington Hotel pub in London. Image courtesy Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0410_warrington_01.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|warrington| title=|Steadfastness and Labor :: The inscription Constantia et Labore on the pub sign roughly translates to “steadfastness and labor.” Photo by Heidi Lux.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0410_warrington_06.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|warrington| title=|Horseshoe Bar :: The marble-top horseshoe bar is the focal point of the pub at The Warrington. Photo courtesy Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0410_warrington_03.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|warrington| title=|Vintage mirrors :: The pub and saloon shimmers with mirrors salvaged from a sister ship of the Titanic, most likely installed during a 1920s renovation. Photo by Heidi Lux.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0410_warrington_02.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|warrington| title=|Collin Beswick Mural :: A 1965 mural by Collin Beswick is part of the fantastical decoration over the horseshoe bar in The Warrington’s pub. Photo by Heidi Lux.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0410_warrington_05.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|warrington| title=|Carpet designs :: During The Warrington’s restoration, worn-out original carpeting in the pub was replaced by this accurate replica. Photo by Heidi Lux.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0410_warrington_04.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|warrington| title=|Rams’ Head Frieze :: A section of painted frieze with rams’ heads in the upstairs restaurant.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0410_warrington_10.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|warrington| title=|Skylight :: A view of the painted frieze and Art Nouveau glass skylight at the top of the stairs. Photo by Heidi Lux.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0410_warrington_09.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|warrington| title=|Faience Tiling :: Gold-green detail of the faience tiling on the Warrington’s main entrance. Photo by Heidi Lux.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0410_warrington_07.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|warrington| title=|On your way in :: The front door is flanked by a pair of octagonal, wrought-iron lanterns. The streetlights are original as well. Photo by Heidi Lux.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0410_warrington_08.jpg{/rokbox}


“Our managers have all said basically the same thing,” noted Marriott. “When we’re turning out the lights and locking up for the night, you just get a very unpleasant feeling. You know someone is watching you, but there’s no one there.” He went on to explain that while the Church of England owned The Warrington Hotel it was rumored to have been a brothel. “We think the ghost was probably a prostitute who had an unfortunate accident,” said Marriott.

Every owner of the Warrington has left his touch on the building. Evidence of renovations appears around 1900, in 1913, and then again in 1927-28. Copies of old photos brought to Marriott by customers show various incarnations of The Warrington. The building even survived the World War II bombing that hit neighboring properties. But miraculously none of the ostentatious details that make The Warrington magnificent were ever lost.

“We’re still looking for historic pictures and stories about The Warrington,” said Marriott, adding that he welcomes information at dominicmarriott@gordonramsay.com.

Anyone who finds history as filling as good food and ale will enjoy a visit to The Warrington. The pub and saloon room serve hot and cold food day and night, and feature a weekly “guest ale.” Located at 93 Warrington Crescent, it is easily accessible via the Maida Vale stop on the London Underground. Telephone 0207-592-7960 or visit www.gordonramsay.com.