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The History of Tooley Street Pubs, Restaurants & Entertainment

Tooley Street is a famous and historic street located in central London that runs from London Bridge to St Saviour’s Dock. It is a fascinating area of the city with a great location, plus Tooley Street offers some great Pubs, Restaurants and cafes too.

The street’s name comes from the Church of Olave which first appeared in the Doomsday Book and was demolished in 1926. Named after Norwegian King Olaf who defeated Cnut’s army nearby at London Bridge in the early 11th Century. Over time the name St. Olave has changed to ‘Tooley’.

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The street has always been a destination for entertainment, being so near to the Thames and the bustling industries it supported, that would supply a regular stream of thirsty and hungry workers. Over time Tooley Street became famous for its pubs, restaurants, venues, distilleries, coffee and tea shops.

Hays Wharf to the east of St Olave’s Church was a very famous wharf in the city and grew to be known as ‘London’s Larder’ as this is where much of the food and drink from further afield was brought into dock. For 300 years traders and buyers would flock to Tooley Street to stock up on exotic, luxury foods and drinks.

But sometimes that indulgence went too far, in a map from the 1500s it is noted there was a pillory erected for fraudulent traders, so that members of the public could jeer and throw things at them. Next to this there was a cage for drunk and disorderly people that had enjoyed the local Tooley Street pubs a little too much. They had to sleep there until sober!

Interestingly, George Orwell chose to live as a tramp for a brief period in a doss-house in Tooley Street in 1931. He was keen to experience poverty in the Capital first hand and befriended a man called Ginger who he lived with there. Whilst there he wrote Down and Out in Paris and London.

See if you can spot our picture of George Orwell in the main guest corridor, alongside two other famous English SE1 residents!

The Shipwright is an example of a historical Tooley Street pub, built in the 19th century it pays homage to the then bustling local industry of shipbuilding in the Thames. It has an impressive large wall of tiles depicting a shipyard which is well worth viewing.

The street once housed the famous Tooley Street pub, The Royal Oak. This now demolished pub was a live recording venue favoured by many musicians, including the legendary British born jazz drummer Phil Seamen back in 1968, who was considered one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time.

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Another piece of history can be found within the office building built by Aston Webb, which has been converted from the remains of the Boord and Sons Gin Distillery. Open from 1889 – 1901, this visually impressive building housed a grand central staircase leading to a number of offices and a boardroom, while two basements acted as the bin cellar, where bottled wines and spirits were stored.

For those visitors looking for entertainment, the street also has two theatres, the Unicorn Theatre which offers shows for young people and the Southwark Playhouse in the railway arches behind the Shipwrights Arms.

You will find the impressive Dixon Hotel and Provisioners restaurant on Tooley Street. Built within the walls of the old Magistrates court, this stylish hotel offers guests a luxurious space for those visiting London.

If you are keen to come and explore the fascinating area of Tooley Street and the surrounding area, then why not book your stay with the Dixon Hotel or sample the food at the Provisioners restaurant, which serves delicious meals throughout breakfast, lunch and dinner?