The Black Friar at 174 Queen Victoria Street, EC4 is a narrow ‘flat-iron’ wedge shaped pub, built in 1875 near the site of a thirteenth century Dominican Priory. A masterpiece of Art-Nouveau styling and the only pub of it’s type in London, it was saved from the 1960s bulldozers only by an outcry led by Sir John Betjeman, who later became the Poet Laureate.
The outside was decorated by Royal Academy sculpror Henry Poole (1873-1928) in 1903 and the pub’s name is proudly displayed in mosaic tiles. Though unusual and pleasing, the exterior does not prepare you for the extraordinary interior. The ground floor interior was remodelled in 1905 by H. Fuller Clark, using multi-coloured marble, mosaics, bronze reliefs of jolly-looking monks, and decorative touches such as the elaborate fire-basket with goblin ends. Above the fireplace, a large bas-relief bronze depicts frolicking friars singing carols and playing instruments. Another called ‘Saturday Afternoon’ shows them gathering grapes and harvesting apples. More monks are collecting fish and eels for their meatless days, while one is just about to boil an egg!
Three low arches lead into a smaller bar, added after the First World War. Below a beautiful arched mosaic ceiling, are mottos of wisdom, such as, ‘finery is foolery’ and ‘don’t advertise, tell a gossip’ together with .’haste is slow’ and ‘industry is all’.
Even the light fittings are carved wooden monks carrying yokes on their shoulders, from which the lights hang.
The Black Friar’s interior is literally a work of art. It was begun in 1904, with sculptors Nathaniel Hitch, Frederick T. Callcott and Henry Poole contributing to its glory.