The Hand and Shears is an essential London boozer steeped in history and defiant in the face of surrounding change. This is a sturdy survivor and an excellent example of what a City pub should be.
Tucked away in Middle Street, in the shadow of the historic St Bartholomew-The-Great church and within spitting distance of Smithfield meat market, the Hand and Shears has been on its present site since the 12th Century, although the current building dates from 1849. During its long history it has hosted the Court of Piepowder, designed to settle disputes that arose during the annual cloth fair, an ancient and annual market that gave its name to the nearby street. Until the fair ceased in 1855, the Lord Mayor of London would ceremoniously declare the event open by cutting a ribbon from the pub steps, a tradition depicted by the inn sign.
Grade II listed, the pub is distinctly old school in almost every way imaginable. The interior is dominated by original Victorian woodwork while the walls are covered in old prints and photographs. Frosted glass makes for a dark and cosy atmosphere boosted some evenings by candlelight. In one room, a gas fire hisses reassuringly on solemn winter afternoons. The pub is divided into four distinct bar areas, all of which are served from a central island bar. This was once the norm in London pubs but these days is very much the exception.
The pub attracts a wide and diverse set of loyal customers, with workers from City offices rubbing shoulders with medical staff from the nearby St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. The surrounding streets are popular with filmmakers, meanwhile, and it is not unknown for the occasional screen star to nip in for a quick half.
Simple pub grub seems to be the order of the day here, although, perhaps as a nod to both the nearby meat market and the gentrification of much of the surrounding area, a display of artisan pies takes pride of place on the counter. Bar snacks include such delights as olives and smoked nuts.
Many of the regulars in the Hand and Shears are clearly here for the beer, and who can blame them? Both the quality and range is impressive. Bitters such as Timothy Taylor Landlord and Sharp’s Doom Bar are regulars, joined by an ever-changing range of guest ales. There’s a good selection of lagers too, namely Amstel, Kronenbourg and Sagres. Guinness and Symons cider are also available on draught. The wine list is modest but seems to suffice.
The Last Word
Empires rise and fall, but the Hand and Shears just keeps on keeping on. If it’s fancy cocktails and the delights of drum and bass you are after, then this isn’t the pub for you. But if you’re after good beer and surroundings as comfy as a baggy old cardigan, make Middle Street your destination.