Opened in 1891 (albeit under a different name), this Soho institution was apparently founded by a German couple named Schmitt who ran it until the outbreak of World War I.

It was then sold to Belgian chef Victor Berlemont and it’s at this point that some say the name, previously said to have been the Wine House, was changed to the York Minister (although there seems to be a bit of confusion about when the name changed).

Its French associations, meanwhile. were given a big boost during World War II when General Charles de Gaulle and Free French Army officers, in London following the fall of France, made it their HQ. In fact, some say that it was in this pub that de Gaulle wrote his famous speech against the Vichy settlement.

While it was often informally called the “French pub” thereafter, the name didn’t officially change until it reopened after a fire in 1984.

M Berlemont’s son Gaston, meanwhile, had succeeded his father in running the pub many years earlier – there’s a story that when he walked into the pub after World War II, still dressed in his uniform, his father handed over the keys and left him to it. A well-loved Soho identity, the moustachioed Gaston remained at the helm until 1989 when the pub passed into the hands of some French House regulars.

Located at 49 Dean Street, The French House is known for its Bohemian links, particularly with the literary and artistic set. Dylan Thomas is said to have accidentally left his handwritten manuscript Under Milk Wood here while others associated with the pub include Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan, artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, writer John Mortimer (of Rumpole fame) and actor Tom Baker (of Dr Who fame).

For more, see www.frenchhousesoho.com.

PICTURE: Tom (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Advertisements

We’ve looked at Charles’ Dickens childhood in London and some of his residences, workplaces and the pubs he attended. Before we take a look at some of the sites relevant to his writings, Exploring London takes a look at just a handful of the many other London sites associated with the famous Victorian author…

• Seven Dials and the former St Giles slum, Soho. An notorious slum of the 19th century, this area was among a number of “rookeries” or slums toured by Dickens in 1850 in the company of Inspector Field and police from Scotland Yard, and later helped to inform much of his writing. Seven Dials itself – located at the junction of Mercer and Earlham Streets and Upper St Martin’s Lane (pictured right is the monument at the junction’s centre) – has just undergone a renovation but much of the St Giles area is now irrevocably modernised. We’ll be mentioning another notorious slum located in Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell, in an upcoming week.

• Holland House, Kensington. Dickens became a friend of Lady Holland’s after attending one of her exclusive soirees at the age of 26. He was a guest at the house, now a youth hostel, in Holland Park on numerous occasions.

• Royalty House, Dean Street, Soho. The former site of the Royalty Theatre, known in Dickens’ day as Miss Kelly’s Theatre, it was here on 21st September, 1845, that Dickens and a group of friends performed Ben Jonson’s play, Every Man in his Humour (1598). Dickens acted as stage manager and director as well as playing the part of Captain Bobadil.

• Buckingham Palace. It was here in March 1870 – not long before his death – that Dickens had his only face-to-face meeting with Queen Victoria. She apparently found him to have a  “large, loving mind and the strongest sympathy with the poorer classes”.

• Westminster Abbey. Our final stop for it was here that Dickens was buried on 14th June, 1870, following his death at his home near Rochester in Kent. Dickens had apparently wanted to be buried in Rochester but given his public profile, Westminster Abbey was seen as the only fitting place of rest for him (his wishes for a small, private funeral were, however, respected but thousands did visit the site in the days following). His grave sits in Poet’s Corner.