Down at the Old Bull and Bush

For last week’s post I was looking at the building that was once the pub Jack Straw’s Castle. This week, I have walked from Jack Straw’s Castle, along North End Way towards Golders Green to find another famous Hampstead pub. This is the Old Bull and Bush as photographed by my father in 1949:

Old Bull and Bush

The same view 70 years later in 2019:

Old Bull and Bush

If you have not been to the Old Bull and Bush, you probably recognise the name from the music hall song “Down at the Old Bull and Bush” made famous by Florrie Forde in the early years of the 20th century. The song has the following chorus (there are some minor variations, dependent on the source):

Come, come, come and make eyes at me
Down at the Old Bull and Bush,
Come, come, drink some port wine with me,
Down at the Old Bull and Bush,
Hear the little German Band,
Just let me hold your hand dear,
Do, do come and have a drink or two
Down at the Old Bull and Bush, Bush, Bush
Come, come, come and make eyes at me

The song appears to date from 1903 / 1904. There is a recording apparently dated from 1903 by a Miss Edith Manley. The song may also been a re-work of a song with much the same words titled “Down at the Anheuser Bush” – a song commissioned by the Anheuser-Busch brewing company which also seems to have appeared in 1904.

The Anheuser Bush origin my be correct as the Old Bull and Bush version has a German band reference and the Anheuser Busch company grew out of the 1860 take over of the Bavarian Brewery in St. Louis by Eberhard Anheuser.

The song appeared in a number of pantomimes at Christmas 1904, but it was Florrie Forde’s recording of the song and live performances that appear to have given the song popular appeal at the time, and the longevity needed to keep the song in the cultural background 115 years later.

The song may well also be the reason why the Old Bull and Bush did not go the same way as Jack Straw’s Castle.

Florrie Forde  was born on the 16th of August 1875 in Melbourne, Australia, She was the sixth of eight children of Lott Flannagan, an Irish-born stonemason and Phoebe Simmons. Although her last name was Flannagan, she adopted the surname of a later step father to become Florrie Forde.

She had success in Australia, but moved to England in 1897 where she started to appear in London music halls. This was the start of a very successful career which would last until her death in 1940.

Old Bull and Bush

The Old Bull and Bush at it appeared in the first decade of the 20th century:

Old Bull and Bush

The style of the building is much the same as my father’s photo and the pub you will see today, however it has also clearly had some major redevelopment.

Hampstead pubs were major attractions during summer weekends and public holidays, when Londoners would have a rare opportunity to stop work and head to the open space and clean air of the heath. As well as the open space, fun fairs could be found on the heath as well as the Vale of Health and the pubs would always be a popular destination as shown in the following photo where crowds are heading into the Terrace and Gardens which could be found at the rear of the pub.

Old Bull and Bush

An example of the impact that the bank holiday trade could have for the country, and the pubs of Hampstead can be found in the following newspaper report from The Standard on Tuesday 17th April 1906 reporting on the previous day’s Bank Holiday:

“A RECORD BANK HOLIDAY – CROWDS EVERYWHERE – DAY OF SUNSHINE – SIGNS OF PROSPERITY. Absolutely empty was the Londoner’s verdict about London yesterday, as he strolled about the sunny streets of the metropolis. The fact remains that it was a wonderful Easter Monday, and that many holiday records were broken. The weather had a good deal to do with it. It was bright enough for June, and nearly warm enough for July. But the weather was not all. This is a time of good trade, and everybody is doing reasonably well. They are in the mood to enjoy a holiday, and they can afford to do it in ease and comfort.

The railway companies are unanimous in paying tribute to our satisfactory prosperity, as shown by the money we spend on pleasure. The passenger traffic on the Great Western was the highest ever recorded for Easter. Forty-four excursion trains left Paddington during the holidays. Liverpool Street station was a scene of unprecedented activity for the time of year, and 100,000 passengers left it during the week. More people went to Germany by way of the Hook of Holland, than ever before.

Fifty crowded excursion trains poured into Blackpool yesterday morning. 

Coming to smaller matters, the landlords of The Spaniards, Jack Straw’s Castle, and the Bull and Bush at Hampstead Heath, say it was the best Easter Monday they have known for years; and the refreshment and amusement caterers of Epping Forest admit that they have done better than ever before. At a rough estimate, some quarter of a million excursionists have thronged the glades of the forests during the four days of the holiday.”

I am always struck when reading these old newspapers, that whilst some things have changed, so much remains the same. This coming Easter weekend, crowds will not be taking excursion trains, indeed long public holidays are often when stations close for engineering work as Euston is during the coming Easter weekend. However if the weather is good, it is almost guaranteed that TV reporters will be at one of the seaside resorts with scenes of crowded beaches and interviews with ice cream sellers praising the increase in business.  Hampstead Heath will also be busy, as will the Old Bull and Bush and The Spaniards.

To the side of the Old Bull and Bush was the entrance to the Terrace and Gardens as shown in a postcard dated 1906:

Old Bull and Bush

The Terrace and Gardens appear to have been a key part of the success of the Old Bull and Bush. The following view shows part of the gardens. Change the clothing of those sitting at the tables and this could be a pub garden today.

Old Bull and Bush

The above two photos shows lights strung along the gardens. This must have been a popular destination for a summer evening’s drink.

The Bull and Bush as it appeared in the 1880s:

Old Bull and Bush

Some history of the Old Bull and Bush can be found in the Hampstead and Highgate Express dated the 15th September 1888. Note that in the following article the pub is called the “Bull and Bush” so the Old was added at some point between 1888 and the end of the century – an early attempt at marketing the history of the pub to visitors to the heath.

“No tavern situated in the suburbs of London is better known than the Bull and Bush. Contiguous to some of the loveliest bits of Hampstead scenery, and possessing pleasant garden grounds, the Bull and Bush is all that can be desired of an old fashioned, comfortable, roadside hostelry. These characteristics, added to the attractions of its rural surroundings, have made the Bull and Bush a favourite resort for Londoners.

The Bull and Bush was originally a farm house and the country seat of Hogarth (by whom the yew bower in the garden was planted); and which, after its transformation into a roadside place of refreshment, attained some reputation as a resort of the London wits and quality. Tradition informs us that the place was visited by Addison and several of his friends. North-end must have charmed them by the picturesque beauty of its situation.

This feature of the spot still retains, notwithstanding the innovations of brick and mortar, and the construction of roads through regions once sacred to grass and wild flowers. The approach to the Bull and Bush from the town of Hampstead, with its glimpses of gorse and brushwood near Heathbrow, and the foliage in the gardens of Wildwood, remains one of the most beautiful places in suburban London.

The Bull and Bush, like other old Hampstead taverns, has many interesting bits of gossip connected with its history.

‘What a delightful little snuggery is this said Bull and Bush!’ So Gainsborough the painter is reported to have said on one occasion, while surrounded by a party of friends, who, like himself, were enjoying good cheer at the tavern.”

The peak in popularity of the Old Bull and Bush appears to have been around the time that Fred Vinall was licensee as the majority of photos of the pub have Fred’s name in large letters along the top of the building.

Old Bull and Bush

I wonder if that is Fred, standing outside the pub in the white apron in the above photo? He took over the pub in 1905.

Comparing the photo above, with the 2019 photo below shows that while the style of the pub has remained the same, the building has undergone some significant redevelopment, including the separation of the pub from the road by the wall and pavement.

Old Bull and Bush

The road to the right of the pub has a lovely terrace of houses. I suspect the buildings on the left were originally stables.

Old Bull and Bush

The attraction of the Old Bull and Bush has always been its location, and the 1888 newspaper article mentioned that the area “remains one of the most beautiful places in suburban London”. Whilst the road heading down into Golders Green is now surrounded by housing, the road continuing up towards Jack Straw’s Castle and then into Hampstead retains the appearance it must have had in the heyday of the Old Bull and Bush.

This is the view looking up in the direction of Jack Straw’s Castle from where I was standing to take the photo of the Old Bull and Bush.

Old Bull and Bush

It is a lovely walk on a sunny day up from the pub to Jack Straw’s Castle and Whitestone Pond.

A short terrace of houses hidden in the woods.

Old Bull and Bush

Which contrasts with the very different view walking down the hill from the Old Bull and Bush towards Golders Green station:

Old Bull and Bush

The street leading down to Golders Green station has a wide range of different architectural styles, probably a result of the speculative building on smaller plots of land that developed the area between Golders Green and Hampstead.

I spotted a couple of Blue Plaques in the street. One for Anna Pavlova, the Russian prima ballerina, who spent much of her life living in the Ivy House on North End Road. The following plaque is for the writer Evelyn Waugh who also lived along North End Road.

Old Bull and Bush

The short walk between Golders Green and Hampstead station is a lovely walk. If you start from Golders Green and walk up the hill, the Old Bull and Bush is a perfect stop before the final climb to the highest point in metropolitan London.

If you take the underground, do not follow the instructions in the “Getting Here” section on the pub’s website, which strangely states that the pub is “Located a quarter of a mile from Bull and Bush Underground station” – this was a planned station that was part built but never opened. Intended to serve building on the heath to the north of the Old Bull and Bush, which fortunately was never built. Next time I am in the pub I will have to ask them for directions to Bull and Bush Underground station (there is a surface building for the original entrance shaft, but it is clearly not a station – a subject for another post, even better if TfL could let me see the old station shafts and tunnels!).

It was relatively quiet during my visit, but if we have the same weather as reported in The Standard from 1906 for the Easter Bank Holiday weekend in a couple of weeks, the Old Bull and Bush, as well as the other pubs around Hampstead Heath will be looking forward to the additional trade that good weather has always generated.

21 thoughts on “Down at the Old Bull and Bush

  1. Alina

    This is the best blog about London.

    Thank you so much for sharing all your love for this fabulous city.

  2. Chris Rogers

    North End Road station was built at platform level – you can see the tunnel walls widen suddenly on one side as you travel between Golders Green and Hampstead today – and, as you say, with some (lift) access, but yes, that’s all. Local protests about its effect on soil drainage, allegedly, though snobbery obviously played a bit part. As it is only those in the know understand why the gap between the two stations today is roughly twice what it should be…

    1. Trevor Haynes

      Bull & Bush (or North End) station was built right up to surface level in the grounds of what became Manor House Hospital. It had at least one lift shaft and a small building at ground level which incorporated ventilation grilles to allow air from within the tunnels to escape. A room located between the upper and lower levels was fitted with controls for the floodgates that were installed at stations on the Bakerloo and Northern lines either side of the Thames to prevent flooding should the under-river tunnels be breached. These floodgates were tested regularly using the controls at Bull & Bush station but are now obsolete and may well have been removed.

      Manor House Hospital hospital was operated by the Industrial Orthopaedic Society and fronted on to North End Way; its extensive grounds went some way back along Hampstead Way. A laboratory block was built in the late 1940s as a war memorial to London Transport workers and had a representation of a bus and trolleybus over its doorway. There is a picture at:

  3. Tim

    What a timely post on a Sunday morning wondering what to do today! Hampstead Heath and the OB&B it is. I don’t normally have time to follow up these wonderful posts, but I shall raise a glass to you this afternoon to thank you for sharing the details of your passion with me.

  4. Jo W

    Thank you Admin, you’ve done it again! Taken me on another interesting walk up at ‘appy ‘Ampstead! All that lovely scenery and fresh air without moving from my armchair. What service!

  5. Peter Stone

    Another wonderful article. Thank you.
    There were a couple of particular points of personal interest to me. Firstly, that my children went to school just a short distance along North End Road, so I knew the pub very well from those days. Second, the reference to the German band in the song. My great-grand fathers were both Germans who emigrated to London and played in a German band. The large German population prior to the First World War, and the popularity of German bands, is a largely-forgotten feature of Victorian and Edwardian London.

  6. Mike Kay

    As always, richly rewarding research.

    Reminded me of something I’d not thought about for years… in one of the pubs I used to frequent 40 years ago in north Manchester there was an older gentleman friendly with a friend of mine – who we called Cockney Ron and who amusingly described an argument that he had witnessed because of something that we might now call assault – but it was in relation to a young couple where the young lady was touched by another man, not her partner. Ron described it as kicking off because “he put his German on her comicals” The translation being “he put his hand (German band) on her arse (comical farce)” – and which sounds like it should date from the time of the music hall … no one talks about “comical farces” any more than they do “German Bands”.
    Thank you for bringing back that happy memory. It might not be a true story… just something Ron like to trot out to amuse us northerners and make us wonder how anyone could actually communicate in rhyming slang.

  7. Brenda peirce

    Hampstead being my old stomping ground, I do so enjoy your blogs about the area. The Heath was my playground as a child and Jack Straw’s castle, The Old Bull and Bush and The Spaniards were favourite drinking holes as teenagers.

  8. Alan Simkins

    For many years there were two oil paintings on the front wall, one I know was of Florrie Ford, the other name escapes me. These paintings were done by my grandfather back in the late 1960’s and sat on the outside walls for many years, protected by some 17 coats of varnish. Sadly, they were poorly renovated (painted over in a very amateurish way) some 20 years after my grandfather’s death, and subsequently removed when the pub later changed hands.

    I have fond memories of seeing those pictures slowly come to life in my grandfather’s art room in Islington.

  9. Theresa Musgrove

    Apparently Evelyn Waugh used to walk all the way up hill to Hampstead, to post his letters, so that they would have a Hampstead postmark, rather than Golders Green: I always think of this and laugh, when I pass by his house …

  10. MrsPeel

    I found you on twitter, not that I’m a huge user, but they send suggestions sometimes and one of those was yours this morning. I spent over an hour looking through your amazing images and info there…. so amazing, thanks for “feeding” my intense love for London. I arrived in London 30 years ago, and I am still as fascinated by the city as the first day, even though I have to say my heart was broken with some demolitions…. anyway, I am Latina and we tend to talk a bit too much for you guys, so I ll leave it here LOL I am now going to have a look through the posts here, there are a couple of sites that I have been after images and history, one is the Middlesex Hospital, the one that was part of UCH, in Mortimer Street, was sold around 2005, demolished later, the chapel still stands ad I have found some images and a bit of history but nothing of the actual wards and hospital in general. Anyway, talking too much again LOL Thanks for sharing these amazing images and history!!!

  11. Stacey Wilkins

    I visited the North End Bull & Bush station today. You can hear when the Tube passes below through a vent in the tiny white building. It is amazing it is in such good shape for a building that has been abandoned since the early 1900s. I too would love to see inside if the TFL adds it to the Hidden London tour schedule!

  12. Tracy Aston

    Great article. It definitely is not Fred Vinall in the white apron in the 1905 photo. He is my great great great grandfather and I have plenty of photos etc. he retired to the South of France where he is buried.

  13. Annette D'Aguiar

    Another North London pub I lived and worked in, in the 1970s. Fred and Eve Williams were the landlord and landlady. First worked there in 1977. Had just arrived in London from Hampshire and was a very shy and timid girl. Fred and Eve were wonderful to me and I was devastated when they decided to retire and live at their flat in Brighton. Was therefore totally overjoyed when some years later they re-appeared at the Old Bull and Bush. I visited the pub in around 2017 and in some ways in was good to go back but in others very poignant and sad – no more Florrie Fordes bar, no more brass tables in the “lounge bar” nor brass bar (many mornings spent polishing these with Brasso). No more wooden floors in the main bar. Best introduction to life in London for a young girl, met so many interesting people and certainly brought me out of my shell!!!!

  14. KF

    My ancestors lived at 3 North End Road, Hampstead in 1881, farriers. From what I can see this was the stables at The Bull and Bush.


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