The Trafalgar Tavern is Greenwich’s last surviving riverside pub from Victorian times. It is famous for being being the venue of the “whitebait dinners” where Liberal ministers met to eat fresh whitebait from the Thames. It is also the venue for the wedding breakfast in Charles Dickens’ novel Our Mutual Friend. This post is all about the history of the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich.
History of the Trafalgar Tavern
In Victorian times, Greenwich was seen as a holiday resort for Londoners who didn’t want to travel far from home. As a result of this, a number of large pubs were built in the area, to cater to the large crowds that would turn up on public holidays. The two largest were the Ship Tavern and the Trafalgar Tavern.
Today, only the Trafalgar Tavern still exists, as the Ship Tavern was destroyed by bombing during the second world war. The Ship Tavern used to be located where Cutty Sark is today, and dated back to the 17th century. It was known as being a popular pub for Conservative Party ministers, whereas the Trafalgar Tavern was the haunt of the Liberals.
The Beginnings of the Trafalgar Tavern
Before the Trafalgar Tavern was built, there was a small inn on the site called The Old George. It catered to local fishermen, but the owner wanted to expand the site and make the pub larger. This would allow the pub to serve the growing crowds that were turning up in Greenwich.
In 1830 the owner applied for planning permission to extend the site. He employed an architect, Joseph Kay, who was the same architect who designed the layout of central Greenwich.
Unfortunately Joseph Kay saw the money making potential for the pub, especially since it had such a prominent position on the river. He deliberately sabotaged the owner’s application, and then applied to take over the site himself.
The former inn was demolished, and a larger one was built on the site. It was renamed the Trafalgar Tavern in celebration of Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
In June 1837, the same same year Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, the Trafalgar Tavern was opened to the public.
The Trafalgar Tavern in Victorian Britain
The era from the 1850s to the 1870s was a time of great prosperity for Greenwich. This was especially due to the London to Greenwich railway line which opened in 1838, and ran from London Bridge to Greenwich. The Trafalgar Tavern thrived during this time.
Due to its grand interior and prominent location on the river, the pub attracted many famous writers, artists and politicians. This included William Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, and Charles Dickens, who chose the Trafalgar Tavern as the location of the wedding breakfast in Our Mutual Friend.
The Trafalgar Tavern was also where the famous whitebait suppers were held. This was a tradition where Liberal ministers would travel to the pub on a barge from Westminster, and eat fresh whitebait from the Thames. The dinners carried on for many years, with the last ministerial whitebait dinner being held in 1883, when the outgoing Cabinet of William Gladstone dined together.
During World War I, the Trafalgar Tavern closed and became the headquarters of the Royal Alfred Merchant Seamen’s Institution, which was a home for aged seamen.
In the 1920s it became a working men’s club, and then in 1933 it was a centre for the unemployed, and briefly, a fire station. After World War II it was used as a home for retired sailors, and serving naval officers.
In 1965 the pub was finally reopened, and in 1968 it was restored to its Victorian grandeur, and its original purpose – to serve visitors coming to Greenwich.
Trafalgar Tavern Today
Today the Trafalgar Tavern is a grade II listed building filled with magnificent dining rooms, chandeliers, ornate ceilings and original artwork. It has elegant balconies overlooking the river Thames, and maintains the tradition of serving fresh whitebait.
The pub has a nautical theme, with all the rooms named after navel heroes such as the Nelson, Hawks, and Duncan.
On the ground floor is The Nile restaurant and Trafalgar Bar which are open to all for lunch and dinner. This area is usually packed with tourists.
Upstairs, on the first floor, is the Nelson Room and Hawke and Howe bar which is an event space with large windows. These rooms are used for private functions, and weddings.
In the basement is Cribb’s Parlour which is a late-night members only bar, but the space is also available for hire.
Who owns the Trafalgar pub?
The Trafalgar Tavern is owned by Frank Dowling.
How old is the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich?
The Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich is over 180 years old.
Location of the Trafalgar Tavern
The Trafalgar Tavern is located on Park Row, SE10 9NW. It is very close to the Old Royal Naval College, and Greenwich Hospital, and a short walk from Greenwich Park. The exact location of the pub is shown on the map below.
If you are looking for things to do in Greenwich, check out the posts below.
- Thames Cable Car in Greenwich
- Greenwich Beach on the River Thames in London
- The History of Greenwich Foot Tunnel
This Post was About the History of the Trafalgar Tavern
Thank you for reading my post about the history of the Trafalgar Tavern. The famous Trafalgar Tavern was a splendid public house in Victorian London, built on the site of the Old George Inn. Today many of its original features have been restored and it is used for small parties, and as an amazing wedding venue on the banks of the river Thames.