Some history of the Flask Tavern at Hampstead in London.


I will kick off this page with how we came to be drinking in The Flask during May 2024. We had intended to spend a bit of time at the Spaniard's Inn at Hampstead Heath but we found that experience dreadful. That famous old hostelry didn't even have any draught beer. In a bid to salvage the evening I quickly clicked on What Pub? to see if there was somewhere local that CAMRA recommended. The Grade II-listed Flask in Hampstead sounded pretty good as CAMRA described it as "A veritable Hampstead institution" serving four regular ales. So we abandoned the terrible Spaniard's Inn, and walked through the western section of Hampstead Heath, emerging at the Old Bull and Bush. We resisted breaking into the Edwardian music hall song as the pub does not sell beer worth singing about. Fucking Doom Bar for fuck's sake. We headed for the bus stop to whizz us into Hampstead as The Flask sounded much better.

London : Interior of The Flask at Hampstead [2024]
© Photo taken by author on May 14th, 2024. DO NOT COPY

We jumped off the bus at the top of Back Lane and wandered down this narrow cobbled street to the equally narrow Flask Walk, on the corner of which stands the very attractive pub, a three-storey yellow-brick structure featuring chunky Victorian pilasters with embedded glazed tiles. The interior, though twiddled with a little over the years, retains many original features, the star attraction being the mahogany and glass partition separating the public and saloon bars. This relic features five chromolithographs of paintings by the Belgian artist Jan Van Beers, and John William Godward. The latter's work is depicted in the centre panel with a close-up of Rosie Pettigrew. Both artists had a fixation with painting women, some regarding them as erotica or soft porn. Does this suggest anything about the patronage of the saloon bar in days of yore? I cannot feature a photograph of these panels as people were sat in front of them.

The sight of the Victoriana lifted our spirits but our feelings were quickly dampened by the ale. The beer in here is dross. Well, it was during our visit. By the way there were NOT the four regular ales, as suggested by What Pub?, but simply Young's London Original on two handpulls, plus Five Points Pale. Now, we know about the beers from the Five Points Brewing Co. as we have enjoyed them when in the Hackney area. They are also found regularly in the Euston Tap where we have overindulged on the Railway Porter before clambering aboard a train bound for the Midlands. So imagine our surprise when we were handed two glasses of lifeless slop that had none of the "fresh, zesty, aromatic" character espoused by the brewery. We can only lay the blame for this terrible beer by the way it is kept and served by The Flask. If the head brewer at Five Points Brewing Co. had supped these examples of the their flagship ale they would not deliver any more casks to the cellar of The Flask.

I could not resist checking Tripadvisor for The Flask. Although dating from a few years earlier, I was horrified to read a review entitled "Beer served from the drip tray - utterly disgusting," in which the reviewer posted : "On Saturday 21st January my partner and I entered the venue .... and enjoyed our drinks whilst at the bar as there were no available seats. This allowed us to have a good view of the goings on behind the bar. It was from this position that we saw a member of staff empty the contents of the stagnant beer tray into a glass, top it up and subsequently serve it to an elderly customer." The reviewer went on to say that he complained by letter to the C.E.O. of Young's but did not receive a satisfactory reply.

There was only one thing to do - head for the exit in search of somewhere that sold half-decent beer. But, before we go, it is worth recording a little bit of this pub's history. Up until recent times, the signboard featured an infantry soldier with a flask on a table next to where he was pouring gunpowder into his weapon. A curious illustration for the artist to feature as the pub's name is said to derive from the flasks or bottles used to retail water drawn from a nearby well of spring water.

The Chalybeate Well or public fountain can be found along the road, towards the rising ground of Hampstead Heath, on Well Walk. It is almost opposite the former residence of the painter, John Constable.

London : Inscription on the Chalybeate Well at Hampstead [2024]
© Photo taken by author on May 15th, 2024. DO NOT COPY

The marble inset of the Chalybeate Fountain shows that the well and six acres of land were given by Susanna Noel for "the use and benefit of the poor of Hampstead" towards the end of the 17th century. Susanna Noel's husband, Wriothesley Noel, 2nd Earl of Gainsborough, is not featured on the inscription as he shuffled off this mortal coil a couple of months earlier. Presumably he had not partaken of the medicinal waters on the land that he owned. Chalybeate indicates that the spring waters flowing down from Hampstead Hill contained medicinal properties so the appointed trustees hit on the idea of flogging it to the public. Spa towns were already coining it in with their natural waters so the people of London were convinced that they needed the magical liquid found at Hampstead. Was it a load of baloney? Well, despite the Michael Mosley-styled marketing of the early trustees, there probably was some element of goodness in the water. Chalybeate spring water contains high volumes of iron, manganese, zinc and calcium, all providing some form of health benefits. There was once a pond, the site of which is encircled by the properties in Gainsborough Gardens across the road. It may have been from there that flasks were filled before being sold in the locality, along with outlets such as the Eagle and Child on Fleet Street.

Some suggest that the flasks were filled and sold in the old tavern on the site of The Flask.¹ However, this would suggest a very early date for the house once known as the Thatched House. References for a building known as the Lower Flask seem to emerge in the mid-18th century. The prefix distinguished the building from another Flask at Highgate, a tavern known as the Upper Flask. The latter was the more fashionable establishment where, in the summer months, the Kit-Cat Club would meet in the early 18th century. Prominent members included the essayist Joseph Addison, the playwright William Congreve, painter Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir Richard Steele, co-founder of The Spectator magazine.

Fishing for a date for the Lower Flask, it is interesting to note that it was mentioned in Samuel Richardson's magnus opus, "Clarissa," published in 1748. In the tome, the Lower Flask is described as "a place where second-rate characters were to be found in swinish condition." ² As a member of the hoi polloi, it sounded like my kind of boozer.

Extract from page 3 of "The Morning Advertiser" advertising an auction of the household furniture of The Flask at Hampstead published on April 17th, 1809
Extract from page 3 of "The Morning Advertiser" published on April 17th, 1809.

The Flask Tavern was the venue of many auctions of land and property during the early 19th century. The above notice for an auction held in April 1809 appears to be for the household furniture and stock of the tavern, so it may have been a change of the tenancy.

Licensee of the Flask Tavern from at least 1834 until the 1860 was Henry Haward. He is not to be confused with Henry Gilbert Haward who kept the Load of Hay at nearby Haverstock Hill. Born around 1803 at Maldon in Essex, Henry Haward kept the Flask Tavern with his wife Sarah. She hailed from Eastcote in Middlesex.³

The licence of the Flask Tavern was transferred from Henry Haward to John Eldridge towards the end of October 1860. Baptised in 1825 at St. John's Church, the publican was a local man but his wife, Martha, hailed from Southampton. The couple employed two pot men and a gardener who lived on the premises, along with several lodgers engaged in a variety of trades.⁴ By this period the Flask Tavern was home to the Prince George Lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows.⁵

Charles Albert Birdell was not recorded at the Flask Tavern when the 1861 census was collected in April. The couple did, however, employ him as a potman not long afterwards. In September 1863 he was brought up before the magistrates where John Eldridge stated that he had been in his employ for about eighteen months. The charge against Charles Birdell was one of embezzlement. The publican said that he awarded a liberal salary to the potman, whose duty was to account for any money received every night. He had reason to speak to him about two rather heavy accounts but was assured they were all right. On the fifth of September Birdell absconded from his employment, but he was traced to Burton Common in Hampshire, where he was apprehended by Inspector Webb of the S division. I am often amazed at how efficient some of the policing was during the Victorian era - they could seemingly track people across the country. When arrested the potman said "he should not have done it had he not got into bad company." He said he was sure that the whole of his defalcations did not amount to £5. The prisoner said he should reserve his defence, and was fully committed to the Middlesex Sessions for trial.⁶ I followed this up and found that in the following month he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment.

Extract from page 1 of "The Illustrated Police News" showing No.41 Flask Walk, Hampstead, scene of an attempted double murder, published on Saturday October 7th, 1871
Extract from page 1 of "The Illustrated Police News" published on October 7th, 1871.

Flask Walk was the scene of tremendous excitement in late September 1871 when there was an attempted double child murder at No.41. It was during the afternoon of Thursday 27th, that Elizabeth Harris approached Police Constable Thompson, 208 S, who was on duty in James Street, Camden Town, and informed him that she had done something wrong. He inquired what it was, and she said she had "cut" her two children. Her husband, Richard, was at work at the time, being employed in the Camden Town goods station, in the Oval Road. The constable sent for the husband, and then hired a cab, in which all three proceeded to their house in Flask Walk. There the two children, Sarah and Mercy Harris, were found bleeding profusely, each having three wounds on their left arm. Some of the wounds were of considerable extent, and penetrated to the bone. The younger child appeared much exhausted from loss of blood. It was reported that the room in which the children were found presented a horrible appearance. Dr. H. Cooper Rose, of High Street, Hampstead, was called, and he ordered the two children to be conveyed immediately to the Middlesex Hospital. The house surgeon there said the injuries were severe and they had lost a lot of blood, but did not express an opinion that they were likely to prove fatal. A razor, with spots of blood on it, was found in the same room as the children. The mother, who appeared to be a respectable woman, and had lived at Hampstead for many years was brought before the magistrates on the following Monday where she was bailed pending an appearance at the Sessions for trial. She was acquitted on the ground of insanity but was, however, detained as a person of unsound mind.⁷

At the time of the tragic events at No.41 the Flask Tavern was being run by William and Mary Tooley. The publican's wife died in January 1871 and he left the pub later in the year, the licence being transferred to Thomas Hart on January 2nd, 1872. He would remain only for a short period, the licence being granted to Alfred Proughton in June 1874.⁸ He would be the last publican to run the old Flask Tavern.⁸ By the time he had settled in, plans had been submitted and tenders made by the architects, Messrs. Cumming and Nixon, for a rebuild of the premises.⁹ However, this was not quite the end of Alfred Proughton's association with the Flask as the magistrates sitting for a special session in July 1874 granted an application by the publican to carry on his premises in a skittle ground during whilst the building work was undertaken.¹⁰

It would appear that the building work was completed by April 1875 as Alfred Proughton was charged with permitting drunkenness and riotous conduct in the pub on April 26th. From the evidence given at the petty sessions, it appeared that a fight took place, between William Sibley and George Briggs, in The Flask during the defendant's absence. Hearing the disturbance, the police entered the building and found Briggs on the floor in front of the bar, covered with blood, and his wife wiping his face. According to the officers, Briggs was drunk and almost unable to stand, but Sibley was sober. John Milton, the barman, was in charge of the house. He stated that he did not see that Briggs was the worse for drink, neither did it appear that he served Briggs with anything, as he had partaken in a pint of beer ordered and paid for by Sibley. The solicitor defending told the Bench that Alfred Proughton had forbidden his servants to supply Briggs with anything to drink, because of his quarrelsome character. The publican got off the hook but was fined for going down the police station and gobbing off to the desk sergeant.¹¹

James Douglas Elliot held the licence in the late 1870s. He had previously managed the Bunch of Grapes at Bennett Street, Fitzroy Square. In November, 1878, a carpenter named Robert William Barfoot was charged at the Hampstead Police Court with assaulting Jesse Burton, at the Flask Tavern, injuring him so seriously that he died in University College Hospital. The newspapers reported that the incident seemed to be one of fatal "larking." The carpenter was remanded on bail.¹²

Extract from page 1 of the "Hampstead & Highgate Express" showing an advertisement by Charles Boston for the Flask Tavern, published on Saturday November 27th, 1880
Extract from page 1 of the "Hampstead & Highgate Express" published on November 27th, 1880.

Charles Boston was a 'here today, gone tomorrow' publican. A few months after the above advertisement appeared, he was running another pub in Tottenham. The census of 1881 shows that the Flask Tavern was being run by James and Louisa Freeman. The Hertfordshire-born publican, who had formerly worked in a pawnbroker's shop, held the licence for the rest of the 1880s.

Extract from page 1 of "The Sporting Life" announcing an event of the Regent Harriers from the Flask Tavern, published on Saturday October 13th, 1894
Extract from page 1 of "The Sporting Life" published on October 13th, 1894.

During the afternoon of Friday July 12th, 1895, a large plate-glass window fell from the first floor of the Flask Tavern, on to the left shoulder and the left foot of George Hunt, of the Express Dairy Company, who was on his way home to Albany Flats in the same thoroughfare. His right hand was badly cut and the left foot so severely injured that Dr. Pidcock and Dr. Hay Reynolds, who were called in, found it necessary to amputate the little toe.¹³

By the end of the 19th century Charles Cordingley was mine host at the Flask Tavern. He was quite a character and no doubt was an extraordinary raconteur in the saloon bar. Born in Brighton around 1837, he was a printer and newspaper proprietor before leasing the Lyric Opera House at Hammersmith. He also stood as a candidate for the first L.C.C. election for Hammersmith. When running the Flask Tavern he was chairman of the Hampstead Licensed Victuallers' and Beer Sellers Protection Society. He was also chairman of the Hampstead Bonfire Club, a body that held regular meetings in the Flask Tavern. When he left London he went to live at Herne Bay where he died in October 1915.¹⁴

The Flask Tavern was sold for £3,500 at auction in December 1903, the sale being the freehold ground rent of £100, with reversion in thirty-one years.¹⁵ This marked the involvement of Young & Co. of Wandsworth.

London : The Flask at Hampstead [c.1910]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

The livery of Young & Co. can be seen on this image dating from around 1910. If the date is correct that could be Jessie Waller stood on the corner with a few of the patrons. Her husband's name, can be seen above. Former post-office clerk Thomas Gardner Waller had married Jessie Elizabeth Rowcliffe in March 1908 at Peckham Rye Congregational Church.

Extract from page 8 of the "St. Pancras Gazette" advertising the Flask Tavern, published on Friday August 26th, 1910
Extract from page 8 of the "St. Pancras Gazette" published on August 26th, 1910.

One can only speculate about the motives of Thomas Gardner Waller but, after running the Flask Tavern for over four years, and being the father of three young children, and his wife being pregnant with a fourth child, he went to Southwark Town Hall on September 14th, 1914, just one month after Britain had declared war on Germany, and enlisted in the army. He served with the 12th Royal Fusiliers until being wounded and discharged in July 1916.¹⁶ He and his wife would later settle in Dorset.

Extract from page 2 of the "St. Pancras Gazette" advertising the Flask Tavern, published on Friday January 1st, 1915
Extract from page 2 of the "St. Pancras Gazette" published on January 1st, 1915.

With Thomas Waller serving in France, Young & Co. appointed Montague Rowland Fitzwilliam as the gaffer of the Flask Tavern. As can be seen from the above advertisement, the man known as "Monty" had previously kept the Spread Eagle at Camden Town, another pub operated by the Wandsworth brewery. He took over the Albert Street boozer in 1907. He also kept a number of public-houses in the west of London. Monty would remain at the Flask Tavern for the rest of his days, the publican passing away in December 1935. The Totnes-born former music engraver was a tenant and did pretty well in his enterprise.

The licensee of the Flask Tavern during the Second World War was Mabel Lowry. Like Monty Fitzwilliam before her, she was landlady for two decades before her death in December 1956.

Licensees of The Flask Tavern

1826 - William Phipps
1834 - Henry Haward
1860 - John Eldridge
1869 - William Tooley
1872 - 1874 Thomas Hart
1874 - Alfred Proughton
1878 - James Douglas Elliot
1880 - Charles Boston
1881 - James Joseph Freeman
1890 - William Speight
1896 - Mrs. M. A. Allison
1899 - Charles Cordingley
1910 - Thomas Gardner Waller
1915 - Montague Rowland Fitzwilliam
1937 - Mabel Alberta Lowry
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub. The dates of early licensees are sourced from trade directories, census data, electoral rolls, rate books and newspaper articles. Names taken from trade directories may be slightly inaccurate as there is some slippage from publication dates and the actual movement of people.

1. Osborn, Helen [1986] "Inn And Around London : A History Of Young's Pubs" London : Young & Co's Brewery PLC; p.57
2. "Clarissa: Or, the history of a young lady: comprehending the most important concerns of private life... Published by the editor of Pamela...[pt.5]." In the digital collection Eighteenth Century Collections Online. <> University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 27, 2024.
3. 1851 England Census HO 107/1492 : Middlesex > Hampstead > Hampstead > District 6, Page 14.
4. 1861 England Census RG 9/93 : Middlesex > Hampstead > Hampstead St. John > District 13, Page 26.
5. "Independent Order Of Odd Fellows" : London Weekly Chronicle; February 23rd, 1861. p.14.
6. "Embezzlement By A Potman" : The Globe; September 29th, 1863. p.3.
7. "The January Sessions" : London and China Express; January 12th, 1872. p.7.
8. "Transfer Of Licenses" : The North Londoner; June 6th, 1874. p.2.
9. "Tenders" : Building News; September 25th, 1874. p.35.
10. "Transfer Of Licenses" : The North Londoner; July 18th, 1874. p.2.
11. "Licensed Victuallers And The Police" : Hampstead & Highgate Express; May 8th, 1875. p.3.
12. "Brief Notes" : Brief; December 6th, 1878. p.14.
13. "Accident In Flask Walk" : Hampstead & Highgate Express; July 13th, 1895. p.3.
14. "The Late Mr. C. Cordingley" : West London Observer; August 21st, 1914. p.3.
15. "The Property Market" : Daily Telegraph & Courier; December 7th, 1903. p.3.
16. British Army World War I Pension Records 1914-1920

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"Last evening Mr. Mills held an inquest at the Flask, Flask Walk, Hampstead, on the body of William Dobbs, pensioner, aged 88. The inquiry occupied much time, in consequence of some relatives of deceased having entertained an opinion that he had died worth considerable property, which had been concealed by parties who were about him when he expired. The Coroner subjected the witnesses to a very searching inquiry, all of whom proved that the deceased had been most kindly treated by his landlord, and that all his wealth consisted of nothing more than his furniture, which boasted very little of luxury. Deceased's nephew, however, would not be satisfied without the will being read. The Coroner, to allay the nephew's anxiety, had the will produced and read. The interest with which deceased's nephew watched the reading of the will was truly ludicrous, and his chop-fallen countenance, when he found that his uncle had made his will in favour of his landlord, and that he was cut off with an angry shilling, even made the Coroner smile. The jury returned a verdict of "Natural death."
"Reading The Will"
London Journal & Pioneer Newspaper : August 30th 1845 Page 3

"William Radworth was brought up on the following charge. On the previous evening the prisoner created a disturbance at Mr. Haward's, the Flask Tavern, Hampstead and he was given into the custody of police constable 369 S. On the way to the station-house he struck the officer several times, and struck him on the head. Sent for a month to the House of Correction."
"Police Courts : Marylebone"
Morning Advertiser : July 6th 1849 Page 4

"Yesterday afternoon Mr. H. M. Wakley held an inquest at the Flask, Hampstead, on John Berch, a bricklayer, aged 71, who, while roofing the Nag's Head, was seized with giddiness, and fell to the ground, fracturing seven ribs and his collar-bone: death almost instantly ensued. Verdict, "Accidental Death."
"Fatal Accident"
Morning Advertiser : September 24th 1851 Page 6

"Rosetta Coghlan was committed for a month, for stealing a metal teapot, the property of Mr. Haward, the Flask Tavern, Hampstead."
"Robbery At A Licensed Victualler's"
Morning Advertiser : December 20th 1858 Page 7

"Last night [Wednesday] Dr. Lankester, coroner for Central Middlesex, held an inquest at the Flask, Hampstead, on the body of Dr. James Winter, a well-known medical practitioner at Hampstead, and formerly the medical officer of Hampstead Workhouse. Dr. Lankester remarked that, knowing the circumstances of deceased, he had considered it right to hold an inquest for the sake of his family, a course in which the brother of deceased entirely concurred. A juryman said it was necessary that an inquiry should take place, it had been rumoured that deceased had poisoned himself. The evidence of Mr. Robert Winter, surgeon, of High Street, Hampstead, showed that deceased had been suffering from consumption for two years past. He was a M.R.C.B. of England, and M.D. of Glasgow. He managed to attend his professional duties until Sunday last, and on Monday he was compelled to attend the Bankruptcy Court to get his discharge. He went there and back in a cab. On Tuesday he was obliged to keep his bed, and would not allow any further medical aid to be sought until the evening, when Dr. Brown was called, but before that gentleman arrived, or just as he entered the door, deceased died. He had been suffering from continual vomiting. The evidence of Dr. R. Brown, of Heath Street. Hampstead, proved conclusively that there were no signs of poison either externally or internally. He believed the cause of death was exhaustion from continual vomiting, supervening on tubercular disease of the lungs. The jury unanimously returned a verdict in accordance with this evidence, and the foreman expressed the opinion of the jury that the public mind would satisfied with the result of the inquiry."
"Inquest On The Late Medical Of Hampstead Workhouse"
Morning Advertiser : March 15th 1866 Page 6

"At the Petty Sessions on Wednesday George Briggs and John Watts, both labourers, pleaded guilty to stealing a duck, value 4s. 6d., the property of William Tooley, landlord of the Flask public-house. Previous convictions were proved against both prisoners, but Watts' wife handed in a certificate from his employer stating that during the last three years he had conducted himself honestly and soberly, and that he was willing to take him again into his service. The magistrates sentenced Briggs to three months' hard labour, and Watts to two months of the same punishment, the distinction being due to the latter's recent good character."
"Stealing A Duck"
North Londoner : June 19th 1869 Page 5

"Richard Toombs, 29, labourer, of 2, Southampton Mews, Kentish Town, was brought up by Sergeant Gardener, 6 S, charged with making use of obscene language and assaulting Thomas Hart, landlord of the Flask Tavern, Flask Walk, on Saturday night - Discharged with a caution."
"Petty Sessions"
Hampstead & Highgate Express : December 28th 1872 Page 3

"Dr. Lankseter has held inquest at the Flask Tavern, Hampstead, on the body of Mrs Revitt, aged 29 years, who died from the effects of being bitten by a dog in a rabid state. Mr. Revitt stated that he was a butcher and husband of deceased. One Saturday morning, weeks ago, he left home about six o'clock to attend market, leaving the door leading from the shop to the staircase ajar, so that deceased could hear when the shopman arrived. On his return, his wife [the deceased] told him that she was partially awakened by a light noise, and saw a dog licking the face a child which was asleep in a crib by her bed side. She aimed at the dog to drive it off, when he bit her hand. She then got up. seized the dog, carried him to the window on the second floor landing, and threw him out into the yard. Mr. Rose, M. D. stated that he saw the deceased on the morning the dog bit her. She had a lacerated wound on the left thumb and scratches about the hand, which he cauterised. The wound healed up, but the thumb was turn under the nail and was very troublesome. On Saturday week last he was again sent for, but did not exactly know what was the matter, but on the following day the symptoms were fully developed. She expired from hydrophobia. The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the evidence, and desired the coroner to forward to the police authorities at Scotland Yard, a requisition, calling their attention to the large number of stray dogs, which are a source of great and increasing danger to the public, in order that the necessary steps may taken to put an end to the danger and nuisance."
"Death From Hydrophobia"
Kentish Independent : May 31st 1873 Page 6

I looked up the details for Mrs. Revitt. She was Anna Elizabeth Revitt, wife of Joseph Revitt, and lived at No.2 Flask Walk. She died on May 22nd, 1873.

"William Wood, 39, chimney sweep, of New End Square, charged with being drunk, refusing to quit the Flask public-house, assaulting William Speight, the manager, and damaging his alpaca jacket, value 7s. 6d., was fined 10s., or, in default, seven days' imprisonment with hard labour."
"Drunkenness And Assault"
Hampstead & Highgate Express : September 27th 1890 Page 3

"On Wednesday afternoon, whilst William Young, aged twenty-seven, a potman engaged at the Flask Tavern, Flask Walk, was cleaning the outside of window on the first floor of the tavern, he overbalanced himself and fell to the ground. Dr. Jessop, who was called to the spot, found that the man was suffering from a broken ankle. After his injuries had been attended to he was removed to the Hampstead Hospital, where he was admitted and detained."
"Accident In Flask Walk"
Hampstead & Highgate Express : September 12th 1896 Page 6

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