This narrow wedge-shaped pub is jammed against the railway line at Blackfriars. It was built in 1875 near the site of a thirteenth century Dominican Priory, which gives the area its name and was the inspiration for the pub’s design. The exterior of the building has jutting wrought iron signs for each bar and the pub’s name is proudly displayed in mosaic tiles. A statue of a large, laughing friar stands guard above the main door. Although unusual and pleasing, the exterior does not prepare you for the extraordinary interior. The immediate impression is that of an extravagantly ornate church, or scaled down cathedral, every inch decorated in marble, mosaic or bas-relief sculpture.
The walls, clad in green, red and cream marble, are covered with illustrations of merry monks. Above the fireplace, a large bas-relief bronze depicts frolicking friars singing carols and playing instruments. Another called ‘Saturday Afternoon’ shows them gathering grapes and harvesting apples. Three low arches lead into a smaller bar which is like a chapel, this was added after the First World War. Below a beautiful arched mosaic ceiling, are mottos of wisdom, such as, ‘finery is foolery’ and ‘don’t advertise, tell a gossip’. The detail here is amazing, even the light fittings are carved wooden monks carrying yokes on their shoulders, from which the lights hang.
The Black Friar’s interior is literally a work of art. It was begun in 1904, with sculptors Nathaniel Hitch, Frederick T. Callcott and Henry Poole contributing to its splendour. This pub is a lasting testament to their skill and craftsmanship. In the 1960’s Sir John Betjeman, who later became the Poet Laureate, led a campaign to save the Black Friar from demolition. Thanks to him and his supporters we can still enjoy this delightful pub.