Many of London’s pub names have a royal connotation: The Royal Oak, The King’s Head or The Crown, it dates back to the time when many were illiterate, and the depiction of a well-known image enabled patrons to identify each hostelry.
The Duke of York pub in Fitzrovia continues this tradition, but with an unusual twist.
It displays the only known sign with the image of Prince Andrew (the current Duke of York) on its sign.
Operated by the 200-year-old Suffolk brewers Greene King this pub was first licensed in 1767 and then rebuilt in 1897, and is tucked away at the top end of Rathbone Street.
In 2014, Prince Andrew, the present Duke of York, permitted his likeness to be used on the pub sign. Russian-born American artist Igor Babailov, known for his commissioned portraits of world leaders and celebrities, duly painted the pub’s sign. The painting is now thought to be the only pub in the world featuring a likeness of a living member of the Royal Family.
Fitzrovia, the place of my birth, was also where the literary and artistic crowd hung out, Donovan, Ian Dury, Rod Stewart, Paul Jones, Johnnie Ray, and John Lee Hooker were also regulars, as was David ‘Del Boy’Jason.
In the 1940s and 50s the Duke of York’s clientele had regular encounters with so-called razor gangs and novelist Anthony Burgess is thought to have used his wife’s 1943 experience of razor gangs forcing her to drink copious amounts of beer in his later novel, A Clockwork Orange.
Milking the area’s reputation for knife crime, landlord Major Alf Klein initiated male customers by snipping off their ties, the collection grew to over 1,500. His great dane, named Colonel, starred in the title role in the film Hound of the Baskervilles, apparently, it was partial to drinking customers’ beer.
Despite being stripped of all of his titles in 2021 due to his association with financier and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew’s image remains and after commissioning the painting the publican has no intention of replacing it any time soon.
According to Adrian Brune on her Substack blog, in Soho, locals now colloquially refer to the pub as “the Nonce”.
Nonce (n.) Prison slang a rapist or child molester; a sexual offender.
Featured image: The exterior of the Duke of York pub in Fitzrovia, bearing the image of Prince Andrew, the present Duke of York by Ethan Doyle White (CC BY-SA 4.0)