The Haunch of Venison is reputed to be 700 years old, and without doubt the most well-known pub in Salisbury.
In my experience pubs that have this sort of reputation can often be a let-down, but not this one.
The minute I walked in here I knew I was going to like it. It’s got all the credentials for being a great historical pub, with old oak beams, wood panelled walls, a good-looking bar – and most of all a friendly welcome.
As there were a few people in the bar, I tucked myself away in what’s called ‘The Horsebox’, a snug which for many years was used for ladies who weren’t allowed into the public bar. I was told that prior to that it was indeed a horsebox, or at least somewhere to tie up the horse while the owner was inside.
The thing about this place is that it oozes history. The pub’s website tells us that it was a hostelry for workers building the Cathedral spire back in the 14th century and the bar’s marble floor came from the Cathedral when some of it had to be replaced.
I found this out when a pile of coins fell from a woodcarving above the fireplace. Apparently, the workers who were laying the tiles used to put coins up on the ridge of the carving when they had some money, and when they didn’t they took them back off again, and the tradition of stacking up the coins continues to this day.
Talking about the pub’s history to the bar manager was a good move because he took me and some other visitors on a tour of the pub. There’s a story that says Winston Churchill and Dwight D Eisenhower used to sit in the Horsebox for a drink after discussing plans for the D-Day Landings, but the barman took us up to see a more likely place in a secret bar at the top of the building at the back. I don’t think it’s used much these days though.
The most famous tale is about a card player who got caught cheating and had his hand cut off (now that’s what I call being dealt a bad hand of cards). The severed hand was put on display as a deterrent in the former bread oven, and for some inexplicable reason somebody decided to steal it, so what you see here now is a replacement.
The barman told us more tales than I could possibly write about here, or even remember, but I thoroughly enjoyed our little tour round. Back in the bar he continued to tell me about how the pewter bar top is only one of six left in the country and which also has an unusual dispenser with seven gravity fed spirit taps.
Bringing things back into the 21st century for a moment, the bar has a decent selection of real ales and wines by the glass, and the bar snacks seemed good value too, but if you fancy things a bit more formal then there’s a nice looking restaurant upstairs.
They don’t offer accommodation, which I think is probably just as well seeing that there’s a resident ghost and secret tunnels here. Behind the pub is St. Thomas’s Church, and our barman friend was telling me tales about how the pub used to have ‘Ladies of the night’ hanging around outside and how priests from the church used the secret tunnels to gain access – with one priest wishing he hadn’t. Don’t ask!
I only popped in here for a quick drink, but after spending more time in here chatting to people longer than I should have done, I had to make a dash before I missed my train, and in so doing forgot to ask the barman how the pub got its name. This was going to my first question – and I still don’t know – so it looks as though I might have to go back again to find out.