Blog for October 2021 with Photographs and Information
Thursday October 14th 2021
We stuck our heads well above the post-Covid world today by travelling by train to London. We are still not comfortable with the blasé or cavalier way most people seem to be going about their business but what do you do? We can hardly write off the rest of our lives by not venturing beyond our front door. However, we did not wade into some locations where we were not comfortable with the situation. This included binning a few pubs that were simply far too busy for our liking.
The key reason for our trip was to revisit Greenwich. We had enjoyed our time cycling around the local area during our prologue before the world went tits-up with Covid. There were elements that we could not explore fully with our laden touring bikes. So, we took our folding bicycles to the station and headed to Euston on a relatively quiet mid-morning train.
In a bid to avoid traffic, we took a route to Greenwich along quiet roads and by utilising the canal network. We risked the midweek crowd at Camden to arm ourselves with a bag of lush nosh from Magic Falafel. We partook our feast in a quiet park and then pedalled off in the direction of Caledonian Park in Islington. The clock tower is one of the few remains of the Metropolitan Cattle Market which opened in 1855 as the principal meat market for London. Some metal railings and pillars can also be found on the periphery of what is now a large park for the residents of Islington.
As veggies we can hardly mourn the loss of the meat market but we could honour another key event that took place near the site of the clock tower when the land formed part of Copenhagen Fields. It was from here in April 1836 that thousands of people marched in support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs who had been sentenced to transportation to Australia for having the temerity to form an early trade union. The six agricultural labourers were eventually pardoned and returned to England. The fight for their freedom is a landmark in the history of the trade union movement.
The 30-acre site of the meat market designed by the Corporation's Surveyor James Bunstone Bunning, included the erection of four public- houses on each corner. Three of the Grade II-listed buildings have survived but their glory days as drinking establishments have passed into history. I think that the buildings are identical but am not sure as they were in different states of repair, one being under scaffolding. The former pub pictured above was the White Horse and stands on the corner of Market Road and Shearling Road. The other two surviving buildings were The Lamb and The Lion. The 'lost' member of the quartet was the Black Bull. The pubs were busy hotels in the days of the meat market and each accommodated dozens of cattle dealers or farmers from different parts of the country.
From Caledonian Park it was only a short ride to go and look at the Emirates Stadium. We are not fans of modern soulless stadia and are thankful that we have visited some of the old theatres such as Roker Park, Filbert Street, Maine Road and Upton Park. But when in Rome and all that, and as footy fans, it was interesting to visit the Emirates. We circumnavigated the stadium, stopping to look at the statues of former legends. However, I avoided the cheating git that is Thierry Henry who, through his La main de dieu, destroyed the dreams of the Republic of Ireland in November 2009. His statue is roughly on the site of an old thoroughfare called Albany Place, two words that can be rearranged into Nay Placable, and, no, I will not be forgiving him for his cheating. We noticed that the Camden Brewery have a bar at one end of the stadium - appropriate given that the company's founder Jasper Cuppaidge is a lifelong Gooner. Part of the old football ground can still be seen to the north-east of the Emirates Stadium. Gardens have been laid out on the football pitch and an apartment in the converted stand costs around £750,00 - irresistible to some fans no doubt.
There is a small house tucked away in a corner where Drayton Park and Gillespie Road collide. I was attracted to this building as I tend to look out for unusual domestic architecture - and this hotch-potch dwelling is certainly a quirky house. I am not sure if an older building was converted into a house or whether it was a new build in the new millennium. The house, described as a "pizza slice," tapers away to a point so that the floor space is a mere 422 square feet spread across two floors. The building went on the market in 2015 with an asking price of £495,000 - a snip for an exiled Gooner requiring a bolt-hole for match weekends! Daniel O'Brien, associate director of Hamptons International in Islington, told the Guardian newspaper that "it was the smallest freehold house he had ever come across."
Also in this corner of Islington is Gillespie Park and Ecology Centre, an award-winning 2.8 hectare nature reserve where within its ponds, woodland and meadows, there is an estimated 244 species of plants, 94 species of birds and 24 types of butterflies.
We headed south-east to take a look at Christ Church and the Clock Tower near Highbury Fields. The granite and cast-iron timepiece was donated by Alfred Hutchinson to the Islington Vestry in honour of Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897.
Christ Church was erected to the designs of Thomas Allom in 1847-8 on a site donated by John Dawes. Based at Balham Hill, Thomas Allom had written "Constantinople and the Seven Churches" and "France in the 19th century" and his work was deemed to combine art and architecture to great effect. Built with Kentish ragstone and Bath stone dressings, the cruciform-shaped structure combines elements of Gothic within the decorated style of the early 14th century. Following the overheating of a furnace flue, the building caught fire in January 1866, causing considerable damage to the roof. The nave was extended by two bays in 1872 and there have been several additions over the years.
Canonbury and Islington has a delightful walk along what is dubbed the "New River," a hand-dug water channel originating in Hertfordshire. Reviving long-distance aqueducts engineered by ancient civilisations, the water channel was a combined enterprise of the engineer Edmund Colthurst and the financier Sir Hugh Myddelton. Water first flowed from the springs at Amwell and Chadwell, following a course of some thirty miles to a pond at Sadler's Wells. Receiving the support of King James I, water was made available to subscribers in 1613. Eventually, the water was piped underground by the water works company so the water seen here in Canonbury is stagnant. The ducks and moorhens seem to delight in the thick Lemnoideae or duckweed. The area has been landscaped several times since it was formally opened as a park in 1954. By the way, we stepped off our bikes and walked along the footpath but we were passed by some idiot riding through this tranquil space designed for walkers and family groups.
We left the New River Walk at Willow Bridge as, on the corner of Douglas Road and Canonbury Street, there is a beautiful public-house that demanded further investigation.
The name of this public-house doffed its cap to Charles Douglas-Compton, 3rd Marquess of Northampton and a large landowner around the Canonbury area of Islington. However, the signboard features an Elizabethan illustration, the period in which the title was created in favour of William Parr, brother of Catherine Parr, the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII. The title was later associated with the Compton family, the first being Sir Henry Compton, who in 1572 was summoned to the House of Lords as Baron Compton, of Compton in the County of Warwick.
As landowner, the Marquess of Northampton developed the Canonbury estate in the early-mid 19th century. The land around the Marquess Tavern was transformed by James Wagstaff, a local surveyor, property developer and resident of Canonbury Square before moving to Highbury Lodge on Highbury Crescent. He had a development lease from the Northampton Estate for the area between Alwyne Villas and the gardens of Canonbury Park South. He was responsible for some elegant villas in what became a fashionable area in the 19th century. It is thought that the Marquess Tavern was erected in 1854. It was certainly trading by the following year as a meeting of ratepayers of the ward was held in the tavern during November 1855.
The Marquess Tavern is a very attractive three-storey building of yellow brick and stucco. Featuring round-arched openings, the ground floor is decorated with stucco and chamfered rustication. The second and third floors feature Corinthian pilasters between which, on the first floor, there are windows with moulded stucco architraves and alternating triangular and segmental pediments. The pub's name is featured on the frieze, above which there is a modillion cornice, parapet with blank balustrade. It is an elegant building and befitted the voguish locale in the 19th century.
The above advertisement for an auction of the lease of the Marquess Tavern describes the building's situation in 1864, a decade following construction of the public-house. The notice suggests that during the early Victorian era no other taverns would be sanctioned on this part of the Northampton estate. However, I note that it is not a great distance to the Myddleton Arms next to what was then the New North Road Bridge. The lease of the house had been advertised in October 1860, suggesting that exclusivity of beer and liquor sales did not prevent a fast turnover of publicans.
William Jameson was possibly the person who acquired the lease of the Marquess Tavern in 1864. He was certainly licensee during the following year. Born in Penrith, he was a joiner and cabinet-maker by trade but made a small fortune through purses won in wrestling. He no doubt secured enough prize money to buy the lease of the Marquess Tavern. Weighing in at around 17 stone, William Jameson was very light on his feet and this gave him an edge in the ring. Indeed, he was also a noted runner and pole jumper. In combat he won medals, belts and trophies galore and won the London, Cumberland & Westmorland-style wrestling five times in a decade. His great adversary was Dick Wright, another champion of the era. William Jameson became Champion Wrestler of England, a title he would hold for some period. He and Dick Wright divided the championship honours from 1856 to 1869.
William Jameson and his wife Annie were hosts to meetings of the Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling Society at the Marquess Tavern. This society had been established in the 1820s by a few Cumberland and Westmorland men residing within the sound of Bow Bells. Key events were held at Stamford Bridge, home of the London Athletic Club. William Jameson had come to London to grapple for big prize money and in 1861 scooped the winnings of an all-weight championship at a Good Friday event held at Hornsey Wood House [now Finsbury Park]. Wrestling was a major sport during the early-mid 19th century and events at Carlisle, Grasmere and London drew thousands of spectators.
Having taking on all-comers, widower William Jameson returned to Penrith in the 1870s. It is reported that when living at the former Sun Inn in Little Dockray, he issued a challenge to the world at wrestling but the event never materialised. He did not enjoy a long life, perhaps the battles took their toll. He died in November 1888 at the old Griffin Inn on Penrith's Cornmarket, a tavern he had acquired for £1,280. His funeral drew a large crowd and many noted wrestlers acted as pallbearers during the ceremony. During the following year a granite obelisk, made by Mr. S. Norman, sculptor, of Penrith, was erected in the cemetery, to the memory of the celebrated heavyweight wrestler. The memorial was provided by public subscription, the Lord Mayor of London being a contributor to the memorial fund.
By 1876 Henry William Tullet and his wife Harriet were mine hosts at the Marquess Tavern. In August of the following year the couple no doubt served whiskies to the tailor John Lynch and his wife Bridget. The couple had been separated on account of his intemperate habits because of which she had refused to live with him. It was a sort-of reconciliation meeting in which she was accompanied by her aunt Alice Carmody. The three of them drank in the Marquess Tavern where the tailor's brothers, Patsy and Martin, joined them. However, they got into a row and caused some trouble so were ejected. They proceeded to the Golden Fleece on Essex Road where they had further drinks. It was outside this house that Lynch, "drawing a razor from his pocket, rushed at his wife and cut her throat in such a terrible manner as nearly to sever the head from the body." It was reported that the "unfortunate woman, notwithstanding her mortal injury, staggered in a marvellous way across the Essex Road to the corner of Canonbury Road, where she dropped in a sitting position on the pavement, and then fell back dead." It was also stated that "at the time hundreds of persons were passing on the way home from church." A police officer man named Davenport immediately seized Lynch, and took him to Upper Street Police Station. He was subsequently tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to death. He was executed at Newgate Gaol in October 1877.
The Marquess Tavern has a small outside area so we parked up our bicycles and ventured inside to see what beers they had on offer. The good news is that some of the old interior fittings have survived. There is a horseshoe servery, part of which may be original, along with some panelling and a dado that also dates from the 19th century, possibly from an update in late Victorian times. Other elements of the pub have been changed for the modern consumer. There were four handpulls and, thankfully, the pump clip for the Doom Bar was turned around. I believe that the Timothy Taylor Landlord Bitter and St. Austell Tribute are regular ales in this house. We were drawn to the Cowcatcher American Pale Ale from the East London Brewing Co. These came in Ken Barlow glasses which is a novelty. However, the beer was awful. I suspect that it had been sat in the python overnight and nothing had been drawn off. We sat outside and sipped some of the second glass poured off. I was distracted by a Cardiff bloke who cycled up to the pub and asked if the beer was any good. When I told him that it was 'orrible he asked me why I did not complain. I told him that we were only stopping for a brief drink and couldn't be arsed to kick up a fuss. Besides, a confrontation would only spoil the rest of our day. Sounding very leftfield, he was an amiable bloke who, in his earlier days, had hitch-hiked around the UK going to gigs by the likes of the anarcho-punk band Crass. He was full of anecdotes and we enjoyed our brief encounter before heading off along Canonbury Grove. We left our beer on the table as it was little better than the stagnant water of New River Walk. George Orwell, said to have frequented the Marquess Tavern when living in Canonbury, would have put this beer in Room 101.
From Canonbury we joined the Regent's Canal and followed it all the way to Limehouse Basin at Tower Hamlets. This was an enjoyable off-road route on which we could view parts of London from a different perspective. We were amazed at how many people were living on boats. It is estimated that some 10,000 people reside on the city's waterways.
Measuring some 13.8 kilometres, the Regent's Canal was fully opened in 1820, connecting the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal with the River Thames at Limehouse Basin. Many of the boats are seemingly in a cycle of repair and a regular sight was an owner sawing something on a workbench perched on top of the cabin. The boats are largely littered with all sorts of odd stuff but then these folks do not have a garage in which to store all their junk.
In our experience few strangers talk to each other in London so we confounded everybody by greeting boat dwellers and apologising to pedestrians for disturbing their canalside walk as we pedalled past. A select few did appreciate our gestures in what can be a hostile city.
Formerly known as Regent's Canal Dock, Limehouse Basin was an extremely busy wharf where goods were transhipped from seagoing vessels to barges which took the cargo along the inland waterway. It was from here that many of the gasworks in London were supplied with coal. Engineered by Robert Stephenson and George Parker Bidder, the railway arches over the old wharves on the north side of the basin form part of the second oldest urban railway viaduct in the world. Constructed for the London and Blackwall Railway, the brick structure was redundant for 25 years before it was restored as part of the Docklands Light Railway. It was at this basin that a new system of high-pressure hydraulic cranes were installed during the 1850s which enabled cargo to be transferred in hours rather than days. I wonder what the wharfingers and dockers would make of the luxury apartments that surround the basin in the 21st century, not to mention the deluxe boats moored here.
From Limehouse Basin we wanted to stay as close to the River Thames as possible and cycle to the southernmost tip of the Isle of Dogs in order to use the foot tunnel to Greenwich. The Thames Cycle Path achieves this for the most part but there is a section on which one has to roll along Narrow Street. This is no bad thing as it is one of the Limehouse streets that has hung on to some of its Georgian properties. And the good news is that a row on the south side features a public-house of some note.
Following World War 2, the adjacent Georgian terrace had been left to rot, but in 1964 the writer Andrew Sinclair acquired one of the properties and reportedly persuaded some of his Cambridge friends to buy up the other houses. It was, for want of a better phrase, an early case of urban gentrification in Limehouse. Indeed, the thoroughfare, part of which was once known as Fore Street, has been home to a number of famous people, including the poet Ernest Dowson, authors Matthew Parris and Andrew Sinclair, and the film director David Lean. Sir Ian McKellen, one of the "National Treasures" featured in Radio 4's Deadringers, is part-owner of The Grapes, a small historic tavern at the end of the row.
During its colourful history, Narrow Street has been associated with the Literati. In the late 19th century Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray ventured to Limehouse in search of an opium den amid the Chinese immigrants who had settled here a century earlier. Arthur Conan Doyle also sent Sherlock Holmes for a little hedonism in Victorian Chinatown. The Grapes, formerly known as the Bunch of Grapes, is said to be disguised as a tavern by the sign of The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, in the opening chapter of "Our Mutual Friend," a mid-1860s novel in which Charles Dickens wrote: "A tavern of dropsical appearance ... long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public-house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all." I must point out however that George F. Young, in a 1935 edition of The Dickensian claimed that this referred to the Two Brewers which adjoined Duke Shore Stairs, a few metres to the east of the Bunch of Grapes. There was another hostelry called the Waterman's Arms at No.92, between the Bunch of Grapes and the Two Brewers.
Samuel Pepys may have patronised an earlier tavern here when, in October 1661, he visited Duke Shore, a few metres along the river. The celebrated diarist wrote: "by coach to Captain Marshe's, at Limehouse, to a house that hath been their ancestors for this 250 years, close by the lime house which gives the name to the place. Here they have a design to get the King to hire a dock for the herring busses, which is now the great design on foot, to lie up in. We had a very good and handsome dinner, and excellent wine. I not being neat in clothes, which I find a great fault in me, could not be so merry as otherwise..." Earlier in that year he wrote: "a good dinner and very handsome. After that and taking our leaves of the officers of the yard, we walked to the waterside and in our way walked into the rope-yard, where I do look into the tar-houses and other places, and took great notice of all the several works belonging to the making of a cable. So after a cup of burnt wine at the tavern there, we took barge..."
Narrow Street, which was much narrower before the north side was demolished and redeveloped in the latter part of the 20th century, has also been home to the artists Francis Bacon and Edward Wolfe. Charles Napier Hemy captured a scene [above] of the foreshore at Narrow Street showing barge builders at work in Limehouse. One business can clearly be seen - the premises of the mast and block maker John Giles Lamb. His business was based at 29 Fore Street, a little to the east of the Bunch of Grapes. When later absorbed into Narrow Street, the business was only doors away from the tavern. Many of the properties between Lamb's and the Bunch of Grapes were occupied by barge builders and associated river trades such as rope-making. The men who toiled in these businesses were the patrons of the Bunch of Grapes, a tavern in which tough men slaked their thirst.
The painting by Charles Napier Hemy is thought to date from 1880, a time when Henry and Eliza Elliott were mine hosts at the Bunch of Grapes. Born at Greenwich, Henry Elliott had formerly been a waterman in the greengrocery trade. He took to terra firma and remained at the tavern for much of the 1880s. As a widower, he moved a short distance to the Crown on Rhodeswell Road, a pub that he kept with his daughter Louisa. However, there was no need for a signwriter to change the licensee's plate above the front door as his son, also named Henry, took over here at the Bunch of Grapes. He worked as both lighterman and victualler until his death in April 1899 when widow Esther became the licensee. She was the daughter of the blacksmith Robert Nicholls. This brings us to the following photograph taken a few years into the Edwardian period ...
The Bunch of Grapes can be seen here next door to the Harbour Master's Office. This Queen Anne-influenced building survived until the inter-war years, although, as can be seen in the photograph below, the property was in a poor state of repair by the end of the Edwardian period. The local council considered saving the structure, particularly as some considered it to date from the Queen Anne period. However, after a detailed survey in 1923, it was reported that the building was constructed between 1800 and 1810. Accordingly, it was recommended that the house be demolished. For many, it was still a tragic loss to the townscape along Broadway Wharf. The harbour master in the early 1880s was Richard Marsden, his post also being river inspector and recorder of cargo traffic on the river. His key role was to complete a log in which he entered the arrival and departure of all vessels transporting coal. Captain James Smith held the post for the Thames Conservancy during the Edwardian period until March 1909 when the Port of London Authority took over responsibility of the Tideway of the River Thames.
Inevitably, the Bunch of Grapes would come under the umbrella of one of the large brewers. Dating from around 1912, this photograph shows that the tavern had become part of the tied-estate operated by Taylor, Walker & Co., a firm based just 100 metres to the east on a site between the north side of Narrow Street and Ropemakers' Fields, and extended northwards to rear of houses fronting Northey Street. This section of Narrow Street was formerly called Fore Street and the firm was founded here around 1730 [an exact date is uncertain] by brothers John and Richard Hare. They established a brewhouse in Becks Rents, close to where Barleycorn Way is located in the 21st century. This was once in the parish of Stepney which possibly explains why published books state that the company was founded there. However, the parish of St. Anne Limehouse was created by an Act of Parliament in 1730.
John and Richard Hare were certainly trading from premises, named the Ship Brewhouse, by the mid-1830s. Again, it is not clear when the Salmon family became involved in the business. However, I have found tax records for St. Anne's Limehouse dated 1850 which lists Messrs. Salmon & Hare next to a separate entry for Sarah Salmon. However, it was John Salmon who was listed as partner with John and Richard Hare when the firm leased the Duke of Cumberland in Woolwich High Street a few years later.
Richard Hare continued in the brewing business following the death of his brother. He and Robert Salmon later formed a partnership with John Kilner but these names faded from the story in later years. In October 1745 Richard Hare married the widow Martha Rock, daughter of the Reverend Henry Harford of Wickwar. Her maiden name would prevail when the company later traded as Hare and Harford. Richard and Martha had eight children. With financial help from his parents, Robert Hare sailed for America where he established a successful brewery in Philadelphia.
Richard Hare died in July 1776, the business being continued by his son Richard jnr. He was exposed and fined heavily on charges of tax avoidance and non-payment of beer duties. He retired from the business which, by 1793, was being run by the Quakers John Vickris Taylor of Southgate and Truman Harford of Bristol. These were from the same clan who hailed from the West Country. In 1816 they were joined by Isaac Walker, a member of another Quaker family. Indeed, he married Sarah Sophia, daughter of John Vickris Taylor, in 1823. Their sons would later become founding members of Middlesex Cricket Club. Vyell Edward Walker, or Teddy, became one of the early stars of cricket and was widely regarded as the best all-rounder of the 19th century.
Using water drawn from a deep well, the business exported ales to India and Australia from Dunbar Wharf. Taylor Walker steadily grew in importance during the Victorian era. The firm had enlarged and rebuilt parts of the site over the years before making the decision in 1889 to completely rebuild the brewery on a site once occupied by the Limehouse Workhouse. Designed by the architects Inskipp & Mackenzie, this became known as the Barley Mow brewery. I am not sure why the Limehouse Brewery name was eschewed in favour of the Barley Mow. There was a Barley Mow public-house on the north side of Narrow Street were Barleycorn Way is now located. This would become the brewery tap for Taylor Walker.
In 1901 Taylor Walker acquired the nearby St. George Brewery of John Furze & Co. Five years later John Bradshaw became chairman of the firm. He was a nephew of the Walker brothers. He had joined the family business in 1885 and remained for 54 years before his death just after the outbreak of World War 2. He worked alongside his brother Robert and cousin Edward Stanhope Rashleigh, and Taylor Walker became a limited company in March 1907.
This brings us back to the photograph of around 1912 with the livery of Taylor, Walker & Co. on the frontage of the Bunch of Grapes. The name emblazoned in large letters on the ground floor is W. Higgins. This was William George Higgins who may be featured standing in front of the pub. The former leather worker, kept the tavern with his wife Charlotte. The couple had tied the knot at Mile End Old Town in January 1899. William died in 1921 but Charlotte remained at the helm for many years. In 1937 she re-married Thomas Askew, a local stevedore. They remained on the premises but it was her son William, along with his wife Mary, who were running the house during the Second World War.
Around the time of the photograph Taylor, Walker & Co. acquired the Highbury Brewery at Holloway Road in North London. The takeovers continued, particularly after they became a public company in 1927. The company took control of 600 pubs when they bought Cannon Brewery Co. Ltd. of Clerkenwell.
The Bunch of Grapes became known simply as The Grapes during the inter-war years. Thankfully, the building survived the bombing raids of World War 2. The brewery was not so fortunate and production was halted for 18 months following incendiary bombing in March 1941. Beer production was farmed out to other breweries until repair work was completed. With the loss of over 1,300 jobs, the brewery closed for good in 1960 following the takeover by Ind Coope Ltd. I am not certain but I assume that The Grapes became an Ind Coope house.
It was shortly before the brewery closed that one of the long-established barge building firms called it a day. The premises of W. N. Sparks and Son, located next to Duke Shore Stairs at No.94, was put on the market in the Spring of 1955. At the time, the boat yard was described as a rambling Limehouse waterfront similar to that known by Dickens. A reporter, lamenting the passing of an epoch, described the place as a "dark and cavernous barge-repair loft, usually lit for passing watermen by a dramatic spray of blue welding sparks. The frontages abut on Narrow Street between the Bunch of Grapes and Duke Shore Wharf, a street famous in our island story, for it re-echoes the steps of Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, William Burrough, Phineas Pett, Duncan Dunbar, Captain Cook and Jerome K. Jerome." It is claimed that the dockyard at Molines Wharf was, near the end of its existence, where the Japanese Admiral Togo learned some of his trade.
When L. M. Bates discussed the premises of W. N. Sparks and Son, he wrote of a "warren of rooms in which the Sparks family once lived and which later served as a store and a canteen. Between Nos. 98 and 96 he described Duke Shore as "an open patch of foreshore reached by a worn flight of watermen's stairs." These stairs are still there today but in 1955, next to the stairs, there was "an old wooden watch-house, dating probably from the seventeenth century. It still contained the wooden, comfortless bunk where the Charlies rested between their patrols and the balcony from which they could overlook the whipping-post and prisoners' cage which once existed on the foreshore."
No.96 was, at the time of the sale, another of the firm's stores. Under a will made in 1872 by Richard Linton, a Limehouse worthy, the rents from this building were bequeathed for the maintenance of the clock and bells of St. Anne's Parish Church. In 1955 the offices of W. N. Sparks and Son were at No.94. Local folklore had it that the bricked-in ovens on the ground floor were relics of a sugar bakery which formerly occupied the premises. But, as L. M. Bates, wrote, "there is circumstantial evidence that it was in No.94 that the famous blue-and-white Limehouse chinaware began to appear in the middle of the eighteenth century."
No.92 was once the aforementioned Waterman's Arms which had become a timber store for Messrs. Sparks. Next door at No.90 was once the premises of John Giles Lamb, the mast and block maker featured in the painting by Charles Napier Hemy. This too had been taken over by the Sparks, a family that were once Bristol wheelwrights but came to the Thames many moons previous to the sale in 1955. It was said that they plied their trade on the river for five generations. After working at Millwall and Ratcliff, they settled in this location in 1883. The firm had given up building barges in 1925 but continued in business as barge repairers and surveyors.
The Cambridge set were amongst those who changed the character of the row of properties. Another to join this colony was Lady Rozelle Raynes and her doctor husband Richard. The couple moved into Narrow Street during the 1960s when the properties were being restored. In Limehouse she became known simply as Mrs. Raynes despite being the daughter of Gervas Evelyn Pierrepont, the sixth Earl Manvers. Her mother, Marie-Louise, was related to Theodore Roosevelt. However, she rejected the world of debutants and socialites, preferring a tough life on the sea as a yachtswoman. She once described her experience as an oil-smeared stoker in the Channel at the time of D-Day as her "ultimate peak of happiness." After the war she bought a former lifeboat and sailed around the European coastline. Often sailing alone, she ventured further afield to the Baltic Sea.
Mrs. Raynes became quite a well-known figure in Limehouse through her work in education. She was a governor of three local schools, committed to work on a voluntary basis at Cyril Jackson Primary School, and devised a scheme to help disadvantaged boys by teaching them how to sail on the Thames. She even worked one night a week in The Grapes to help out the landlord and his wife. She and her husband developed strong bonds and affection for the locale and the residents. They later moved to Blackheath but they missed old Limehouse so they eagerly returned to the street they loved. By this time they were neighbours to the Foreign Secretary David Owen, along with his wife Debbie, an American literary agent. She once described her topophilia of Narrow Street with her "love of the views or the river in its endlessly changing moods and lights, and the lopsidedness and idiosyncrasy of the different houses in the row."
In early 2012 the lease on The Grapes was taken over in partnership by the actor Sir Ian McKellen, the theatre and film director Sean Mathias, and Evgeny Lebedev, publisher of the Evening Standard newspaper. The eminent Shakespearean was already a resident of Narrow Street but claimed that he moved in "before gentrification." Arguably, the previous paragraphs tell a different story. However, he told the Evening Standard that "Cabs wouldn't come down here, not because they were scared but because they wouldn't get a fare back into London." This was probably true. As a neighbouring resident, Sir Ian McKellen knew the previous licensee Barbara Haigh, once a Bunny at the London Playboy Club in the 1960s. When she told him she planned to retire after running The Grapes for 17 years the man who played the wizard Gandalf concocted a masterplan to buy the lease.
The Grapes has remained a traditional house, a place for good food and drink, along with good conversation. Adnam's Southwold Bitter, Black Sheep Best Bitter and Timothy Taylor Landlord Bitter are normally on sale with a limited variety of national brands as I think Greene King own the freehold. They acquired the Spirit Pub Company in 2015, itself a spin-from Punch Taverns. To paraphrase the wise wizard "I will not say do not weep, for not all beers are an evil." The trio of regular ales are indeed a notch above fair to middling but if The Grapes were free-of-tie then it would be a true blockbuster. As one of the pub's former patrons once wrote "Please sir, I want some more."
I have not mentioned that this incarnation of The Grapes dates from around 1720, the rest of the row being attributed to the late 17th and early 18th centuries. There is a blue plaque on the frontage of The Grapes claiming that an earlier tavern on the site dated from 1583. The ten-bay angled block adjoining the pub has been dated to around 1718 and said to have been built by Thomas Wakelin of Ratcliff[e]. The former Waterman's Arms at No.92, a pub that traded as Booty's Bar in recent times, is thought to be the oldest of the next row. The infilled archway next door was part of the boat yard of W. N. Sparks and Son. No.98 on the corner of Duke Shore Stairs is the former [aforementioned] Two Brewers, another rebuild of an old inn sign.
The Two Brewers was once the venue for many rowing races in which contestants battled on the water for cash. Each rower would raise their end of the wager, from £10 to £30 [a good sum in the mid-19th century] and the publican would hold the money until race day. No doubt a good number of side bets would be wagered by patrons of the house. The Two Brewers also played a role in the Limehouse Regatta.
Francis Miltoun is another writer to suggest that the Two Brewers was the house on which Charles Dickens based his Six Jolly Fellowship Porters. He stated this in "Dickens' London," a book published by Eveleigh Nash in 1903, a mere 33 years after the author's death and, accordingly, carries more credence and less distance decay than contemporary works by other historians. With a construction date of around 1720, The Grapes was not a tavern of "dropsical appearance" when Dickens penned "Our Mutual Friend" in 1864-5. I am not certain when the Two Brewers was rebuilt - if it is mid-19th century then they made a good job of blending it in with the existing Georgian houses.
Facing the Two Brewers, though one has to look through the trees, is the former Black Horse at No.27 Ropemakers' Fields. This is a late Georgian-styled building though it is thought to have been erected at a later date in 1857. However, the building is a useful comparison with the Two Brewers.
The Black Horse is the only historic building left in this thoroughfare named after the trade on which shipping depended. Every other building surrounding the property was either hit by German bombs or demolished in the aftermath of The Blitz. As a result, in its latter days as a licensed-house, the pub traded as The House They Left Behind. It was in this guise that Christopher Dunhill, heir to the Dunhill tobacco fortune, was stabbed 12 times in the head, neck and stomach. The pub's landlord, Tony Fran, was also seriously hurt with stab wounds. Bizarrely, Christopher Dunhill was living above the pub at the time of the incident. The Daily Mirror reported that he had been living "a high-octane lifestyle of drugs, champagne, beautiful women and fast cars." The newspaper told of his playboy excesses and his debts running into millions of pounds. He was declared bankrupt in 1981 and later jailed for supplying drugs and handlings stolen goods. He was once married to actress and model Victoria Burgoyne, the woman who appeared in a 1975 television advert for Cadbury's Flake which was subsequently banned on the basis of its erotic content!
We were soon signposted back on to the Thames Path and across a footbridge at what was Limekiln Dock and Wharf. The pub frequented by the stevedores grafting here was The Enterprise on Three Colt Street.
We pedalled the short distance to Limehouse Dock, once the entrance to the South Dock of the West India Docks. The land here was once the western bank of Stepney Marsh where fishing and milling were the chief industries. Indeed, the name Millwall is derived from a row of windmills that stood on the river embankment. It was when the West India Docks were built in the early years of the 19th century that a lock was cut through the embankment. The old industries had to make way for shipyards, dry docks and iron works. By the mid-19th century over 4,000 hands worked at the Millwall Iron Works.
Here one can see some of the more recent developments at Canary Wharf, including the Landmark Pinnacle. This was erected partly on the site of the City Arms, part of the Mann, Crossman & Paulin Ltd. tied-estate and, following 1958, Watney Mann Ltd. I believe the original tavern was opened just after the completion of the West India Docks. The more recent boozer, trading as the City Pride, was an inter-war rebuild. In the swinging 60s the pub was widely known for a resident drag act Phyl and Terri. They would pack the pub every Friday and Saturday evening, along with Sunday lunchtimes, lavishly dressed in lamé and fur with bouffant wigs.
We stuck to our plan of cycling the river path. An alternative was to pedal along West Ferry Road which has the remains of a few old pubs, notably the Blacksmith's Arms on the corner of Cuba Street, along with the Anchor and Hope on the corner of Manilla Street. Sadly, most of the other dockland pubs were swept away during redevelopment.
The river acted as a pleasant distraction from the monotony of soulless apartment blocks where there was once bustling activity 24/7 in the docks, wharfs and factories. Millwall's foreshore was once a hive of shipbuilding activity. There was also a number of food processing plants, one of the most famous being that of C. and E. Morton who opened a factory here in 1872. The firm produced goods like preserved fish and meat, jams, pickles, canned food and custard powder. Workers of the firm founded Millwall Rovers in 1885. During the following year they moved to a playing field at the rear of the Lord Nelson pub and it was known as the Lord Nelson Ground. After a spells at the Athletic Grounds and North Greenwich, the club moved to The Den at New Cross in 1910.
Another household name in food is remembered at Sir John McDougall Gardens, though in all honesty it is not such a beautiful memorial. The gardens are relatively close to the site of the Wheatsheaf Mill built by the family business on the southern quay of the Millwall Outer Dock in 1869. As a member of the Progressive Party, John McDougall was elected to London County Council in 1889 and served as Chairman in 1902-03.
There is another section where the Thames River Path diverts along West Ferry Road. This presents cyclists with an opportunity to admire the Space Theatre, opened in 1996 within the former St. Paul's Presbyterian Mission Church. Designed by Thomas Knightley, the foundation stone of the North Italian Romanesque-styled building was laid by John Scott Russell, the Scottish civil engineer, naval architect and shipbuilder [see below]. It became known as the Scottish Church, not because of Russell, but the congregation was largely Scottish families who had moved south to work in the shipyard. The Brown Flemish band brick with stone and polychromatic brick dressings makes for a aesthetically-pleasing structure. St. Paul's was replaced by a new church at Island House, Castalia Square, in 1972.
Just past Napier Avenue are what is thought to be the remains of the ramps used to launch the S.S. Great Eastern. Designed by designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and built by John Scott Russell : Co. at Millwall Iron Works, the ship was a colossus of maritime history. The London Press said that the pair were building Noah's Ark. The ship was originally named the Leviathan, but the spiralling costs of construction and launching ruined the Eastern Steam Navigation Company. The ship, Brunel's final engineering project, lay half-completed on the dock for around a year before it was sold to the Great Eastern Ship Company. Accordingly, the vessel, dubbed "Great Babe" by Brunel, was officially renamed the Great Eastern. A pub near the dock also adopted this name.
The original launch was a disaster. The sheer weight of the vessel was a bugger to shift and the dignitaries invited to the launch, along with a great crowd of people, witnessed a non-event. Tragically, two men were killed and several others injured when the windlass at the stern was violently ripped around. This event led many to declare the Great Eastern as an unlucky ship. Brunel himself died before the maiden voyage of the SS Great Eastern. It was whilst the vessel was being fitted out that he collapsed from a stroke in September 1859 after being photographed on the deck. The SS Great Eastern was unique at the time for being launched sideways from the slipway. In many respects, it did turn out to be an unlucky ship. When it failed as a passenger liner it was used to lay cables, playing a key role in the Transatlantic telegraph cable connection of 1866. The vessel suffered some ignominy when it was later used as a floating music hall. Worse was to follow as SS Great Britain ended up as an advertising hoarding in the River Mersey. The ship was broken up in 1889.
Amid the homogeneity of Millwall's nondescript apartment blocks fragments of the old iron works can be seen at Burrell's Wharf Square, including the former Plate House. Developed in the mid-1830s, the Millwall Iron Works was one of the early industrial complexes to be built on the former meadowland of the Isle of Dogs once owned by the St. Martin-in-the-Fields haberdasher Simon Lemon. The ship-building works was started a decade later by the Scottish engineers William Fairbairn and David Napier. The works was acquired by a partnership headed by the aforementioned John Scott Russell in 1848. The business was highly successful until Isambard Kingdom Brunel came to him with plans for his enormous steam-powered steel vessel. The project was to be the ruin of Russell. The works was rescued and, under the management of the Welsh industrialist John Hughes, traded as the Millwall Iron Works, Ship Building & Graving Docks Company Ltd., which itself went pear-shaped in the Panic of 1866, a financial crisis that led to a great reduction in shipbuilding in London.
In 1888 Alfred E. Burrell acquired a central part of the old iron works. His colour and varnish-making firm was founded in 1852 and had established factories at Southwark, Mile End and Limehouse. The docks at Millwall facilitated the importing of raw materials for the new factory which, at first, was used solely for paint-making. The site was expanded over the years as the firm expanded into chemical colours produced for use in the making of paints, printing inks, plastics, rubber and paper. During the Second World War Burrell's produced a variety of chemicals for the government, including a constituent of flame-thrower fuel. The firm moved in 1986 as the land value had increased enormously during the redevelopment of the Isle of Dogs.
We continued along the River Thames Path which turns inland to Ferry Street where the old Ferry House stands on the corner of Factory Place. According to the pub's website "the Ferry House has stood on the Isle of Dogs since 1722 and is certainly the oldest pub on the island, and quite probably the Island's oldest building in continual use." There was a scare between 2015-6 when the pub closed for a spell until a new tenant was found. However, thankfully the place seems to be back on track.
With an extended ground floor, the Ferry House is quite a singular building. On the first floor there is a projecting rectangular stuccoed bay with a swept hipped lead roof. This may have been built over a former porch that served as a look-out for the ferry. The right section of the pub is a late 19th century addition. The interior of the tavern features some plain wood panelling, thought to date from the 18th century.
Across the street a timber-clad apartment block thwarts a view of the slipway between Rigby's Wharf and Felsted Wharf, a pity as this marks the spot where the ancient ferry took people across the Thames to Greenwich. The inn sign, perhaps a legacy from its days as a Courage house, depicts an eighteenth century scene with a woman being assisted onto the jetty. A man drinking a tankard of ale is donning a tricorne hat.
The above map extract dated 1836 shows that there was still only a modest amount of development on the Isle of Dogs in the year that HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin on board, reached Sydney. This was long before Cubitt Town was built at Saunders Ness. One of the great master builders of the 1830s, William Cubitt constructed Covent Garden, the Fishmongers' Hall and the portico and original station buildings at Euston. Towards the end of the 1840s, he poured his energy into politics. In 1847 he was elected a Sheriff of London and Middlesex and, at the same time, he became MP for his home town of Andover. He served as Lord Mayor of London in 1860-61 and was re-elected in 1861-62. He died in 1863 at the age of 72.
The Ferry House Inn is marked on maps of greater antiquity, along with the Chapel House a little further north. The Ferry House is certainly shown on a map dating from 1745 and just to the west was a gibbet where serious miscreants were hung and left on display as a warning to others. Residents of Greenwich could hire field glasses to view the corpses in gory detail.
There is a Chapel House Street today but the old chapel stood closer to Spindrift Avenue. The chapel was first mentioned in the twelfth century, perhaps from the period when the land was first drained. William of Pontefract built the chapel on land that became the Pomfret Estate. However, subsequent flooding led to decay and abandonment, though plenty was still in evidence during the 18th century. It became a farmhouse around this time and the leaseholder rebuilt it in brick.
In the 17th century there was pretty much nothing of substance on the Isle of Dogs, apart from a watergate here at Potter's Ferry. The roads seen on the above map probably date from around 1812 when created by the Poplar and Greenwich Ferry Roads Company who had sought an Act of Parliament to operate a horse-ferry between Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs. This service ceased in 1844 but tolls were still collected at the gates of the roads until May 1885.
The earliest documented evidence of a ferry between Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs occurs in a will of 1450. The ferry, along with land in Hackney and Stepney was granted to Thomas, Lord Wentworth by Edward VI in 1550. The earliest building close to the ferry is said to be a starch house connected to the flour-milling trade that flourished on the western side of the Isle of Dogs in the late 17th century. However, Samuel Pepys wrote of a ferry house in July 1665. The Starch House, perhaps doubling as the Ferry House, was certainly in existence during the early 18th century and occupied by Samuel Hart and his family. It is this structure that is said to have become or rebuilt as the Ferry House, the name of which was in use from around 1740. In 1749 a 55-year lease for the Ferry House was granted to William Brown, a Greenwich victualler.
Prize fights took place at the Ferry House Inn during the early 19th century. In one fight in April 1827 Bill Mason, a print-colourer went up against a plasterer named Warren. The journalist reporting on the contest was fairly uncharitable with his words, stating that "it was little more than an apology for prize-fighting. Two hours were frittered away between them over seventeen rounds, when the fight terminated in a wrangle, Mason, it was contended by the opposite party, had given a foul blow and Warrener was taken away."
In a real-life case akin to "Jarndyce and Jarndyce" in Bleak House, ownership of the Ferry House was contested in the courts during the late 1840s following fierce fighting in the pub. Robert Shepherd was the landlord and tenant of the house when William Blake Downing, a broker, of Goodman's Fields, entered the house with some 'heavies' to seize goods he said were owed due to non-payment of rent to the owner, Mary Ann MacDonald Pollard. One of Downing's gang was a man called Sheen who had been tried some years previously for cutting his child's head off. The potman and barmaid rallied to the publican's defence, probably helped by some of the patrons, and the invaders were ejected, some of them reportedly opening the windows in order to jump out and flee. This sounds like it was a most dramatic night in the Ferry House.
Robert Shepherd was willing to pay his rent but not directly to Mary Ann MacDonald Pollard. He told the court that he was a tenant of Messrs. Larchin and Co., brewers, of Ratcliffe Cross. However, Pollard claimed to be the owner of the premises. In 1839, a gentleman named James Macdonald was the owner of a leasehold estate on the Isle of Dogs, of which the Ferry House occupied Robert Shepherd formed part. It was stated that a gentleman residing in Poplar obtained judgment against Macdonald for £500, and to avoid payment Macdonald went abroad, having previously by deed, properly stamped and executed, in consideration of £1,999, sold the estate to Charles Francis Doyle. Some time afterwards Doyle died, having bequeathed the same property by will to his brother, who took possession, and granted, amongst others, a lease for the Ferry House Tavern to the brewer Henry Larchin. Mary Pollard asserted that she was the niece of Macdonald, who died, leaving the whole of the property to her. By now the magistrate probably had his head in his hands. The matter went to a superior court and the costs of the case amounted to a very considerable sum. The proceedings lasted for some 12 years.
In July 1864 Captain Griffiths, a 56-year-old master of the schooner Nimrod, moored off the Ferry stairs, was seen by several of his crew drinking in the Ferry House Inn. It would appear that the mariner had a tipple too many for it was reported when he left the tavern he was very tipsy. He walked along the relatively narrow plank in safety but when he went to vomit over the stern of the vessel he fell overboard and drowned.
The first crossing of the Greenwich Vehicular Steam Ferry was undertaken in February 1888. There were a pair of steel-hulled ferry-boats, each being built nearby at the Britannia boatyard of Steward & Latham. The concrete slipway is a legacy of this ferry service that proved to be a financal disaster. The ferry ceased in 1892.
The opening of the Greenwich foot tunnel in 1902 was the final nail in the coffin for the foot ferry service. By this time, however, the Ferry House Inn enjoyed trade from the army of workers employed in the expanded industrialisation at Millwall. In more recent times the pub has had to adapt to a changing landscape and customer base.
The Ferry House generally has a beer on sale from the Brockley Brewery of South London. The brewery was established in a disused builder's workshop in Harcourt Road and the first beers were produced in March 2013. The pub often has Brockley Pale Ale on tap, the brewery's best-selling flagship ale which is full-bodied and bittered with a balanced bouquet of Kentish hops, giving an initial bittersweet taste, followed by hints of apricot. The Ferry House also sells a couple of keg beers from the Camden Brewery.
We pedalled the short distance to the north portal and shafts of the tunnel that did for the ferry. To our dismay the lifts were out of action. Indeed, speaking to a regular commuter, they had been out of service for around a month. The only option was to pick our bag-laden bikes and walk down the 87 stairs to the tunnel. There are 'No Cycling' signs in the tunnel but everybody else was pedalling so we also rolled along. Unfortunately, there are 100 steps on the southern side and it is a little tiresome to carry the bikes up to the area around the Cutty Sark.
Turning right, we cycled along the north bank, past the southern concrete ramp of the Greenwich Vehicular Steam Ferry. We pedalled across the site of the Phoenix Gas Works and across Deptford Creek, arriving at the statue of Peter the Great. This was unveiled in 2001 on the site of a crane of the General Steam Navigation Company Works. It is positioned here because, when visiting the Royal Docks in 1698, the Russian Csar stayed at Sayes Court in Deptford, a house belonging to the diarist John Evelyn. However, he and his entourage completely trashed the place. Evelyn's steward reported that: "No part of the house escaped damage. All the flooring was covered with grease and ink, and three new floors had to be provided. The tiled stoves, locks to the doors, and all the paint work had to be renewed. The curtains, quilts, and bed linen were 'tore in pieces.' All the chairs in the house, numbering over fifty, were broken, or had disappeared, probably used to stoke the fires. Three hundred window panes were broken and there were 'twenty fine pictures very much tore and all frames broke,' thought to have been used as target practice. The garden which was Evelyn's pride and joy was completely ruined." Needless to say, John Evelyn removed his property from the Airbnb website. Being as the Russian guest took the piss, the sculptor of this work, Mihail Chemiakin, could have done likewise by creating something like Tracey Emin's "My Bed.' to celebrate the carnage wreaked by the pin-headed git.
We were almost at our destination so we nipped into the Dog and Bell in Prince Street, a pub we have enjoyed on a previous visit to Deptford. We were astonished to see that the pub had completely commandeered Prince Street to create a large outdoor venue. The road closure, in which Lewisham Council worked with local community groups, was part of a 2019 trial that is destined to become permanent. Great news for cyclists as they can keep an eye on their bikes whilst enjoyed a beer outside.
We had a particularly great beer experience at the Dog and Bell in 2019 when I covered a little of the building's history. However, on on this occasion the hand-pulled beers were somewhat lacking in bite. We even watered the plant container with one of them. Still, not to worry, the Dog and Bell has a decent Belgian bottled beer selection so we could go all Pontinental. We kicked off with some Tripel Karmeliet and Sint- Bernadus Tripel, followed up with Delirium Tremens and rounded off with some Troubadour Magma, a beer not on the board but we spotted in the fridge.
We were first bowled over by Troubadour Magma around 2011 on a visit to Flanders. Clocking in at 9.0%, the Tripel remains a very dependable beer. Brouwerij Musketeers was launched by four brewing engineers in 1999. I believe that two of the founders, Stefaan Soetemans and Kristof De Roo, are still running the business. Building on their early success, Troubadour Magma was rolled out in 2010 and quickly developed a cult following. Once everyone got in on the act, the awards rolled in and sales boomed. The amber-colour beer is a halfway house between an American IPA and a Belgian tripel, not perhaps one for purists but it really is dynamite. As the brewery says: "the tripel element tones down the hop violence of the IPA and achieves the best of two worlds, combining the fruitiness of the Belgian tripel with the bitterness and exotic aromas from the IPA."
There was some nice veggie food on offer at the Dog and Bell so we filled up with Baked Mac and Cheese and Veggie Bangers and Mash. Another fine experience in this Deptford tavern, though we sort of knew that our heads would be a little sore in the morning.
Friday October 15th 2021
As suspected, I was reaching for the paracetamol in the morning. Still, we were on a chilled day in Greenwich so once we were out in the rain and got some fresh air I was on the mend. Sort of.
As we wandered along Greenwich High Road I pondered over the contrasting architectural styles of the former town hall and the public library. The pair seem to encapsulate the rapid change in planning and design of public buildings in the early 20th century. The gap between construction of the town hall and library was a little over 30 years. The Historic England website states that the library was the work of Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas, an architect that favoured the Baroque Revival during the Edwardian period. However, when the building opened in late September 1907, it was reported that it was designed by Messrs. Wills and Anderton of Bloomsbury Square. The builder was Frederick J. Gorham of Point Hill in Greenwich.
Whether one likes to think of the library as Baroque Revival or Wren-inspired Early English, there is getting away with the fact that the next door neighbour exhibits a completely new approach to civic buildings during the inter-war years. The art historian Nikolaus Pevsner stated that it is "the only town hall of any London borough to represent the style of our time adequately." Take at look at Hilversum Town Hall in the Netherlands and it can be seen how this building was influenced or inspired by the work of Willem Marinus Dudok, the Dutch modernist architect.
Of course, the Scandinavians were ahead of the game. The town hall at Stockholm, a triumph of the National Romantic style, was completed in 1923. The inter-war years was an important period for municipal architecture in the UK and the designs were increasingly influenced by the modernist works of Europe. Greenwich Town Hall was designed by Clifford Culpin, the foundation stone being laid in June 1938. He may have also taken some inspiration from the New Zealand-born architect Reginald Uren who designed Hornsey Town Hall earlier in the decade.
Looking further back in time, there is a key interest for myself as the site of the town hall was formerly occupied by the public baths and wash house, an old theatre converted into a cinema and, yes, you have guessed it, a public-house. The New Greenwich Theatre was built by Sefton Parry in 1864. It had become the Carlton Theatre in the Edwardian period but was sold before the First World War when it was converted into the Cinema de Luxe, part of Cinema Palaces Limited.
The pub was called the Portland Hotel at No.77 London Street and immediately adjoined the public-library. The above image may date from 1933, the year that Charrington & Co. Ltd. took over Hoare & Co. Ltd., a company based at the Red Lion Brewery at Lower East Smithfield. A sign for Charrington features to the left of the photograph, though ales from Hoare & Co. Ltd. are still being advertised in the window below the lettering informing patrons that Billiards was played in the building. H. Falconer is painted above the door so it would seem that Walter Henry Falconer eschewed his first name. He and his wife Ada had been running the Portland Hotel since the mid-1920s. They would later manage the Queen's Head on Paradise Street in Rotherhithe.
This advertisement for the Portland Hotel dates from the last year of the 19th century when Henry Morton was the proprietor of the theatre next door. Wouldn't we be all the richer today if our licensed houses, like Southwark-born victualler Henry Elliott, told us that "No effort will be spared to meet the convenience and to merit the patronage of the public in general." He and his wife Georgina were old-school hosts of several public-houses. In the early 1880s they were running the Mechanics' Larder on Grays Inn Road at St. Pancras. In the following decade they were in charge of The Crown Hotel on Lavender Hill at Battersea.
With the rain starting to lash down, we headed to the National Maritime Museum where we could learn about some of this island's glorious and not-so-glorious naval history. As you would expect there is plenty of information about how the navy trampled over the lives of foreigners. However, there are plenty of exhibits devoted to scientific discovery, art, cartography and navigational instruments. I particularly liked the display of ship figureheads. The figurehead central to the above photograph shows a woman wearing a mural crown. This was attributed to HMS London, a first-rate ship of 104 guns that was renamed the Royal Adelaide before it was completed in 1828. To the right is the figurehead of HMS Megaera, named after one of the Furies of Ancient Greek mythology. The iron screw frigate was built at Fairbairn's shipyard at Millwall in 1848-9. The vessel was used as a troopship but in 1871 was beached as unseaworthy on St. Paul's Island in the Indian Ocean.
We had to manouvre around the museum to avoid the parties of school children, particularly as they are not vaccinated for Covid. However, possibly because it is boring to youngsters, we had the Turner room to ourselves. "The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805," an extraordinary work, is was the largest painting and only royal commission undertaken by the eccentric curmudgeon. The accompanying audio was most interesting and helped us appreciate sections of the painting that we may have overlooked. Reportedly, 30,000 visitors a day queue up at the Louvre for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa but, in my mind, there are more layers of complexity in this work and no queue!
La Goddess du Vélo tried her hand executing a rescue mission in the ship simulator. She is such a notorious land-lubber, I am still trying to figure out how she kept her breakfast down! She almost crashed the ship though I was urging her to ramp it up to ramming speed! Achieving a score of 70 we felt confident that she could walk straight up to the helm of the Thames Clipper and drive it herself. I mean, 70 points must be enough qualification to completely trash the landing stage at Canary Wharf! If she had notched up a couple more points she could have filled in the application form for the next Bond film.
By the time we left the National Maritime Museum the rain had stopped and the sky brightened up somewhat. Although we have visited the Royal Observatory before, we thought it would be nice to walk up the hill and enjoy the view. Beyond the old Royal Hospital School and Royal Naval College are the glass and steel towers centred around Canary Wharf. I reflected that it is still within the living memories of some older Londoners, or those relocated to Essex, to look across at busy dockyards, iron works, saw mills, cooperages and cranes that served a function rather than acting as decorative evocations of another age. I realise that I am romanticising the past but I feel nothing for the offices where papers are shuffled and keyboard buttons are pressed. It seems that, within my lifetime, the UK has gone from making all manner of goods to having it all delivered from places where people are paid jack shit. Long before the philanthropists like William Wilberforce forced legislative change, the docklands helped to make London rich through the slave trade but one has to wonder if we are still culpable in the exploitation of overseas labour. But people don't seem to mind if their vacuum cleaner or washing machine is made in Malaysia rather than Malmesbury. We even give gongs and titles to the industrialists who prefer not to pay a decent wage.
We had arrived at the Royal Observatory just in time to see the Time Ball drop, an anti-climax for most people who hang around for ages waiting to see this daily event. However, in days of old it was an important visual time signal that enabled navigators on ships in the Thames to check their marine chronometers. It was fun watching the tourists trying to figure out the Galvano-Magnetic Clock. I am convinced that there are lot of very confused people who traipse up this famous hill trying to figure out a very simple thing called time. Perhaps it does not help that signs are in both GMT and BST. The former signaller in me prefers to stick to a time zone called Zulu wherever I may be on the planet. Much easier to figure out. Mind you, the whole Greenwich thing is behind the times. Not even the marking strip at the Royal Observatory lies at zero degrees, zero minutes, and zero seconds. Indeed, the meridian is 102.478 metres to the east.
We walked back down the hill and went in search of some street food in Greenwich Market. The choice is mind-boggling but I settled on a delicious plate of vegan nosh based on Ethiopian recipes.
We headed to the river for a post-lunch walk along the foreshore. The last time we came to Greenwich Lara Maiklem had just published "Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames" and we were fresh from listening to the audio version on Radio 4, a lovely account of discovering treasure or 'old stuff.' Although I was walking towards the Trafalgar Tavern with my head down, I was not truly digging for gold. Conversely, Lara Maiklem, spends a lot of her time on her hands and knees where she can "breathe in the muddy aroma of silt and algae and listen to the sound of water drying on the stones: a barely discernible fizz-pop as it evaporates and the lacquered shine turns to a powdering of fine grey silt." As a form of chill-out, a stroll across the pebbles when the tide is low is treasure in itself.
We wandered around the old Royal Naval College trying to figure out what the rooms are used for in the 21st century. Of course, we knew that a brewery was established in part of the complex so headed to see if it was still operating and if the beers were on sale. In short no and no is the answer. However, the redundant plant can still be seen in what is essentially a dining room for a venue officially known as the Old Brewery. Operated by Young's, the brewery kit is simply used as a "perfect backdrop to any corporate, private party or event." An expensive backdrop as it cost some £200,000 to install in 2010. The six-barrel microbrewery was always something of a novelty as the Meantime Brewery had, in the same year, lavished £2m on a new brewery in Blackwall Lane.
The Meantime Brewery was founded in 1999 by Alastair Hook, a man who can rightly claim to be something of a craft beer pioneer in the UK. The seeds of his career in beer were sown by a visit to the Hopland Brewery in Mendocino, California. This inspired him to undertake a brewing degree at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. Fresh from graduation, he spent some time at a brewing school in Germany before working for the Kaltenberg brewery. Consequently, he was suitably qualified to accept an invitation in 1991 to establish a German-style brewhouse at the Packhorse Brewery in Ashford.
During the 1990s Alastair Hook teamed up with the restaurateur Oliver Peyton to open Mash & Air, a brewery and restaurant in Manchester. This was followed by another branch off Regent Street.
At the fag end of the 20th century Alastair Hook convinced family and friends to finance a new enterprise. Thus, he was able to launch the Meantime Brewing Company in an old industrial unit close to the other love of his life - the ground of Charlton Athletic F.C. The first beer, Union Lager, was produced in April 2000. In the following year an outlet, the Greenwich Union, was opened on Royal Hill in a former Charrington's tavern called the Fox and Hounds. At the time of typing this was closed and it was mooted that it would form an extension to the Richard I next door, another outlet of Young's.
In 2008 Alastair Hook was named as Brewer of the Year by the British Guild of Beer Writers. Two years later the company opened a new brewery in Blackwall Lane at Greenwich. Things got really serious during the following year when Nick Miller, former managing director at SAB Miller UK's operating company, was appointed the new chief executive. With his vast experience of sales and marketing, particularly at Coors, target sales at Meantime were ramped up considerably. By 2013 the firm was producing 50,000 hectolitres per annum. However, two years later, in May 2015, it was announced that Meantime had been acquired by SAB Miller, the world's second-largest brewer. The deal was reportedly worth £120m. In less than a year the company was sold to Asahi Group Holdings of Japan.
St. Alfege Church was a building site when we visited Greenwich in 2019 as the building and churchyard was undergoing renovations. What joy to find the church open today. It is supposedly on the site where the Archbishop of Canterbury was martyred in 1012, hence the dedication to Alfege. It is probable that King Henry VIII was baptised in the older structure that collapsed in a storm during 1710.
The new church was designed by the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, a former clerk to Sir Christopher Wren. Built by Edward Strong the Younger, the church was completed around 1716. Having worked closedly with Wren on some of London's churches, Hawksmoor went on to work with Sir John Vanbrugh. He was inspired by the ancient churches of Greece and the Middle East.
The crypt served as an air-raid shelter during World War Two. However, the church was hit by German incendiary bombs in March 1941 causing the roof to collapse and extensive damage to the interior. The church was restored by Sir Albert Richardson in 1953.
The English Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis was organist at St. Alfege from 1540 to 1585. Part of the keyboard from his time at the church are on display within a glass cabinet. The composer lived nearby in Stockwell Street and was a favourite of King Henry VIII for whom he played the organ in the private chapel at the nearby palace sited where the Royal Naval College is today. Thomas Tallis became known as the father of English church music.
From the church we headed up Royal Hill towards the Prince of Greenwich as we had read that, despite a poor beer choice, the food was very good. On the way we passed the Richard I and the aforementioned Greenwich Union. This photograph dates from 2019 and I have used that as a lorry was blocking the view on this day. However, the Greenwich Union had closed for business and I was told that Young's were going to incorporate the building into the Richard I. This will not be the first time that the pub has been enlarged. Looking at the above photograph, the Richard I was originally in the building to the right. The Greenwich Union was a former Charrington's pub called the Fox and Hounds. The building between the two was formerly an off-licence. The Richard I was owned by Tolly Cobbold in the 1960s and I believe that the company also operated the offie. As this was a remote outpost of the Tolly Cobbold tied-estate, local residents dubbed the pub as The Tolly. Young's acquired the two buildings in the late 1970s and late combined them into one large pub. Some of the interior was not to the liking of the pub's regular customers but I must say that I am impressed by the way they created some harmony in the frontage by replicating the curved window of the old boozer.
The Fox and Hounds introduced a bizarre ritual in 1967 when regular patrons started sticking pins in a doll called Barbara Castle, an effigy of the Transport Minister. "Dolly" Barbara, as she was known, was hung in the saloon bar where customers paid a penny-a-pin to register their feelings about the breathalyser tests. The Chesterfield-born MP introduced the breathalyser to combat road fatalities. In February of the previous year, she addressed Parliament on the issue, stating that: "Hitler did not manage to kill as many civilians in Britain as have been killed on our roads since the war." She had a strong case as the statistics showed that around 150,000 people had been killed on Britain's roads since the war. The pin-sticking campaign was possibly the idea of publican Harold Storey who claimed it was very popular.
We never did get to eat in the Prince of Greenwich as it was just too busy for our liking in these strange times when the post-Covid world is making some sort of normality-comeback. We looked through the windows and felt a great desire to enter what looks a unique pub experience but there were simply too many people. We are still trying to be careful and sensible so we will have to put this place on our bucket list for a future trip to the area. It was quite a disappointment as reviews suggest that the Italian food is tremendous.
Formerly known as the Prince Albert, the pub was refurbished and re-launched in October 2015 as the Prince of Greenwich and run by Sicilian-born Pietro La Rosa and his wife Paola. Well-travelled over the years, the couple have collected an incredible amount of bric-a-brac, plenty of which is on display in what they call a 'museum pub.' An Italian chef rustles up authentic Mediterranean food which is a hit with regular patrons. Jazz forms a key part of the music entertainment and Pietro and Paola have also established a Tuesday evening cinema club.
The old Prince Albert is a handsome building, the frontage of which was altered in 1891. The sun dial is a recent addition to the gable. There is only the one entrance to the left these days and it is nice to see it has the old "Saloon Bar" plate from its days as a Courage house. The right-hand window was enlarged in recent years to incoporate an older entrance to the Public Bar.
Part of Royal Hill was formerly known as Gang Lane, the thoroughfare being redeveloped in the late 18th or early 19th centuries. The Prince Albert dates from this period but was not licensed until the 1830s. The tavern started as a beer house and was run from 1836 by Josiah Murrin. In September 1864 he appeared before the magistrates in order to apply for a full licence. His solicitor told the Bench that he had "kept it as a beer house for twenty-eight years in respectability. James Moore, landlord of the nearby Globe Tavern, opposed the application and it was refused by the magistrates. The publican returned in September 1867 in another bid to secure a full licence. On this occasion he was armed with a petition signed by the churchwardens and overseers, along with many of the most respectable inhabitants. His solicitor remarked that "he thought it was most ungracious of James Moore, who was doing the best business in Greenwich, to oppose the application." The magistrates were still not swayed and they refused the application again.
Born in 1815 at Newton Abbot in Devon, Josiah Murrin was also a carpenter by trade. He kept the Prince Albert with his wife Ann who hailed from Buckinghamshire. Their son, also named Josiah, was serving as an office in the Merchant Navy when he was a witness to the suicide of John Foster who shot himself in the head at Croom's Hill close to the house of Admiral Hamilton. Another son, named Edward, succeeded Josiah Mullin as licensee of the Prince Albert in June 1876, though by the early 1880s the house was being run by widow Ann, along with her daughter Sarah. Ann Murrin remained at the helm until her death in September 1889. An obituary in the newspaper read that she "had endeared herself to many friends by habits of ostentatious charity."
The timing of Ann Murrin's death and the alterations of 1891 suggests that the tavern had been acquired by one of the large brewers. William Murrin held the licence at this time and left to concentrate on a career as an electrial engineer.
The Prince Albert was home to a number of societies, along with social and sporting clubs, during the Victorian period. The Greenwich Angling Society held meetings here, as did the Blackheath Amateur Boxing Club. George Murrell, the publican at the turn of the 20th century, was a noted billiards exponent and played in a number of high-stakes matches at the Prince Albert. The Morden Harriers, a hardy bunch judging by the following report, were based also at the Royal Hill pub.
Well, I guess nobody can accuse Pietro La Rosa of being bashful or demure. There are very few publicans who are so self-assured that they include themselves on the inn sign - and wearing a crown!
A little further up Royal Hill, on the opposite side of the road, there is a Mediterranean restaurant on the corner of Point Hill. The building formerly housed the Barley Mow, a former Whitbread public-house. Modern housing stands behind the pub fronting Point Hill where the Duke of Kent pub stood opposite Diamond Terrace.
The Barley Mow was clearly rebuilt at some point. The above notice was published in the Morning Advertiser in May 1818 and the building was described as an "old-established public-house, suggesting that it had been trading for some time prior to this period.
It was probably William Reffold who acquired the lease for the Barley Mow. He was certainly the licensee during the 1820s and up until the mid-1830s. He was host in 1828 when several local men rang on a musical set of hand-bells a true peal of Grandsire Cators, comprising 5,021 changes. It was performed in three hours and twelve minutes, and conducted by Mr. Robert Shersby. No chance of a quiet pint on that day then!
Whitbread commissioned a lovely mosaic inn sign for the corner of the Barley Mow and the streetscape of Royal Hill is all the richer for it. The stack of hay is a 'mow' and, as barley is a key ingredient for beer, this was once a very popular inn sign around the UK.
We wandered along Prior Street admiring the old houses that, at the time of typing, average around £1.2m and wondered how the economy of London works. A similar house in our area would be around £300,000. Surely, not everybody in London has a salary that warrants turning up with a croupier stick to scoop wads of cash into a briefcase on pay day. No wonder all the peons and serfs of the modern age have been forced out of town. I only mention this because, just around the corner, at the end of Brand Street, stands the Morden Arms. It looks fairly rough-and-ready. I use that term loosely in Greenwich - rough-and-ready in the Black Country means you need to have some bottle to even walk into some places. But the Morden Arms does seem to have avoided the pub gentrification trend to a large degree and, as a result, is more welcoming to us. Plus, they have beers from the Iron Pier Brewery on sale so what's not to like? A large 'cash only' sign greets those who venture into the bar so I guess the Pims brigade wielding American Express cards will not be holding up affairs at the servery whilst the proletariat are trying to get the beers in.
Admittedly, we are way off our patch, but the only other place that we have enjoyed beers from the Iron Pier Brewery is in the aforementioned Dog and Bell at neighbouring Deptford. On our first visit to that boozer we were blown away by Iron Pier's Speyside Whisky Barrel-Aged Porter, a 7.3% beer that threatened to move the Prime Meridian. If I am honest, the other beers we have tried have not "blown the bloody doors off," but they are very agreeable and well-balanced.
The Morden Arms is a fine building. It could do with a little tidy-up and perhaps a signboard on the old Courage metal bracket. Oddly, the only place on which the tavern's name is visible is within the stone of the corner gable. A stone road sign shows that Circus Street was once known as Royal Circus Street. The building is not marked on a map for Greenwich dated 1850 yet trade directories show that it was trading in the 1840s. The houses diagonally opposite was a later development. In the mid-19th century the pub looked across to the back garden of the property in which Alfred Salter was born. We bumped into a statue of him when we patronised The Angel at Bermondsey. Alfred Salter and his wife Ada Brown elected to live in the slums of Bermondsey in order to improve the conditions of the poor and impoverished. Social reformers, environmentalists, pacifists and Quakers, they launched the 'Bermondsey Revolution,' an experiment in municipal government that attracted attention throughout Europe. After reading about their lives and personal beliefs, I think they may have been the greatest socialists of the 20th century.
James Walker was publican of the Morden Arms in 1846 when an inquest that shocked London took place in the pub. After the discovery of an infant buried in a nearby garden, the astronomer William Richardson was subsequently charged with wilful murder of his illegitimate male child, a boy born to his daughter Ann Maria Richardson with whom, it was alleged, he had an incestuous relationship. Newspapers across the land devoted many column inches to the case and the judge at the Old Bailey warned the jury not to be swayed by the speculation in the printed media. There were some peculiar events in the court, not least the absence of the prosecuting counsel. In the end, the jury returned a verdict of "Not Guilty"
Tragedy struck in September 1974 when Tony Bennett, a 33-year-old surveyor died in a blaze at the Morden Arms which was run by his mother. Seven other people were taken to hospital from the fire which was thought to have started in a bedroom of the pub.
It was getting on a bit by now so we legged it to the Plume of Feathers at Park Vista as we thought we could combine a little real ale with a bit of pub fodder. However, like the Prince of Greenwich, the pub was very crowded. In the end we ditched our pub plans and wound up at Hullabaloo, an Indian street food restaurant which is all vegan except for one dish which features paneer. We found a quiet corner and, armed with a pint of Cobra each, waited for quite a while as they seem to prioritise their take-out deliveries for which they would be penalised with bad reviews. On the plus side, the two guys serving were very friendly. The food was excellent but not quite warm enough for some reason. All in all, good but could be a little better.
Saturday October 16th 2021
We were heading home today but took the opportunity to cycle to Euston via the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Well, the main reason for this was to allow La Goddess du Vélo a look at the velodrome. She had been unable to travel with me for the UCI Track Cycling World Championships held at the venue in 2016 so it was a chance to see the boards on which Jason Kenny, Jonathan Dibben, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Laura Trott won gold medals.
From our hotel we cycled down to the foot tunnel to endure more humping of bikes down the 100 steps and back up the other 87 on the Isle of Dogs. We cycled past the Spanish Galleon on Church Street. In the 21st century the pub is operated by Shepherd Neame - a prime reason for not patronising the place during our visit to Greenwich. It has been some years since I have enjoyed a beer from Britain's Oldest Brewer. However, it is worth mentioning the building as it is a fine-looking edifice and bears a singular inn sign.
The pub's website states that the "Spanish Galleon was designed and built by Joseph Kay in 1834, in the reign of William IV." Wikipedia however states that "it was built in 1836 as part of Joseph Kay's redevelopment of central Greenwich in the Regency style." So, a difference in construction dates from two sources. However, whichever is accurate, this must have been a rebuild or remodelling of an older frontage as the Spanish Galleon appears in trade directories published prior to 1834-6. John Lake is mentioned in the Morning Advertiser as the licensed victualler of the Spanish Galleon in May 1829.
The above extract from Holden's Annual Directory published in 1811 shows Francis Flinlyson at the Spanish Galloon in 1811, the pub's name being misspelt unless the sign formerly was a reference to ornamental strip of fabric or braid on a naval uniform? Having said that, the compiler of the directory also misspelt the name of the publican - it should have read Francis Finlayson or Finlyson. He appears in the baptism register for St. Alfege across the road. That was in 1804 when his son was baptised. The register records him as a victualler. If he was running a tavern here before the Battle of Trafalgar it may have been under a different sign. If I was a resident of Greenwich I would be digging into the local archives to find out more but I have enough to do with pubs of the Midlands. It is said that a Galleon Inn was trading in the 18th century but I have not checked this out.
John Stevens was the landlord of the Spanish Galleon in the 1850s and 1860s. In December 1869 an inquest was held inside the pub after the publican committed suicide by cutting his throat. John Stevens was recorded as the proprietor of the Spanish Galleon, and also of the Sugar Loaf Tavern at Cannon Street in the City of London. It was stated at the inquest that, "on the occasion of the Licensed Victualler's fête at the Crystal Palace, he was a passenger in the train with which another train came into collision at New Cross Station, of the London and Brighton Railway, and received an injury to one of his legs and in the back." It was further stated that "he was represented to have been, up to this occurrence, of a robust constitution, but had since appeared in a depressed state of mind and subject to fits, and had been continuously under medical treatment." On medical advice, he spent some weeks in Yorkshire but, on his return, he seemed to be in a more depressed state of mind. On Sunday morning, December 5th 1869, a bar man found some blood behind the servery. He then went to the cellar door but found it was locked on the inside. The door was forced open and the publican was found insensible with a razor next to him. He lingered until the following Tuesday when he died. The jury at the inquest returned a verdict to the effect that the publican committed suicide "while labouring under temporary derangement."
In August 1870 the Spanish Galleon was part of another news story in which Vincent Panlu, a 30-year-old native of Malta, and captain's servant on board the ship Edinburgh, lying in the Thames, was charged at the Greenwich Police Court with attempting to drown Susan Sims by throwing her into the Thames at Greenwich. Susan Sims, who told the court that she was an "unfortunate," and on the previous Sunday night, when passing Greenwich Hospital, met the prisoner, who "passed the night with her." During the following evening she and a female friend met Panlu, along with one of his shipmates, and they went into the Spanish Galleon for some drinks. Whilst they were in the pub Panlu went outside and spoke to another woman. On returning to their table he "addressed her offensively, and threatened that he would do for her that night." Susan Sims took no notice of this threat, and at half-past eleven she and her friend bade Panlu and his ship mates good bye. Shortly afterwards she met another sailor, and accompanied him along the riverside, to see him off on board his ship. On seeing him off from the steps at the east end of Greenwich Hospital, and near the Trafalgar Tavern, she was about to come away, when Panlu made his appearance, saying, "I have got you here now, and intend to do what said I would," and took her up in his arms and threw her from the stairs into the river as she screamed. It was reported that "it was high-water at the time but her crinoline kept her from sinking, and was rescued in an insensible condition." Her rescuer was Walter Andrews, a potman at the Buffalo's Head, who happened to be walking by the river. Taking off his jacket, he ran down the steps, and jumped into the water. He succeeded in bringing her ashore, but in an insensible state. He rubbed her hands and patted her face until she became conscious. He then took her home. He was commended for his bravery. Vincent Panlu was committed for trial at the Old Bailey sessions.
We cycled back towards Limehouse Basin in order to pick up the Limehouse Cut, a short but historic canal from the Lea Navigation to the River Thames. The skies turned very dark as we pedalled along and it soon started to rain. The path is mostly gravel at the south-western end of the canal and La Goddess du Vélo suffered a puncture not long after Britannia Bridge. I subsequently suffered the repair. Changing an inner tube in the rain is not a great way to brighten the spirits.
The rain did not affect a group from the East End Canoe Polo Club who were practising near Bartlett Park. This looks like a difficult and skilful game to me. From my experience on the water in a canoe I know that I would have been flipped upside down quite easily. The building along the canal are now most residential but the navigation was once lined with factories and wharves.
The former Saint Saviours Church is one of the few Victorian buildings left in the area now occupied by Bartlett Park. This part of London was heavily bombed during World War 2 and became the LCC's first post-war development programme. The housing to the south side of the park became the Lansbury Estate, named after George Lansbury, leader of the Poplar councillors rates revolt of 1921, the campaign demanding that London's richer boroughs subsidise the poorer ones. Thirty Poplar councillors were sent to prison indefinitely for refusing to collect the full rates. George Lansbury became MP for Bromley and Bow and leader of the Labour Party from 1931 to 1935.
There was a super boarded section to take the towpath under the 'orrible A12. These towpath superhighways are common in Europe but thin on the ground in the UK. We emerged at Bow Locks but if I am honest it was a little underwhelming as there was absolutely no boating activity to witness, the office was empty and there wasn't a soul around. Aesthetically, the water was a sight for sore eyes as it was covered in a thick coating of duckweed. The Canals and Rivers Trust have used the word 'infestation' to describe the green blanket. The body are employing volunteers to collect up 60 tonnes of duckweed each week in a bid to clear the problematic weed that causes issues for aquatic wildlife by starving the water of oxygen and sunlight.
The connected two paths and bridges allow cyclists to island hop with ease and is good fun. Cycling alongside the River Lea, we made our approach to Three Mills Island. We did not know that there was a Tracey Emin art installation on the path so that was a bonus. In our defence it had only been positioned here a short while ago. Entitled "A Moment Without You," the installation comprises five sculpted birds positioned on a series of high poles serving as, according to the artist, symbols of hope, faith and spirituality. Tracey Emin stated that "she always had the idea that birds are angels of this earth and they represent freedom."
This complex of buildings can be seen in the previous photograph. It shows parts of Clock Mill and House Mill on Three Mills Island, a site recorded for milling in the Domesday survey, making it one of London's oldest extant industrial centres. The Abbey of St Mary's, Stratford Langthorne, founded in 1135, acquired Three Mills some time in the 12th or 13th centuries and the site was celebrated for the quality of their bread which supplied the City of London market. It was in the 16th century that the three mills were reduced to the two seen here. Both date from late 18th and early 19th centuries when a windmill also stood on the island. In the Georgian period grain was ground for use in distilling alcohol, the site being acquired in 1872 by J&W Nicholson & Co. of Clerkenwell. It was from here that many of the gin palaces of London were supplied. The House Mill ceased to operate during World War 2 and the Clock Mill was used until 1952.
We continued along the towpath of the River Lea which cuts through some messy post-industrial wasteland which is gradually being redeveloped into urban living and office towers. We pedalled past the exotic sites of a sub-station, recycling plant before arriving at the Thames Water Recycling Plant. If all this sounds grim, it was much worse in terms of ultra-grime prior to the IOC awarding London the right to host the Games of the XXX Olympiad. The war office sent in the biggest makeover squad to create the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Visitors will have to put in an Olympian effort to find any soul around the site but most would agree that the London Stadium is preferable to a chemical plant that once occupied the site. Traditonal Hammers fans would disagree and mourn the loss of their beloved Upton Park.
Even the-then Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell could envisage a rather lacklustre Olympic Park and decided in 2008 that it needed "something extra." They came up with the Arcelormittal Orbit which has been described as "The Eiffel Tower after a nuclear attack" and "The Godzilla of public art." Visitor numbers are pitiful and I have read that it is in debt to the tune of £13m, largely due to interest on a loan from Lakshmi Mittal, owner of the steel company ArcelorMittal and a stakeholder in another forlorn project called Queens Park Rangers. Although tempted to reduce the debt by paying to take a look and speeding down the slide, we immediately said "fuck that" when we saw that the combined ticket price was a staggering £35. Like the hideous Brobdingnagian Meccano set itself, the pricing policy is a complete joke.
Cycling through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on a soggy October day, we saw a few food vendors looking out realising that it was another day in which there was no profit to be made. In the aftermath of any Olympic Games, there is always an economic downturn but I guess the footy fans keep some of coffee and ice cream retailers in business. I am a little confused why the spelling Lea, after the river, is used for some infrastructure but Lee is applied to the Regional Park Authority and its leisure facilities. It is great that the public can visit the velodrome but I cannot help wonder how much money its costs to operate. The building, like all great British construction projects, is not without a few flaws. On this soggy day there were buckets collecting water from the leaking roof!
We cycled towards the Copper Box Arena, to the rear of which is the new Hackney Bridge Kitchens, a warehouse of street food vendors surrounding the Hangar Bar. The people behind this facility also created Pop Brixton and Peckham Levels. There is even a bike repair shop called Wicked run by a guy named Umberto Longo. He kindly loaned us a track pump as the pocket-rocket pump I had used for our puncture was not up to much.
We were a little peckish so we decided to drop anchors and dive into some lovely pizza from a kiosk named "Made in Puglia." Our delicious feast was made by Alberto Talo, founder of the business in 2019. His family ran a pizzeria in his hometown of Puglia. He boasts that his parents handed down his secret recipe with which he includes fire, high-heat, double-fermented dough and fresh products sourced from Italy. A resident of Hackney Wick for seven years, he first wooed the locals from a pop-up at the Courtyard market. His pizzas are magnifico and delizioso.
Well, with pizza on the go it would be rude not to have a beer from the Hangar Bar. They sell a wide range of craft beer on keg. The Primordial Pale Ale was the obvious choice as it is brewed in a neighbouring building - almost as local a beer as one would find in a brewery tap. Registering at 4.0%, this is a pleasant session beer "brewed with Norwegian super yeast Voss Kveik, the Simcoe-only hop character is supported by bready and stone fruit esters from the yeast. The addition of dextrin malt and flaked oats give the beer a body that balances the bitterness." The most excellent news is that the slightly cloudy beer with a fruity aroma is vegan. Veggie pizza and vegan beer - top stuff.
We didn't have too much time to hang about as we were catching a mid-afternoon train to avoid the crowds and the dreaded Covid. We pedalled through the extensive Victoria Park, the old green space for the East End working classes. We took a short stretch of the Regent's Canal before ducking and diving through some of the streets of Islington to arrive at Euston railway station with time to spare for a quick beer.
Along with thousands of fellow rail passengers, we tend to use the Euston tap as a quickie before jumping on a train. However, the choice of beer in this tiny building could satisfy most drinkers for a whole day session, particularly as they have added a post-Covid beer terrace to the side. We have often come to London, travelled around the city, only to find the best beers are here in this former lodge building built around 1870. Only the western lodge was open for business but I have seen both trading in the past. The pair of lodges, along with the statue of Robert Stephenson, are the only surviving elements of the old Euston station. In a criminal act of vandalism the iconic Doric Arch was demolished in December 1961. When the bulldozers arrived Sir John Betjeman cried into his beer. Incredibly for Birmingham, the arch at the other end of the old line has managed to survive at the former Curzon Street station.
The rusticated quoins of the Euston tap feature the names of railway stations once served by the London & North Western Railway. Seeing these, one can happily feel that the world is one's oyster. And so it still is with the beer choice inside. The Euston Tap has around 18 keg lines and four devoted to cask ales, a sign of the changing times in the bewildering world of beer retailing. I am not sure if the Railway Porter brewed by the Five Points Brewing Company is a regular ale but it seemed to be appositely named so this dark number was the one for me. Ironically, on the way to Euston we had cycled close to the Five Points Brewery near Victoria Park. The brewery was started as 2012 calendars were being binned and 2013 rolled into focus. I think the first beers were produced in the late Spring of that year. Five Points was founded by Edward Mason and Greg Hobbs, the latter being the beer brewing maestro. The brewery was established under the railway arches of Hackney Downs station, though the five points apparently refer to a nearby road junction south of Hackney Downs. The company would later buy the Pembury Tavern which stands on this junction. Edward Mason had previously co-owned a craft beer venue which he sold to Brewdog. He has however retained control of the Turk's Head and the legendary Whitelock's Ale House in Leeds. Greg Hobbs, a chemistry graduate, went from homebrewer to working for the East London Brewing Company in Leyton before teaming up with Edward Mason. He describes his Railway Porter as "a robust London Porter in the classic style with our twist. Smooth with tastes of chocolate, coffee and dark toffee, hopped with East Kent Goldings." I loved it and was prepared to catch the next train in order to enjoy a few more!
La Goddess du Vélo likes a lighter fruitier number so elected to try the Boogie Van West Coast Pale, a beer which may have once been produced under some railway arches in Hackney. However, the brewery is now based at Walthamstow. Aware of the Fu Manchu track, I tried a sip of her beer and, via the lovely fruity aroma and hoppy punch, thought it was "some kind of joyride." She also thought it was most excellent. The official brewery notes state that their custom IPA is "heaped with Mosaic, Azacca and Ekuanot hops, it is a bright double dry-hopped beer with a huge spectrum of hop flavour, from dank undertones to fruity dark berries and pineapple top notes, it is full and flavoursome." The Hackney Brewery was founded in 2011 by Peter Hills and Jon Swain, a pair of beer lovers who first met up in 2005 when working at The Eagle in Farringdon. From their original site in Laburnum Street, they first concentrated on cask ales before delving into the world of craft keg. Since their move to Walthamstow and the installation of new brewery plant, they have become increasingly experimental with their output.
And so it was time to jump on the train. It was a highly enjoyable and very relaxing couple of days in London. As usual it was carnage in Birmingham with cancelled trains and late services. We did go down to Moor Street for a train to Stourbridge but when the tiny three-carriage shit-tip rolled into the station it was already packed. By the time they picked up more people at Snow Hill it would have been a case of sardine sandwiches. We climbed back on our bikes and cycled the 20 kilometres in the dark - but at least it was a Covid risk-free journey.