Some history of The Tower on Westminster Bridge Road in Lambeth in London.


The Tower was located at 76 Westminster Bridge Road, on the western corner of Tower Street. The building was in Lambeth though a good chunk of Westminster Bridge Road was in Southwark.

London : Map extract showing the location of The Tower on Westminster Bridge Road in Lambeth [1893]
© Crown Copyright. Reproduced with kind permission of the National Library of Scotland under the Creative Commons Attribution licence.

I have marked the location of the pub on the above map extract surveyed in 1893 and published two years later. The building was very close to the Church of Saint Thomas, a structure designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon and erected by Joshua Higgs of Davies Street, Berkeley Square. The foundation stone of the church was laid on September 24th, 1856 by Robert Hanbury of the brewers Hanbury, Buxton and Co. He was a trustee of the church.¹ It was built at the same time as the Church of Saint Paul on the opposite side of the road. Century House was later built on the site of the Church of Saint Thomas. It became the home of MI6, or Secret Intelligence Service, until 1994. The building was subsequently converted into residential apartments. Who knows what covert meetings were held in the neighbouring tavern? Or maybe the publican had to pin up a notice stating: "Careless Talk Costs Lives" for any agent over-imbibing.

London : Concert of Musical Society held at The Tower on Westminster Bridge Road in Lambeth [1897]
Cutting from Page 7 of the "South London Press" published on Saturday July 10th, 1897.

The Tower had what what was billed as a "commodious" club room in which a wide range of events and activities were held. The above advertisement for use of the room was placed in the South London Press by the licensee, Alfred Raynor Smith. He kept The Tower in the late 1890s. The publican appears in the Land Tax Records for Saint George The Martyr in 1900, a document that recorded Robert Shaul as the owner of the building, along with adjacent properties numbered 78 to 82.

London : Concert of Musical Society held at The Tower on Westminster Bridge Road in Lambeth [1897]
Cutting from Page 3 of the "South London Chronicle" published on Saturday October 30th, 1897.

The club room formed the headquarters of the Southern Cycling Club who held their meetings at The Tower. The room was also used for meetings of the trade unions, particularly during industrial actions. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers held strike meetings here in September 1897.

Alfred Raynor Smith was still the licensed victualler of The Tower at the time of the 1901 census.³ The 43-year-old widower was assisted by Margaret Craymer. She was recorded as manageress. She continued in such a role when later running the Swiss Cottage Tavern on Stanstead Road at Sydenham.⁴ As for Alfred Smith, he would re-marry during the Edwardian period after becoming manager of the Star Hotel at St. Helier on Jersey.⁵

London : The Tower on the corner of Westminster Bridge Road and Tower Street in Lambeth [c.1906]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

I am not sure of the exact date this photograph was captured. It looks to be an Edwardian image. Looking at the bill posters stuck to the etched-glass window panes, it would seem that pricing of liquors was a key factor in attracting custom at The Tower. Note that the pub features the livery of City of London Brewery Co. Ltd. The firm occupied the Hour Glass Brewery at Upper Thames Street, a brewing facility with a history dating back to the 15th century. The business was registered as the City of London Brewery Co. Ltd in February 1860.⁶ In the course of its history, the expanded brewery absorbed the sites of the two All Hallows' churches.⁷ The brewery acquired Stansfeld & Co. Ltd. of the Swan Brewery at Walham Green in 1914. Eight years later brewing was transferred to the Swan Brewery in Fulham.⁸

To help in dating the above photograph the windows would later feature "Zanetto's" in large white letters. This was the stage name of the Bale family, a troupe specialising in juggling, and very famous during the height of the music hall scene in the UK. The family, known as The Royal Zanetto's, also toured in the United States. There was once a famous music hall on Westminster Bridge Road, opened near the railway bridge from Waterloo by the Gatti family of Italy.⁹ In the inter-war years the venue was converted into Gatti's Picture Palace cinema but was badly damaged by bombing during 1940. The building was demolished in 1950.¹⁰

It was George "Pip" Bale who was licensee here at The Tower before the First World War. I believe it was his father, William Bale, who was the first of the family to make a living as a juggler. He and his wife, Louisa, had five sons, forming a family act that would top the bill at venues across the country. William had possibly retired from his music hall career when becoming a publican. He kept the pub with his second wife - he married Lilian Chapman in 1900. He had two children from his first marriage and another twelve during the 20th century though, as was quite common during the time, there was some infant mortality.

After the First World War, Pip and Lilian Bale moved to Margate where they kept the Ship Hotel on The Parade.

1. "Laying The Foundation Stone Of St. Thomas's Church, Westminster Road" : London Evening Standard; September 25th, 1856. p.3.
2. "The Perspective, 100 Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth North" within Lambeth Landmark <>, Accessed May 4th, 2024.
3. 1901 England Census RG 13/403 Folio 52 : Lambeth > St. Paul Southwark > District 13, Page 42.
4. 1911 Census Piece No.2837 : London > Lewisham > Sydenham , Enumeration District 31, Schedule 1.
5. "New Manager" : Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph; January 12th, 1907. p.2.
6. "The New London Brewery Company" : Western Daily Press; January 7th, 1860. p.3.
7. "Hour Glass Brewery" : East End News and London Shipping Chronicle; August 29th, 1924. p.3.
8. "London Brewing: A Brief Timeline" within Zythophile <>, Accessed May 5th, 2024.
9. "Gatti's Music Hall" : The Era; January 1st, 1910. p.36.
10. "Gatti's Cinema, 214-216 Westminster Bridge Road, Waterloo" within Lambeth Landmark <>, Accessed May 5th, 2024.

London : Advertisement for Marbles by Farmer & Brindley of 67 Westminster Bridge Road [1886]
Cutting from Page 68 of the "Building News" published on Friday January 29th, 1886.

Licensees of The Tower

1839 - Robert Shaw
1856 - Richard Harvey & Son
1869 - Emily Sarah Watkins
1871 - Robert Dear
1882 - Frederick George Young
1884 - Robert Day
1895 - William Henry Louis Ray
1897 - Alfred Raynor Smith
1904 - Ernest James Bolton
1910 - Arthur Loft
1910 - Charles Henry Augustus May
1915 - William Bale
1924 - Sidney Garland
1931 - Martin Defries
1938 - Florence & Leonard Charles Tapp
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub. The dates of early licensees are sourced from trade directories, census data, electoral rolls, rate books and newspaper articles. Names taken from trade directories may be slightly inaccurate as there is some slippage from publication dates and the actual movement of people.

City Stout by the City of London Brewery Co. Ltd.

Related Newspaper Articles

"At Tower Bridge Police Court, before Mr. Waddy, Arthur Osborne [27] and Frederick Shaw [26], of no fixed abode, were charged with being concerned together in wilfully damaging 30 glasses and one mahogany table worth £1 10s., the property of Sidney Garland, licensee of The Tower public-house, Westminster Bridge Road. Osborne was also charged with assaulting Ernest Chambers, a barman, by throwing a syphon at him, and hitting him on the left ribs. Mr. Garland said that he was serving in the saloon bar on Friday evening, when he heard the crashing of glass, and saw prisoners throwing tumblers at the barman. He 'phoned for the police. Thomas Williams, barman, corroborated, and said he dragged Shaw outside; Osborne followed with a broken glass in his hand. He released Shaw on the advice of customers. Percy Peck stated that he was serving behind the bar, when the prisoner asked for a drink, and, knowing them to be barred from the house, he refused to serve them. They swore at him, and started to throw glasses about, one hitting him on the shoulder. Ernest Chambers, another barman, said Osborne picked up a syphon, and deliberately threw it at him. Mr. Waddy : "I shall believe these witnesses, and I shall send both of you to prison for 21 days."
"Undesirable Customers"
Southwark and Bermondsey Recorder : July 25th 1924 Page 2

Genealogy Connections

Click here to share your story or memories OR to send a genealogy query

Related Newspaper Articles

"Perry Vine, 22, hawker, was charged, on remand, with stealing from a change till in the bar of The Tower, Westminster Bridge Road, the sum of 6s. 6d., belonging to the licensee, Ernest James Bolton. The evidence was that while the barman turned his back to speak to Mr. Bolton, who was in the parlour, the prisoner leaped over the counter and took the money. Being pursued and caught he handed over the exact sum missing and asked to be let go. Detective Peachey, L division, proved that in 1902 at South London Sessions, the prisoner, in the name of Percy Chippendale, was sentenced to 15 months' hard labour for burglary after previous convictions for felony. Mr. Paul Taylor committed him for trial."
"Over The Counter"
Southwark and Bermondsey Recorder : May 28th 1904 Page 6

"At Tower Bridge Police Court, on Tuesday, Jack Byrnes [24], and Ernest George Tomkiss [24], a Welsh miner, both with no fixed abode, were charged, on remand, with being concerned together in stealing £40, belonging to Mr. Martin Defries, licensee of The Tower public-house, Westminster Bridge Road. Both the accused said that they would plead guilty to stealing £26, and this plea was accepted. Detective-Sergeant Humphries said that the accused were employed as barmen at The Tower. The licensee went out, leaving the prisoners in charge. Before leaving, Mr. Defries had put the money referred to in his bedroom, and on his return he found the bedroom door had been opened, and that the accused were missing. He gave information to the police. On May 30th Byrnes surrendered himself at Taunton Police Station, and from papers found on him the whereabouts of Tomkiss were discovered. Mr. Defries said that Tomkiss had had every chance. When the coal strike broke out in Wales he came to London, and witness's father took pity on him and employed him as barman. After 18 months he had to discharge him for drunkenness and incompetence. Later he wrote to Mr. Defries, sen., pleading poverty, and, as he could not employ him himself, he asked witness to give him a chance. He did so, with the result now known. Byrnes had only been in witness's employment a few weeks. Mr. Campion sent Tomkiss to prison for six months and Byrnes for four, both with hard labour. Byrnes was seized with a fit after leaving the Court, and was taken to hospital in an ambulance."
"Gaol For Miner Who Was Helped After Being Discharged"
Southwark & Bermondsey Recorder : June 12th 1931 Page 1

Click or tap here for more information

Click here to visit the W3C Markup Validation Service