1951 Here ‘ we can sit on a balcony built over the edge of the Thames and watch the barges slip down on the tide and the big ships come and go while we drink beer and sample the cooking for which this pub is famed. It’s not what you call smart and elegant, but it is old established and generally crowded.
It has survived and now boasts of being the oldest pub in London ( est. 1520), though there are other contenders. Customers can still sit out over the Thames, though with the Docks having closed, most of the craft are tourist boats going to and from Greenwich. The food is hardly noteworthy, being mainly homely steak and ale pies, chicken pies and roasts. There are few veggie options, according to one customer, but there wouldn’t have been any in 1951!
The Eagle, City Road
The public house, once run by the Salvation Army and immortalised in the ditty:
‘Up and down the City Road,
In and out ‘The Eagle’
That’s the way the money goes.
Pop goes the weasel’.
The pub still dispenses ‘ good cheer , excellent draught ‘Worthington’ beer, to be exact. City Road used to be the centre of the tailoring trade, and towards the end of a week the little tailors often found it necessary to put their pressing iron—or “ weasel”—into pawn with the Salvation Army publicans until pay day. You can see a “ weasel“ on show in the bar to this day.
It’s still there, but rather more glamorous than it was in the fifties. Its website doesn’t mention its colourful past, so one must go to Know Your London for its history, which includes spells as a Music Hall, where Marie Lloyd performed. Earlier on in its life, the Eagle was mentioned by Dickens in his Sketches by Boz.
The George, Borough.
Just down from London Bridge station, with its’ waterfront façade of warehouses, behind which lie rows of mean streets and little homes which suffered heavily in the Nazi blitz bombing of London’, is the Borough. On the left going southwards can be found a ‘historic gem’ of an inn, the George, once ‘a terminus for stage coaches’. As we enter the coachyard we really do jump back a century. It’s not mere a question of the setting …Who is this Sam Wellerish figure, a real ostler ? And bless my heart, there’s Mr Pickwick himself about to take coach to Dingley Dell. All right, it’s no hallucination. We just happen to have arrived when the admirers of Charles Dickens use the coachyard as a stage to act scenes from his works ‘
Found in the Haining Archive are these pages of handwritten notes on unusual old London pubs, possibly from a book by London topographer Royston Wells, who may have written the notes himself.
“The Wrestlers”, North Hill, Highgate
Original pub 1547. New one built 1921 around enormous Jacobean fire grate. Ancient custom of “ swearing on the horns “ still performed.
Original fire grate still there, but no mention of swearing on the horns on Website.
“ Lamb and Flag”, Covent Garden,
Covent Garden’s oldest pub, outside which Dryden was set on and nearly murdered. On 19th December glasses of mulled drinks given away to regulars to celebrate the fact that Dryden was not actually killed.
Blue plaque commemorates attack on Dryden
“Crown and Greyhound”, Dulwich Village.
HQ of Dulwich Village Perpetuation Society, who keep up Dickens’ traditions and meet here regularly in Dickensian gear.
Dickens did meet members of Dulwich Society at Greyhound, but no mention on website of present day members dressing up.Continue reading →
Found in a box of books is this photocopy of a typewritten guide to a ‘pub crawl’ (walk no 41) of various late Victorian ‘gin palaces’ in North London arranged by the Victorian Society on 16th September 1966. The guides were two architects-- Roderick Gradidge and Ben Davis—both of whom had designed interiors for Ind Coope. Judging by their descriptions of the pubs they planned to visit, both were also passionate and knowledgeable fans of late Victorian architecture and design. The grand plasterwork of the ceiling cornices and Art Nouveau stained glass is pointed out as being of special interest. But the two men also emphasised the ways in which Victorian pub architects tried to make their interiors both glamorous and homely as a way of getting their (mainly) lower middle class drinkers (mention is made of Mr Pooter’s ‘raffish’ friends) to spend hours away from their more humble abodes, much (we might add) in the way that the designers of Music Halls and northern shopping arcades (one thinks of Frank Matcham ), and grand hotels, were doing in the same era. Here are the guides admiring the combination of grandeur and intimacy found in the Queen’s Hotel, Crouch End (below):
All the way round there were through views, glimpses of the other bars, and as a result one was able to feel that one was standing in one part of a single large space, large enough to tolerate the considerable height without become vertical. Since the space was so well subdivided…one could feel secluded in a sufficiently small and enclosed space, but since the proportion of the greater space was horizontal a feeling of repose was retained which could not have belonged to tall, restricted vertical rooms. This method of subdividing an area into small bars by means of partitions, which were half-glazed with semi-obscured glass, and were not much above six feet high, was peculiar to Victorian pubs, and goes a long way to explaining the incomparable drinking atmosphere they provide...
It’s called Toad in the Hole and it was popular (and still is, to some extent) in some pubs, especially in South East England, and particularly around Lewes. According to one online source, competitors stood back from a sort of table on top of which was a sloping board containing holes. The object was to aim thick coin-like ‘toads’ towards these holes. Those toads that fell through the holes scored points.
However, an interesting variant of the game can be found in an illustrated article by the folklorist L.N.Candlin that appeared in the magazine Courier for November 1949. In this version:
The board for the game is about the size of modern dinner wagon and has three shelves. The top one has a large toad sitting in the middle with its mouth wide open. Around it are a number of hazards. The rest of the apparatus includes a miniature paddle-wheel, two trap doors hinged in the middle and guarded by hoops, and a number of holes, two of which are screened by iron hoops.
In this version, which was being played at the Bull Inn, West Clandon, Surrey, on Candlin’s visit, the prime object was to propel the coin-like missile (Candlin does not mention that they were called toads) into the toad’s mouth, but failing this, into one of the holes and down a chute to lie in a tray against one of the numbers painted on the lower shelves. What makes this particular apparatus similar to a modern pinball machine are some additions to the basic version of the table----the paddle wheel which, when turned, may have guided any toad that had failed to drop into a hole towards the trap door, and the hoops which were there to prevent toads from entering the holes. According to Candlin, Toad in the Hole was played in some form or other in the reign of Elizabeth the First.
A phone call to the Bull’s Head, as it is now called, revealed that the current owner was aware of the pub’s old Toad in the Hole machine, but had no idea of where it was now, nor whether the game was still played in pubs in the district. Perhaps it ended up in the private collection of a regular at the pub, simply fell to bits, or was discarded when a new owner decided to replace it with a jukebox.
I wonder what Pinball wizard Tommy would have felt about all this… [RR]