Apartheid in London pubs

Dog Star Brixton, aka the Atlantic, by Ewan M.

In the 1950s and 60s, pubs in London frequently refused to serve black customers, and thus became the focus for protests.

Enrico Stennett, who came to Britain from Jamaica in 1947, took part in several organised protests around Brixton, Camberwell and Peckham. Writing about it in 2010, the year before he died, he recalled provoking landlords in to revealing their racism by sending in a white companion, who would get served, and then trying to buy a drink himself, only to be turned down. At this point, picketing would commence.

In 1963, a group of protesters (ten white and one black) were charged with using threatening words at a protest outside the George Inn in Brixton.  Not only were they were cleared but the magistrate described the ‘colour bar’ in operation as ‘revolting and repulsive’. ‘The magistrate wants to come and live down here for a few weeks before criticising,’ said the landlord. ‘I don’t operate a colour bar, but I am making sure the blacks don’t take over my pub like they have some in the area.’ (Daily Express, 7 December 1963.)

There is a detailed account of 1965 protests against a colour bar at the Dartmouth Arms, Forest Hill, Lewisham, on this blog. On that occasion, the Mayor of Lewisham joined the protestors and walked out of the pub in protest when they refused to serve him because he was accompanied by Melbourne Goode, who was black. The landlord, Harold Hawes, was defiant: ‘The funny thing is that I am not against coloured people. I have taken a consensus of opinion of the people that use the saloon and they don’t want to have coloureds using it… I feel that my trade has increased because people know that they won’t find coloured people in my saloon bar.’

In 1965, it became illegal to refuse to serve someone because of their colour, but that didn’t stop landlords doing so grudgingly and then, for example, making a big show of destroying glasses from which black customers had drunk.

The Atlantic in Brixton, however, is an example of where protests paid off: at some point before 1963 (though we can’t find precise dates or a reliable account of what happened) protesters appealed to the brewery over the landlord’s racism and he was kicked out. His replacement was from the West Indies. By 1974, Martin Green and Tony White were recommending the Atlantic in their Evening Standard Guide to London Pubs: “with its recent, much-needed facelift and live, spontaneous jazz, the Atlantic is a predominantly West Indian pub, with its customers spilling out of the bars and on to the pavement. The nearest thing in London to a New Orleans bar.”

Geoff Parker says that, after that, it came to be known as ‘Brixton’s most visible black pub’, until the gentrification/regeneration of Brixton got underway in the nineties when it refurbished with the help of a government grant and renamed Dogstar. The intention was, in Parker’s words,  ‘a white clientele’, while commenters here put it more bluntly: it was transformed ‘from an old black geezer’s pub into a fashionable white kids’ hangout’.

It burned down in riots in 1995 and, after yet another refurbishment, is now part of the Antic chain.

Picture of Dogstar, aka The Atlantic, Brixton, by Ewan.

One thought on “Apartheid in London pubs”

  1. Just had a phone call from my uncle with a story relating to this: at some point in the 1960s, my Great Uncle Tommy turned up at his social club in Rawtenstall to find a scrum at the door; an Asian man wanted a drink, but no-one would sign him in; Tommy said, “I’ll sign you in, mate”; and then when they entered together, they were mobbed. Turns out it was India and Lancashire wicket-keeper Farokh Engineer.

    Fourth-hand, and full of hazy details, but a great story anyway, I thought.

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