The Anchor Brewhouse, Tower Bridge, London.

Southwark Pub Walk: a potted history

As luck would have it, quite a few key sites in the story of ‘the strange rebirth of British beer’ happen to be clustered together in the Southwark area of London, making for a perfect history walk with added boozing.

UPDATE 20/09/2014: It hadn’t occured to us back in December last year, but undertaking this crawl while reading Brew Britannia would be a good way to spend an afternoon. We’ve added notes on which chapters in the book reference which pubs.

The walking route we have suggested below will take you past the following locations:

1. Ye Olde Watling — City of London headquarters of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, now a cosy Nicholson’s chain pub. (Chapter 1)

2. The Rake — the first really notable ‘craft beer’ bar in London, and still a great place to find good, or at least interesting, beer. (Chapter 12)

3. Becky’s Dive Bar – perhaps the first really famous ‘beer exhibition'; now one of two pubs calling themselves the Wheatsheaf, in the basement of the old Hop Exchange building. (Beer pretty rotten on our last visit.) (Chapter 5)

4. The Goose & Firkin — the first of David Bruce’s Firkin pubs which opened in 1979, now a Shepherd Neame pub called the Duke of York. (Chapter 7)

5. The Royal Oak — a great pub selling beer from Harvey’s of Lewes, and a good opportunity to understand the conservative approach of family/regional brewers which weathered post-war takeover mania. (Chapter 2; and especially the Epilogue!)

6. The Anchor Brewhouse — next to Tower Bridge, this is the site of the first Courage brewery which opened in 1787. Ceased brewing in the nineteen-eighties. A relic of the Big Six era in the heart of London.

7. The Tower Bridge Brewery (1981) — one of the first new London breweries of the ‘real ale revolution’, Simon Hosking’s Tower Bridge Brewery, occupied 218 Tower Bridge road for a short time in 1981. It closed in the same year. Hosking was a founder member of SIBA.

8. The Draft House — a good place to conclude this walk: one of the many new generation ‘craft beer’ focused pubs which followed in the wake of the Rake. We’ve never been, but we hear the beer is good. (UPDATE: see comments below — some people don’t rate the Draft House and suggest similar, better pubs nearby.)

OPTIONAL: we’ve also marked on the map The Hole in the Wall at Waterloo (an early cult CAMRA pub); the historic George Inn; the location of the Kernel Brewery (added in an update); and the site of the Barclay Perkins brewery on Park Street.


View Brew Britannia: the strange rebirth of British beer pub crawl in a larger map

Note: we’ve never had any trouble in Southwark, but, as ever, be aware of your surroundings when walking in parts of London you don’t know, especially after dark.

UPDATE 04/07/2014: see also our failed attempt at the Bermondsey Beer Mile which led us on a crawl of pubs around Tower Bridge.

13 thoughts on “Southwark Pub Walk: a potted history”

  1. Also, your route past the end of Druid street could include a mention of Kernel and the cluster of New London Brewers, although getting to there whilst they were still open on this route would be a stretch ;)

    Seconded on Dean Swift over Draft House as pubs, but think DH as a “chain” are interesting…

      1. If you are adding breweries, Brew by Numbers are even closer to Tower Bridge than the Kernel, and their beer is stunning. Their brewery tap opens later than the Kernel as well. Partizan further east again. It is now theoretically possible to do a brewery tap crawl from Tower Bridge to Greenwich, and never be more than 5 minute brisk walk from the next tap.

  2. If you finish north of the river, the Pelt Trader in Cannon Street is an excellent example of a modern craft beer bar – good pizza rtoo if you’re peckish after your stroll. I’ve tried to like the Draft House in Seething Lane, I really have, but on all three occasions I’ve been the cask has been served freezing cold, and then when its warmed up a bit revealed itself to be severely lacking in condition or vinegary. To be fair, they’ve swapped them each time but they shouldn’t have been on sale in that condition in the first place. A shame because the city could really do with a few more good places for beer.

    1. I can confirm the Draft House in Seething Lane is serving beer in pretty good for London condition at sensible (not freezing) temperatures. Probably about 13C. I think there is a lack of selectiveness in the beers that may seem to some to be cellar flaws which aren’t. . In other words,bad beers. See my blog soon.

      As for Tower Bridge, I have yet to pluck up the courage as cask has been atrocious in the past. I will soon though as.I’m hoping Charlie has sorted it out by now.

      Your tour has a specific point of course, but you’d need a good drink after some of the pubs!

  3. No mention of The Market Porter ?
    I know it’s not to everyone’s taste but they’ve been offering a wide variety of real ales long before it became trendy to do so in Southwark.

    1. It doesn’t really fit into the theme of the crawl — it came along too late to be part of the ‘real ale revolution’, and isn’t otherwise historically significant.

      If this was a straight up guide to where to drink in Southwark, we’d have mentioned it, though.

    1. Will add that and the Anchor Tap as ‘optionals’. (And a ‘golden age of British brewing’ walking map (or app?) might not be a bad idea.)

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