Category Archives: london

QUOTE: Arthur Ransome on Lager, 1907

“These Soho dinners are excellently cooked and very cheap. Only the wine is dearer in England than in France. There you can get a carafon for a few pence, and good it is. But here the cheapest half-bottle is tenpence, and often disappointing. The wise drink beer. It is Charles Godfrey Leland who, in his jovial scrap of autobiography, ascribes all the vigour and jolly energy of his life to the strengthening effects of Brobdingnagian draughts of lager beer drunk under the tuition of the German student. It is good companionable stuff, and a tankard of it costs only sixpence, or less.”

From Bohemia in London, pp113-114, via the Internet Archive.

(And for more of this kind of thing, get Gambrinus Waltz for Kindle.)

Pubs of London E17, 1991

CAMRA’s East London & City Beer Guide is a fascinating document which, across three editions from 1983 to 1991, charts changes to the drinking landscape.

We’ve had the 1986 edition for a while, and have 1983 (finally) on the way, but 1991 arrived this week, looking as if it had come fresh from the binders, the spine un-cracked. (“Printed by Calvert’s Press (TU) Worker’s Co-Operative”.)

We turned to the section that covers Walthamstow, London E17 — an area we know particularly well — which prompted a few observations.

1. It hasn’t changed that much. The Grove, the Windmill, the Plough and a few others have gone, but many others are still there — the Lord Brooke, the Lord Raglan, the Lord Palmerston, the Chequers, and so on, many in better shape now than they were when this book was written.

2. It’s always seemed odd that there’s no Wetherspoon’s in Walthamstow (the nearest is across the line into Leyton). Now we know that the College Arms on Forest Road was a JDW (Younger’s Scotch Ale at 79p a pint!) but, at some point, the firm abandoned it — something it seems it’s always been pretty ruthless about.

3. The Village, which looks like a well-worn and traditional Victorian pub, actually opened in 1989. The building is Victorian but the premises was formerly (Boak thinks, calling on childhood memories) residential. For that  matter, The College Arms was formerly two shop units and the Coppermill an off-licence, so these change-of-use conversions have occasionally gone the other way.

4. Pubs change their names a lot. The Tower Hotel became Flanagan’s Tower, which became the Tower Hotel again, which is now the Goose. The College Arms was formerly ‘Cheeks American Bar‘. What is now the Waltham Oak on Lea Bridge Road was formerly the Chestnut Tree, but began life with what might be our new favourite pub name: The Little Wonder.

The content of all three editions is available at this splendidly old-school website if you want to investigate further, but the 1991 edition is also generally available for pennies.

Beers of Convenience in London

A weekend in London meant seven hours of trains and replacement buses, 48 hours of dashing about on DLR, tube and suburban services, and another seven hours back.

Running from one bit of family business to another, our beer choices were dictated largely by convenience. Nevertheless, at Tap East dropping off books, and then again for our signing event on Saturday afternoon, we managed to drink draught beers from Wild Beer Co, Rooster’s, Ilkley, Firebrand, Burning Sky, Pig & Porter and Tap East’s own on-site brewery.

We enjoyed some more than others (Pig & Porter Honey Wheat impressed us in particular) but, based on a single serving in most cases, wouldn’t want to say too much more than that.

There was one beer, however, that tempted us away from ticking and into repeat orders: the Tap East house American Pale Ale (cask, 4.4%). It was a faintly-hazy, pale orange, fresh fruit salad of a beer with none of the raw savouriness that we’ve found off-putting in similar products from other breweries. We’re not much good at guessing hop varieties but we thought, in this case, that we might be experiencing a face full of Amarillo. The website, though, suggests Citra and Chinook. At any rate, just as vanilla tricks the senses by association, something about the hops here made the beer smell sweet, like mango juice or boiling apricot jam. It was good value, too, at not much more than £3 a pint.

* * *

Heading from the book event to a birthday party, we stopped off to pick up some bottled beer at bloody Waitrose. We say bloody Waitrose because every time we mention supermarket beer on the blog, someone will say, ‘You should try Waitrose — their selection is excellent!’ and, every time, we reply, ‘Our nearest Waitrose is in Devon, two hours away by public transport.’ But, yes, based on this visit to the branch in Westfield Stratford, Waitrose is streets ahead of the competition: Oakham Citra and Scarlet Macaw, Thornbridge Wild Swan, Meantime Porter, Meantime IPA, Crouch Vale Amarillo, and, as they say in infomercials, many, many more. They weren’t especially expensive either — c.£2.10 for most 500ml bottles.

Disclosure: we paid for our drinks on the first trip to Tap East (Friday) but got most of them on the house during the signing event (Saturday); and Boak’s little brother works behind the bar there.

Brew Britannia Signing, London, 22/11/2014

We’ll be at Tap East, the microbrewery and bar in the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, East London, from 2-4 pm this Saturday, 22 November.

We’ll have a few books to sign and sell  but we’ll also be delighted to sign copies people bring with them, whether well-read, or brand new and intended as Christmas gifts.

If you’re a reader of the blog, whether you want a book signing or not, we’d love the chance to say hello and chat over a pint, so please do drop by if you’re in the area.

Doug & Dinsdale, Pub Preservationists

Some friends recently moved into a house near a Victorian pub on a London back street.

“Everyone thinks we’re lucky,” says our friend, “but I went once and wasn’t made welcome.”

The rumour is that someone wanted to turn it into a gastropub like all the others in the area, but the family of gangsters who own it said no — they like it how it is.

That is, frozen in time c.1975, with bars on its doors, faded paintwork, dusty carpets, and a mere handful of customers.

Has CAMRA explored mob ownership as a way of preserving traditional pub character?