Beer history london pubs

East London riverside pubs – Surrey side

A few weeks back, we went for a riverside walk in the East End and blogged about various pubs there. This time, we went Surrey side, starting at Tower Bridge.

While the tourists were busy snapping the bridge, we were photographing the remains of the Anchor brewery. Or rather, one of the Anchor breweries. There were (at least) two on the south side of the Thames. The arguably more famous one was further upstream, on Bankside, and was home to Barclay Perkins.

The Anchor Brewery at Tower Bridge
The Anchor Brewery at Tower Bridge

The Anchor brewery at Tower Bridge (or at Horsleydown, as it’s also known) was set up by John Courage in 1789. It was a working brewery up until 1982, and you still see quite a lot of it — chimney and all — although it’s now yuppie flats and estate agents. Further down Horsleydown Rd is the Anchor Tap, which is now a Sam Smith’s place. It’s worth knowing about because it has a beer garden, which is unusual for somewhere so central.

There are fewer riverside pubs on this stretch of river, but it’s still a very interesting walk. You go past converted wharves, and even some original wharf buildings that haven’t yet become flats. They could still film the Sweeney there.

The Angel pub, Bermondsey
The Angel pub, Bermondsey

The first pub on the river you come to is the Angel (closest tube Bermondsey or Rotherhithe). This is a very old pub — first recorded back in the seventeenth century, but probably older. It’s across the road from the ruins of Edward III’s fourteenth century palace, although someone has nicked the sign explaining that. The current pub building dates from c.1837. It has an old-fashioned but recently refurbished partitioned interior. It also has a great first floor lounge with spectacular views upriver towards Tower Bridge.

We used to come here quite a lot when Bailey lived in South-East London, but hadn’t been back for four or five years. It felt a bit rough back then, and it’s still a little “on the edge” – when we walked in, a scary bloke was talking to the landlady about how he wanted to cut someone’s throat. We think the view and the history make it well worth a trip though. And the landlady was lovely! Samuel Smith provides again.

Tower Bridge as seen from the upstairs riverside bar at the Angel
Tower Bridge as seen from the upstairs riverside bar at the Angel

A little further downriver, you come to the Mayflower, which is also pretty old. It was renamed in the nineteenth century after the ship, which apparently sailed from Rotherhithe. This is as posh as the Angel is rough (ie – not as much as you might think). It serves lots of seafood, and has a great jetty outside. It’s a wonderful place to sit for hours. The only downside is that it’s a Greene King place. In the spirit of giving everything another chance, we tried an Old Speckled Hen, but remain unconvinced.

The Mayflower at Rotherhithe
The Mayflower at Rotherhithe

After this point, the riverside walk becomes a lot less interesting. It’s all soulless Barrett home developments and really run-down council estates. You’re better off continuing your journey by public transport from Rotherhithe –- if the East London line was working, you could cut across to Wapping and visit the pubs we wrote about last time. Or you can get a bus into Deptford and Greenwich, where the pubs are more interesting.

A burnt-out nightclub on a bleak stretch of the Thames in South East London
A burnt-out nightclub on a bleak stretch of the Thames in South East London

In our desperation to escape the barren wasteland that is Surrey Quays, we stumbled across The Most Disappointing Pub in London. This is the Moby Dick, a Fuller’s pub. Now, we associate Fuller’s with quality, and while some Fuller’s pubs are better than others, we expect to find fresh tasty beer and good service in all of them. This place looks like a Travelodge bar, and was extremely unfriendly. No welcome, no pleasantries. The clientele were mostly weird blokes on their own, watching the telly.

We asked for tap water to go with our beer, and were told they only served water in bottles. We haven’t heard that desperate line for about ten years. Turns out they’re famous for refusing water -– google “tap water pubs” and they’re on the first page. The beer was flat and dull as well.

It’s not the worst beer in London, and it’s probably not the unfriendliest, but we expect a lot better from Fuller’s. Avoid Surrey Quays and avoid this pub. It was so depressing, we needed a couple of good strong beers at the Greenwich Union to restore our usual cheery natures.

4 replies on “East London riverside pubs – Surrey side”

I like the Angel! It’s the closest decent pub to my house (which is on one of those council estates). I do wish it wasn’t Sam Smith’s, though.

The Mayflower always seems to be full of tourists.

The Old Salt Quay (ex Spice Island) a bit further east along the river from the Mayflower has a large terrace looking onto the river, but I think it’s Greene King too (it may as well be, from the beers on offer). It has the best accessibility of the pubs along this stretch of the river, though.,_SE16_5QU

Hello, Kake. How come no love for Sam Smith?

We saw the Old Salt Quay, but strode purposefully past it. Didn’t look too enticing for some reason (possibly because we were digesting pub grub and feeling a bit grumpy). There was a Shepherd Neame pub that looked interesting, but it was shut. Ditto a Fuller’s pub near a big hotel (a Hilton?).

My impression is that all of the pubs along that stretch are either rammed with tourists, or completely deserted, depending on when you visit. The Mayflower was rather peaceful on a Monday lunchtime — we had the deck more-or-less to ourselves.

I suppose my problem with Sam Smith’s is simply that you can never get anything other than their own stuff there. You rarely get anything on handpump (and the Angel is one that has nothing on handpump at all). Yes, they sometimes have interesting things in bottles, but the bottles seem to be an exception to the rule of “Sam Smith’s = cheap prices”. I like going to pubs where there’s a chance of a surprise; some beer I’ve never heard of before, or some beer I’ve had and liked but not seen available for ages. No chance of that in a Sam Smith’s pub! It’s a shame, because I like the lack of music, and I love many of their interiors.

The Fuller’s pub is the Blacksmiths Arms – the beer’s fine, and they do decent Thai food. And yes, it’s the Hilton that it’s near. There’s actually a ferry that goes across to Canary Wharf from a pier just there.

The Shepherd Neame one might be the Ship and Whale?,_SE16_7LT

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