Pub History: Field Work in West London

Tap on the Line, Kew.

After spending an afternoon reading about pubs in the National Archives at Kew we were keen to actually visit some and so decided on a crawl through the West London heartland of Fuller’s.

We start­ed, as the sun began to set, at The Tap on the Line which is, hand­i­ly, right on the plat­form at Kew sta­tion. A con­vert­ed rail­way buf­fet bar inspired we guess by the Sheffield Tap, it’s also a bit like a mini ver­sion of the Par­cel Yard at King’s Cross with which it shares a ten­den­cy to vin­tage tiling and scrubbed wood. There was lots of eat­ing, not much seat­ing, and a row of keg taps on the back wall. The ubiq­ui­tous Edi­son bulbs were also present and cor­rect. It’s easy to admire the good taste with which it’s been put togeth­er, and pubs at sta­tions are A Good Thing, but it did feel, frankly, a bit like drink­ing in the kitchen depart­ment of John Lewis.

Window at the Old Pack Horse, Chiswick.

On the tube to Gun­ners­bury we pon­dered what we did like in a Fuller’s pub and, rather to our own sur­prise, found our­selves think­ing, wist­ful­ly, that we hoped the next one would be one of the mid-2000s refurbs with shiny orange wood and the full range of cask ales. With that in mind, The Old Pack Horse on Chiswick High Road was a sight for sore eyes: a grand, vague­ly-art-nou­veau exte­ri­or from 1905 with frost­ed win­dows full of gleam­ing light, adver­tis­ing Pub­lic and Saloon bars. Though the inte­ri­or was spa­cious there seemed to be lots of cor­ners, cub­by-holes and screens mak­ing it feel quite inti­mate. An antique met­al sign adver­tis­ing The Empire Bar lurked in the shad­ows above the bar evok­ing the peri­od of pomp when the pub was built. The beer offer was cask-led… just – a new craft beer menu (most­ly in bot­tles) was in the process of being rolled out, and was being pushed fair­ly hard by staff. The Thai restau­rant at the back was a gen­uine­ly pleas­ing reminder of a decade ago when every pub in Lon­don seemed to have the same.

George IV, exterior view.

A lit­tle fur­ther along the busy main road was the George IV – just the kind of between-the-wars Improved Pub­lic House we’d been read­ing about for the pre­ced­ing few days. Pala­tial in scale but plain in appear­ance, it was the first pub on our crawl where Sat­ur­day night real­ly seemed to be kick­ing off. Peo­ple were in par­ty clothes, beards oiled and nails paint­ed, and the bar was a three-deep scrum. It seemed a bit of a barn with its one big, echo­ing space but we reck­on that’s orig­i­nal – the work of frock-coat­ed pre-WWII licens­ing mag­is­trates insis­tent on full super­vi­sion, with the cen­tral bar a kind of panop­ti­con from where the pub­li­can could play the part of police­man to make sure no-one was hav­ing too much fun.

Duke of York, exterior view.

After this we cut into the back streets where we stum­bled upon the Duke of York. It could­n’t have felt more dif­fer­ent to the George despite being of a sim­i­lar vin­tage. Anoth­er 00s refurb of a between-the-wars pub, The Duke retains two bars, pub­lic and saloon – and not just the sug­ges­tion of two bars, mind you, but an appar­ent­ly gen­uine seg­re­ga­tion, with solo gents seat­ed at their cross­words in the lat­ter while the for­mer was stand­ing only, foot­ball on the tel­ly and pool under­way. Snatch­es of con­ver­sa­tion in var­i­ous accents rose above the chat­ter now and then: ‘Now, you know I’m a patient sort of bloke, but I told him…’; ‘After you, dear boy, after you, ha ha, jol­ly good!’ We were con­scious of being strangers – a cou­ple of curi­ous glances came our way – and yet also felt the most com­fort­able we had all evening. What­ev­er mag­ic makes a pub feel right, this seemed to have it.

With some sad­ness we pushed on head­ing through a spot­less­ly clean under­pass beneath the West­way and into the shad­ow of Fuller’s Grif­fin Brew­ery. There we found The George & Devon­shire, anoth­er big, smart, bright pub that open but almost emp­ty. A cou­ple on a date fed each oth­er pas­ta while an elder­ly reg­u­lar sat at the bar mak­ing con­ver­sa­tion with the friend­ly woman behind the bar, who was puz­zled about where every­one was. (At the George IV, appar­ent­ly.) It was­n’t unpleas­ant by any means but was a bit of a come­down after the warm buzz of the Duke of York.

Salutation, Hammersmith.

After a wan­der along the river­side and a failed attempt to get through the door of The Dove, full to burst­ing with singing rug­by fans, we end­ed up at one of the most beau­ti­ful pubs in Lon­don: the extrav­a­gant­ly pur­ple Salu­ta­tion in Ham­mer­smith, a last gasp of pea­cock­ish Vic­to­ri­an gin palace extrav­a­gance before brew­ers began to tone it down in a search for respectabil­i­ty. The inte­ri­or suf­fers from a cor­po­rate makeover with bou­tique-hotel-style wall­pa­per and nowhere to sit which isn’t exposed. As on a pre­vi­ous vis­it, we were struck by the cheery good humour of the bar staff, which made us think that it must be a pleas­ant place to work.

After six pubs cov­er­ing var­i­ous stages of archi­tec­tur­al his­to­ry, as well as sev­er­al phas­es in Fuller’s attempts to stay With It, we left with a faint anx­i­ety. We’re not sure this par­tic­u­lar brew­ery need be so obsessed with get­ting involved in Craft Beer, espe­cial­ly if it’s at the expense of what they do best, and what makes them almost unique in Lon­don: bril­liant cask-con­di­tioned bit­ter, best bit­ter and strong bit­ter, served in great old pubs. Yes, it’s good to see the odd guest beer; it does­n’t do much harm to have bot­tles behind the bar; and a keg IPA is no bad idea. But, still, it’s wor­ry­ing that we only had one real­ly great pint of cask Fuller’s beer all evening – Ben­gal Lancer IPA at the Duke of York – and, in one case (The George IV) were served Lon­don Pride that was almost head­less, com­plete­ly life­less and even a bit hazy.

This news, which land­ed while we were fin­ish­ing on pass­able but un-excit­ing glass­es of ESB, only com­pound­ed our gloom:

But, then again, the pub with the worst beer was heav­ing, even if every­one was drink­ing wine and lager, and the pub with the best beer was kind of qui­et for a week­end evening. So what do we know about any­thing?

16 thoughts on “Pub History: Field Work in West London”

  1. You should have said – my office is just around the cor­ner from the George IV (which was closed for a full refurb not long ago, by the way), and I’d have wel­comed an excuse for a pint!

    1. It’s a shame you did­n’t find the Maw­son’s Arms open – I’ve nev­er had less then good beer in there. Not too sur­pris­ing­ly, giv­en that the brew­ers drink there. Anoth­er good one I found recent­ly by chance was the Cross Keys on Black Lion Lane – Chiswick/Hammersmith bor­ders, I guess.

      1. We were sort of head­ing towards the Maw­son Arms when it occurred to us to check the open­ing times. We’ll get there one day, maybe when we final­ly get round to doing the brew­ery tour.

        Find­ing pubs by chance is our favourite way, to be hon­est – a bit of a gam­ble, the slight thrill on walk­ing through the door, etc.

  2. Sounds like a good crawl! I do find Fullers pubs to be real­ly hit and miss, espe­cial­ly in the West End where they pan­der to tourists. How­ev­er I think that in terms of embrac­ing a craft offer­ing Fuller’s seem to be doing a lot bet­ter than a lot of oth­er regional/family brew­ers. I love that the Par­cel Yard stocks Orval for exam­ple – not just focus­ing on the pale and hop­py end of the spec­trum. Not a lot of oth­er region­als are mak­ing this much con­sid­ered thought over their range.

    My absolute favourite Fuller’s Pub is The Hol­ly Bush in Hamp­stead Vil­lage. All pol­ished wood and leather uphol­stery and hid­den away down a lit­tle back street. Have you been? You real­ly should the next time you’re in town.

  3. Chiswick has been on the endan­gered list for a few years despite being one of the favourite tip­ples of John Keel­ing; I recall being told 2008 per­haps that they were con­sid­er­ing axing it. I also recall a sim­i­lar con­ver­sa­tion in 2000 with the then Adnams head brew­er who was going to axe their mild — he said it was all very good mild types wail­ing and rip­ping their hair­shirts in anguish but if the beer wasn’t sell­ing there was no point in brew­ing it. I always enjoyed Chiswick and am glad it is at least a sea­son­al. Walked past the Salu­ta­tion sev­er­al times last year when vis­it­ing the brew­ery nev­er had time to go in; the Dove is mar­vel­lous and I have fond mem­o­ries from 1990 of the Holly­bush when it sold Ben­skins and had gaslights, me and my mate watched Crys­tal Palace vs Liv­er­pool in the FA Cup semis there, good match I seem to recall. I think Fuller’s do a great job and ESB is one of my favourite beers, but then I might be seen as biased, so I’ll say no more.

    1. I guess it also ties in with Fuller’s real­i­sa­tion that these days, vari­ety sells. Pride’s there for the many who want “a pint of the usu­al”, but for the rest, it’s “what’s new on this week?”

          1. It’s not real­ly been on our radar. We’ll give it a go with open minds next time we see it.

    2. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing we are Fuller’s fans which I guess is why we watch them all the more close­ly. In the last year or two we’ve had some pints of Chiswick, Pride and ESB that have real­ly knocked our socks off – most often at the Jugged Hare on Vaux­hall Bridge Road and the Mad Bish­op at Padding­ton, per­haps sur­pris­ing­ly – which is why it’s so dis­ap­point­ing to find their cask ale in lack­lus­tre con­di­tion in their own pubs, only miles from the brew­ery.

  4. There are quite a few terms to describe a pub crawl, but “field work” is a new one on me! I’m not sure how it would go down at Bai­ley Tow­ers if I was to tell my near­est and dear­est that I’m off for a spot of “field work”, the next time embark on a CAMRA out­ing!

    Some nice look­ing, and nice sound­ing, pubs, and regret­tably I’ve only been in a few of them. Shame about Chiswick being rel­e­gat­ed to a sea­son­al ale; I much pre­ferred it to Sea­far­ers.

    1. We were gen­uine­ly look­ing at the pub archi­tec­ture although less care­ful­ly by the end of the crawl than at the start…

  5. Nice piece, I real­ly need to make it over to the Salu­ta­tion one day soon. I’d also rec­om­mend most if not all of the Fuller’s pubs in Eal­ing should you want to try a sim­i­lar field vis­it again. And yes it’s a shame about Chiswick Bit­ter, a real­ly good thirst quencher to start the evening on, I much pre­fer it to Sea­far­ers.

    Also just a small geo­graph­i­cal point, that spot­less­ly clean under­pass goes under the A4 and not the West­way which is the A40.

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