The Three Mariner’s pub sits in a maze of dark cobbled alleyways not far from the Thames. The smell of fish, tar and sea-water is powerful, and you can hear the shouts of Thames boatmen, the clattering of masts and the clatter of cargo being unloaded on the dockside.
The pub looks inviting, candlelit and cosy, promising shelter from the gloomy and rather intimidating wharfside rat runs.
It’s small — there’s only one table and two chairs — but there’s plenty of leaning space at the bar.
Behind the bar, there are tankards and stone mugs, and four unlabelled hand pumps. There are crates filled with bottles of porter stacked against the back wall.
It’s like the pubs Sherlock Holmes visits in the Basil Rathbone films of the 1940s and the atmosphere is terrific.
Sadly, you can’t actually have a pint at the Mariner’s Arms. It’s part of a permanent exhibit at the Museum in Docklands, near Canary Wharf, and represents a typical 19th century sailors’ pub. It’s worth a visit if you’re interested in the history of London, especially as they’ve got an exhibition on Jack the Ripper until November. It’s not as creepy as it sounds — it’s really an exhibition of East End life and policing in the 1880s. We especially liked the map of London’s pubs produced by the Temperance Society in the 1880s. It’s entitled simply “The Modern Plague of London”. There’s an extract of it available here.
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.
‘There’s half a pint of ale for you. Will you have it now?’
I thanked him and said, ‘Yes.’ Upon which he poured it out of a jug into a large tumbler, and held it up against the light, and made it look beautiful.
‘My eye!’ he said. ‘It seems a good deal, don’t it?’
‘It does seem a good deal,’ I answered with a smile. For it was quite delightful to me, to find him so pleasant. He was a twinkling-eyed, pimple-faced man, with his hair standing upright all over his head; and as he stood with one arm a-kimbo, holding up the glass to the light with the other hand, he looked quite friendly.
‘There was a gentleman here, yesterday,’ he said – ‘a stout gentleman, by the name of Topsawyer – perhaps you know him?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t think -‘
‘In breeches and gaiters, broad-brimmed hat, grey coat, speckled choker,’ said the waiter.
‘No,’ I said bashfully, ‘I haven’t the pleasure -‘
‘He came in here,’ said the waiter, looking at the light through the tumbler, ‘ordered a glass of this ale – WOULD order it – I told him not – drank it, and fell dead. It was too old for him. It oughtn’t to be drawn; that’s the fact.’
This is one of a number of great quotes about beer in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. The hero is about 10 at the time, so it’s probably a good job he didn’t take the old ale. A year or so later, he’s quite the regular boozer;
I was such a child, and so little, that frequently when I went into the bar of a strange public-house for a glass of ale or porter, to moisten what I had had for dinner, they were afraid to give it me. I remember one hot evening I went into the bar of a public-house, and said to the landlord: ‘What is your best – your very best – ale a glass?’ For it was a special occasion. I don’t know what. It may have been my
‘Twopence-halfpenny,’ says the landlord, ‘is the price of the Genuine Stunning ale.’
‘Then,’ says I, producing the money, ‘just draw me a glass of the Genuine Stunning, if you please, with a good head to it.’
The landlord looked at me in return over the bar, from head to foot, with a strange smile on his face; and instead of drawing the beer, looked round the screen and said something to his wife. She came out from behind it, with her work in her hand, and joined him in surveying me. Here we stand, all three, before me now. The landlord in his shirt-sleeves, leaning against the bar window-frame; his wife looking over the little half-door; and I, in some confusion, looking up at them from outside the partition.
They asked me a good many questions; as, what my name was, how old I was, where I lived, how I was employed, and how I came there. To all of which, that I might commit nobody, I invented, I am afraid, appropriate answers. They served me with the ale, though I suspect it was not the Genuine Stunning; and the landlord’s wife, opening the little half-door of the bar, and bending down, gave me my money back, and gave me a kiss that was half admiring and half compassionate, but all womanly and good, I am sure.
A savvy customer for a pre-teen.
My great-grandma was born in Stepney in 1901. Sadly, I didn’t really get to know her before she died, so this anecdote comes via my mum.
Like other children of that time and place*, my great-grandma was often dispatched to the pub to get some beer for family members, in this case her grandma. However, when she was around 10 or 12 (before the First World War, at least) she took ‘The Pledge’ and joined the temperance movement. Thereafter, she refused to get any beer ever again.
I don’t know why this story tickles me — possibly the fact that something so “Dickensian” as kids fetching alcohol was actually in living memory until recently, or possibly it’s the idea of pre-teens swearing to abstain from alcohol. Or maybe it’s just the evidence of a contrary stubborn streak that persists down the female line to this day…
I’d raise a glass to her, but she’d probably turn in her grave.
*OK, I don’t have evidence that this was common practice, but Zythophile mentions a similar family story here, and here Ron has collected extracts from Charles Booth’s interviews in the 1890s with London publicans and brewers — which is an absolutely fascinating read — which mentions this on a number of occasions.