News (and stuff) from London E3

Saturday 25 July 2009


This is my local pub.
It's closed and shuttered.
"All items of value have been removed"
I wonder if it'll ever open again.

King's Arms, E3

There's been a Kings Arms in Bow Road since at least Victorian times. 140 years ago its Licensed Victualler was Ms Fanny Gear, a 46-year-old widow from Rotherhithe, 100 years ago Mr Elijah Morton, and 60 years ago Mrs Alice Berry. Millions of pints have been served over that time, mostly to very local people (because you wouldn't travel miles out of your way to sup here). The pub's little more than a large room with a bar in the centre, and a choice of entrances at the front. Saloon Lounge to the left, Saloon & Private Bar to the right, each name formed of golden letters within ornate ironwork above the door. There's been an Irish flavour to the pub of late, with Kilkenny cream ale and Guinness the favoured tipples. Regular karaoke nights brought in the punters, as did various signs on the pavement advertising Thai cuisine within. On sunnier days the patrons spilled out to sit at wooden tables in the slipstream of the A11, breathing in fumes and nattering above the relentless traffic. After closing time I'd often see the interior lit up, doors firmly bolted, as the beery cheery souls inside entertained themselves for a few more drunken hours. No longer, the pub's gone dark, gone silent, gone.

I never once went inside, of course. That's the problem with local pubs these days, lack of punters, lack of trade, lack of takings. Why go for a beer in your local pub when there are more interesting drinking holes elsewhere? Why pay three quid for a pint when cans are six for a fiver in the corner shop? Why patronise an alcohol dispensary when most of those living nearby are guided by their religion to be devout teetotalers? Hell, why support your local community pumproom at all, because wouldn't it look nicer converted into flats? And so pubs die, and convert, and disappear, and our neighbourhoods become residential hideaways where nobody ever meets up socially.

Bow VillageThe King's Arms wasn't always my local pub. There used to be several closer to my flat, clustered around the medieval heart of Bow village, all of them long gone. North of Bow Church the Three Tuns, Dog & Partridge and Coach & Horses (now McDonalds). South of Bow Church the Black Swan, Three Cups, White Horse and Bombay Grab (the latter, ironically, evolving into a mosque). So many E3 pubs have been erased, and in 2009 the King's Arms appears to have joined their number. It won't be the last. Raise a glass.

Activity for local people: I thought I'd have a go at mapping Bow's pubs - living and dead. I've used various useful historical and modern online resources to try to work out where the vanished ones were, and plotted them all on a Google Map. I've used blue pins for open pubs and red pins for closed pubs (although I might have got a few wrong). And if you know more than I do, the map's fully editable... so you can add some more pubs, add some information to the labels, even move the pubs around if you think I've put them in the wrong place. I've restricted myself to pubs within half a mile of Bow Church station, so please make sure you do too. And let's see what a collaboration of E3 alcoholics can come up with. [map]

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