Forgotten Stories: the pubs of London’s Royal Docks

Forgotten Stories: the pubs of London’s Royal Docks

Respected journalist and historian, Colin Grainger, gathers memories of the dozens of pubs around London’s Royal Docks, from the people who frequented them on a regular basis during the industrial heyday of the area.

Much of the attention regarding the regeneration of London’s Royal Docks is understandably focused on the large-scale projects that will bring businesses and communities back to these iconic East London waterways. But there are some smaller success stories that bring back fond memories of social lives of the people who lived and worked around the Royal Docks.

A Fuller’s pub will be the latest addition to the Royal Wharf development in West Silvertown. The 7,000 square foot bar will open later this year, with a 2,000 sq ft area for outdoor dining on the riverside. Details are expected to be announced soon of another bar to be built in North Woolwich – on the other side of the tracks to the Henley Arms

And another application has gone to Newham Council for licensing and music and dance entertainment for the Lockside Kitchen and Bar in Aird Point in in Lockside Way, North Woolwich/Beckton, near the Gallions Point Marina.

Earlier this year we wrote about Husk Brewing, the first brewery to be established in Silvertown. Earth Station in North Woolwich, meanwhile, focuses on brewing world-class beer with a social conscience.

These good news stories hint at just how important pub culture was to the past communities of the Royal Docks. Since the 1970s, 53 pubs have closed in the E16 Royal Docks postcode area, made up of Silvertown, North Woolwich, Custom House and Canning Town. Of the 26 pubs we once had in Silvertown, West Silvertown and North Woolwich, three remain.

In the heyday of the community Ferry Festival in the late 70s and early 80s, there was a pram race featuring stops at public houses in North Woolwich and Silvertown. Ten pubs and many laughs. The Henley Arms and the Royal Standard survive. The Ram remains in West Silvertown.

Generations of dockers and their families and residents of the Royal Docks communities kept those pubs going throughout their good and bad times.

Lesley Quirk, 61, said a number of boozers were a “home from home” for her lorry driver father Tom. “Every spare second he had he would spend down the pub. It was the tradition in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. More so than now.!

Among Tom’s watering holes were The Ram, the Pitts Head, Streeties and Royal Oak in Canning Town.

“He would often come back with a bargain that might have been helped from the rear of a lorry,” she smiled. “Pubs were a place for business, doing deals and getting jobs, as well as seeing your friends.”

There were no meals in pubs then, perhaps a few roast potatoes on the counter and seafood being sold in a basket by vendors or outside from a stall.

“As kids, we were left outside, shouting from the door when we wanted another lemonade or more crisps!”

Jewellery, records, videotapes, there seemed to be a never-ending supply of goods, along with cigarettes from the nearby Phillip Morris factory.

“The men would get great deals like suits as well, “ said Lesley,

“One guy in a pub in Canning Town would take your size and details – and then you could go round to his flat in Custom House and pick what you wanted!”

The Graving Dock Tavern in North Woolwich Road, West Silvertown, built in 1867, is remembered fondly by many.

Maureen Nash Pocklington said: “It was packed years ago. The old place rocked and my grandparents organised the Beanos from that pub.”

Sue Macpherson worked for a shipping company and spent most lunch

hours there.

Bernard Murphy worked at the Millennium Mill in Silvertown as did his father for many decades. “It was always packed with dock workers at lunchtime.”

Barbara Laws played darts there.

I have a memory of the pub which I thought time has clouded but Cliff Sealy remembers the layout which oddly had a saloon bar and public bar, with an off-licence for off sales in between the two! The pub, like many in the 70s, 80s and 90s, gave regulars diaries to say thank you for their custom and remind them where to drink!

Terry Marrison recalls the Huntingdon Arms in Canning Town

He said: “ The pub in Burke Street. Canning Town, opened in 1881, closed in 1986, became a laundrette and is now empty again.”

Bob Wendrop said: “It was a great pub when Charlie Wright was the guv’nor. Many a lock-in!”

Catherine Finlayson said her granddad used to play the piano in the pub.

The Three Crowns in North Woolwich has special memories for many.

Kevin Jenkins, founder of charity Ambition, Aspire, Achieve, said the pub in the 70s was one of the few places you could play bar billiards.

“They also had dart boards and also special boards with the ‘fives’ game it, “said Kevin.

“Guvnors Bill and Eileen Ford were lovely, and his son John ran another pub just down the road, the Henley. Happy days, when really were places you would always want to be in.”

I have my own memories of the Three Crowns in Pier Road near to the Ferry Approach, where, when you came out of the loos you thought you were drunk even if you hadn’t touched a drop, as the floor sloped downwards!

Lorraine Stevens said: “The Crowns and the Henley Arms held many Beanos – away days for generations of men and women. When mum or dad went on a Beano by coach, we waited patiently as children and shouted: ‘Throw out your mouldies. It was the cue for all of them to throw us their copper coins. We made a fortune!”

Cliff Sealy remembers many Beanos from the Henley. “The pub itself was brilliant, and still has that spirit now. But not only the pub itself, but the away days it fostered, the beanos to the seaside, were brilliant..

Cliff Sealy said: “We had a memorable one to Hastings. So memorable that I don’t remember coming home!”

John Ford was the guvnor in the 90s to 2000s. His dad Bill was the boss of the Three Crowns.

Clliff also said there were great bands that played in The Crowns and the Royal Pavilion, said Cliff. Alan Morris said he was in the Crowns every night in the 60s and 70s. It only took you about 50 steps to walk between the two.

The two were among the pubs featuring in the famous pram race in the Ferry Festival.

The race started at Royal Victoria Gardens park and then went up to the Royal Pavilion to the Three Crowns, then a sprint along Albert Road the Royal Albert, then turned back to Kennard St. Community Centre, The Henley, then another long sprint to the Royal Standard then down Woodman Street and to the Royal Oak, down to the California, up to the Roundhouse then back to the finish at the starting line.

The Royal Pavilion, known to many locals as The Pavi, is now being developed into a block of flats and has a superb view of the River Thames.

It was known by locals as the venue for many live bands and singers.

It figured in one of the Royal Docks greatest tales from the past, when a giant whale was washed up on its shore in 1899.

A report in a paper of the time said: “Mr Arthur Camp and the proprietor of the Pavilion Hotel, North Woolwich (Mr White, collected £23 8s and 6d from sightseers which has been sent to The Mansion House Fund. (A relief fund set up in the 19th century for various charitable relief projects and collected by the Lord Mayor of London through public appeals.)

But moving forward into the 70s, it was rumoured to have a ghost.

The Pavilion was in Pier Road and Davina Dupey takes up the story.

“My uncle Ron Slight and aunt Eileen had the Pavi from 1976 to1986. It was a Grade 11 listed building but sadly was demolished after they had left.

“The pub was haunted by a ghost called Fred. My aunt said he often protected her also he stopped a record that one of the barmaids was repeatedly playing at Christmas. The next day the record could be played OK.

“When my aunt was talking about Fred and people did not believe her, he took a glass held it in mid-air and shattered it!”

“My aunt said the North Woolwich Ferry Festivals were the best of times. Like a carnival with games and especially the pram race.

“My nana also lived upstairs there where I visited her. At different times two of my sisters and my brother worked behind the bar there so did dad as he had retired from the police.”

 

Rosemary Head speaks with fondness about the Beanos for women from the Prince of Wales pub in Prince Regent Lane, Custom House, particularly the trips to Southend, in the 60s and 70s. The pub closed in 2002. One particular trip in 1961 was memorable. “We stumbled across various things left over from the festival. It was a great day out. We took the community spirit from the pub with us.

“We laughed all day long every time we went,” said Rosemary. “They really were the days of fun and laughter, happy days and lovely memories

In West Silvertown, the ladies also loved their Beanos. A lovely picture emerged from the early 1950’s from Stan Dyson.

The West Silvertown ladies staged their Beano from the sadly lost Jubilee Tavern pub, Silvertown.

Jubilee landlady Hannah Bowden and her married daughter Phyllis Newell who lived in the pub at that time and whose husband Reg served behind the bar.

I have also unearthed from the Grainger and Quirk family archives, pictures of beanos for both men and women from Canning Town and North Woolwich in the 40s and 50s.

The Connaught Tavern is one of the remaining pubs. It has been called The Fox@Connaught since 2003, but the inn dates from 1881 and is a Grade II listed building.

The dockside Connaught Tavern originally opened to cater for passengers disembarking from craft berthing at the Victoria Docks. But as passenger numbers reduced the pub found itself catering more for the dock’s labourers and became a daily congregation point for those waiting to be picked for work. It served generations of dock workers and is famous for many years because the ‘Iron Lung’ stood outside.

The Grade II listed Victorian cast iron urinal weighing over a tonne was officially called The Rotunda. The gentleman’s pissoir by CS McDowell is the only surviving circular public urinal in London and was listed in 1983. After the closure of the docks in the 80s it gradually deteriorated and Newham Council eventually sold it off to the now-defunct London Docklands Development Corporation for £1. It was refurbished at a cost of £47,000 and is now in storage in a container in the docks.

Local drinker David Conroy said that one of the pubs that are no longer with us is Cundy’s, or to give the official name, the Railway Tavern in Silvertown.

“There is social history extraordinary in Cundy’s. It’s the pub that feature in the strike that shocked the Capital and helped launch the modern Labour movement, finally closing to the community in 2009, “ he said.

David used to drink in the pub and the Royal Albert.

Said David: “There is more history in Cundy’s than the others; the Trade Union movement and The Labour Party were effectively formed upstairs!!”

Fast forward to later life, the pub hosted the Peacock Gym in the 1980s, but then went downhill until it closed.

The Royal Oak in North Woolwich is remembered with great affection as a family and community pub.

The Truman’s pub was built in 1872 and boasted some very fine Truman’s tiled signage, which is amazingly still visible today.  Wartime bombing resulted in the loss of the upper floors but it carried on as a single storey pub, later completely surrounded by redevelopment.

The Woodman Street pub was packed with dockers during the lunch breaks.

Pamela Wellman and husband Stan ran the pub for 20 years from 1972.

“It was a proper family pub and we have lots of happy memories from our time there/

“I could still tell you all the regulars names. It was the centre of that little community. We had lots of laughs and staged many charity nights – one was based on the Sale of the Century TV programme. The money raised provided parcels for pensioners at Christmas.

“On New Year’s Eve it was fancy dress time.”

Regular Sylvia Eales said: “We loved the Royal Oak. One night the local coppers came in after they had locked themselves out of their car. One local opened it for them with a coat hanger. They asked him what he did for a living!”

Pam’s sister Pat McCarthy said: “When I was very young my nan and grandad Charles and Mary Fisher had the pub, then Pam and Stan had it. Very happy memories.”

 

  • Pictures: Colin Grainger, Newham Archives Local Studies, Rosemary Head, Dave Fennessy, Stan Dyson, Quirk family, Pamela Wellman
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