Postal London - December 1999

Welcome to the eleventh and final installment of Postal Drinker, my attempt to drink a pint of real ale in every one of the hundred and nineteen postal districts in London. I have kept up to my schedule of eleven pubs a month and now have ten pubs left to complete the crawl. There was no article for March as I gave up alcohol for Lent. As previously mentioned all my articles are available on the internet at the Hassrale website Three of the pubs I have done were part of the Allied Domecq estate taken over by Punch Taverns. They are the Northumberland Arms (W1), the Clifton (NW8) and the White Swan (NW11). Hopefully (?) Punch Taverns will not make too many changes as I was impressed by all three pubs when I visited them.

By the start of December I have changed jobs and am working the night shift at the Post Office so as I have the first weekend off I make a start on Saturday night. My original intention had been to complete the South East London pubs but a fire at the Deptford signals has caused problems on the railway service.

I get the bus down to the Woolwich ferry and walk through the foot tunnel under the Thames. From Woolwich I head west into Charlton (SE7). The pub I choose is the Victoria, a small former Trumans pub which is now a free house. The original Victorian tilework and bas-relief Trumans eagle have been left untouched. On the inside the pub has a wooden floor and several sofas. One beer is available, Victoria bitter, which is brewed in Warrington according to the pumpclip. Be careful if you sit down on a sofa as some of them are rather soft and reclining and you may overbalance and spill your pint. A local Camra member I met a couple of months before did tell me he believed the bitter is in fact Burtonwoods bitter.

From Charlton I get the bus to Lewisham (SE13) and go to the Watch House in the High Street. This is a medium sized Wetherspoon pub furbished in their usual style. As well as their four regular beers four guest beers are available and I have a pint of Brakspears Grim Reaper. This a dark fruity winter beer at 5% ABV. In common with the other South London Wetherspoon pubs I have visited Westons cider is available on handpump. Is there any particular reason for the wider availability of real cider in Wetherspoon pubs south of the river? There are several posters up advertising Wetherspoons 20th birthday celebrations on the 9th. Several drinks will be available at a reduced price but, interestingly, no real ales.

From Lewisham station I get the new Docklands Light Railway extension back to East London. The extension and the Jubilee line extension do make travelling between East and South East London a lot easier raising the possibility of cross river crawls and socials. I get off at Bow Church in E3 and head round to the Blue Anchor in Bromley High Street. This is a small traditional East End community local where customers still dress up to go out on a Saturday night. Two beers are available and I have a pint of Youngs Ordinary. The pub has darts teams, quiz teams and a shovehapenny board is available. The darts teams are for both the ordinary board and the traditional local fives board. Two other pubs in Bow that are worth a visit are the Coburn, a Youngs pub off Bow Road, and the Bow Bells in Bow Road.

On the Sunday I again take the DLR to Lewisham and then get a train to Eltham (SE9). Just down from the station is the Bankers Draft a small Wetherspoon pub which presumably used to be a bank. As no guest beers are available I have a pint of Shepherd Neame Spitfire. Although it is early evening one pair of customers order the all day breakfast. One famous former resident of Eltham is Frankie Howard and among the local memorabilia decorating the walls are some old posters advertising his shows.

My next stop is Blackheath (SE3) and the Crown in Blackheath Village which is near the station and on the edge of the large heath. The Crown is a medium sized up-market pub with wooden floors and a large beer range. As well as the Courage/Theakstons range there are several guest beers and several foreign bottled beers including Leffe and Timmermans. From the guest beers I choose Mansfield Cask Ale a beer I have never seen before. It is a pleasant beer without being particularly outstanding. I also try a bottle of Leffe Blonde, a strong pale abbey beer. The Crown dates back to the 18th century and claims to be the oldest pub in Blackheath. It certainly seems to be the most interesting and an ideal place for an evenings drinking, if a little on the expensive side.

From Blackheath I get a bus to Lewisham and the DLR back across the river to Limehouse (E14). Just by Limehouse station in the north western corner of the district is the Queens Head. This is a small pub with two interconnected bars which is a Good Beer Guide regular and I have a pint of Youngs Ordinary. HRH The Queen Mother once pulled a pint here and photos of the event appear in most Youngs pub. It is also commemorated by a small plaque on the bar of the Queens Head. Both a shovehapenny board and a traditional local fives darts board are available. There is a short history of the locality and the pub above one bar with a list of the pubs landlords, the current one having been there for fourteen years.

As I have mentioned the DLR extension makes crossing the river much easier and the Queens Head is an ideal place to start or finish a crawl along the DLR.

I have the next Friday night off so I pop down to the Approach Tavern in Bethnal Green (E2). This is a free house close to York Hall, the former venue of the Pigs Ear Beer Festival. This used to be a two-bar traditional free house but has since changed hands and been turned into a more modern one-bar pub. As well as five real ales several foreign bottled beers are available and food from a modern menu is available. Despite the modernisation some elements of the old pub has been kept.

There are several old photos of the pub and war posters collected by the old owner, Harry King. The Approach won the East London and City Camra pub of the year award in 1990 and the Jack Long Memorial Award, named after the late branch chairman, is still displayed although it has been shifted to the other side of the pub. Unfortunately the beer I wanted to drink, Old Speckled Hen, was not available so I have a pint of Fullers London Pride instead. The Approach seems to combine the best of the old with the best of the new and I would recommend a visit.

On the Saturday night I am going to a party in Dulwich so I decide to complete the crawl and visit the last three pubs on the way there. The first one I visit is the Pride of Spitalfields, just off Brick Lane in E1. This is a small free house which I once described for the Good Beer Guide as being ideal before, after or instead of a visit to one of the many curry houses in the area. Four beers are available, Fullers London Pride and ESB, Crouch Vale Woodham IPA and a guest beer Grainstores Three Kings. According to the pumpclip Grainstores is based in Rutland. I try a pint of Three Kings and find it a bit disappointing. On previous visits I have usually drank the London Pride and found it in superb condition.

From here I get the tube to Parsons Green (SW6). Close to the station is the White Horse. This is an upmarket free house has several real ales on and a wide range of foreign bottled beers. The real ales include two rarely seen in London, Adnams Extra and Highgate Mild, and I have a pint of the Adnams Extra. The bottled beers include Coopers, Chimay, Duval, Orval, Rochfort, Westmalle, White Shield and many others. The pub is quite crowded and noisy with a lot of the customers apparently having a drink before going on to a party later. On the other side of the Green is a Youngs pub the Duke of Cumberland.

For the last pub I head back to Victoria (SW1) and the Buckingham Arms in Petty France close to the Passport Office. This is Youngs pub which is a Good Beer Guide regular. I decide to finish the years crawl with the same beer that I started with and have a pint of Youngs Ordinary. As it is not in a residential area the pub has few customers for a Saturday night and sometimes shuts early if there is no custom. Opening hours on a Sunday are 12-5.30. However it is usually quite packed during weekdays. As well as the full Youngs range bottles of Duval are available. The Buckingham is also notable for the founding of the 135 Association for drinkers who have completed the Youngs tour.

Although my crawl was an individual effort thanks are due to the following, to John Wright for lending to me North and West London guides, to Edmund Featherstone for putting my writings on the internet, to the 135 Association for having a social at the Brittania in W8 on New Years lunchtime to start the crawl, to West Middlesex branch and Acton branch of the SPBW for confirming the Fox as the most westerly pub in W7 and to Ken Davison for suggesting the Bank of Friendship for N5.

Colin Price