Visit the Pubology site

Welcome back! Happy new year 2010! Apologies for the long absence. I thought I’d try starting a series of posts based on the Monopoly Board. (At my current pace, this should take me a few years at least, though some of the locations may not require particularly substantial entries.)

Of all the properties name-checked on the canonical (London) Monopoly board,1 only one of them lies south of the River Thames, and it’s the one that has seen probably the most change over the last three-quarters of a century since that game was created. Of course, the Old Kent Road has always been a major thoroughfare and has changed greatly since it is first recorded, as part of the Roman road Watling Street,2 but the twentieth century in particular has seen a vast amount of post-World War II rebuilding. Vast tracts of it are now taken up by council estates and huge branches of familiar retail chains like Tesco, Toys R Us, PC World, B&Q, Halfords and Asda.

To a certain extent this reflects rebuilding after wartime bombing, but it is also due to the flight of industry from the centre of London which had started happening even before then and has moved on progressively over the last century. One of the great lost rail termini of London was sited at the top of the Old Kent Road, Bricklayers’ Arms, and after an initial, abortive, attempt to compete with London Bridge station for passengers (Bricklayers’ Arms was opened in 1844 but closed to passenger traffic in 1852), it settled down for the remainder of its existence as a goods depot, meaning that many industries set up along the Old Kent Road and around the Bricklayers’ Arms terminus in Bermondsey. By the time it closed in 1983, most of the industrial works had long since moved out, leaving large tracts of bleak space, the remains of gasworks and other heavy industry, and a pall of underdevelopment.3 Efforts have been made at regeneration, of course, the most notable being the reclamation of much of the bombed land west of the Old Kent Road as a vast new open space, Burgess Park.4

With respect to this blog’s focus of interest, an 1878 text (available online), Old and New London by Edward Walford,5 includes the following passage about the Old Kent Road, which is instructive in just how much the road has changed:

The most noticeable feature in the Old Kent Road is the number of public-houses, each with its swinging sign and drinking-trough for horses.
Walford then goes on to mention a number of hostelries: The Kentish Drovers; The Thomas Becket; The Shard Arms; and The World Turned Upside Down. None of these pubs is any longer open for business, although, rather surprisingly, the buildings of three of them still exist in some form.6 Of course, this was just a fraction of the total number which once ran the length of the road. The Dead Pubs website, an excellent resource, lists 39 drinking establishments, which I’ve listed in an appendix at the end for reference.

Figure 68. The Lord Nelson (Walworth SE1).

Remaining Pubs

Currently, there are only two pubs still trading on Old Kent Road. There are, in addition, a number of bars (not to mention bar/restaurants), though it can be difficult to get a sense of whether some of these are still in business, as many open late in the evenings or for occasional events only and give every appearance of not being in business (such as Virgo’s, Walworth SE1, or Clear Spirit Vodka Bar & Lounge, Peckham SE15).

The two remaining pubs are The Lord Nelson (Walworth SE1, fig. 68), around halfway down, and The Breffni Arms (Peckham SE15, fig. 11), towards the far, New Cross end of the road. Both pub buildings are impressive examples of Victorian pub building, with the latter a particularly striking example.

Closed Pubs

More impressive yet is The Thomas Becket (Walworth SE1, fig 69). This landmark pub, latterly a boxing gym and now a gallery, stood on the old coaching road to Kent (hence Old Kent Road), named after a famous pilgrim who travelled this stretch of road to Canterbury. It was a well-used break on travellers’ journeys, as it stood by a crossing of the (now buried) River Neckinger,7 and the spot was thus known as St Thomas Waterings.

Figure 69. The Thomas Becket (Walworth SE1), now closed.

Of course, like many other pubs on this road, it has long since closed. However, its sizable presence along with The Green Man (Walworth SE1) and The Dun Cow (Bermondsey SE1), demonstrates well the former prominence of public houses in this part of London. The only other surviving pub buildings from the Victorian era are the comparatively modest The Duke of Kent (Bermondsey SE1), now a mosque, and The Kentish Drovers and Halfway House (Peckham SE15), though the latter still sports a rather striking mural depicting travellers in times past. As part of the modern A2, the road is still used heavily for travel, it’s just that few anymore feel the need to stop here.

[1] As you know, the original 1935 Monopoly board was based on properties in Atlantic City, USA, though the British version followed very shortly after, going into production in 1936.
[2] These days “streets” do not tend to traverse most of the southern half of a country, but that is what the original Roman road did. The Old Kent Road is just a very small section of what originally extended from Dover to Wroxeter, and which in London also takes in Edgware Road and the section of it in the City which still bears its original name.
[3] Much of the land taken up by the old railway lines through South Bermondsey has already been reclaimed for housing developments.
[4] Work began in 1950 on what was then North Camberwell Open Space, and has continued for most of the 20th century, including the opening of a new recreational lake in 1982. The line of the old Grand Surrey Canal, which was finally closed in 1971 and then drained, has been incorporated into the park, with one branch of it forming a pleasant pedestrian and cycle path from Camberwell right up to Peckham Library. Information about the park is taken from Andrew Crowe, The Parks and Woodlands of London (1987), pp. 74-76.
[5] The six volumes are available on the British History website. The quoted passage is from this section on the Old Kent Road.
[6] The one no longer extant is The Shard Arms, at the corner of Peckham Park Road, which was demolished in the 1990s and replaced by a residential development. See Appendix for more information about the individual pubs.
[7] I took this information from the otherwise exceptional Russ Willey, Chambers London Gazetteer (Edinburgh: Chambers, 2006), but Diamond Geezer‘s information (along with that on Wikipedia) suggests that this was not in fact the River Neckinger but presumably another minor tributary now long-lost.

Appendix. List of Old Kent Road pubs on Dead Pubs website

2. The Bull (or The Black Bull). Demolished.
8. The Brighton. Demolished.
40. The King’s Arms. Demolished.
64. [Beer house.] Demolished.
84. The Swan. Demolished.
148. The Brunswick Tavern. Still standing, now a bar called Virgo.
210a. The Prince Consort. Demolished.
224. [Beer house.] Demolished.
276-280. The Green Man. Still standing, now a bar called Pardis and a separate restaurant.
320-322. The Thomas Becket. Still standing, now the Nolias Gallery.
338. [Beer house.] Demolished.
386. The Lord Nelson. Still trading.
490. [Beer house.] Demolished.
512-516. The Lord Wellington. 512-516. Still standing, since known as Vogue Bar, now closed.
578. The Alexandra. Demolished.
588. The Bridge House. Demolished.
602. The Britannia. Demolished.
610. The Shard Arms, since known as Cockneys. Demolished.
720-722. The Kentish Drovers and Halfway House. Still standing, now a restaurant.
762. [Beer house.] Demolished.
886. The Breffni Arms (formerly The Prince of Saxe Coburg). Still trading.

9. The City Arms. Demolished.
37. The Bricklayers’ Arms. Demolished.
87. The Horseshoe. Demolished.
103. [Beer house.] Demolished.
145. The World Turned Upside Down. Still standing, but now closed.
205. The Castle. Demolished.
279. The Dun Cow. Still standing, now a doctors’ surgery.
365. The Duke of Kent. Still standing, now a mosque.
561. Liddell’s Brewery. Demolished.
567. The New Half Way Inn. Demolished.
583. The William Fourth. Demolished.
615. [Beer house.] Demolished.
623. [Beer house.] Demolished.
695a. The Manor House Tap. Demolished.
711. The Turk’s Head. Demolished.
799. The Rising Sun. Demolished.
827. The Elephant and Castle. Demolished.
871. The Gem Bar & Restaurant (formerly The Canterbury Arms). Still trading.