The January’February 2014 issue of Island History News was the last one in its present form. This was meant to happen a year ago, but we got 12 months’ grace at St. John’s Community Centre. This was lucky, because that gave us time to wind down the Trust properly and to get funding from Heritage Lottery to complete the archiving of Mike Seaborne’s photographs (see front page of this website).

Today the popularity of new ways of sharing, like websites and Facebook, underlines the fact that Island History is all in the mind, the heart, the memory, and as such, it can never die, or be bought and sold. It rests with the people who have lived it, or whose parents and grandparents have lived it. Nowhere is this more obvious than at an Islanders’ Reunion, when hours are spent talking and sharing memories – of family, work, play, schooldays and life in general. Deep attachment to one spot might seem out of place today, but perhaps it is more important than ever, and more treasured, because we are such a very mobile society now.

Island History News has recorded and reported on many aspects of that deep sense of belonging which so many people have felt. The Island’s relative isolation and its feeling of open space survive today in spite of change; newcomers too appreciate this.

The News has been a collective achievement to be proud of. During 31 years of publication – and there are some subscribers who have read every issue – hundreds of people have supported the News with their subscriptions and donations, have contributed their memories and photographs, have written specially researched articles and have sent news of their families and friends to share with others. On the practical side we should mention: Bernard Canavan and (since 1987) Derek Chambers, for layout and design; Shirley Read, for editing the publication in 1990; Joy Perez at the Media Resources Office in George Green Centre for reproduction in the early days, and since then, Premier Print in Bow, for excellent, good value service; Ada Price and in the past 10 years, Pam Beresford, for keeping the mailing list up to day; Doris McCartney and latterly, Tim Pearce, for meticulous indexing; Mike Seaborne, throughout, for photographic reproduction; Ada Price and Mary Blackall were great proof readers; Ada also did the local deliveries, a job which has been cheerfully done by Brian Smith and his team for the past 10 years. Another great team have always turned out to stamp and stuff the envelopes – Daisy Woodard has probably never missed one of those days!

This hasn’t left much for curator Eve Hostettler to do except put the News together and now say, Thank You and Goodbye! We’ll all really miss Island History News.

The Friday Night pub crawl – 1960s Memories

from the September/October 2012 Island History News

The City Arms in the 1980s
The City Arms in the 1980s. Photograph copyright Mike Seaborne

We were a bunch of young lads, John, Dave, Ken, Norman and myself. Friday or Sturday night there was often a pub crawl. Ken or Norman would drive – these were the days prior to the breathalizer and the sole judge of whether you were fit to drive was the ability to walk a straight line! It makes me shudder when I think about it.

Friday night back then was always regarded as the lads’ night out. I seem to remember there was a saying: “Friday night’s Amarmi night”. I believe Amarmi was a home perm and all young ladies would be at home making sure they were beautiful for the Saturday night out! On a Saturday in the pub it was more about “chatting up the birds”. You had to be careful in some establishments however, particularly if it was dark and you had had a few pints. The Kinks’ song, Lola, comes to mind.

So, what pubs do I remember? There was The Green Gate and Rising Sun in Bethnal Green, The Deuragon Arms, Homerton, The Prince of Wales, Dalston, The Earl of Aberdeen, Bow and The Ship and Dover Castle near the Commercial Road.

Bottles of stout in the snug
Bottles of stout in the snug

As for the Isle of Dogs, I remember a night when we tried to locate the famous/infamous/notorious Charlie Brown’s. We approached a dingy-looking establishment which we thought was the place in question. A policeman was pasing (o his own, brave man) and we asked him if this awful pub was Charlie Brown’s. “No”, he said, “it’s that awful pub over there”, pointing to another dismal-looking building some fifty yards away. The inside of the pub looked like it hadn’t changed for years and was in need of refurbishment and a good spring clean. The same could also be said for the clientele! This was not the place you would take a young lady on a Saturday night – not unless you wanted to be dumped!

Then there was The Magnet and Dewdrop. This was more a young peoople’s pub with loud rock music and when I say loud, I mean LOUD!If you wanted to say something you had to wait until a song had finished and by then you had forgotten what you were going to say. One night I remember being at the bar buying a round when all the bar staff threw themselves to the floor, a chair flew over my head, and the pub was raining bottles and glasses. The music stopped and the band disappeared – no question of playing on like on the Titanic! It was all over in a flash. The band re-appeared, the bar staff re-surfaced, swept the floor and resumed serving. All in a night’s work.

The Waterman’s Arms at that time was owned by Dan Farsons, a writer and presenter whose face was very familiar on television at that time. This was a lively pub with singers, comedians, female impersonators and the like. I never saw him in there, but I did see him once in The City Arms. The entertainment here was often an act, Gay and Billy, two female impersonators with suspect singing and dubious comedy routine. All good fun though. A good percentage of the clientele was rather flamboyant. Pubs like The City Arms and Waterman’s Arms were very friendly and great fun.

It seemed back then that there was a pub on every street corner. Just how many were there in Westferry Road and how many remain today?

Inside Charlie Brown's - momentoes of many sea voyage
Inside Charlie Brown’s – momentoes of many sea voyage

What became of these pubs remembered here by Dave Hall? Charlie Brown’s has long been demolished, making way for new roads near the No.1 Gate of the West India Docks (gateposts still there). The City Ams became The City Pride and is now closed, awaiting demolition and redevelopment of the site. The Magnet and Dewdrop was renamed The Telegraph in a brave attempt to connect with Westferry Printers when it was newly built on the north side of Millwall Dock Inner Basin, but succumbed after a few years to inevitable decline and is now refurbished as apartments – are there any ghosts? The Waterman’s Arms was originally The Newcastle Arms, standing on the river bank at the top end of what was Newcastle Street, behind Christ Church. It survives as The Great Eastern.

Every Sailortown had a pub on almost every corner and you can still see traces of this in old ports as far apart as Appledore and Harwich. On the nineteenth century Isle of Dogs a number of beer houses were built along Millwall, some of them right on the riverbank, when the docks and industries first developed and there were one or two public houses, selling spirits and providing entertainment, as well, such as The Tooke Arms. When William Cubitt undertook to develop the land owned by the Countess of Glengall, one of the conditions of his lease was that there would be no beer houses, and so, quite imposing, even luxurious, establishments were built instead. That’s the origin of The Lord Nelson, The Pier, the former Newcastle Arms, the Builders’ Arms, the old Manchester Arms, the London and The Queen as well as others you can name. which sprang up around the new docks in the mid-19th century. Small beer was the way to soothe a dry throat after a long day in the engineering shed, docks or the ship-repair yard and the “local” became a gathering place for social life, for club meetings, and for the exchange of information about work and community life. The pub was mainly a masculine territory, with women confined to particular areas and times. Annual outings were often segregated, the ladies going on one day, the men on another.