Friday, 5 August 2016

London Pub Pilgrimage: A Baker's Dozen Or So

Buddleia in broad gauge bloom down on Stroud station,
Crazy golf flags out at the Brunel Goods Shed,
The 9.08 to Paddington
(1966 and all that in the newspapers),
Then the Bakerloo to Oxford Circus,
And early doors into the Argyll Arms
(‘Example of fin de siècle social stratification’),
The cubicles, mahogany, mirrors and cut glass screens
Evoking an art nouveau gendered snobbery:
‘In keeping with the new vogue style for privacy …
snug areas to separate the different social classes’-
Or upper class men pursuing music hall conquest:
An Inspector Calls.

Then on to The Flying Horse
(‘The last remaining pub on Oxford Street’),
Named The Tottenham when it was built in 1892,
‘Regulars … were theatregoers from … Tottenham Street Theatre,
once London’s finest music hall.
The three curvaceous ladies on the pub walls were painted
by Felix de Jong, the leading decorative artist in music hall’:
An Inspector Calls again…

But I wanted to jump into the 18th century:
The condemned journey to the gallows
From Newgate to Tyburn Tree
Touched on Oxford Street,
And my next port of call took me past St. George’s in Bloomsbury,
Its spire discernible in the Hogarthian chaos of Gin Lane,
But it’s hard to keep away from Victoriana in London,
Especially when close to an old haunt:

The Lamb in Lamb Conduit Street,
Plush leather sofas,
Endless pen pictures of Victorian beauties,
Adamantine porcelain and tiled lavatories;
I ordered a lemon and lime,
And explained that this was a local of mine some forty years ago -
The solitary drinker there told me she was
‘In a pub in Camden Town yesterday, they played my music,
The Rolling Stones, The Beatles; I was so happy.’
She was over from Sweden, her daughter lectured at UCL,
I mentioned that I was once an undergraduate there,
She trilled: 
‘A student of UCL is a student of UCL for life.’
I talked of my pub pilgrimage, took a few pictures,
Walked out the door,
‘See you in twenty years,’ she called,
As I left for Roger Street, a change of period,

And the art deco Duke of York,
Suitably close to where Dorothy Sayers lived,
This is a passport to the ‘30s:
‘Every day when Big Ben chimes, it’s Radio Times’,
‘There won’t be another war will there, sir?”
The mirrors, the fireplace, the exterior, the font …
A session in there and you’d end up being Sandy Powell,

‘Can you hear me, mother?’

But Charles Dickens is more likely to hear you here,
In the environs of Bloomsbury:
I’m not talking so much Dombey Street, Brownlow Street,
The Charles Dickens Museum, and so on,
But more the way London presents itself
As one huge Dickens theme park,
All his characters larger than life,
All beer and skittles and victuals and wittles,
All Sam Weller and Mr. Jingle,
With not a workhouse in sight,
Only the offices of the trade union UNITE,
To remind us that a Victorian reality lies behind the façade –

Then it’s all box files and Jarndyce and Jarndyce,
And Bleak House around Gray’s Inn,
Until you walk on to High Holborn,
Where I at last give some money to a beggar,
Holding the placard about the 1824 Vagrancy Act,
And so to the 1920s Mockabethan Cittie ofYorke
And the tiled Victoriana of the Princess Louise;

Next up: Lincoln’s Inn Fields,
Where I must have been the only person on a park-bench,
With homemade sandwiches, nor on a mobile ’phone,
Then Chancery Lane and Fleet Street,
For Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese,
Rebuilt after the Great Fire,
Crepuscular, Gothicke atmosphere,
Here in Wine Office Court,
With the ghosts of Samuel Johnson, Congreve, Pope, Goldsmith,
And Reynolds, Gibbon, Garrick, Burney, Boswell smoking clay pipes;
Over there, Carlyle, Macaulay, Tennyson, Dickens, Hood,
Thackeray, Cruickshank, Leech, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle
Mulling over glasses of port and the intricacies of plot.

Then on to the Viaduct Tavern in Newgate Street,
Opposite the Holborn Viaduct,
(Which straddles the subterranean River Fleet,
 And the consequent steep dip in the road,
Between Holborn and Newgate Street);
Queen Victoria opened the viaduct in 1869,
The same year the pub opened,
All curving frontage,
And inside, three huge paintings of pre-Raphaelite maids,
Like something out of Christina Rossetti,
And Cousin Kate,
Symbols for agriculture, banking, and the arts,
Towering over the lunchtime topers.

I decided to aim for the 15.36 back,
With time and space to relax and write up my notes,
So aimed for just one more pub:
The secretive and difficult to find Ye Olde Mitre;
It’s down an alleyway between 8 and 9 Hatton Garden,
The alleyway indicated by a strange old street lamp,
But easily missed,
In Ely Court, Ely Place, by Holborn Circus,
‘Ye Olde Mitre 1546’,

The date reminding me that I had to hotfoot it to Paddington,
So walked to Chancery Lane, for the central line to Notting Hill,
The line eerily echoing the route taken by Jack Sheppard and his ilk,
From Newgate to Marble Arch and Tyburn Tree:

Jack’s two hour procession, with rope and coffin,
through crowds proffering handshakes and flowers,
halted at a tavern for Jack to quaff his last drink,
Until the cart reached its woeful and final destination at Tyburn …’

‘They groan’d aloud on London Stone
They groan’d aloud on Tyburn’s Brook
Albion gave his deadly groan,
And all the Atlantic mountains Shook.’
(William Blake)

Part Two

The Victorian London pub experience continued
With a newspaper article on the train again,
This time about the fact that not since 1893
Had so few days been lost to strikes -
But the Bakerloo was back on at Paddington,
Two weeks ahead of schedule,
And so I caught the underground to Piccadilly Circus,
To walk past top hatted Fortnum and Masons,
And onto the Red Lion in St James's,
Off Jermyn Street, at 2 Duke of York Street:
It was closed, so I missed all the mahogany,
The sparkling glass and mirrors of this 1870s pub,
But it looked grand enough from the outside,
With its ornate ironwork, and hanging baskets.

Next up, a walk through London's theatre land,
Hobson’s Choice and beggar land,
To the Dog and Duck's Victoriana in Soho,
In Bateman Street: a glazed tile oasis of calm,
Where Dante Gabriel Rossetti supped,’
And George Orwell mused,
Possibly about his ideal pub:
‘The Moon Under Water ... two minutes from a bus stop ... on a side-street ... it's whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian ... it is always quiet enough to talk.'

I passed a clothes shop called A Child of the Jago,
Where you pay through the nose for your clothes -
A Child of the Jago was a Victorian novel about slum life,
But postmodernist Victoriana is everywhere in London,
It deceives the eye and the mind,
As people on phones talk money, money, money;
And as I hear a scouse voice say:
'The Strand. That's on the monopoly board innit?'
Monopoly ... A game that was originally devised to reveal
The essentials of capitalism, rather than encourage
Mercenary competitiveness and selfishness...

And so to the gilt edged splendour of The Salisbury
(Faux 'Pie Shop' and a board for 'Fish and Chips'),
Lord Salisbury, high aristocrat and Tory grandee,
Top hatted prime minister of ‘Splendid Isolation’,
Gazing down on the art nouveau ambience,
The cut glass, the mirrors, and the fruit machine.

And so on past Somerset House, and the Thames,
To Blackfriars Bridge and the delight of the cornered
Blackfriars Pub, 174 Queen Victoria Street,
An art nouveau four storey angular gem,
With a carved black friar and a clock above the door,
Inside: ecclesiastical depictions in wood and stained glass,
The pub saved from 1960s demolition, and vandalism
By, inter alia, John Betjeman.

Then on past the Old Bailey, once the site of Newgate,
Did I see the ghost of Jack Sheppard climbing down the wall?
Past Smithfield, and the medieval splendour of St Bartholomew's,
To reach the Hand and Shears, Cloth Fair, Middle Street:
The site has a medieval history,
The pub, an early 19th century provenance,
Matchboard walls, an oak floor, delightful prints,
And friendly company - I wanted to walk to the British Library
To meet the daughters, and received great directions:
Turn into Aldersgate, and then continue left along Goswell Street
(Where our famous Gloucestershire Chartist,
Allen Davenport lived and died),
Then past Clerkenwell Green where Lollardy thrived,
And the Artful Dodger and Fagin had their fictions,
Where Chartism was nurtured and Marxism fostered;
On to Islington and the Pentonville Road,
Twenty men on their own bicycles,
Awaiting instructions at Deliveroo,
Using their own phones to navigate …
For all the world, just like a modern day depiction
Of the docks before the strike of 1889,
When dockers queued in the hope of work,
Until unionised in the strike waves of the unskilled:
‘The New Unions’.

Walking on, I remember what I had read earlier on the train,
Feel the ground rise and fall beneath my feet,
By Pentonville Rise,
And hear the Situationist cry:
'Under the pavements, the beach!'

And so to Kings Cross, the British Library, the canal,
And a picnic with my daughters on artificial grass,
Somewhere near where the marshaling yards used to be,
And then back to Paddington and this train,
Where I sit typing this final line about this London Pub Pilgrimage,
To ‘The Moon Under Water ... two minutes from a bus stop ... on a side-street ... it's whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian ... it is always quiet enough to talk.'

Aiming for a group Radical Stroud comes to Town pub pilgrimage on the third weekend of November.

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