City pubs have always generally been built in proximity to either workplaces or residential areas, even if due to movements of population and industry some of them may now be somewhat lonely.1 Among the latter, residential, type exists possibly the highest expression of pub:2 the estate pub.
Estate pubs as I see them, aren’t just any pubs serving a large, high-density residential population. They have specific characteristics. Most notably, they are integrated into post-war housing estates. A great deal of damage was sustained in London during World War II as a result of German bombing. This, combined with the heightened demand for homes coming from the baby boom generation, led to vast tracts of land both inside and around London being used for estate development.3 After a fallow period of post-war indecisiveness and lack of resources during the 50s, the 1960s saw the start of this building programme. Architects planned ideal communities from concrete, with more than just homes, but a sense of social cohesion instilled through green spaces, community centres, shops and leisure centres (ideals which have been much under attack ever since — see the recent threat to Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar). These developments also required pubs.
Take the area east of Camden High Street, where large estates replaced war damaged districts and now dominate the grid pattern layout of streets. Here we can see a canonical example of the estate pub, built at the base of one of the estate blocks:
Or the notoriously crime-ridden area of North Peckham, where massive estates were constructed in the 1970s to attempt to alleviate its problems. They didn’t work and already some such as the Wood Dene estate on Queen’s Road (opposite the pictured pub) have been demolished.
Both of these examples share a distinctive feature beyond the profusion of concrete and brick: they were both formerly run by the Courage brewery, started in Bermondsey (but, like most, now brewed far outside London and owned by a large conglomerate). It no longer has any tied pubs, but its livery (particularly its distinctive golden rooster) can still be seen adorning many traditional unreconstructed boozers around London.4
Estate pubs are not just to be found at the base of tower blocks. In fact, their more distinctive form is a small squat, unnaturally square building abutting an estate. Taking a laughably hopeful name is this pub serving the Doddington & Rollo estate:5
You may wish to exercise due caution when considering whether to drink in such pubs. Hidden behind closed doors, and often lacking any windows, can make them seem less than friendly. The two elderly chaps sitting outside The Camden (Camden Town NW1, fig. 1) is a rare outwards sign of any life from these places. Sometimes they can appear to be permanently closed (the sad sight of The Old King John’s Head, Haggerston E2, is an example). They also tend to not have any handpumps for ale: lager’s the drink here, that or Guinness.
But despite their outwards appearance, such pubs need not always be avoided at all costs, and many examples that I have drunk in have tended to be friendly and welcoming, and are often the best place to find the soul of a local community. There are even centrally-located, and nowadays fairly middle-class and gentrified, examples of the form, places such as The Lord Nelson (Borough SE1, fig. 4) or The Shakespeare’s Head (Finsbury EC1, fig. 13) are quite different inside. And though the latter retains more of the estate pub spirit than the slightly ‘gastropub’-style makeover accorded to the Lord Nelson, both are friendly pleasant places for a drink with ales on pump and food served.
A final mention should go to the rarely-spotted new-build estate pub. New pubs in general aren’t too common, but estates are still being constructed (more sensitively, of course, to a community’s needs) and there’s still a need for local watering holes, especially if the estate is built on an area of land outside the centre which had been previously put to another use and may be far away from existing residential districts. So pubs like The Beaufort (Colindale NW9, fig. 5) go straight for the integrated drinking and dining experience (with a rather hilariously egregious choice of phrases on their website hymning this apparently “totally new”, “unique” fusion of experiences). You can take the estate out of the pub, but it’s still an “estate pub”.
Flickr set of my estate pub photos.
 The Pilot Inn (North Greenwich SE10) is an example. The residential terrace of houses to which it is still attached is entirely surrounded by open space and roads for quite some distance (and is moreover no longer apparently used as housing).
 This is perhaps best taken as a provocation, although estate pubs are fascinating.
 Estate-building began in earnest earlier in the century, following World War I. There are notable suburbs, like Becontree or Tulse Hill, which are almost entirely estates dating from this period. However, the World War II rebuilding was of a character far more upsetting to the fabric of the communities it served (and Poplar is as good an example as any).
 Flickr set of former Courage pubs.
 Update: As of 2009, this former estate pub is now a cafe.