Estate Pubs

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.

The Camden (Camden Town NW1)
Figure 1. The Camden (Camden Town NW1).

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.

The Red Cow (Peckham SE15)
Figure 2. The Red Cow (Peckham SE15).

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

The Grove (Battersea SW11)
Figure 3. The Grove (Battersea SW11).

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.

The Lord Nelson (Borough SE1)
Figure 4. The Lord Nelson (Borough SE1).

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”.

The Beaufort (Colindale NW9)
Figure 5. The Beaufort (Colindale NW9).

See also:
Flickr set of my estate pub photos.

[1] 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).
[2] This is perhaps best taken as a provocation, although estate pubs are fascinating.
[3] 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).
[4] Flickr set of former Courage pubs.
[5] Update: As of 2009, this former estate pub is now a cafe.

11 responses to “Estate Pubs

  1. Excellent stuff.

  2. Off to a terrific start.

    Reading the ridiculous advertising blurb regarding the ESTATE PUB in Colindale, you really ought to consider an Adspeak-English translation as a future project. I remember many years ago, when I was writing for licensed trade papers, having to copy edit a press release from Whitbread’s by which their marketing department were being told not to refer to their pubs as pubs, but as “leisure experiences”. I guess it’s poetic justice that I haven’t seen any Whitbread tied houses for yonks.

  3. aw, the shakey head is a great pub, yes an estate pub, but given that it faces the back of saddlers wells you get all sorts in there, also a bell to indicate two minutes before the end of the interval. cracking juker as well.

  4. The Crown on Southwark Park Road was the one that immediately sprang to mind for me, since it’s right next to the Four Squares estate, where I live. I’ve not managed to persuade anyone to accompany me for a visit though.

  5. Oh! Have just noticed that you’re not categorising the Crown as an estate pub. I don’t know enough about its history to know if it fits all of your criteria.

  6. Hmm, yes, you could argue that most Bermondsey pubs in that area are estate pubs if ‘serving an estate’ is a qualifying criterion, but for me it has to be purpose-built for the estate. I suppose it didn’t seem obviously built as part of the estate when I looked (the Kirby Estate I’m guessing), but then I was flicking through my photos very quickly when tagging them for this, so I’ve gone back and added it.

  7. I think it would only properly qualify if it had some connection to the rebuilt post-war estates (the Four Squares are about 30-40 years old; I’m not sure about the Kirby Estate). Hence my comment about not knowing enough of its history. According to the London Public House site, the Red Cow is much older than post-war, and you have that down as an estate pub, but I assume this is becuse of a revamp at the right time.

    From the outside, the Crown has a very different feel from the Stanley Arms (also on Southwark Park Road but further along towards the “high street” part) but as I say I’ve not been in. Having said that, my canonical mental image of it is as a rectangular building with an enormous England flag outside, and if I was going to identify a single “estate pub” in the area then the Crown would be it. There’s one down closer to South Bermondsey Station that I’m sure I’ve mentioned as being a somewhat scary pub, but that’s the Millwall thing, not the estate thing.

  8. Yes, several of the estate pubs I mentioned do have a history stretching back before their incarnation as estate pubs, and I meant to mention that in my entry, but all were rebuilt post-war. I’m not sure about the Crown from a building point-of-view, but certainly it fulfils the function. The one you mention closer to South Bermondsey is perhaps the Golden Lion which is now closed and boarded. Football (stadium) pubs will be dealt with another time…

  9. Then of course there are the pubs which were built for the builders of new areas. see the numerous builders arms dotted around the place.

  10. Those would be pubs serving places of work, then, though the names (Builders’ Arms, Carpenters’ Arms, et al.) record historical usage, and probably aren’t distinct enough any more to form their own category.

  11. Yes, the Golden Lion is the scary pub! I’m not sorry it’s closed. It did look much like that when it was open, mind.

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