I’ve been making only slow progress on this journal, but have nonetheless decided to introduce a new feature: a survey of the pubs within a postal district. The boundaries of London’s locales are notoriously difficult to pinpoint in all but a few neatly-defined areas (Mayfair, for example), therefore I’m going with the postcode instead. It will be a while before I bite off something huge like W1, but let’s start with somewhere close to home.
SE15 mainly covers Peckham, as well as Nunhead to its south. Peckham is neatly divided by Peckham High Street/Queens Road into a northern and southern area. Rye Lane, the main shopping thoroughfare running south from Peckham High Street, also serves to keep the two distinct southern areas apart, with the larger concentration of council estate housing on the eastern side, and a conservation area (the Holly Grove Conservation Area, sometimes referred to by estate agents using the name of its main street, Bellenden Road) to the west. Nunhead is to the south, on either side of the grand Victorian cemetery of that name.
Like many comparable conurbations in South-East London, Peckham and Nunhead were originally villages with only a small number of wealthy land-owners on large estates. Upon the coming of the railways in the 19th century, they started to grow as fully-fledged suburban areas, increasingly accommodating the urban poor leaving the centre of the city. As such, throughout the latter part of the 20th century, Peckham has been known for its high crime rate and poor provision of social housing, not helped by inadequate system-built post-war estates (particularly in North Peckham).
The dominant feature of the drinking landscape is the simple local pub, usually one or two rooms. Some of these are in Victorian buildings, betraying a grander past, while others make lesser claims for attention.
North Peckham and the Old Kent Road
A number of grand Victorian gin palaces still survive as rather more modest local boozers, shorn of the brash and colourful beer advertising that would once have adorned them. The Breffni Arms (North Peckham SE15, fig. 11) is one such, an imposing sight on the Old Kent Road near the railway tracks which is now a rather undistinguished pub with little to commend it by way of beer or hospitality.
The other locals between here and Queens Road range from bleak sports pubs (The Swan) to some rather more attractive prospects (The Olde Apple Tree with its plentiful hanging flower baskets, or The Asylum Tavern). A particularly nice example despite its mock-Tudor is the Glengall Tavern (North Peckham SE15, fig. 16), which merits a listing in CAMRA’s book of historic pub interiors.1
Peckham High Street, Queens Road and Rye Lane
Some of the more outwardly unappealing pubs in Peckham are actually to be found around the main shopping streets of Peckham, as are many of the closed pubs (see below). We’ve already come across one example (The Red Cow, fig. 2) in the entry devoted to estate pubs. The Bun House (Peckham SE15, fig. 17) is another typical example on Peckham High St, being a former Courage house,2 but showing little sign of any cosmetic improvements in the last half century. The sign is forlorn and the windows are resolutely impenetrable. At many times, it’s difficult to tell whether it’s even still open.
Nevertheless many of these establishments have a history stretching back to the Victorian era, to a time when the populace of Peckham was largely white and middle-class. The Kentish Drovers (Peckham SE15) is a typical example: it may have been a Wetherspoons only since 2000, but has a well over a century of history prior to this.
Peckham Rye Common and Holly Grove Conservation Area
Already several of the pubs in this area of south-west Peckham are showing signs of the increasingly gentrified nature of this area. The Montpelier on Choumert Rd is a more recent convert, joining The Gowlett (which sometimes prefers to geographically align itself with the aspirational denizens of East Dulwich) and The Rye (once the Rye Hotel, as the ornate ironwork makes clear, fig. 18). This “pub, dining room and garden” remains one of the earlier ventures in this style, leaning heavily on the stripped wooden floors, bare brickwork, over-fussy decoration, premium beers and enlarged conservatory areas typical of the gastropub.
Within such a context, then — which includes the cocktail and DJ bar Bar Story, the independent bookshop Review and the French brasserie Petitou — it’s always surprising to see unreformed boozers such as the Prince Albert (Peckham SE15) on Bellenden Rd continuing to cling on to their clientele.
Nunhead and East Peckham
Long a quiet residential area, the rather unprepossing local pubs have started to show some signs of going the same way as those to the east. I have already focused at length on The Old Nun’s Head (Nunhead SE15, fig. 12), but against this, pubs such as The Pyrotechnists Arms (Nunhead SE15, on the other side of Nunhead Green) continue to retain their customers. In fact, if anything, the lack of patronage which has presumably contributed to the multiple name changes at The Duke (Nunhead SE15, formerly known as The Village Inn and before that Page 2 Bar) means the gastropub growth is still only budding in Nunhead.
A more interesting drinking establishment is The Ivy House (Nunhead SE15, fig. 19, formerly known as the Stuart Arms), on the other side of Nunhead Cemetery from the pubs mentioned above. It is at once a local pub, with a large pool room and plenty of lagers on tap, but also maintains a striking stage area complete with proscenium arch and heavy curtains for live music and performances.
Disused and Former Pubs
All over Peckham, and particularly in the north, are plentiful examples of boarded-up and now-closed pubs. Many of them, presumably due to the prohibitive cost of remodelling their exteriors, are now residential accommodation. We may take the Denman Arms (Peckham SE15, fig. 20) as being somewhat typical of these. On the outside is still clearly visible (if now faded), the name of the pub, with the hanging sign and logos of its former owner, the Bass Charrington brewery.
Other pubs have made a cleaner break with their past, and only partially betray their former use, whether just the solitary signs of the Railway Tavern (Nunhead SE15)3 and The Lord Lyndhurst (Peckham SE15), or the discreet name engraved into the top of The Beehive (North Peckham SE15).
Meanwhile, somewhat typical of the changing times and population demographic noted above, The Frog (Peckham SE15, fig. 21) is now a delicatessen, with fresh-baked bread, fruit and vegetables and an extensive range of St Peter’s bottled ales. It is unlikely to have had quite as good a range of drink available when it was a pub.
The complete list of all SE15 pubs, whether still standing or long since demolished, is at the London Pubology site. You can also see my Flickr photos of active pubs in SE15, and Flickr photos of closed ones.
 Geoff Brandwood and Jane Jephcote, London Heritage Pubs: An Inside Story (Historic Pub Interiors in the Capital) (St Albans: Campaign for Real Ale, 2008). See Bibliography for more information.
 A pub once tied to the Courage brewery (see the entry on Public vs Free Houses for some explanation of the brewery tie). These often tend to be downmarket pubs in what were once less affluent areas. The brewery itself was based by Tower Bridge until the 1970s.
 The rest of this pub has now been demolished and replaced by new-build flats.