Railway Pubs

A post a month is a fairly poor work ethic, but putting all those photo links in takes the kind of time I don’t like to give to anything. In any case, I’ve been spending my spare time poring over old maps,1 specifically looking for where the pubs were. I’m making a database: I actually like to do that kind of thing. But that’s enough about my obsessions; perhaps the historical angle will find its way into future posts.2

My interest in cities (living in them, walking around them, reading about them) has always gone alongside an interest in transport: the bigger the city, the more ways to get around it there are. Railways have always been one of the more romantic modes of transport, and if this adjective doesn’t always seem to apply to, say, the 0758 London Overground service from Homerton on a rainy Monday morning,3 it nevertheless has captured a wide variety of bloggers and Internet obsessives. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell apart the real ale lover from the train enthusiast, so it is perhaps no surprise there’s always a pub near a railway station.

Of course, they’re not always necessarily good pubs. Tim over at my friends (and fellow WordPress bloggers) Freaky Trigger‘s website tested just such a proposition some years ago, viz. “That every pub named The Railway is a bad pub”.4 The subsequent reviews tended towards this conclusion, but it was by no means unanimous.

Of course, naming one’s pub “The Railway” or some variant is generally to concede that its primary function is to serve a transient population. Visit any railway pub (whether named “The Railway” or not) — The Doric Arch (Euston Station NW1) or The Betjeman Arms (St Pancras International Station N1, fig. 29) are as good an example as any — and you’ll generally find it busy, but you also won’t need to wait long for a table.

The Betjeman Arms (St Pancras International Station N1)
Figure 29. The Betjeman Arms (St Pancras International Station N1). You’ll probably never see it this quiet, as the photo was taken a few days before it opened.

The key to railway pubs is that they’re there, and convenient, such that a traveller at the station with some time to spare can look around, see them and stop in. They are not, in general, destination pubs, therefore they tend to lack the kind of friendliness and ambience you’d find in a local — and so criticising them for lacking such things is a bit misguided. If for example The Hamilton Hall (Liverpool Street Station EC2)5 feels like a barn full of hard-drinking Essex bankers, that’s because this is essentially what it is and what it’s there for — and on that count, is a successful pub (plus, like a lot of Wetherspoons, it’s in an otherwise rather nice space).

What’s been lost to station drinking has been eroded by legislation (generally pursuing eminently sensible aims) and security concerns. Therefore, no longer are there any pubs actually on railway platforms. You can still see remnants at, say, Sloane Square station (now a newsagents) or Stratford, where the last station platform pub closed with the passing of anti-smoking legislation in 2007. Still operating is The Railway (Kew Gardens Station TW9, fig. 30), which has large panelled windows in its conservatory looking directly out on to the platform, but no longer has any egress to these.

The Railway (Kew TW9)
Figure 30. The Railway (Kew Gardens Station TW9).

Select Service Partners’ Station Pubs

The closest thing remaining is the station concourse pub. Dominating the market is Select Service Partners, who run a vast array of the concessions you’ll find at any given British metropolitan railway terminus (Upper Crust, Camden Food Co, Caffe Ritazza, et al.). At least one of their pubs can be found at most of the London termini (two at Victoria), and none of them gets particularly positive reviews from Internet sources. However, they cover the bases — usually offering a few ales, which is more than can be said for some of the pubs found near the trains’ destinations — and there’s hardly any reason to linger at most stations anyway. Except to get photos of the pubs for your blog, of course.

See also:
Pubs tagged as station pubs on my Flickr.

[1] Alan Godfrey Maps should be your first and last point of call for exquisite old Ordnance Survey maps, including full historical notes and census registers for the major streets. They’re very prompt if you order from the website, and it’s cheaper than getting them from Stanford’s (though of course, that’s a great shop too).
[2] On this post, the historical angle could be those pubs still called “The Railway” despite not being near a railway station. The Railway Tavern (Crouch End N8) is one such, serving Crouch End station at the top of Crouch End Hill, which closed to passengers in 1954 (and completely in 1970).
[3] The London Overground, like the Silverlink before it, has always been crowded at peak hours, and one can only hope this will be alleviated by the new carriages being commissioned and intended to be introduced in 2009. However, it didn’t help during the last few months of 2008, that due to rail upgrade works in preparation for the new stock, services were cut to four an hour (and only one in the first half-hour, at 18 minutes past).
[4] The initial entry details the methodology, which like all the best FT entries was hatched over discussion at a pub (hence “pub science”). There are about 11 subsequent reviews over the following year or two.
[5] The photo in this case is more appropriate to the number of people who are usually there.

11 responses to “Railway Pubs

  1. The Phoenix in Denmark Hill is the best railway station pub.

  2. What?? When was there a pub on a platform in Stratford? I don’t remember seeing it!

  3. Ah-ha, I was waiting for your photo of the NW6 Railway to show up. I will write its review unless you get there first!

  4. @Ed – In the sense that it is in the actual original railway ticket office, yes, it is a fine example. I didn’t include it as I was limiting myself to central London pubs for the non-“Railway” ones. However, I should add the link to the photos I’ve tagged “station pub”…

    @Jo – No, for reals, there was a pub. It was called The Lemon Tree.

    @Kake – Will write a review!

  5. I beat you to it with the review, but I only made sparse notes so maybe you have more to say.

    The Lemon Trees (there are/were lots of them) weren’t really pubs, were they? I’d say they were more like cafes. Though I do remember at least some of them had fruit machines, which is a fairly publike feature.

  6. Oh, and I’m fairly sure they only sold booze in cans.

  7. (OK to be honest I never visited. But it has an entry on Fancyapint…)

  8. strictly speaking the hypothesis that all pubs called The Railway are rubbish was on a train to Gravesend (to, once again, fail to visit the Concrete Industries Heritage Centre)when passing through Dartford and seeing the Dartford pub of that name.

  9. I’m just posting an entry about the Alma pub on my own blog and have used your photo from Flickr to illustrate it. I’ve credited you and also given a link to your Pubology blog.

    Hope that’s OK. Couldn’t find a way of emailing you direct so apologies for the posting here.

    Great blog – keep posting

    Elaine Saunders
    Author: A Book About Pub Names
    Complete Text
    It’s A Book About….blog

  10. The Mad Bishop and Bear at Paddington is actually a pretty decent Fullers outlet, with vintage ale and everything. A genuinely nice place to wait for your delayed train.

  11. I don’t know If I said it already but …Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! :) I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)

    A definite great read..


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