"Trevor Barre tells the sad tale of two dead pubs..."
Couldn’t help noticing two dead London pubs, separated by three/four miles or so, from NW5 to NW8, both of which saddened me for different reasons, and made me think of our gradually lessening availability of social spaces. The Clifton was in Clifton Hill, off Abbey Road at the edge of the Kilburn end of St Johns Wood. It has good memories for me as being one of my locals when I lived in nearby Blenheim Terrace, in my first two years in London.
Being half-way down an extremely affluent residential road and not likely to be stumbled across, it had a certain elite cachet, and its survival over the years somewhat surprised me. It did however have most of the appurtenances of a decent, if well-heeled, local boozer. No jukebox, no pool, no telly, just a pleasing environment and a good place to relax in. Vague historical associations with Edward VII (as Prince of Wales) and Lillie Langtree were mooted by the owners, and at one point in time it must have been a well-proportioned early Victorian private house, even though the pub itself, on the ground floor, was not particularly large.
I last visited the pub, with dog in tow, about three months ago, had a decent meal, and found it hard to get a table (dog stayed on the floor). The place was popular, and the staff seemed very busy. A few weeks ago, I went there with a friend to catch a quick drink, and was upset to find the palace closed, with a To Let sign outside, with the Bertie-themed sign still in situ. The pub itself was empty of any and all action. Strangely, there was a sheet of A4 paper pinned on the sign post (just visible in the photo) written by local residents, implying that they were fighting to re-open the place, which was encouraging. Presumably the market price of the property (in the region of at least two million, I would have thought) proved too much of a temptation to the owners. It certainly didnt seem that the closure was due to lack of punters as far as I could see.
A roll call of the fallen
I made a quick recce of the immediate area around where I had lived and drunk from 1983-4 The Drum and Monkey and The Blenheim, both on Blenheim Terrace are long gone, the former a private house, the latter a Pizza Express; The Marlborough on Marlborough Place now a posh restaurant; the Heroes of Alma (Abercorn Place) long gone, now a house/business; now The Clifton has joined the fallen. Five boozers gone now leave that particular area almost publess (there is one left at the arse end of Abbey Road).
I note similar scenarios in other areas that I have known over time Muswell Hill and New Southgate spring to mind, the latter as far as I can tell now having no pubs at all, and goodness knows but you need them round there! Im sure that visitors to this site can think of other areas which have been similarly affected. Highgate, which I now live near, seems an exception, enjoying the services of at least six or seven decent pubs.
There has been much debate, certainly in those establishments that remain, about the decline and closure of so many traditional pubs, and greater minds than mine have debated this more home drinking, the allied issue of the expense of drinking in pubs, the general availability of cheaper drinking options, whether from Calais or from supermarkets, publicans profits being more easily maximised through family-friendly conversions to gastropubs (the horror, the horror!), the increasing value of land in London, etc., etc. From my point of view, its a shame that we are gradually losing spaces which have traditionally been available for convivial interaction among peers (although for most of the time this has admittedly been a male province).
Moving to the sylvan groves of Kentish Town, I happened to be visiting someone who lived in Falkland Road, a cul-de-sac off Lady Margaret Road in the middle of the environmental area thereof. At the end of the road, there was an old-fashioned corner boozer, The Falkland Arms (pictured), very much a local, and, like The Clifton, well off the beaten path. When I saw the guy I was visiting, I mentioned it, and said I might pop into it once I had seen him. Oh no, he says, thats not a pub. Some guy bought it, and has kept the faade as it was, and has even kept the beer taps inside.
Now, without going into an extended faith in fakes Eco-disquisition, I got to thinking think what exactly is the point in this exercise? Fine, if youre a huge fan of the old-fashioned local, by all means run one and keep the tradition going. But maintaining a replica? So, the starved-for-decent-pubs Kentish Town visitant finds this oasis-in-the-middle-of-grot, and what does he/she find when he/she tries to enter this hommage to the Victorian drinker? A trompe l’oeil which thumbs its nose at the innocent flaneur.
Two different pubs, two different fates. Hopefully, The Clifton may rise, Phoenix-like, from its own ashes. The other one, Lord knows. I would be interested to hear other stories about how favourite pubs met their end, and what indignities were visited on the corpses.