12 historic London pubs saved from the sledgehammer

Rejoice! Recent heritage statuses and some sterling community work mean that the 12 historic London pubs featured in this article won’t be turned into flats anytime soon.

If £5 pints weren’t bad enough, property developers looking to earn a quick buck are cheerily smashing through a number of celebrated London boozers and remodelling them as flashy, unaffordable flats.

However, thanks to Heritage England and some rather touching community efforts, these 12 Silk Cut-stained sup houses have been saved from the sledgehammer. We’ll drink to that.

1) The Palm Tree, Mile End

With many genuinely great East End boozers stubbed out like unwanted Woodbines, The Palm Tree holds sway in Mile End with its island bar, tobacco-varnished interior and wipe-the-dust-to-reveal-the-celebrity photos.

Marooned behind the mounds of Wennington Green since 1666, and with an unofficial beer garden that stretches along the canal, The Palm Tree is an oasis of authenticity, a fact compounded by its sweeping live jazz nights.

The Palm Tree is an oasis of authenticity in Mile EndThe Palm Tree is an oasis of authenticity in Mile End
Creative Commons / Kake

2) The Royal Oak, Shoreditch

Don’t let the gastropub tag put you off; The Royal Oak is a venerable wood-panelled boozer built in the 1920s that doesn’t stray too far from its pre-war phiz.

With parquet flooring and a light, Vitrolite ceiling, this listed peg-house has a horseshoe bar, some choice real ales and views of the frenetic Sunday flower market that are only bettered by the blooms themselves. The food, which is served upstairs, is fresh and fantastic to boot.

The Royal Oak, as seen in BBC sitcom Goodnight SweetheartThe Royal Oak, as seen in BBC sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart
Creative Commons / PROGanMed64

3) The Rose and Crown, Stoke Newington

Curving mischievously around Albion Road and Church Street like the befallen arm of a merry old soak, The Rose and Crown stands as a drinker’s marker – a final thirst-sating spot before the barren, boozer-less streets further west.

Its charms (such as its crackling open fire, wooden panels and smog-grey slate floor) are warmly lit through its Vitrolite ceiling. Although its latticed windows may nod towards Oliver Twist’s London, the pub was actually built in the 1930s.

More than a pub, The Rose and Crown is a drinker’s landmarkMore than a pub, The Rose and Crown is a drinker’s landmark
The Rose and Crown

4) The Golden Heart, Spitalfields

The first thing you’ll notice about The Golden Heart is the people: the chattering Shoreditch drinkers stood outside, artistic couples slipping queens into the jukebox, the vivacious and venerated landlady, Sandra.

But this wonderful neo-Georgian drinking hole, built in 1936, also boasts fine faience panels, gilt-lettered adverts for long-gone Eagle Ale and Eagle Stout, and a huge neon-lit Truman’s brewery sign out front. Situated a spit from Spitalfields Market, The Golden Heart was the drinking den of choice for Britart stars Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas.

The Golden Heart was the drinking den of choice for Britart starsThe Golden Heart was the drinking den of choice for Britart stars
Creative Commons / Ewan Munro

5) The Ivy House, Nunhead

Profit-hungry property developers wanted to gut this period pub and turn it into flats, but the resolute residents of Nunhead fought back and campaigned for it to be declared an Asset of Community Value. They succeeded.

The same residents then bought the Grade II-listed boozer, making it the first community-owned pub in the UK. Joe Strummer, Jeff Beck and Ian Dury have all played on the time-worn wooden stage at The Ivy House, which, more recently, had a cameo in the new Krays film, Legend. It also has one of the best beer selections in southeast London.

The Ivy House has been declared an Asset of Community ValueThe Ivy House has been declared an Asset of Community Value
Ewan Munro / Wikimedia Commons

6) The Golden Lion, Camden

A recent Guardian report exposed the dastardly tactics used by people with money to convert pubs into expensive apartments. The venerable Golden Lion was nearly a victim of such malevolent manoeuvring, but its beleaguered landlord turned the tide on developers and saved one of Camden’s best boozers.

Last orders have, alas, been called at many neighbouring pubs, but this Victorian tavern lives on. It’s a bittersweet victory for the landlord, though, who spent a fortune fighting his war against greed. Pull up a pew at the wooden bar, order a pint and toast his valiant efforts.

The Golden Lion in Camden lives to fight another dayThe Golden Lion in Camden lives to fight another day
Creative Commons / Richard Wilfing

7) The Stag's Head, Hoxton

A real local’s local, The Stag’s Head in Hoxton is another of London’s great imbibing caves that has been listed by Historic England. Hidden in the middle of the New Era Estate, this wonderful wooden-panelled watering hole squeezes five-pieces onto its tiny stage or has DJs pummelling its sound system.

It even has a stag’s head mounted on the wall, but that’s a rather fabled forget-me-not in a pub full with an old piano and inlaid lettering that advertises beers from the 1930s.

The Stag's Head is one of London's best inter-War pubsThe Stag's Head is one of London's best interwar pubs
Creative Commons / Ewan Munro

8) The Bedford, Balham

In an area where the corporate hand of gentrification has proved particularly ferocious, it is remarkable that The Bedford, an art deco-infused symbol of Balham’s seedy past, has survived largely unscathed. This wood-panelled typical English boozer was once known for its dark dealings, sitting on the corner of one of London’s most prolific prostitute districts.

Today the tavern attracts a less insalubrious, though equally raucous, crowd, drawing punters through its strong comedic pedigree. Comedy titans Stephen K Amos, Al Murray and Eddie Izzard have all graced the pub’s stage.

The Bedford has a thriving comedy sceneThe Bedford has a thriving comedy scene
Creative Commons / Ewan Munro

9) Fellowship Inn, Bellingham

The Fellowship Inn was revolutionary in its ambitions and design. It was the first London pub built on a housing estate and was tasked with the job of bringing together a divided community, which included a number of returning WWI veterans. With its snug bar, curled round a Tudor-arched fireplace, public event space, and, rather controversial, ‘children’s room’, the pub initially thrived until eventually falling into disrepute in the late 1990s.

Fortunately, following a Heritage Lottery Grant, the pub is being redeveloped and, along with reviving some of its characterful historic features, developers plan to add a cinema, live music venue and artist's studios with hopes of restoring it to a flourishing community hub once again.

10) The Duke of Edinburgh, Brixton

A little way from the trendy wine bars and organic coffee houses surrounding Brixton Market, The Duke of Edinburgh proudly retains its unassuming charm and historical pedigree, a recipe that sits well with regulars.

Grade II listed in 2015, the pub was built by the Truman Brewery, and its understated detailing and layout, with cosy rooms arranged around a continuous bar, are typical of the post-war ‘Improved Pubs’ that cropped up around London. Perhaps the pub’s biggest draw though, aside from its real ale selection, is its sprawling beer garden, which provides something of a carnival atmosphere during the warm summer months.

The Duke of Edinburgh's beer garden is giganticThe Duke of Edinburgh's beer garden is gigantic
The Duke of Edinburgh

11) The Cross Keys, Chelsea

The Cross Keys has been quenching the thirst of sociable southwest Londoners since 1708. With prestigious past patrons including JMW Turner, Bob Marley and Dylan Thomas, this long-standing boozer has amassed quite a fan base.

After a few years of derelict abandonment, it re-opened this year with a swish industrial-chic makeover and a hearty injection of high-end gastropub fare. Diners can now feast on the likes of foie gras and oysters amid its bare brickwork and stripped floorboards, and may well spot a young royal or two propping up the sweeping wooden bar.

This long-standing Chelsea boozer is now a fine-dining gastro pubThis long-standing Chelsea boozer is now a fine-dining gastropub
The Cross Keys

12) The Army and Navy, Stoke Newington

While many of Stoke Newington’s pint glasses have been subjected to relentless tickling from hipster beards over recent years, The Army and Navy’s glassware has been notably sidelined by the area’s ever-multiplying population of aspiring fashionistas. 

This classic example of a 1930s Truman public house has retained its traditional dark-wood panelling and remains an unashamedly no-frills boozer. Head there for sports fixtures flashing from the big screens, mainstream tunes blaring every Saturday night and liberally flowing Guinness.

A down-to-earth locals pub with classic 1930s featuresA down-to-earth locals pub with classic 1930s features
The Army and Navy

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