The Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend was the perfect time for a pub crawl around the pubs of Leytonstone here in East London. Although all the pubs have been closed since the 21st March due to the lockdown, it’s a great time to celebrate the drinking establishments that are such an important part of community life. This walk features: Heathcote & Star (1905), The Northcote (1886), Birkbeck Tavern (1881), Plough and Harrow (1651), Leytonstone Tavern (1865), The Bell (1720), Red Lion (1670), The Crown/Byrds (1720), The Walnut Tree (1997), The North Star (1858), The Green Man (1660), Luna Lounge (2004), Filly Brook (2020).
fantastic food, great local beer … and neon – the Heathcote is back!
I used to love the old Heathcote Arms like a trusted, loyal friend. It was who I could turn to when things were bad and celebrate with in the good times. But mostly it was a place I could slump in a corner with a pint, packet of crisps and a pile of books. Often I was so relaxed I’d be nearly horizontal with a belly elaborately embroidered with a mosaic of crisp fragments. It was where I did most of the research for my book, This Other London, in the corner room which was empty most nights by 10.30 when I’d arrive. You could spread out books and maps across two tables and let the creative juices be lubricated by cheap ale.
But then it closed 3 years ago, bought by property developers to be turned into flats and its fate looked sealed. A valiant and spirited campaign followed, it was listed as an Asset of Community Value, and now finally it is fully back in business (I’m skipping over the bit when the developers put in a manager for a limited time).
This isn’t merely a re-boot but a full-scale resurrection with Electric Star Pubs taking out a 20 year lease on the Heathcote and pumping buckets of cash into a total refurb. Last week’s packed and thumping launch party wasn’t the time to make a proper judgement, my first reaction being that it was a bit Nathan Barley, and thinking I’d title this post ‘The New Heathcote – it’s ‘Totally Mexico’. And it is ‘Totally Mexico’ but not in the sense of a Hoxditch boozer selling Dutch wine.
The Electric Star team are pulling out all the stops to make this a pub for everyone, no easy feat, a true community hub – a place where I could slouch in a corner planning suburban explorations and muttering to myself beside a table full of toddlers chucking mash potato around, while wannabe Instagrammers struggle to get the perfect food-porn shot. Or if you’re really square, a nice place to meet friends and neighbours for a drink.
The function room where we were presented with samples of the well-measured menu will be free of charge to community groups – which is a fantastic resource. There’s a games room out the back with pool and table-tennis. Live footy on the telly with big screen events planned. There’s a huge garden. The ale selection is spot on with beers from Leyton breweries Signature Brew and East London Brewery with Camden Hells Pale on keg. And bloody hell the food is great. The burgers by Paul Human are incredible, the Buttermilk Chicken is crispy and well seasoned, in fact the tucker is so tasty that the vegan option of Cowboy Beans even had me scraping the plate clean. And the staff are really friendly and helpful too, they look happy to be there.
I even found myself back in there Saturday night with the place packed again, punters arriving in taxis, bumping into neighbours at the bar, burgers flying out of the kitchen, post-mortem of the Arsenal match on the TV. It might even inspire me to crack on and finish my next book.
Great news at last regarding our beloved Heathcote Arms in Leytonstone. The Electric Star Group have taken out a 20-year lease on the pub and are investing £500,000 to get the pub open by the end of October.
It’s been grim walking past this sacred watering hole every day seeing it empty and neglected for the last 6 months but you knew that somebody would see the potential to restore this legendary boozer to, well I can’t honestly say its former glory but at least a pub once again.
Electric Star have a great roster of pubs in East London including the Leyton Star (shame they changed the name though from the King Harold removing a visible reminder of the last Anglo-Saxon king’s strong links to the area). Their other pubs include The Star of Bethnal Green, The Star by Hackney Downs, and The Last Days of Shoreditch. I believe the Heathcote will become the Heathcote-Star.
Last week Rob and Steve from Electric Star told a community meeting at the pub their plans for the Heathcote which include a function room, big screen sports, pool and arcade games, upstairs hotel accomodation, food, and locals discount scheme. It will also be kid and dog friendly. Other Star pubs have hosted live music so I guess this might be in the plans for their Leytonstone branch. There certainly used to be great live music and comedy nights at the Heathcote so it would be fantastic to see this return.
The re-opening of the Heathcote is another great example of what can happen when a community comes together. When it initially closed in 2014 after being sold by Stonegate to property developers many people assumed that it would simply be converted into flats like so many other pubs in London. But a wide cross-section of the community came together (some of whom had never even been in the pub) to launch a campaign and get the Heathcote listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). Local MP John Cryer gave his unwavering support, CAMRA (particularly James Watson) joined the cause, and Waltham Forest Council adopted a pub protection policy. And now we have our pub back.
Great work to everyone involved in making this happen. See you for a pint in the Heathcote Arms in October.
Update: November 2017
The Heathcote Arms on Grove Green Road, Leytonstone is closed once more, two years after it reopened following its initial closure in September 2014. The pub was bought by property developers Equity Estates whose plans to part-demolish and build Flats was thwarted by the pub’s status as an Asset of Community Value and Waltham Forest Council’s pub protection plan. I’ve been told by people in the industry that a number of pub operators offered to buy the Heathcote from Equity Estates but were quoted unrealistically inflated prices.
The Heathcote has the potential to be a great pub once more, Waltham Forest can ill afford to lose any more pubs. Let’s hope the Council continue their policy of opposing pub conversions and this building returns to the community as soon as possible.
It was a tweet I saw at breakfast showing the beginnings of the demolition of Upton Park, the Boleyn Ground, that set me off across Wanstead Flats to take a final look at the iconic home of West Ham United before it was gone forever. I’m not a Hammers fan but have been to West Ham a few times, first when I lived just up the road as a student and they would let you in at half-time for a couple of quid, which was more or less the time I got out of bed on a Saturday so it worked out quite nicely. I remember one game – Frank Mcavennie up front for West Ham, Tottenham legend Graham Roberts playing Centre Half for West Brom.
On the way I wanted to check the state of the great Old Spotted Dog Pub in Forest Gate where the London Stock Exchange moved during the Great Fire of London and we drank regularly in those student days 1990-91. It’s boarded up now – future in the balance, over 400 years of history in the hands of the Newham Council Planning Committee and some property developers – a desperately sad sight.
Queens Market on Green Street seems to have survived the grip of the developer and was a hub of activity – everything you can imagine is on sale beneath is murky roof – a cornucopia of wonders. A fella selling fruit and veg spotted my camera and auditioned for the role as the new “£1 Fish” star – he did a pretty decent job – have a look at the video above. His performance inspired me to buy two huge mangoes and four pomegranate.
Outwardly West Ham seemed intact with only the carpark dug up, but peering through a crack the huge security doors at the side of the ground I could see the diggers at work tearing up the turf, the seats piled up around the pitch, the Trevor Brooking Stand starting to be dismantled. Can the Hammers import all this history over to the Olympic Park at Stratford (in actual West Ham rather than East Ham where the old ground is) – or will the club’s heritage be buried beneath the blocks of luxury flats built on the once hallowed ground.
A morning walk isn’t the ideal time to find yourself outside one of the finest pubs in London. The William the Fourth at Bakers Arms, Leyton looks resplendent in the glaring morning light. The hanging baskets puke out great rainbows of petunias.
The William the Fourth is home to Brodie’s Fabulous Beers and you could drink your way round East London in this majestic mirrored boozer – from Dalston Black through Hackney Red IPA, Stepney Green Steam, Bethnal Green Bitter, London Fields Pale Ale, Hoxton and Old Street IPA. But it’s 10am, the pub is closed and I’m heading for Walthamstow Cemetery on the scent of a tip off I was given by a nice couple after a talk I gave on Lea Bridge Road earlier in the year. They mentioned that one of the early cinema pioneers was buried there and it might be of interest.
I checked in again on the beguiling Hoe Street Telephone Exchange before turning into Queens Road and on to Walthamstow Cemetery. It’s a boiling hot morning – possibly one of the last of the year – and I’m the only living person in this expansive Victorian necropolis. It soon becomes apparent that a number of the headstones are listing drastically – in some cases leaning across to meet their neighbouring grave. Some plots are sinking into the barren gravely soil. It has a strong air of abandonment.
I now realise I don’t have the name of the grave I am looking for and am relying on chance – I Google to find the name of Birt Acres but looking out across the tombstone rubble don’t fancy my chances of locating the grave. Acres is credited with inventing the first 35mm moving image camera in Britain and a system for developing and projecting the films. Among his first productions were Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, The Boxing Kangaroo, and Performing Bears. He is also said to be “the first travelling newsreel reporter in international film history” (Wikipedia).
It isn’t clear how Acres came to be buried in Walthamstow cemetery. The area had been a centre of film production in the early 20th Century with the British and Colonial Kinematograph Company having a large studio in Hoe Street not far from the cemetery so that could perhaps explain Birt Acres’ connection to Walthamstow.
A headstone sitting in the shade of a tree and wreathed in ivy reads ‘Eliza The Beloved Wife of Thomas William Aldridge Who Was Drowned In The “Princess Alice” September 3rd 1878 Aged 33 Years.
After a while I start to feel as if I’m intruding although such is the age of the majority of the graves you imagine mourners are few and far between. Birds natter in the trees. Cats stalk the pathways. I move on through the gates back into Queens Road.
… By way of Croydon
Supping down some Jamboree in Leytonstone Wetherspoons (does it matter what they are actually called) fresh from Lea Bridge Road so clear from the waters of the Lea I can count my fingers gripping the glass on the far side of the ale – I turn the page and there’s my old walking partner Nick Papadimitriou working himself into a chapter about Corso, and Dylan Thomas dying in New York.
When we were schlepping round industrial estates in Park Royal and Perivale I always saw it as a Beat quest.