Long Live The Heathcote Arms 


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.

East to West Ham – through Forest Gate to Upton Park

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.

Old Spotted Dog Forest Gate

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 Green Street

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.

Upton Park West Ham demolition

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.

Walthamstow’s Sinking Cemetery and the Cinema Pioneer

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.

William the Fourth Leyton

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.

Walthamstow Cemetery Queens Road
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.

Walthamstow Cemetery Queens Road Walthamstow Cemetery Queens Road
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).

Walthamstow Cemetery Queens Road
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.

Walthamstow Cemetery Queens Road
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.

American Smoke meets the London Perambulator

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… 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.

Ramsgate Walkabout

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Ramsgate is the frontline of the fightback against UKIP – unavoidable in the Queen Charlotte pub whose landlord is running against Nigel Farage in the 2015 General Election. This painting by Bob and Roberta Smith faces the bar.

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And you plonk your pint of locally brewed Gadd’s ale down on one of these #UKIPPUTMEOFFMYBEER mats.

Pig Alley

Pig Alley is too much to resist – the town centre is lacerated with narrow passageways – if only Walter Benjamin had made his way to Thanet.

Karl Marx Ramsgate

The house where Karl Marx laid down his head for a short time on The Plains of Waterloo

Karl Marx Ramsgate

Benjamin could have come to Ramsgate following the footsteps of Karl Marx who stayed in the town in 1879 visting his daughter,  Jenny Longuet Marx who  lived at 6 Artillery Road.

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Wonder if Marx ever slipped in the Oddfellows Hall for a pint and heard stories of an eccentric young Dutch painter who was working in the town as a teacher. Vincent Van Gogh used to take off for London on foot, doing the journey in 3 days.

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Whatever Ramsgate was once renowned for it’s developing a reputation for its micropubs. This is the selection on offer at the Ravensgate Arms when I dropped in on an Sunday lunchtime. It’s the Ramsgate branch of Penge’s Late Knights brewery, their Dawns Early Light APA going down very well in the heat of an open fire.

 

Long live The Heathcote Arms!

Heathcote Arms Leytonstone

It’s at this time of night when everyone in the house is asleep that I usually cross the road to my beloved local pub The Heathcote Arms. But not tonight or any night soon because at 11.30pm on Sunday 7th September the Heathcote served its last pint for the foreseeable future. I only heard 2 weeks ago that the PubCo who own the Heathcote, Stonegate (incorporated in the Cayman Islands), had sold it to a developer. They weren’t saying who, or what would happen to the pub only that it was due to close on 7th September.

I know to some this might seem melodramatic but it feels like losing a friend, a staunch ally, a refuge. A place I can go with a book sit at a table in the corner with a pint of ale and a packet of crisps read and a reflect, relax and have a laugh. I’m still too raw to properly digest my feelings and write the eulogy the pub deserves but felt the need to mark the occasion. I’d be able to write much better sat over there in the Heathcote with a pint of IPA.

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Pubs are closing all over London at an alarming rate – we’ve lost several in Waltham Forest in recent years (The Bakers Arms, Waltham Oak, and The Antelope off the top of my head). But pubs are not mere businesses – they are valuable social and community spaces. There are people I met in the Heathcote who I casually share a few words with at the bar who I may never see again due to the erratic routines of London life. The pub has always represented a constant – we all know the opening hours, can drop in for a quick pint on the way home from work, cheap dinner with the family on a Friday evening, watch the football at the weekend.

I did much of the research for my book This Other London in the Heathcote, sat there with pints and piles of books and maps, hearing stories from Ian Bourn about the pre-M11 link road artist community that flourished in Leytonstone. Last night I got over there at 10 o’clock to find a group of Leytonstone stalwarts round a table. One of them, John Smith has just made a new ident for BBC4 that was on the TV tonight. These unplanned encounters won’t happen anymore.

Now we await to see what happens to the building, geared up for a fight to save it being turned into yet more fucking flats. The local MP is determined to see a pub reopen on the site and was involved in a successful campaign to save the Birkbeck Tavern. So there is hope yet.

The Heathcote will never die!

The White Conduit

White Conduit House

On a whim I popped into the print shop in the antiques arcade in Upper Street. The friendly vaguely Irish fella who owns the place welcomed me in and drew out a selection of prints to peruse. I was looking for one of White Conduit House (now the Penny Farthing and boarded up awaiting its latest incarnation as a Greek Taverna). “Yes and of course there would have been a conduit there” he said.
Islington was famous for its springs, he told me a few houses still have them. A bit of a rummage online confirmed his suspicion about the conduit which apparently fed the Charterhouse down on the edge of Smithfield. “…from 1430 the London Charterhouse had a piped supply from the place in Barnsbury where the White Conduit House became a popular resort, and its aqueduct was mentioned in 1545 and 1553.”
I’m going to retrace the route of the aqueduct with a walk, a smaller version of the yomp I did with Deep Topographer Nick Papadimitriou and photographer Peter Knapp last week along the West Middlesex Drainage Scheme – see Pete’s photos here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/knapster/sets/632564/

It also confirms that symmetry between the springs as places of pagan worship, their later use as pleasure resorts (which is a modern form of worship in the industrial age), and the resonance which comes down to us through the pubs that still mark many of the springs (I sank 3 pints of Timothy Taylor at the Harlequin with Jacob and some of his mates last night on the site of Sadlers Well).

On an aside, the chap in the print shop showed me a wonderful cartoon of a visit to Middlesex County House of Correction from 1799, which was in Cold Bath Fields just off Rosebery Avenue near the Fire Station.