Heathcote Arms Leytonstone triumphant rebirth as the Heathcote and Star

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

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.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

Selection of canned & bottled Beer at the Heathcote and Star

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).

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

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.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

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.

Heathcote and Star We Serve Humans burgers

Mini sample burgers

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Buffalo Chicken with strong kick of English Mustard

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Heathcote and Star We Serve Humans burgers

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.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Cowboy Beans (vegan)

Signature Brew at Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

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.

The Heathcote Arms Leytonstone to re-open in October

Heathcote Arms Leytonstone

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.

Heathcote Arms campaign

photo from the Waltham Forest Guardian

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

Read my review of the Heathcote and Star here

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.

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.

IMG_0591

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!

Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema returns at Good Shepherd Studios

Good Shepherd Studios Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema
photo by Jake Green

Great night on Wednesday as Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema returned with a screening of What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? at the wonderful Good Shepherd Studios. Paul Kelly’s brilliant film was in the first programme that I put together for a film night at the Leytonstone Festival in 2007 at the Heathcote Arms alongside shorts by Ian Bourn and John Smith. This led to the launch of Leytonstone Film Club in 2008 (name changed to Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema). Wednesday’s screening was the first of a regular programme of films at Good Shepherd Studios.

What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema, Good Shepherd Studios
photo by Jake Green

It was a reminder of just how important a film Mervyn Day actually is. Shot in the Lower Lea Valley around Stratford, Bow, Hackney Wick and Canning Town in the summer of 2005, and set on the day the successful bid for the London Olympics was made, it captures a crucial moment in time in the history of London. I attended a screening at the Barbican when we first moved to Leytonstone in 2006 and wrote about the landscape of the film when I went in search of locations.

Paul Kelly and John Rogers, Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema, Good Shepherd Studios 12th April 2023. Photo by Jake Green
photo by Jake Green
photo by Timothy Fox

In the Q&A with Director Paul Kelly, we discussed his collaboration with the pop band St Etienne on this and other films and how they came to make a film about a part of London where few people outside the area ventured. I also asked Paul what the narrative of the film would have been had the Olympic bid been unsuccessful. That’s an interesting alternative history of London.

Paul Kelly and John Rogers - photo by Jake Green. Good Shepherd Studios Leytonstone 12th April 2023
Paul Kelly and John Rogers – photo by Jake Green

After a break of a few months, it was great to be back with Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema. Thanks so much to Jake Green for giving us a new home at Good Shepherd and it was wonderful to see Stow Film Lounge running the projection. Also thanks to Jake for these fantastic photos.

What this space for the date of our next screening in May.

The Leytonstone Beer Mile

Leyton Food Market

Signature Brew at Leyton Food Market

Now that Waltham Forest has followed Bermondsey and launched the Walthamstow Beer Mile, may I propose another ale stroll for the Borough – the Leytonstone Beer Mile. I mean it might be marginally longer than a mile and extend into Leyton, but that just makes for a better walk between venues.

The Walthamstow Beer Mile

Firstly let’s take a look at the Walthamstow Beer Mile. It’s based along Blackhorse Road with its most southerly end starting in St. James Street (a continuation of Blackhorse Road). The first venue is Pillars Brewery The Untraditional Pub at the Crate Building at 35 St James Street. Pillars are based on Shernhall Street, E17 so the beer has just rolled down the hill to this taproom so should be lovely and fresh. Next up heading north are three close together around Uplands Avenue just off Blackhorse Road and Priestly Way. East London Legends, Trumans, have their Trumans Social Club in Priestly Way. Exhale Brewery are in Uplands Avenue. And the brilliant Signature Brew, who were formerly based in Leyton, relocated to Uplands Business Park. From here it’s a socially responsible stagger along Blackhorse Road to another local stalwart, Wildcard Brewery in Lockwood Way. And nearby is Forest Road Brewing Co. – although their taproom seems to be in Hackney.

That all seems like a fine day out – and there’s plenty of food along the way from supermarkets to chicken shops and probably a few stalls catering to drinkers.

 

The Leytonstone Beer Mile (inc. Leyton)

Leytonstone Beer Mile

The Wanstead Tap

May I now propose the Leytonstone Beer Mile (which extends into Leyton). All but one of these beer emporiums is situated within the arches of the Overground railway. This beer trail would start at the fantastic Wanstead Tap, which although most people would consider this Forest Gate, it is within the Borough of Waltham Forest so is technically considered Leytonstone. This amazing venue has the most fantastic selection of beer and also sells merch for Clapton CFC and even books from time to time (mine was on sale there at one point). From here we move along the Overground a short distance to the Pretty Decent Beer Co. – which is far more than a pretty decent microbrewery and tap room.

You could leave the railway and stroll across the corner of Wanstead Flats to pick up the route by Leytonstone High Road Station, cross the Link Road and in a railway arch on the other side you’ll find the Solvay Society, who brew their Belgian beers not far away in Ilford.

Leytonstone Beer Mile

When you get to Grove Green Road (resisting the temptations of the Heathcote and Star) a few yards up on the right is the beguiling and already essential Filly Brook newly established in a fine black wooden hall. They serve up a great selection of locally brewed beers and you can line your stomach with some delicious Yard Sale Pizza. Making your way back along the railway, past Norlington School, and just before Leyton Midland Road Station is the transcendental Gravity Well – who are worth visiting not just for their cosmic beers but the names are out of this world as well. And this is where the Leytonstone Beer Mile (and a half) ends.

Filly Brook Leytonstone Beer Mile

Filly Brook – taken in February 2020

Hopefully I’ll bump into some of you doing the Leytonstone Beer Mile this weekend.

London Overground Walk – Leytonstone to Barking

A walk along the London Overground Railway Gospel Oak to Barking Line (GOBLIN) from Leytonstone to Barking.

This was a walk I first planned as an episode of Ventures and Adventures in Topography with Nick Papadimitriou on Resonance fm, back in 2010. Although it would have followed the whole of the line from Gospel Oak to Barking. Then I walked a very short portion of the route with Iain Sinclair when he passed through Leyton and Leytonstone following the route for his book The Last London, which was flatteringly recorded in the text, “John was the animating spirit of Leytonstone. When he was in attendance, streets from which I felt a double alienation (theirs and mine) came to life.” So the continuation of the lockdown felt like the perfect time to actually walk the Overground from Leytonstone to Barking at least (it’s still advised to only use public transport for essential journeys).

I started my walk by the railway bridge on Grove Green Road, Leytonstone outside the Heathcote and Star. From here I made my way past Leytonstone High Road Station with a nod to the ground of Leytonstone F.C. Then I traversed that curious geographical anomaly, The Wanstead Slip. The Pretty Decent Beer Company, located in a railway arch, were building a bar in the brewery doorway to prepare for the weekend opening of the tap room. It made me realise I had to pick up some draft ale from the brilliant Wanstead Tap nestled in another of the arches. Departing the Tap with a couple of pints of Long Play IPA and some Clapton CFC stickers in my bag, I continued along the railway into Forest Gate.

 

Barking

Barking

Barking

Crossing Woodgrange Road, famous for its association with Jimi Hendrix at the Upper Cut Club, I head into Sebert Road, named after King Sebert of the East Saxons ( 604-616), the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity. The rain started to fall as I walked those fine streets of the Woodgrange Estate and breached a rainy Roman Romford Road. When the railway line opened it ran across open fields on this side of the Romford Road. The streets of Manor Park sprouted from that marshy ground, many of them seemingly named after poets. This route provides a dramatic entrance to Barking: the gasometers rising from the tall grasses of the North Thames Gas Board Sports Ground, the pylons, the North Circular, and the industrial estate. Classic edgelands. I cross the River Roding, the towers of the new London looming all through Barking and out to Dagenham. The terminus of the railway where face-masked communters pour out into the streets.