I spent Saturday afternoon and early evening in London. I won’t go into too much detail as to why I was there, but I was accompanied by a million or so of my fellow citizens, and just before 5pm I found myself in Parliament Square.
Although the addresses to the crowd had finished, people were still flooding into the area. I decided it was time to find somewhere quieter and somewhere I could enjoy a well earned pint or two. Westminster Underground Station was understandably closed, so I cut through to St James’s Park, glad of the open space and less people.
With a one day, all-zones London Travel Card tucked into my wallet I decided that my best bet was to get out of Central London for a while, find a place for that quiet drink I craved, and let the crowds die down, before taking the train home. Having just walked from Hyde Park to Westminster, I also didn’t fancy having to trudge much further to find a suitable watering-hole.
St James’s Park station was open, so I headed down onto the platform and jumped on the second westbound District Line train (the first one was bursting at the seems). My plan was to make for the Dove; the historic riverside pub, owned by Fuller’s. It had been many a year since my last visit, but whilst I had a London A-Z in my rucksack, I couldn’t remember the location of the pub.
With no Wi-Fi and no 4G signal on my phone, I was a bit stuck, but as the train edged towards South Kensington I suddenly had a brain-wave. I remembered an old favourite from the early real ale scene in the capital, and that particular pub was the Anglesea Arms. What’s more I remembered the pub’s address as Selwood Terrace – funny how certain things lodge in one’s sub-consciousness.
A quick scan of the A-Z before the train pulled into South Kensington showed the pub was only about 10 minutes walk away; perfectly do-able, even for a weary and foot-sore “citizen of nowhere”, so after alighting from the train and exiting the station, I made my way along the Old Brompton Road towards my destination.
I must admit my heart sank a little, as when I saw the crowd of people milling around outside, all thoughts of a quiet drink vanished. However, having come that far I was determined to at least have one pint, even though the crush at the bar was several people deep. There were individuals in front of me, ordering all manner of fancy cocktails, so when it came to my turn, I’m sure the barman was relieved that I only wanted a pint of biter.
I opted for a pint of Hopfest, a 3.8% Pale Ale from Mad Squirrel Brewery. It set me back £4.70 and, as with the offering I had from Bedlam Brewery the other night in Tunbridge Wells, the beer was a disappointment. It wasn’t off or lacking in condition; it just lacked the hoppiness promised by the name.
I found a ledge amongst the throng, where I could rest my pint and take a few photos. I was especially pleased to see the lovely old pub mirror still in place, advertising Salt & Co.’s Pale & Burton Ales. The rest of the interior was also pretty much as I remembered it, although I don’t ever recall seeing the pub so packed.
Given the crowds I decided that one pint was sufficient and I should head back into Central London, for a pint close to Charing Cross. Unfortunately both the Chandos and the Harp, my two pubs of choice close to the station, were equally packed, mainly with people who’d attended the same event as me.
Not wishing to fight my way through to the bar for a second time, I gave up and caught the 19.30 train back to Tonbridge, where son Matthew was waiting to give his old dad a lift home from the station.
Footnote: The Anglesea Arms is a legendary free-house, which was one of the first pubs in London to capitalise on the growing interest in "real ale", by offering a selection of beers which could not be found anywhere else in the capital.
Following my first visit in the summer of 1974, the Anglesea Arms became a regular place of pilgrimage over the following few years and, certainly during my student days, no visit to London was complete without a trip to South Kensington in order to see what was on offer there. To walk in through its doors and be greeted with a new set of pump clips was always a pleasure, and for a lad who was just approaching his 20th birthday, it was like an Aladdin’s Cave.
I have fond memories of many a happy summer’s evening spent on the outside terrace, enjoying a selection of new and interesting ales in the company of friends, and now, four and a half decades on, it is good to see this lovely old pub is thriving, and is still as popular as ever.