In this concluding part of my tale about the London Pub Crawl a friend and I undertook 40 years ago, we catch up with the pair of us snoozing in Hyde Park, after a rather heavy lunchtime session. With just two pubs to go I look back and reflect on how awful the first beer of a renewed session always tastes, after an enforced afternoon break!
|The name "Queen's Elm" can just be seen on the stonework.|
I obviously don’t over-indulge to such an extent these days, but I do remember similar past occasions, before the advent of all day opening. The trouble is when you start drinking again the first pint always tastes atrocious. If you have been asleep as well, this effect is exaggerated, and the first pint will taste doubly foul. Whether that was the case back then is lost in the mists of time, but after waking up, we caught the tube to South Kensington and found our way to the Queen's Elm; a Courage pub, known for its literary connections.
My friend and I were used to Courage beers as our home town of Ashford was rather awash with that particular brewer's ales. However, the chance to sample them in their "real" form was a rare treat, as all our local Courage pubs used top-pressure as a means of dispense. We had another reason for visiting the Queen's Elm; namely the opportunity to sample Courage Directors, a beer which was extremely rare in any form, and rumoured to be on the verge of extinction. Unfortunately this legendary ale was not on sale when we arrived at the pub, so we were disappointed in that respect. According to CAMRA’s first (1974) Good Beer Guide, real ale was re-instated at the Queen’s Elm, “By popular demand; aided by a boycott”. The Guide also described the pub as “Basic and smoky”.
We were not disappointed with the Queen’s Elm, and I don’t remember it being excessively smoky. It had bare wooden floors and was decorated with a large collection of pipes mounted on the wall. Unfortunately this attractive old pub ceased trading in the 1990’s, and has now been divided up into a number of retail outlets. The artists, writers and actors who at one time or another frequented the pub; luminaries such as Laurie Lee, Francis Bacon and Richard Harris, would be turning in their graves if they knew that the Queen’s Elm is no more.
Whilst in the pub, we sat at the bar, planning our next move, which was to be a short walk up the road to the Anglesea Arms. The Anglesea was probably the first free house 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. It was certainly a pioneer in this field, leading the way where others could only follow.
Eventually, other London pubs followed suit and the capital became awash with ales from all parts of the country. Possibly for this reason I began to frequent the Anglesea less and less, eventually stopping altogether. I made a point of visiting the Anglesea on a trip to London, a few years ago. The pub remained unspoilt, and the splendid old mirror, advertising Thomas Salt & Co.’s Pale Burton Ales, was still hanging on the wall. There was a selection of comfy chairs to sink into and, of course, the famous outside terrace, scene of many a happy summer’s evening spent enjoying fine ale and good company.
Back in 1974, my friend's guide informed us that the Anglesea Arms had a good selection of hand pumped ales available, including the revered Abbot Ale from Greene King. It was this latter beer that we were particularly keen to sample. Because of the constantly changing variety of beers on offer I am unable to remember which particular beers were on sale at the time of our visit, but I do remember, that Abbot Ale was not on tap that particular day. As it was a warm summer's evening we sat outside in order to enjoy our drink. We hadn’t been there long before my friend got it into his head that we should drink up and take the tube up to High Barnet where, according to his guide, Greene King's one and only London tied house was situated. There we would finally be able to try a pint or two of Abbot Ale!
My father was due to collect us from Ashford station that evening. I was certain that he would not appreciate turning out after midnight - even assuming we managed to catch the last train home. In addition, both my friend and I were due at work the following day (we were working as cleaners at a local hospital). My companion took a little more convincing than myself of the folly of his plan, but after a further pint he agreed that our best course was to drink up, make our way via the District Line, to Charing Cross and then take the train back to Kent.
When I finally reached home, I collapsed into bed - the day's excesses having finally caught up with me. Both my friend and I made it into work the following day, although I had the most horrendous hangover imaginable! It was a splendid day out though, and the trip definitely wetted my appetite for further such visits. My interest in exploring the pubs of London had thus been awakened in a big way; an interest which I am happy to say remains to this day."