The Kaleidoscope and the Former Hither Green Pub

Hither Green used to have a healthy smattering of public houses, or at least the northern end did.   Go south of Ennersdale Road, though, and you would always have had to head towards Downham or Rushey Green to find one, this was because the developer of the Corbett Estate, the non-conformist Archibald Cameron Corbett, frowned upon drinking and there were no public houses or off licences on the estate.

Only two pubs remain – the Holly Tree on Dermody Road and the Station Hotel, well, near the station.  In the last decade or two several have called ‘last orders’ – The George on George Lane, the Spotted Cow on Hither Green Lane, the Queen’s Arms on Courthill Road and  the Sir John Morden on Campshill Road have all been lost to developers and turned into flats.

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Another that is going the same way is Hansbury’s, known as the Sir David Brewster for most of its life, which has been boarded up for about a year. The pub goes back to around 1868 (1); Courthill Road started to be developed in 1867 (2).  The building which looks as though it ought to be semi-detached,  is very different in style to surrounding properties.

David-BrewsterDavid Brewster (1781 to 1868), his picture via Wikipedia is to the left, was a famous Scottish mathematician, astronomer and scientific instrument maker who was Knighted in 1831.  Perhaps his most famous legacy was the kaleidoscope – 2016 is the bicentenary of its invention.

Brewster would have been relatively well known at the time, although the pub in Courthill Road was the only one that took his name.  One of Ken White’s series of booklets on Lewisham and Lee pubs provides the logic to the appellation – the first licensee was a Peter Brewster who applied for the licence  on 25 August 1868 (3).  There was certainly no direct link, other than the surname, to Sir David Brewster, the latter was born and remained living in the Scottish borders and, while he had four sons, none were called Peter.

The landlord of the Sir David Brewster came from either Suffolk (1871 census) or Essex (every other reference).  Prior to becoming a publican he was a builder, he was living in Stoke Newington in 1861 but had moved around that area, his children were born in Bethnal Green and Shoreditch.  He seems to have kept on his original trade – in the 1881 census he was listed as a builder and beer retailer; perhaps it was building work that had brought him to Lewisham.   His first wife Hannah, who seems to have moved from Essex with him, died sometime after 1871 as by 1881, Brewster had remarried an Irish woman, Catherine – both died in 1888.

Peter Brewster’s death was a tragic one; he was the victim in the ‘Lewisham Poisoning Case’ (5) where a chemist sold undiluted strychnine instead of a dilute version of it. Catherine successfully sued the chemist but didn’t live much longer herself.

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After the deaths of the Brewsters, there was a steady trickle of licensees at the Sir David Brewster, with none lasting more than a year or two (4).  Most didn’t crop up again before or after on the Pub History site, so it was probably their only attempt at pub management.  The Lusbys who arrived around 1901 may have had stints in several East End pubs, although the evidence isn’t conclusive.

Little is known of the pub after 1918, I have found no on-line or on-line newspaper references to the pub after 1918, the ‘beer retailer’ William Johnson, who had been there in the 1911 census, was also noted in the 1916 Kelly’s Directory, but by the end of Word War 1 a Lewis Dros was listed as a beer retailer in what was described as ‘Brewster’s Cottage.’

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Oddly, there was no reference to the pub in the 1944 Post Office Directory, despite the London County Council Bomb Maps , leaving the pub uncoloured – indicating no bomb damage (6).  However, the pub was still going and licencees in the late 1930s and 1940s were James and Eileen Harris (nee Frost), they had married in Lewisham in 1925 – James was probably from Plumstead, Eileen from neighbouring Woolwich. The Brewster may have been later taken over by their son John (see comment from Ann King). James and Eileen remained in Lewisham for the rest of their lives, James seems to have died in 1971, Eileen lived well into her 90s. They were succeeded in the 1950s by the Frankhams (see comment from Ann King) – the photograph above (from information boards at Hither Green station) is probably from that era.

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Picture Creative Commons – Ewan Munro

There was a serious fire which seems to have closed the pub for a while in the mid to late 1980s. When it re-opened, there was a new landlord, Mick Hansbury, who renamed the pub, taking the family name – Hansbury’s.  Mick Hansbury  seems to have moved on from the Sir John Morden – linking the name of this pub to that of the landlord clearly had echoes of the past.

Mick and Kathy Hansbury’s stewardship at the pub is fondly remembered by several former regulars and a staff member (see comments below).  The clientele seems to have reflected the area at the time – a real mixture ‘West End theatre workers, teachers, manual labourers and a strong Irish contingent.’   It seems to have been a traditional pub that really looked after its regulars – a Christmas dinner for the elderly and party for the customers in the festive period, with regulars invited to dinner with the Hansbury family if they had nowhere to go on Christmas Day.There were days away to the seaside and the races as well as the more traditional ‘fayre’ of darts and pool leagues, along with regular golfing events. The Hansburys moved on in early 1997, and the ‘tenancy’ was taken over by the Kevin and Anne Albrecht who seem to have continued the approach of their predecessors until around 2003 when it was taken over by a company – Pubs n Bars for a few years.

The penultimate chapter began in 2007 when the lease was bought by new owners  – Dougie and Bridget Millar and their business partner Glen.  They did a major refurbishment of the pub which I remember quite well – I often thought ‘I must stop by when I am not running’, but sadly never did.

Under their stewardship, they continued many of the traditions started under the Hansburys – the outings and the looking after the regulars at Christmas. In the years before its closure it had positive comments on a local message board including ‘my favourite pub locally, the bar staff are very friendly and it has a lovely community atmosphere. The karaoke is great fun as well.’ ‘A very accommodating bar with nice people and a very ambient and relaxed atmosphere.’ ‘The pub is genuinely a good little local to drink in ….one of those pubs that keeps you coming back for more.’

The final ‘chapter’ of the pub’s history is still being written, but appears very likely that it won’t have a happy ending  – the pub got new owners in 2012 – they unsuccessfully attempted to get planning permission to turn the property into flats – they then sold it.  The Millars unsuccessfully attempted to buy it and pulled the last pint in July 2015 and had to move on.  Hansbury’s was sold again in December 2015 for £705,000 at auction and there are plans to extend and convert into 3 flats.

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Hansbury’s remains (July 2016), partially empty – the upper floors look as though they are inhabited, but the ground floor is boarded up.  It is a shadow of its former self. But perhaps the final mention should go to those who have lost their local, the pub’s characters:

People like Joe Duffy used to sit at the bar and drink his Guinness for over 30 years… like Les and Bob the builder, Dave, Paul Eade, Morris, Russell, Eugene, Corky, Trevor the plasterer, Andy scaffold, Chris Brian and Craig Green, Jim Boyle, Ian, Neil, Alex and many, many more……. Hansbury’s was what it was because of these people “the community.”

 

Notes

  1. Ken White (1992) The Public Houses of Lee and Lewisham, Part 6C p239
  2. Joan Read (1990) Lewisham Street Names & Their Origins p16
  3. White op cit p239
  4. Ibid
  5. The Morning Post (London, England), Wednesday, August 15, 1888; pg. 2; Issue 36243
  6. The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945

The census are related information is via Find My Past

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank all those who have added comments here, on Facebook and ‘off-line’, it is really appreciated and has both enabled me to piece together the recent history and add in a lot of more personal elements – for me, at least, it has really added to the post.

I would love to add more though …  So, if you worked there or drank there tell your story – who were the characters that were regulars at Hansbury’s/Sir David Brewster? What about the landlord, the staff, the atmosphere, the memorable nights, the particular celebrations that were held there, memories of the friends, the beers…?  You can use your Facebook or Twitter login to comment here, first comments get moderated before they appear though.  If you found the post via Facebook, you can write your recollections there.  I will update the post with the memories.  Please don’t put anything libelous or that might offend others though…

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18 thoughts on “The Kaleidoscope and the Former Hither Green Pub

  1. Rik Ward

    Just a few points. I have lived diagonally opposite this pub since June 1988. It was the Brewster then alright, but it was closed due to fire damage. When it reopened, in 88 or 89, it was called Hansburys. We visited with friends, and a grumpy local upset my guests when he insisted on a door being wedged open despite the dropping temperature. The landlady sided with the local so we drank up and left. The Spotted Cow became our local; the Holly Tree (not Bush) was a bit rough. A few years later, Hansburys was good to go to again; my wife and I regularly held quizzes there for several years. Clientele was mixed, with West End theatre workers, teachers, manual labourers and a strong Irish contingent. There were days away to the races, a darts and pool league and I remember some great days when the pub opened at odd hours to cater for soccer and rugby World Cup finals.The staff were very helpful after we lost our phone during a lightning strike in August 1997. After Mick Hansbury left, the pub enjoyed its best period under the stewardship of Ken and Anne Albrecht.

    Reply
    1. Paul B Post author

      Thanks Rik, that’s brilliant! It is exactly the sort of comment that I was hoping for! I will correct my errors, hopefully this evening, and then add in the rest over the next day or two. Thanks again.

      Reply
    2. Ann King

      I remember Mr & Mrs Harris and their son John who were the landlords during the 1940’s and later during the 50’s the landlords were a Mr & Mrs Frankham who also had a son John.

      Reply
      1. Paul B Post author

        That’s excellent – thank you; as you will see that period seems to be a bit of a gap in terms of the pub’s history. Have now checked on the 1939 Register (a bit like a census for rationing purpose) and James & Eileen Harris were listed then, no mention of John – perhaps he moved away and came back. I will do a bit more digging and update the post when I have a bit more time. Thanks for visiting.

  2. katie

    my Grandad Mick Hansbury owned this pub up until around 1997. He was a great publican and looked after his locals, even inviting some to Christmas Dinner with us all if they had no family… is sad seeing it look so deserted 😦

    Reply
  3. Maria

    My parents mick &kathy Hansbury ran the Morden and moved to Hansburys free house, we made some of our best memories in these pubs, we had the best customers any landlord could ask for. Sadly mick is no longer with us but my family have remained friends with 99% of the customers that drank in that pub.

    Reply
    1. Paul B Post author

      Thanks Maria, sorry to hear about Mick, did he move onto another pub after Hansbury’s? I will hopefully update the post over the next few days with the memories. Thanks for visiting.

      Reply
      1. Trevor Hancocks

        Mr and Mrs Hansbury ran a very good pub,They took the customers under wings, looking after them at Christmas. They were asked to Christmas dinner with the family if they had no were to go.Every summer and around Christmas week was for the elderly that came to the pub with days out to the seaside in the summer, and Christmas dinner for the elderly and party for the customers about a week before Christmas.They had 3 Dart s teams,and golf society.They did great Bar food and parties, they even had a wedding reception in the up stairs conference room.Mick ran a a very good clean Pub, and did not take fools lightly. They both worked very hard to build the pub up, glad to see a lot of the customers still used the pub after they left.

      2. Paul B Post author

        Thanks Trevor, that’s good to hear and thank you so much for your comments. I will incorporate into the post next week

  4. Lorraine

    I worked for mick-kathy hansbury for years they was the best landlords u could find they would help any one out,like Christmas they would not let anyone b on there lone, we all worked very hard to make the customers very welcome and it pay off we had regulars who came to the pub for years I left when the 2landlorsd took over I miss that pub some much after mick-Kathy left.

    Reply
  5. Bridget Millar

    As stated, Mick Hansbury came from the Morden and built up and named the Hansburys. Mick sold up to Kevin and Ann Albrecht who ran a very busy pub until selling it in2002/ 2003 to Pubs n Bars who had managers running it for them until November 2007 when the lease was bought by My husband Dougie and his partner Glen. It was given a massive overhaul inside and out and continued to trade successfully until july 2015 with most of its regular customers. We had a very close local community bonding as all the previous owners had maintained throughout. Hither green has a very close relationship with its regulars and this is why pubs like this thrived. We had many a good night in the Hansburys and often arranged Beanos to southend in the summer and continued a tradition started by Mick Hansbury of looking after the lonely, less fortunate especially at Xmas by inviting them for xmas day for FREE DRINKS… Needless to say some turned up that were not invited but always welcomed…such was the community that, “word got out”, makes me smile even now ! Hansburys was always a good local but did not stop at local drinkers some came from Eltham and Grove Park and some from as far away as Kent to sample our good beers and hospitality. We personally used to drink in the Hansburys from as early on as when Kevin and Ann just took it over, we never had the privelage of meeting Mick and His wife Cathy although we know they were very well respected and most of their customers continued to drink there for many many years.
    People like Joe Duffy used to sit at the bar and drink his Guinness for over 30 years and although not drinking as much now must really miss the Hansburys now its Gone. It was bought by a company in 2012 with the intention of turning it into flats. A petition and Objections were placed with Lewisham Council and planning was refused not once but twice. We attempted to purchase the freehold but were beaten with a higher offer twice. The owners having been refused twice for planning sold it on to the present owners, they too have been refused planning twice. It is a sad day that the local councils although sympathetic are limited to prevent developers from taking over and shutting down what are succesfull pubs for the sake of profit. We are all in the business to make money but as a Landlords we have a duty to the local community to have a place to meet and discuss weekly life, this has been viciously taken from us for the sake of Profit and it is a sad day indeed. There is not a week goes by when I do not meet past customers and friends in Lewisham who say , “ah bridget what happened there to the pub its all wrong?”. To my knowledge there are people staying above the pub while it deteriorates while yet again the new owners try to get permission to turn it into flats, perhaps the community would rally around in support if these plans perhaps included opening The Hansburys again downstairs as a pub and make everyone happy…its such a loss to the community. It had some characters like Les and Bob the builder, dave, Paul Eade, Morris, Russell , Eugene, Corky, Trevor THE PLASTERER, Andy scaffold, chris brian and craig green, jim boyle, ian, neil, alex and many many more…….the hansburys was what it was because of these people “the community”……I would do it all again tomorrow !!

    I have the lead glass nameplate that hung above the front door saying “HANSBURYS” for the Family of Mick Hansbury if someone is going to Ireland where Micks family now reside, I did get their address from a close friend but lost it so could not post. Please let them know I have it for them , Bridget Dougie and Glen x We could tell so many stories and give you all so many laughs….

    Reply
    1. Paul B Post author

      Thank you so much for posting that Bridget, it is really appreciated. I will add your comments into the post as it helps to put the recent past into some context. I have the e mail addresses of a couple of Mick’s family, so I will get in touch with them to check whether they are happy for me to share their details with you. Thank you again for the time you spent adding the comment it was very kind of you.

      Reply
      1. Michael Hansbury

        Hi Bridget, I am Mick Hansbury’s Son Michael. I would really love to have the glass Hansbury’s sign if you would not mind. My wife is over in London next week and could collect from you if thats ok? If you could email me that would be great. I have completed my email details on the link so if you have a way of getting it that would be great. Thanks

      2. Paul B Post author

        I have just sent you and Bridget an e mail – so if you haven’t received it check your spam folders or contact me again here & I will re-send.

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