The Plough, which was for a while the ‘Plough Railway Tavern’ and latterly ‘Pitchers Bar and Diner’ was an old pub whose original name goes back to the area’s rural past. It was almost certainly marked in John Rocques map of 1745 (below on a Creative Commons), adjacent to the marked ‘wooden bridge’ – Lewisham Lane is now referred to as Belmont Hill.
It was situated on the road out of Lewisham towards Greenwich , latterly Lewisham Road, adjacent to the railway embankment for the line coming in from Blackheath. For much of its life it was next to a bridge over the Quaggy, shortly before its confluence with the Ravensbourne. The Quaggy was moved slightly further south during the 20th century and is now undergoing a further course change.
Before the Enclosure Acts which allowed the wealthy and powerful to ‘enclose’ common land, there was an area of grass “Plough Green” roughly around the area of the old town centre roundabout; it was home a St Thomas Day fair – the Green is shown below (source on a Creative Commons) – the building shown was an early incarnation of the Roebuck. This area was enclosed in 1810 and built upon (1)
When Rocque surveyed the area in the 1740s, the pub seems to have been in its second incarnation (2). It was a weather boarded house which sold ‘Marsden’s Entire and Fine Ale’ – sadly this is a brewery whose history seems to be lost, it certainly isn’t related to Marston’s who were 20 years off being founded. When sketched in 1814. It was owned by one of the area’s larger landowners – the Earl of Dartmouth (3) – (source on a Creative Commons).
There was a further sketch of the Plough drawn around 1847, just before the railway arrived in Lewisham, which was re-interpreted in the 1940s by Ken Stirling in 1948 (See painting credit below for more detail of source and copyright). The licensees then were the Griggs, initially William and then his widow, Martha (4).
The Plough was pulled down and rebuilt around 1850 as part of the building of the railway, which had opened the previous year – the South Eastern Railway owned the pub, which still offered stabling and a carriage lodge (5). The 1897 Ordnance Survey shows the location, including the bridge over the Quaggy taking the pub’s name (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland)
The first licensee of the rebuilt pub was William Morris (6), while I had hoped for a link to the eponymous farmer of Lee Green Farm and latterly College Farm, this seems not to have been the case. This Morris was born in 1813 in Cobham, there were seven children at home when the census enumerators called several of which were working in the pub – including a 15 year old, this would be frowned upon these days. There were a couple of servants and three visitors, presumably paying guests.
Like many pubs it went through a steady flow of licencees, the Morrises had moved on by 1861 when the Hasler’s were there – they, in turn, had moved to Camberwell’s ‘The Queen’ by 1871 to be replaced by Thomas Jeans – plus family and six staff members living in; and so it continued throughout the rest of the 19th and early 20th centuries landlords (they all seemed to be men) came and went every few years.
Around this time, the pub featured in the acquittal of Edmund Pook, the man accused of the ‘Eltham Murder’ in 1871, as he was seen on the bridge over the Quaggy by a witness walking home from The Plough.
The Plough was renamed it the Plough Railway Tavern for a while around the turn of the century, but had returned to its former name by 1911 (7).
The first half of the 20th century saw a change to steady succession of publicans in the form of Joseph Emptage. Emptage was born in Rotherhithe in 1872, in 1891 he was working for his father as a fishmongers assistant; but by 1901 he was already the landlord of a Battersea pub, the Duke of Edinburgh; in 1911 he was listed as a licensed victualler living in a flat in Crofton Park – presumably away from the pub he ran- probably either the Duke of Edinburgh or the Prince of Wales in Walpole Road Deptford. Although by 1921 he was certainly at the Plough.
Emptage was still at the Plough when the 1939 Register was compiled- there were several staff ‘living in’ including a Head Bar/Cellar Man, Stanley Grimes; a pot barman, a bar maid, Helen Matthews and a house maid, Ivy Greg. Joseph Emptage died in 1949 and was buried at Ladywell Cemetery.
In the 1970s the pub was run by Jean and Bob Hurley, a Facebook thread on The Plough described it as ‘a great old fashioned pub in those days.’ It seems to have had a saloon and snug bar and some fondly remembered spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve – including dancing on the padded seats that were at the back of the pub.
The pub seems to have been refurbished around 1984 which included the odd addition of a single lane bowling alley. A new landlord arrived around the time of the renovations, Roger, who is fondly remembered by several along with a South African chef and a Dutch barman. The pub seems to have attracted quite a young ‘crowd’ – with suggestions that it was an ‘underage drinking heaven;’ ‘the ultimate location for us teenagers back in the late 80s.’ Unsurprisingly there were several recollections of first drinks there and great memories too of Italia ’90 World Cup there.
Latterly the pub became Pitchers Bar and Diner, a ‘sports bar’ with wall-to-wall Sky Sports. It was a bleak, unwelcoming pub – I met up there a couple of times with a friend in its later years to watch football as it was close to buses for both of us. In the end the cheap, badly kept beer and football, couldn’t hide the dismal, slightly intimidating atmosphere and grim, grubby environment and we moved on. I don’t remember seeing any evidence of the food implied by the ‘Diner’ sign on the front, but based on the rest of the customer experience, I would have been reluctant to sample.
The outside was uninviting too – at the front changes in road layouts had left it well back from the road, with an odd mish-mash of concrete, tarmac and a wall and a sad looking tree – there was apparently what could be loosely described as a garden at the back although I never ventured out there (it had been used to keep a pony in during the 1970s), but it seems to have been as inviting as the rest of the pub.
Pitchers closed down around 2007 and was left empty, a forlorn looking shell, for a while until the wrecking ball caught up with it – a sad end to what was no doubt once a good boozer (Picture ©Stephen Craven on Creative Commons). The site was ‘lost’ to the Lewisham Town Centre redevelopment – an access road to the station roughly marks where it once stood.
- Leland Duncan (1908) History of the Borough of Lewisham p96
- No doubt the detail of this would be in Part 3 of Ken White (1992) The Public Houses of Lee and Lewisham – sadly, I haven’t yet been able to find a copy of this.
- White, op cit, volume 6B p203
- Ibid, p204
Census and related data comes via Find My Past
The painting is by Ken Stirling and dates from 1948, and is presumably a modern interpretation of the one from the 1840s; it is owned and the copyright is held by Lewisham Archives, and is made available, through the Art UK website. Usage for non-commercial research such as this is allowed under the site’s terms.
Thank you for that. A really enjoyable read because I drank in The Plough almost nightly throughout the ’70’s when Bob and Jean Hurley ran the place. The only info I can provide is the garden cum field behind where their daughter kept a pony. I’m told Bob & Jean moved on to Keston Kent. It made me miserable to see how it changed after they left.
Thanks Frank, that’s really helpful – I’ve added those memories into the post.
There was an in-between period before “Pitchers” when it was bizarrely kitted out to look like the lounge of an Army polo club in the British Raj with photos and militaria on the walls.
I don’t understand why the council didn’t insist on it being refurbished as part of the development. Character is irreplaceable and central Lewisham has very few pubs! It would have thrived!
It certainly would have had the potential to be a really good pub, it seems to have been in the past; but I suspect no one saw beyond grim shadow of its former self that existed. Lewisham planners do seem to have developed a more coherent approach for attempting to save older pubs – although it hasn’t saved the Ravensbourne/Coach and Horses or Hansbury’s.
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Paul — A copy of Ken White’s multi-part history of the pubs of Lee and Lewisham (bound into a single volume) is available at the local history dept of Lewisham Library (just ask them at the desk).
Thanks Pat – I know they have a copy, my problem, as I work, is spending time there. I do have all but the first and last volumes of his history.
By the way, my favourite online quote re Pitchers comes from the beerintheevening.com website: “It was the kind of bar where you counted your fingers when leaving”!
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Thank you for this. Having a Proustian moment about the pubs of Lewisham when I was 16/17 in 86/87. The Sunday night soul do was one of the best nights I’ve ever had, we were there every week. The big ‘Love Really Hurts’ finale! And yes, underage boozing wasn’t a problem. £1 for Heineken and £1.20 for Stella. Bus home and double A-level history on Monday! Fantastic.