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The Long Good Friday & the Camouflaged Pub

The demise of some pubs is felt strongly by local communities, by their former regulars and often by those who were occasional drinkers but perhaps saw the pub as part of their community – their passing is regretted and the mere mention of their name provokes fond memories.  But for a pub which started life as the ‘Northover’ on the south corner of the junction of Northover and Whitefoot Lane  these rose-tinted reminisces proved harder to find, although not impossible, as we’ll return to later; a comment on a local blog described it as the ‘late unlamented Governor General’ (its latter name) set the scene.

The pub opened around 1937 as the Northover; not that much imagination in naming a pub after the street it was sited on.  It was a striking, large building on a big plot designed by the firm A W Blomfield for Watneys.  Blomfield was a well-established architectural firm, the founder made his name as a church restorer – his work included substantial alterations to what was then St Saviours, Southwark – now the Cathedral and his staff included for a short period a very young Thomas Hardy. Arthur Blomfield had died a generation before the pub was designed though.


The pub is clear about 40% of the way up on the right hand side of the 1937 photograph  from Britain from the Air website that was taken around the time it opened.  Beyond it are the well planned lines of the Corbett Estate dominating the rear of the shot and the local authority housing of Waters Road the mid ground.  The open ground around the middle of the shot was to become the Excalibur Estate a decade later.

The location of the pub was on the edge of the Downham estate which had been developed from the 1920s, there was an excellent post on the estate in the Municipal Dreams blog.  The first and then largest pub in England, the Downham Tavern, had been built in 1930; the Northover was one of the second phase of community facilities which included the library and swimming pool, whose original incarnations were also opened in 1937.

It was in a prominent location and as the Britain from above shot showed, highly visible from above; as a result it would have been vulnerable to attacks from the Luftwaffe – so some attempts were made to camouflage the pub during World War Two – they clearly worked as the pub survived the war intact – remnants of the camouflage remained into the 1970s.

It is not clear when the name change happened, although the logic is clear – it was a reference to the rich and prominent local Forster Family, who lived at Southend Hall, which was at what is now the junction of Whitefoot Lane and Bromley Road.  Henry Forster had been ‘elevated’ to the peerage in 1919 and was Governor-General of Australia between 1920 and 1925.  He died in 1936.

govgen5The pub’s only real claim to fame was that it was that it had a small ‘part’ in the 1979 gangster movie ‘The Long Good Friday’ (poster – Wikimedia Commons) which starred Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren, which the picture to below (source – the fantastic Reel Streets) is a ‘still’ from. Unlike Bob Hoskins, where the film became a launchpad for a successful career, the Governor-General faded back into obscurity and local semi-notoriety.



Other on line references are very few and far between, the Governor-General appears in several message board discussions of ‘rough’ pubs where fights were a regular occurrences and there was even a strange suggestion that the pub’s name change followed its purchase by Danny LaRue.  While LaRue certainly owned other pubs and hotels, such as the Swan at Streatley on the Thames, and the upmarket hotel Walton Hall – owning a boozer on the edge of a council estate is probably unlikely.

There have been a few Facebook ‘threads’ on the pub including several relating to this post; the SE London Memories Group which started with its reputation claiming it ‘used to be a drinking hole for most of South East London’s underworld.’  Many remembered this aspect of the pub’s past with comments such as – ‘Northover was the sort of pub where you wiped your feet on the way out and ordered a fight at the bar along with your drinks.’ Someone else called it a ‘pint and a fight’ pub.  One person remembered their father returning home, rather shaken, after someone he had been standing next to at the bar was threatened with a crossbow.

One former employee described it as ‘a dump …. nothing but punch ups, (the) public bar was like a wild west saloon! ’  It was pointed by someone else though out that most of the pubs in the area had fairly similar reputations.

But many more had fonder memories – there was a function room at the back which several had held their weddings receptions, it was often packed out on Friday evenings when there were rock & roll and rockabilly bands and often discos; and, for the more refined, there were dinner dances there too.  It was the venue for football and other club ‘do’s’ too.

There were memories of the two worlds colliding too – there was a recollection of a mass brawl following a talent night being gate-crashed in the 1970s.

On a different thread , the pub is remembered as the location of the first, underage, pint – trying to and probably failing to look 18, and younger memories of sitting in the garden with just lemonade and crisps where the salt came in a blue packet (presumably before it was done on a retro basis).  Similar recollections came on some of the threads relating to this post too.

The filming of the Long Good Friday is remembered too – apparently Bob Hoskins had a kick about with several local teenagers, and generally being friendly towards locals; he may have received the attentions of a number of the local young women… One of the part of the filming went slightly wrong in that an actor was meant to be swung around seem to hit a poster on a wall, there was apparently a mixture of fake and real blood when it was salvaged as a souvenir.

The pub car park was the scene of a rather bizarre incident in the late 1970s when a large block of ice deposited from an aeroplane smashed through a car taking the engine with it!

The pub closed in the early 1990s – a pattern followed by several others on the edge of Downham – the Garden Gate, now a McDonalds, just off Bromley Hill and the Green Man, demolished and now a housing association office.  These days the site would no doubt have been developed for housing but around 2000 it opened as a petrol station, initially, as Q8, latterly a Shell filling station


As with other ‘lost pub posts’ on Running Past, it would be good to be able to add in some other memories into the post. If you worked there or drank there tell your story – who were the characters that were regulars at the Governor-General? What about the landlord, the staff, the atmosphere, recollections of the friends, the memorable nights, (given its reputation) perhaps the fights and any memories of the filming of ‘The Long Good Friday.’  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 libellous or that might offend others though…..



Grove Park Ditch – A Quaggy Tributary

As Running Past has noted before, little imagination went into the naming of most of the Quaggy’s tributaries, the notable exception being Mottingham’s Fairy Hall Flow.  Grove Park Ditch is one of those appellations that is lacking in allure, purely functional, mundanely descriptive – although, as we will find, it is in places much more than that.

Grove Park Ditch is a near neighbour of the seemingly no longer flowing Fairy Hall Flow, its source in Lower Marvels Wood is a couple of hundred metres away from where the Flow once babbled through farmland on what is now Beaconsfield Road.

The ‘source’ is in the lovely Lower Marvels Wood, presumably a remnant of the past woods that covered the area now part of the Green Chain Walk.


The amount of water at the source is impressive, and has eroded a relatively deep channel which was quite a slippery scramble to get down see.  It presumably isn’t the real source; there is a concrete construction around the ‘source’ with a just visible pipe curving off to the east – presumably water is culverted from somewhere else.  There are one or two small ponds marked on Victorian OS maps a little higher up the gently sloping hillside in Marvels Wood – they aren’t marked on modern maps and my limited exploration on a very soggy Sunday morning failed to find any sign of them.


After the initial erosion from the force of the water from the source, the ‘valley’ soon becomes imperceptible with the Ditch clinging to the southern edge of Lower Marvels Wood, almost hidden from the playing fields it borders.  For a small stream flowing through woodland and a park edge, it seems to ‘attract’ a vast quantity of urban debris, if the large pile by the plastics and glass by the traps close to Lambscroft Avenue is anything to go by – this is just before the Ditch is lost to view,


The ‘Ditch,’ once encased in concrete, heads down the gentle slope, under houses towards the playing fields of Eltham College.  The exact route is unclear; it isn’t marked on old OS maps as a stream.  However, as historical boundaries often followed natural features such as streams, it is quite likely that the original course marked the local government boundary from the highlighted boundary stone (on the map below) until it reached the Quaggy.  During my reconnoitre I didn’t hear the sounds of rushing water emanating from below manhole covers, however, this may have related more to the cacophony of the above ground torrential rain, with one or two thunderous rumbles, drowning out any subterranean sounds.


Any access to the playing fields of Eltham College (Running Past  has ‘visited’ the former Fairy Hall before) and those of the City of London School is limited, the gates are locked and the borders are patrolled. So it wasn’t possible to see whether there was any above ground evidence of the Ditch, maps suggest there might be, although the satellite view of Google suggests that it is submerged, hidden just beyond the boundaries of cricket pitches.  The maps appear to show another small stream or drainage ditch too.


The outflow of Grove Park Ditch is a pipe from the wall of the horribly channelised Quaggy – the walls and river bed are concrete and presumably devoid of much life as a result.  As the Quaggy Action Group suggested a decade ago, it is a ‘suitable case of treatment’ of the kind that has enhanced both Chinbrook Meadows and Sutcliffe Park, both visually and in their ability to hold storm flows.  The outflow was easier to see than to photograph from the Green Chain Walk path, although this was largely because of the siling rain when I ‘explored’ for this post.



While not part of the ‘Ditch’, on the western side of the Quaggy there is modern cartographic evidence of a couple of streams joining the Quaggy from the area around what is now Hadlow College, the Victorian OS map showing just the ponds, however, this too is private land and not accessible to the fluvial flâneur.


Looking Back at 2015

It has been a strange year, a year that was nearly cut very short by a dark blue Fiat Punto that hit me at around 35 mph on a pedestrian crossing in mid January; amazingly and thankfully, I came out of it alive and without any life changing injuries, but it defined much of my year as I was initially put back together at Kings College Hospital and then gradually recovered.  It was something that really made me appreciate the NHS, its history and the risks it faces now.

Thank you to those of you who have sent their best wishes, expressed their concern and wishes for recovery here, via Twitter and elsewhere – they helped me stay positive and made the road to recovery a little easier.

One of the indirect impacts of the ‘accident’ was that Running Past changed a bit in that it became more focussed on an area that was closer to home as my running based research became walking based for a while. I did worry that, as a result, some of the things I posted on were about too ‘niche’, who on earth would be interested in a post on pond that was probably filled in during the1820s and its links to tributaries of the Quaggy? Oddly, lots of you did though, and for a while it was my most read post of the year.

Walking instead of running changed my perceptions a lot – I had never noticed the knee level graffiti in St Margaret’s Passage when running.


The same was true of some of the things I found wandering along the Rivers Pool and Ravensbourne at a third of my previous pace.


The much more local focus was something I have decided to largely keep for the future – although there will still be forays elsewhere.

So what have you read? The most read post was the same as in 2014, by some margin, on the Zeppelin Attack on Hither Green in 1917. The next five most read posts were all new ones on


  1. The Russian Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, and the time he spent in Bromley;
  2. George Wilson, the Blackheath Pedestrian – one of a number of posts I did on late Georgian and early Victorian walkers and runners;
  3. The Hidden Waterways of Greenwich Park;
  4. Will Crooks & the Greenwich Foot Tunnel; and
  5. A post tracking the largely lost Little Quaggy.

I enjoyed the research for all of the posts, I wouldn’t do it otherwise, but there were a couple of posts I particularly enjoyed – one ploughed a familiar furrow – a lost church, St Andrews, Vanbrugh Park, but linked it to the to the East London Group of artists, one of whose number Elwin Hawthorne had painted it in the 1930s. It was something a little outside my comfort zone, but art which adds to the local history of South East London and will be something I plan to return to in 2016.

(c) Elwin J. Hawthorn; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

See picture notes below for details re source & copyright

The other was a post I stumbled on when noticing an old street name sign off Baring Road which had links to Lee’s farming past – oddly it provoked little interest until I re-badged it as ‘Cows in Lee’ on Twitter. I will probably return to Lee’s agricultural past in 2016.

I have written a lot less about running this year, partly because it took an age to be able to run any real distance so the only posts tended to be about the real milestones – the first run, running up a mountain, the first race and some longer runs along the Thames at low tide – including one around Cliffe in Kent.


I think that I have may have shied away a little from writing about running as I am not back to the sort of fitness I really want to be. In 2014, I covered virtually all my races, but my first post-accident 10k in early December 2015, an important milestone, was relegated to a brief mention on Twitter – I suspect because my time was so much slower than in 2014. Hopefully, this is something that will change in 2016.

I have tried one or two things that I would not have done pre-accident – notable amongst these was a piece on the pioneer of the internal monologue – Dorothy Richardson. I did find a slightly tenuous link to the place she died in Beckenham, but it was really a post about her writing. It took me out of my comfort zone, but I really enjoyed it, but it was a type of writing that didn’t fit easily into the confines of Running Past. So I developed another place for the occasional fiction review plus a few other more autobiographical posts based around music that has been important to me.


Thank you for reading my posts this year, ‘liking’ and commenting on them, re-blogging on your own sites, as well as the large numbers of you who have re-tweeted, and liked on Twitter plus those of you who have put up links on Facebook, various on-line newspapers and elsewhere. It is really appreciated and has helped see a threefold increase in the post hits this year. There was also a doubling of the countries that I have had hits from – according to the statistical analysis of my blogging done by WordPress – I had hits from 82 different countries – I found it slightly surreal that someone in Tonga was interested in the street formerly known as Hocum Pocum Lane in Hither Green.

I have enjoyed lots of excellent writing from fellow bloggers – many of whom are on the blog roll at the side or bottom of the page depending on your device. Please do have a look.

Picture Credits

The painting of St Andrew, Vanbrugh Park can be viewed at Manchester City Art Galleries; it was made available via the BBC’s Your Paintings Project, which in turn allows reproduction in non-commercial research – this includes blogs (page explaining this only works intermittently).

The black and white photograph of Peter Kropotkin is from Wikimedia Commons

All others are mine, feel free to use non- commercially, providing you credit me.

A Spring in my Step

The skies were leaden with nimbostratus clouds as I left home and the brisk westerly wind thinned and thickened the cloud to change the colours from charcoal to light aluminium and back to battleship as I followed a fairly standard route from my repertoire – a loop edging the Heath, passing Charlton House before dropping down through Maryon Wilson Park to the Thames Barrier, following the River and then heading home back up the escarpment through Westcombe Park.


It was just over six months since I had run the route, the sky had been almost azure that morning and the colours intense in the winter sun – the two pictures of Angerstein Wharf tell a tale.


Today was an important milestone though, it was the first time post-accident that I had ventured more than a couple of miles away from home or from my car.  The pace for the 8.2 miles may have been slower than last time – 3.4 times faster than a British spring (around 9:15 pace), compared with a pre-accident speed of 3.8 times faster (8:15 pace).  The speed will come back eventually though – today was just about getting back to normal.