Tag Archives: The Plough (Lewisham)

The Roebuck – A ‘Lost’ Lewisham Town Centre Pub

The Roebuck was a Lewisham pub that dated back until at least the 1740s, possibly earlier.  In recent times its address was in Rennell Street but originally it was located on the High Street next to one of the two arms of the Quaggy as it joined the Ravensbourne.  The other ‘arm’ had a pub too, the Plough, which Running Past covered a while ago.

In between the two pubs was Plough Green, named after the Plough, and 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)

The two arms of the Quaggy were obvious in early Ordnance Survey maps, the Roebuck is the realtively large building just north of Rennell Street.  It was almost opposite the Lewisham Tollgate – marked ‘Lewisham TH.’ (Image on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).

The first mention of the pub was in parish registers in 1742 (2)  It was originally at 40-42 the High Street and it seems to have had a garden or bowling green at the side of it – which was later built upon.  The garden had a chestnut tree, in the picture below, which was said to have been planted in 1683 (3).

The William Miller referred in the picture of the pub, was the landlord from around 1834, the previous landlord was a William Lance – he decided to return to his former trade as a hatmaker (4).  Miller was probably from Lewisham (his sister certainly was), he died in 1849, but his wife, Elizabeth, took over the tenancy – the owners were Roach and Hill (5) – helped by his son Robert, who was also listed as a licensed victualler in the 1851 census. Elizabeth Hall was from Westerham in Kent, although had lived in Lewisham since 1825, possibly earlier, as Robert was born there. The rate book listed the pub as having assembly rooms, garden, yard, stables and building land (4).  Elizabeth was to remain the publican until around 1863 (6).  In the 1851 census there were two relatives living at the Roebuck, one working as a barmaid, along with three servants and two paying lodgers.

Robert had moved on by 1861 but a daughter Eliza had returned to work at the pub along with her husband, George Beven who was running the stables at the Roebuck.

After the Millers left there was a steady trickle of licensees; in 1871 the landlord was Richard Wooff who was 40 – he lived there with his wife Hannah and 4 children and a neice – there were three live-in servants helping to run the Roebuck.  He seems to have later moved on to the Three Tuns in Blackheath (now O’Neill’s) with one of his sons.

At the 1881 census James Tyrell from Rainham was the ‘Licensed Victualler’, also living there was his wife Frances, three children and three servants. The beer around this time was supplied by the Nicholls brothers  from the Anchor Brewery in Lewisham, which was covered by Running Past a while ago, whose offices (below) still remain in Tesco’s car park.

A decade later, Samuel and Elizabeth Fryatt were running the Roebuck (or Roe Back as it is incorrectly transcribed in the census…). The Fryatts had six live-in staff including one with the wonderfully named role of Potman and Billiard Marker.  Around this time the pub moved to the corner of Rennell Street, its former site was later to become the Gaumont (picture below from postcard – eBay Nov 2016).   The new building didn’t stop the steady flow of publicans though, Owen Ward from Ireland was there in 1901, when the census enumerator called, but had moved on by 1905, to be replaced by EE Coley.  Charles and Beatrice Freeman had arrived by 1911, he from Brighton, she from Portsmouth.  The business was creating enough trade to support three live-in barmaids, two cooks and a domestic nurse – presumably to look after the Freemans’ children.  The Freemans certainly lasted longer than many of their predecessors; they were still there in 1921 Post Office Directory.

Leonard Jennings was the landlord by 1938 and in the 1939 Register; he was a Bermondsey boy, born in 1877 – he married Sarah Elizabeth in 1906 in Southwark.  They had moved on by the end of World War Two, Leonard passing away in Greenwich in 1947.  One of the next landlords (1956) was W H J Harris.

The pub moved again, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s, from its impressive position on the corner of the High Street and Rennell Street to a position a little further back down Rennell Street.  There are a couple of photos courtesy of Boak and Bailey’s Beer Blog  – one each of its exterior and interior from 1961.

It had a function room (downstairs) where bands played – those performing there included the local ‘legend’ Albert Lee, who grew up in Kidbrooke Park Road in Blackheath – according to several comments on Facebook threads relating to this post he was a regular performer there.  It also nearly saw the demise of Dave from Chas ‘n’ Dave who was non-fatally electrocuted on stage there whilst playing with The Tumbleweeds.  Other famous names spotted there included Lee Brilleaux from the Feelgoods, alas this wasn’t as a performer, but to buy some cigarettes before a gig at the Gaumont around the corner.

During the 1970s the Roebuck also became a relatively well-known Country & Western venue on Tuesday nights, hosting bands in the basement.  A Facebook thread from a while ago fondly recalled a local singing postman who was renowned for his rendition of Charley Pride’s ‘The Crystal Chandelier.’ Around the same era a Shadows tribute band called Apache who played regularly at the venue.

Other Facebook reminiscences from this post included Saturday nights which frequently saw tribute acts in the basement including Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison and the Everley Brothers. After the bar closed, some went to the Gaumont on the pub’s former site for late night ‘pictures’. Kicking out from there would be after the last bus – so it would be a long walk home.

The YouTube video of Dreamstate  performing there in 1991 gives a few glimpses of what the room was like (the volume is at Spinal Tap 11, so you may want to turn down the sound on your device before opening ….)

Harry Robinson was landlord during the 1980s and also owned Lewisham firm Robinson’s Hauliers based in Thurston Road.  My own recollections are from a decade later – my memory is of a dark, dismal place with little natural light and a blurry fag smoke fug even when there were few drinkers lighting-up.

Within a year or two of my last visit, the Roebuck became a gay bar, initially retaining the Roebuck name but latterly it was known as Bar Phoenix (see above on a Wikipedia Creative Commons), which included ‘weekly drag entertainment’.  There are a few on-line reviews from that era

The Roebuck, near Lewisham Shopping Centre, is dire, but has to be seen to be believed. It attracts a strange mix of ‘fresh’ and ‘experienced’ faces.

This gay-friendly bar is a real find. I’d heard good things about The Roebuck from friends so last Saturday we trooped off to the place anticipating a good night. We simply had a ball. The service was outstanding and the atmosphere unrivalled by any bars in the area. The Roebuck has got to be seen to be believed!

It remained until around the end of the first decade of the 21st century before it was demolished – part of the early preparation work for the redevelopment of the northern end of Lewisham town centre. Rennell Street still exists; it is part of a short stretch of dual carriageway to be endured by those passing through the town centre by road with risks of high levels of pollution.

The final resting place of the pub is ‘marked’ by a pedestrian crossing (left, below) with its Victorian incarnation remembered via The Roebuck Memorial Traffic Lights (right, below).

Notes

  1. Leland Duncan (1908) History of the Borough of Lewisham p96
  2. ibid p77
  3. ibid p77
  4. Ken White The Public Houses of Lee and Lewisham 6c p233
  5. Ibid
  6. ibid

Census and related data comes via Find My Past 

The Plough – A Former Lewisham Pub

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)

IMG_3312

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.

Notes

  1. Leland Duncan (1908) History of the Borough of Lewisham p96
  2. 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.
  3. White, op cit, volume 6B p203
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid, p204

Census and related data comes via Find My Past 

Painting Credit

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.