The Pub That Was Saved By Irony
A new dawn for The Marquis of Lansdowne
Thanks in no small part to the passionate campaign waged by you, my esteemed readers of Spitalfields Life, The Marquis of Lansdowne is saved.
Yesterday, I asked “How can it be that a museum which exists to protect our heritage wants to use public funds to destroy an historic building?” The jaw-dropping irony of this situation was not lost upon the members of Hackney Council Planning Committee who were unconvinced by the Geffrye Museum’s scheme involving the demolition of The Marquis of Lansdowne, rejecting it outright by six votes to two.
Consequently, the Geffrye has lost its Heritage Lottery funding for the development and has no choice but to go back to the drawing board, recognising that any future proposal needs to include the restoration of The Marquis of Lansdowne. “I am aware that there is a prejudice against concrete,” exclaimed architect Sir David Chipperfield, in bewildered disbelief at the tide of events.
Celebrating this glorious May Day success which grants a future to The Marquis of Lansdowne, I am republishing the story of George Barker who was born there in 1931 and whose family ran the pub from before 1915 until after World War II.
George Barker in the yard at The Marquis of Lansdowne aged six in 1937
The Marquis of Lansdowne is the only old building left on Cremer St, yet it contains the history of the people who have been there for the last two centuries, their culture, their society and their industry. For George Barker, born in the upper room of the pub in 1931, it was his family home, spanning three generations of Barkers – his grandfather William who came from a village in East Anglia at the end of the nineteenth century, his mother Lilian who ran the pub alone through the war and opened up every day during the Blitz, and lastly himself, the one who got a grammar school education and a Masters degree in Maths and has lived for the last fifty years in a beautiful house in Chorleywood.
No infamous killer took his victim to The Marquis of Lansdowne for her last drink. Charles Dickens did not visit The Marquis of Lansdowne and base a character in one of his novels upon a local eccentric discovered propping up the bar. In fact, the story of The Marquis of Lansdowne is a more important one that either of these, it is that of the working people who lived in the surrounding streets, for whom it was the centre of their community and meeting place for their extended families. In this sense, it is a quintessential East End pub and the history of this place cannot be told without reference to these people.
Haggerston has changed almost beyond recognition in recent decades and, all this time, The Marquis of Lansdowne has remained as the lone sentinel of a lost world. Yet when I met George Barker and he told me the story of his family and the life they led there, he brought that world alive.
“My earliest memory is of being a kid playing on the street, everybody played on the street in those days. A couple of times, I went into the Geffrye Museum and we collected caterpillars in the gardens. They used to have a playground with swings and a place to play football at the back of the museum.
I was born at The Marquis of Lansdowne in February 1931, but my family’s involvement with the pub goes back to the beginning of the century. My grandfather William George Barker told me that the Barker family came from a group of villages near Ipswich, moving to Hoxton at the end of the nineteenth century. He came to London in 1899 and worked as a barman for year in the East End before becoming a policeman for twenty years.
Frederick Daniel Barker, my grandfather’s brother, was licensee of The Marquis of Lansdowne until he died of TB in 1919, when my grandfather took it over from Frederick’s wife Mary Ann. Then, when my grandfather died in the thirties, my father George Stanley Barker took it over until he died in 1937 when my mother Lily ran it. She remarried in 1939 and, as Lilian Edith Trendall, she held the license until 1954 when her husband Frederick Trendall took over after her death. I think they all made a living but it wasn’t a terribly easy life.
We had a side bar and then another one on the corner we called the darts bar, as well as the front bar and the saloon bar. Even then, there were redundant doors which meant that at one time the pub was divided up into more bars. The saloon bar had upholstered bench seats and bar stools, but the other bars just had wooden benches with Victorian marble-topped tables. The curved bar itself was in the centre, spanning all the divisions with a tall central construction for display of spirits and optics, and the beer pumps were in the front bar. I remember, as you came in the side door from Geffrye St, the wall had a large decorative painted panel advertising Charrington’s Beer and there were mirrors at the rear. The pub windows were of etched and cut glass, and above the main door was an illuminated panel with the words ‘Toby Beer.’ It was a Charrington pub and a wagon came with dray horses to deliver once a week from the brewery in Mile End. Further down Cremer St was the Flying Scud, a Truman’s pub, and the Star & Pack, a Whitbread pub.
On the Geffrye St side of the building was a kitchen which was – in effect – where we all lived, and an office. Above the kitchen was my bedroom, with a window looking onto Geffrye St and the railway arches. On the first floor at the corner was the front room where we didn’t go very often, and the main bedroom – where I was born – was on Cremer St, divided from the front room by a construction of wooden panels, as if it once had been one big room. All the arches were coal depots in those days. It was brought by railway every morning at six thirty and all the coal men would be filling sacks, and bringing their horses and wagons to carry it away. But it never woke me up though, because I got used to it.
In those days, on one side of the pub was a terrace of houses and on the other there were three shops. I remember Mrs Lane who ran the sweet shop next door and Mrs Stanley who had a cats’ meat shop where they sold horsemeat. In the thirties, there was a couple of fellows making springs for prams in the building across the road which became a garage in the nineteen forties. I recall there was a baker’s on the other side of the street too and H.Lee, a big furniture manufacturer, on the corner of the Kingsland Rd.
My mother, Lily, ran The Marquis of Lansdowne singled-handed through World War II. It was heavily bombed in the surrounding streets and, when there were raids, she took shelter in the spirit cellar which had been reinforced with stanchions. She had grown up in the area, and most people knew her and she knew them, and they had been to school together. She was quite an outgoing woman who enjoyed a bit of banter and a lot of chat with the customers. She was the daughter of James Wilson who ran the scrap iron yard opposite across Cremer St under a couple of arches. He started the business there and he had a place in Tottenham, so he left his three sons to run it.
There was a friendly community on our doorstep, she ran the pub and her three brothers ran the scrap iron business across the road, and there was another uncle called Harmsworth who had another two arches where he ran a furniture business – one of my aunts married him. All my uncles and aunts lived within about one hundred yards of each other. They were the Barkers, the Wilsons and the Cheeks. A Barker married a Wilson and then a Wilson married a Cheek and then a Cheek married a Barker. My mother had another three children with my stepfather in the forties, and we all lived together in the Marquis of Lansdowne. There was me and my sister Eileen, plus the twins Maureen and Christine, and their younger brother Freddie.
At the age of eight, I was evacuated during the Blitz, but when I came back it was still quite dangerous so I went to stay with an aunt in Kensal Green. I never lost contact because I cycled over at weekends and moved back at the end of the war when I was thirteen.
In the fifties, the business started to drift away. People didn’t have much money and television came along, so it could be quiet on week nights but it was always busy at weekends, and for celebrations like VE Day and the Coronation we got a special licence and opened from midday until midnight. Even if people had moved away, they came back for Saturday evenings to meet with their relatives and friends. I would be serving behind the bar – probably a little younger than I should have been – and by the age of eighteen I was regularly working there. I always looked after the place when they went in holiday.
My mother died in 1954 and my stepfather took over the pub. I studied for a Masters Degree in Maths at Woolwich Polytechnic and I was away from 1954-56 doing National Service. In 1957, I left The Marquis of Lansdowne forever – I was working for Hawker Aircraft in Langley by then. I only went back occasionally after that, not too often. As people moved out, it started dwindling away and I think my stepfather sold it to a family called Freeland who had been coalmen under the arches and then he moved away too.
If it had been up to me, I probably would have become a publican but I wasn’t going to wait for everyone else to die off first and, because of the war, I went to grammar school and then to university. I haven’t been back to Haggerston since the nineteen sixties.”
George Barker today.
George Barker was born in the bedroom facing onto Cremer St, indicated by the window on the left.
At The Marquis of Lansdowne, 1957. George Barker on right, aged twenty-five, with sister Eileen, centre back. The other three are his half-brothers and sisters from his mother Lilian’s second marriage to Frederick Trendall. The twin girls are Maureen on the left and Christine on right, with their brother Freddie between them.
George Stanley Barker & Lilian Edith Wilson, married at St Leonards, Shoreditch on 7th September 1929. Lilian ran the pub after the death of her husband in 1937 until she died in 1954.
Ex-policeman William George Barker who ran The Marquis of Lansdowne from 1919 – photographed in 191o, with his wife Annie Susannah Oakenfold and son George Stanley Barker, who took over from his father and ran the pub until 1937.
20th December 1911, William George Barker is reprimanded for bring caught in pubs in Shoreditch and Spitalfields while on duty as a policeman – eight years later he became landlord of The Marquis of Lansdowne and spent the rest of his life in a pub. - “Inattention to duty and wasting his time by being off his Division and being in the White Hart Public House, High St, Shoreditch, out of the City from 3:30 to 4:50pm (1 hour & 2o minutes) while on duty on 13th instant. Also, being in the King’s Stores Public House, Widegate St, from 5:05 to 5:40pm (35 minutes) while on duty, same date.”
February 22nd 1919, William George Barker applies to leave the police to take over the running of The Marquis of Lansdowne from his sister-in-law after the death of his brother Frederick Daniel Barker. “I respectfully beg to apply to the Commissioner for permission to resign my appointment as Constable in the City of London Police Force, one month from the above date. My reason for doing so is that my sister-in-law Mrs Mary Ann Barker Licensee of The Marquis of Lansdowne Public House, No 32 Cremer St, Kingsland Rd, is unable to carry on the business in consequence of a nervous breakdown and she wishes me to hold the license and conduct the business on my own responsibility.”
May 9th 1919, Charrington’s, Anchor Brewery, Mile End, seeks a reference for William George Barker from the Commissioner of Police at Snow Hill. Presumably, the incidents of Christmas 1911 were discreetly forgotten.
Dating from the Regency era, The Marquis of Lansdowne is the only old building left on Cremer St.
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