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Last Orders At The Gun

February 24, 2015
by the gentle author

In 1946, a demobbed soldier walked into The Gun in Brushfield St and ordered a pint. Admitting that he had no money, he asked if he could leave his medals as security and come back the next day to pay for his beer. But he never returned and all this time his medals have been kept safely at The Gun, mounted in a frame on the wall, awaiting the day when he might walk through the door again.

Alas, the waiting is over and now it is too late for the soldier to return – because the pub closed forever on Friday and, if he were to come back, he would find The Gun’s doors locked, prior to demolition as part of the impending redevelopment of the handsome London Fruit & Wool Exchange.

The military theme of this anecdote is especially pertinent, since it appears likely that The Gun originated as a tavern serving the soldiers of the Artillery Ground in the sixteenth century, and the story of the pub and the tale of the medals both ended last week.

Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I joined the regulars for a lively yet poignant celebration on Friday night, drinking the bar dry in commemorating the passing of a beloved Spitalfields institution. No-one could deny The Gun went off with a bang.

“We are the last Jewish publicans in the East End,” Karen Pollack, who ran The Gun with her son Marc, informed me proudly, “yet I had never been in a pub until I married David, Marc’s father, in 1978.” Karen explained that David Pollack’s grandparents took over The Bell in 1938, when it was one of eight pubs on Petticoat Lane, and in 1978, David’s father George Pollack also acquired the lease of The Gun, which was run by David & Karen from 1981 onwards.

“David grew up above The Bell and he always wanted to keep his own pub,” Karen recalled fondly, “It was fantastic, everyone knew everyone. We opened at six in the morning and got all the porters from the market in here, and the directors of the Truman Brewery used to dine upstairs in the Bombardier Restaurant – there was no other place to eat in Spitalfields at that time.”

“People still come back and ask me for brandy and milk sometimes,” she confided, “that’s what people from the market drank.”

On Friday night, the beautiful 1928 interior of The Gun with its original glass ceiling, oak panelling, Delft tiles, prints of the Cries of London and views of Spitalfields by Geoffrey Fletcher, was crowded with old friends enjoying the intimate community atmosphere for one last time, many sharing affectionate memories of publican, David Pollack, who died just a few years ago. “We’ve had some good times here,” Karen confessed to me in quiet understatement, casting her eyes around at the happy crowd.

“I was always known as David Pollack’s son, I came into the pub in 2008 and it was second nature to me,” Marc revealed later, which led me me to ask him what this fourth generation East End publican planned to do with the rest of his life. “I’m going to open another pub and call it The Gun,” he assured me without hesitation. And I have no doubt Marc will take the medals with him because – you never know – that errant soldier might still come back for them one day.

Fourth generation East End publican Marc Pollack, pictured here with his staff, stands on the left

David Pollack, publican, Michael Aitken of Truman’s Brewery & George Pollack, publican in 1984

Karen Pollack shows customers the old photographs

Karen Pollack and bar staff

Emma, Marc and Karen Pollack

Medals awaiting the return of their owner

The Gun in 1950

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

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At The London Fruit & Wool Exchange

Spitalfields Market Nocturne

67 Responses leave one →
  1. February 24, 2015

    It’s amazing how young everyone looks… not at all like it’s the ‘end’ of anything. No doubt the new reincarnation will be great too.

  2. Glenn permalink
    February 24, 2015

    So sad! Such a shame. I can work out why the British choose to destroy their local heritage.

  3. jeannette permalink
    February 24, 2015

    http://youtu.be/Ln3sidFtIAU

  4. February 24, 2015

    Another east end boozer gone.

    I would love to find the soldiers relatives and return his medals to them.

  5. Zak permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Said times. Shame on virus Johnson.

  6. February 24, 2015

    This is so sad, but good that the final evening was celebrated. I hate to think how London will look like when the developers have destroyed everything that makes it such a great place to be. Valerie

  7. Angie permalink
    February 24, 2015

    I’m in mourning. This slow creep of destruction will change Spitalfields into a souless place. More glass and steel and skyscrapers no doubt.

  8. Christine Chapman permalink
    February 24, 2015

    My goodness this has brought back the memories. I remember both David and Karen and the grandparents Betty and George. I hope Marc achieves his ambition to reopen The Gun in a new location.

  9. Horsa permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Is the soldier’s name not on the medals? And is the precise date of his disappearance not known? If they are it should be a fairly trivial matter to find out who he was and perhaps (if my suspicion about what happened is correct) why he never returned. There are such things as military and coroners’ records.

  10. February 24, 2015

    Irreplaceable!

  11. February 24, 2015

    Unbelievable! It’s a sacrilege to let such a building go — especially in these days!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  12. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    February 24, 2015

    very sad-when I lived in Spitalfields in the 1950s the Gun was the pub in opposition to ours ! If our got too crowded they would head to the Gun

  13. Richard Burke permalink
    February 24, 2015

    I used The Bell very regularly and The Gun less so when I worked in the City before retiring. George, Karen and David where everything that you could look for in the running of a pub and hopefully Marc will be able to continue the family profession somewhere new.

    I no longer visit London, it is not the great city that I once knew.

    I still have the pewter mug I was given by Karen and David when I left work, I must start drinking from it again.

  14. Linda M permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Thank you so much Gentle Author for recording The Gun’s last night so beautifully. Another East End pub lost! So sad but the cheerful faces are a testament to the true East End spirit. Hope Marc is soon able to open his new pub and that the medals will be enshrined there.

  15. Brenda permalink
    February 24, 2015

    So sad, the narrow-mindedness of the decision makers is beyond belief. The Fire of London destroyed so much, through unavoidable means, also the devastation which occurred during the Second World War in London. The decision to continually destroy the buildings in London and take away our heritage is in the hands of people who have seen what the past can do and could do things differently.

  16. Barbara Arnold permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Another nail in the coffin of living East End history. Are we to be left with a vast expanse of clinical, lifeless, characterless buildings with no real heart? Shame on Boris Johnson for his part in this. Good luck to Marc in his new to open a new Gun.

  17. Caitlin Mackesy Davies permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Perhaps there could be a kickstarter to move the fittings lock, stock and barrel (so to speak) to the landlord’s new pub? At least then some of the heritage would remain. Sorry to hear yet another damaging “development” story in Spitalfields.

  18. Chuffey permalink
    February 24, 2015

    A sad day – this area has a dearth of pubs as it is.
    Farewell…..

  19. alison homewood permalink
    February 24, 2015

    What is happening to the fixtures and fittings, are they being saved?

  20. Philip Marriage permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Times change and we must change with them but I despair at seeing the replacement of yet another piece of ‘old’ Spitalfields – the area that has attracted me back time and time again over the years.

  21. Ken permalink
    February 24, 2015

    This is depressing; this side of Brushfield St could have been left intact, given the huge area of offices across the street. The invasion of offices has to be held back. Yes: black marks for Boris.

  22. February 24, 2015

    A touching story–thank you.
    And I agree with the other commenter–it should be relatively easy to find out the soldier’s name. Some dismantling of the nice shadow box, but check for name or number on the side of the medal.
    There’s another complete story for you, dear writer–the soldier, where he fought, and what became of him. Can’t wait to see the follow-up!!
    Perhaps one of his descendants can attend the opening of the new Gun.

  23. chris Hill permalink
    February 24, 2015

    It’s sad the pub is going, and sadder still that the soilder never came back for his medals.
    But if the medals have a serial number on the back the War Museum should be able to trace the family. its an idea… at least the next of kin could show off granddads war effort.

  24. ana figueiredo permalink
    February 24, 2015

    what a shame….I used to go in there after my job on the fruit and veg wholesale……….I would like to know why is it closing down?

  25. Gary Arber permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Lets hope that the new development is a failure and that the developers go bust.
    Gary

  26. Karen permalink
    February 24, 2015

    We are slowing eradicating what makes London special and unique. If I want to see modern glass structures I can go to New York or Hong Kong; people visit London to revel in its history and old architecture. By slowly eating away at this rich history, we dilute London into a modern, second cousin of the younger, historyless cities. Stay unique a London, it’s what the people want.

  27. Karen permalink
    February 24, 2015

    This story was extremely poignant to me as a Huguenot descendant myself, who’s family has lived and worked in East London for multiple generations. My grandfather came home from the war in 1946 and no-one ever saw his medals. I can pretend that perhaps he stopped for a beer here before returning to his family. Good luck to Landlord & family.

  28. Adele Lester permalink
    February 24, 2015

    I rarely went into pubs while living in UK, but now that I’m an expat The Gun had become the meeting place of choice whenever I return ‘home’. I wish the family well and encourage them to move as many of the fixtures and fittings as they can into a new location. I recently visited The Blue Anchor in S. Florida, which until 1998 stood in Chancery Lane so I know it can be done. What’s happening to iconic institutions in my beloved East End (and in other areas of London) is criminal.

  29. February 24, 2015

    please do not take this lovely pub away leave it where it is shame on this country

  30. Ron Arnold permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Sad to see it go, but mysteriously all the owners and employees seem well pleased to be turfed out. Did they own the building or were they leasing? What is their arrangement with the developers? Are the former employees on the dole as we speak?

    I think that the young lad with dreams of re-opening The Gun nearby will soon face the dread reality that it won’t be in the East End, or anywhere in central London for that matter. I’m wondering where he expects to get the millions of pounds that a venture like that will require?

    It’s a shame that the whole LFWE complex couldn’t be saved, only to fall for yet more empty offices. I have no doubt that nothing in the area is indeed safe from the destructionists.

  31. Vivien Boyes permalink
    February 24, 2015

    This kind of story is becoming all too familiar.We are losing so much of our past and history in the name of faceless re-development.

  32. JeanM permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Another wonderful old pub gone, we won’t have much of London’s history left
    soon – thanks to Boris!! It is time for him to go I think whilst we still have some
    old buildings left.

  33. W grothier permalink
    February 24, 2015

    My Dad drank here in late 40s and 50s opened early for the market porters, sad it’s closed.

  34. jon permalink
    February 24, 2015

    I played football with dave(for some reason we called him baz)he was captain and a bloody good one as well.this is a sad tale for so many reasons.all the best to the family.

  35. Linda Pownall permalink
    February 24, 2015

    I am so angry at this demolition along with other parts of London, So many places they could build on but no they have to destroy our history. I hear they want to start on Norton Folgate now. It’s going back to the sixties where so many beautiful buildings were destroyed for boxes. I’m a lover of modern architecture, but in the right place. I hate Boris Johnson.

  36. Susan permalink
    February 24, 2015

    This is such a poignant piece; it brought tears to my eyes. I love the description of them opening at 6 a.m. and the porters arriving, and of people coming asking for brandy and milk. We live in a world that is slowly sacrificing its soul to a vision of modernity that disdains the past.

  37. Paula permalink
    February 24, 2015

    These stories make me sad. Shame on Boris Johnson.

  38. Ian permalink
    February 24, 2015

    I’m kicking myself – we walked past there on Friday and could have popped in!

  39. Maddie Horrocks permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Boris Johnson is an egotist, he wants to create a legacy of his time at any expense. Damn the history and community that stands in his way.

  40. Jason Mcpherson permalink
    February 25, 2015

    Just a note about the medals. People saying to open the case and get the soldiers name off the medals. They are generic campaign medals, awarded in their thousands. Italy star, france and germany star, defence medal and war medal. These were awarded to almost everyone and as such it would have been impractical to engrave name rank and service number on the rims of the medals as there would have been too many to do. Then, as now, you could buy a full set for practically peanuts.

  41. Victoria permalink
    February 25, 2015

    Given the history and the fact this was a thriving community pub it seems doubly sad that it had to be closed for the sake of modern development. So glad that you were at least able to capture its final hours.

  42. Nancy clark permalink
    February 25, 2015

    it reminds me of the changes to south east London In the 60′s and 70′s, especially around the Kent road/ walworth area -all in the name of progress and modernity then.

    Now it seems just like plain greed.

  43. Terry holt snr permalink
    February 25, 2015

    Sad to see the Gun closed down we old market porters had some good times in there the rum and coffees warmed us up on the cold winter mornings

  44. February 25, 2015

    It is plain greed Nancy. I went to St Saviours and St Olaves Grammar School on the New Kent Road. What “modern” monstrosities I had to walk by everyday to get there. Some have been pulled down now I believe. I found myself at a ghastly dinner party a while back, one of the guests was a property developer in South London. He derided the locals, said he never set foot in Brixton Market or the locality. London to him was just a cash cow.These people have no souls, no culture, no sense of history, no nothing. They are empty vessels, a void into which they stuff money.

  45. Roy Wales permalink
    February 26, 2015

    very sad . I have drank there since the 80s . Sadly it probably didn’t need to go , but people in high places only think of profit rather than communities . We will look back on days like last Friday and wonder why we allowed hundreds of years of history and community to be destroyed so that an investor from another country could make a quick million .

  46. Jasmin permalink
    February 27, 2015

    Thank you so much Gentle Author for capturing the story so beautifully. I have no doubt the spirit will definitely live on for generations.

  47. Gary Gillman permalink
    February 27, 2015

    A very interesting article from many perspectives, thanks for this.

    As a non-Briton, I started visiting London (fairly regularly) in the 1980′s. So I understand I think what many in the comments are ruing, the qualities London then had, in a word. However, things always change don’t they. At one time, the Victorian look of London was new too, in fact many regarded it as a monstrosity just as many now are ruing boxes of glass and metal. (In truth England’s version is rather from different from America’s at any rate, both in scale and look, for example, you see a lot of warm, blondish wood worked into the London boxes, which is unusual here. The use of metal is often different, too).

    In sum perhaps people merely are regretting a past time, of days which seemed more carefree when of course all were younger. The 70′s and 80′s had the IRA fears, the 60′s and 50′s were still a time of rebuilding and privation for many, and the 40′s and prewar to 1900 – well I needn’t go there with this group I’m sure.

    And so, I wish the Pollacks and the staff well, I am sure their enterprise will be fruitful in other ways, and if Marc can get a new Gun operational, more power to him. If you do, Marc, do make sure to stock the newly revived Truman’s draught beers, will you? History has a way of returning, often, but always in a new guise..

    Gary Gillman, Toronto.

  48. March 1, 2015

    I love the fact that London is forever a city in flux, but some change is just not welcome and the closure of The Gun is sad indeed. ‘Redevelopment’? Redevelopment my arse. Johnson and his cronies are chipping away at the heritage, history and unique charm that makes the London the greatest city in the world. It is a disgraceful state of affairs.

  49. March 2, 2015

    another one of Margaret thatcher’s legacy ,s

  50. Cat permalink
    March 11, 2015

    That’s the pub where I met my husband! I can’t believe it’s going…

  51. Colin and Margaret permalink
    March 16, 2015

    We return to our homeland three times a year from Texas and have done so since 1978 we always vist the GUN several times during our stay and what is sad was we were having a good old drink on the Thursday before they closed for good. We had heard rumors of it closing but felt confident that when we came back in July it would still be their and open. The GUN and all its friendly staff will greatly be missed thanks for all the good times.

  52. frank hadley permalink
    March 21, 2015

    why couldn’t they have let the soldier have one on the house, after all he had just returned from the war. why take the mans medals?

  53. Jill Morris permalink
    March 25, 2015

    Have many happy memories of times spent in The Gun on Friday lunchtimes (and evenings!) with friends and colleagues from Neville Russell Chartered Accountants (now Mazars). Plenty of friendly banter with Dave behind the bar – he was an avid Spurs fan and I follow the Arsenal! So sad to hear of his passing – condolences to Karen, Emma and Marc; and sad to hear that this famous old pub will be no more. Another part of the old East End being lost.

  54. Phil Jones( RBL Becontree) permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Amazing story, but I cant help feeling tremendously sad for the family of the soldier who had fallen on hard times and never returned.
    The medals would have had a name on them and a service number, easily traceable, through one of at least 5 or 6 military charities..

    such a SAD loss for the family of this Very Brave Serviceman.
    Lest We FORGET……

  55. richard permalink
    April 13, 2015

    So sad to see it go, ad a few good friday and saturday nights in there, although not a local it was my go to pub in spitalfields.

    ill raise a glass to the Gun and the late soldier.

    London is slowly selling off its history character and community.

  56. Brian Powell permalink
    May 6, 2015

    What a shame I helped with David and George to open the restaurant in 1980 being employed by the Pollacks for 18 years of which were happy memories I remember coming into work at 7 am being greeted with a whisky coffee the best of luck Karen and Marc in your new venture you will always have a place in my heart

  57. Aggie permalink
    May 7, 2015

    Something should be left where they are and one of the places is The Gun. The only place where staff were allowed to bring their children to work during the holiday terms and also the place that made me who I am now. I started as a training chef at the Gun and with the help and support of David and Karen I managed to work my way up and became the sous chef and also worked hand in hand with one of the greatest chef, Brian. Karen, Marc and Emma, l am so sorry to hear about the Gun, I wish l was there to share the day with you. All the same l wish you all the best of luck on your new venture. I know without doubt there will be another Gun. Barbara was devastated to hear the news, we just about to visit. Shame onto you London Destroyers. Best of luck.

    Aggie and Barbara

  58. redandblackmanthinks permalink
    September 16, 2015

    Tories. Know the cost of everything and the value of nothing!

  59. Keir McCumiskey permalink
    November 11, 2015

    I was out with several friends a few weeks back who had met me off the train after work. I told him I knew this great pub called The Gun by Spitalfields. We walked down Bishopsgate, took a right and walked towards where I thought the pub was…but we couldn’t see it. Taking abuse from my mates, I realised that some large scaffolding had replaced The Gun and it had closed down.

    Gutted was an understatement.

    Only went in this pub twice, but what a great experience. Excellent atmosphere, clean beer and welcoming staff. If it is to be replicated elsewhere, then excellent, I’ll be a visitor. I just fear for the ‘trendy’ bar that will no doubt open in its place alongside the new development…it will never ever be The Gun.

    (I hate ‘trendy’ bars with their ‘trendy’ music).

  60. maureen insole permalink
    March 5, 2016

    Went to spitalfields yesterday,we didnt know the Gun had gone.Another Borisdecision.,another skyscraper,Why does he try to erase the east end and its lovely buildings….

  61. Karl Winter permalink
    August 26, 2016

    Used the Gun regularly when I worked in the area from 2006-10. David was an excellent Landord and we also used to enjoy our traditional Xmas breakfast in there on Christmas Eve when David would kindly open the pub at 7am for us!

  62. David permalink
    September 14, 2016

    Our Masonic meetings were held in The Gun and we were very, very disappointed to have to leave.

  63. Mike permalink
    December 17, 2016

    WW2 Medals were not named hence the impossibility of getting them back to the soldier.

  64. David permalink
    December 21, 2016

    My Uncle Fred and Aunt Winn, Monksfield ran the Gun for many years up to the early seventies, I spent many great Sundays there. Sad to see it gone.

  65. Martin permalink
    May 16, 2017

    Such a shame – I used to be a regular here as part of the Truman’s security night shift in the 1980′s. We would finish at 6am and come in here and drink with the market traders – then trot off home and sleep it off through the day! Great days.

  66. Goose permalink
    August 30, 2017

    Was gutted to see this had gone when I visited the area. My mates were students , at London Polly. I recall having a beer at some odd hour in the morning. Great food from a place called Gunpowder near by. This a cool site.

  67. Martin permalink
    September 6, 2017

    Took a stroll round Spitalfields for the first time in years yesterday and was confused as I couldn’t see the Gun. Came back to work and googled it to find this website and that it had gone in 2015. Although not a regular I used to play 5 a side football in Spitalfields Market (every Weds lunchtime) around 15 years ago until they redeveloped that and turned it into restaurants and shops. After playing we would sometimes pop into the Gun for a swift half as they say before having to return to the City to work! I’m a South East London lad born in Tooley Street and that area too is unrecognisable now. Sad times.

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