One Last Drink At The Gun
(Celebrating the sixth anniversary of Spitalfields Life with a week of favourite posts from the last twelve months, before recommencing with new stories on 31st August)
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 were 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 in February and, if he were to come back, he would find The Gun shrouded in scaffolding, prior to demolition as part of the redevelopment of the 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 this year.
Back in February, Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I joined the regulars for a lively yet poignant celebration on the last 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 the last 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 took 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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