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The Still & Star Is Saved!

December 17, 2016
by the gentle author

Thanks in no small part to the hundreds of letters of objection written by you, the readers of Spitalfields Life, the Still & Star was saved from demolition this week when the City of London Corporation agreed to grant Asset of Community Value Status to this much-loved historic pub in Aldgate

Still & Star, 1 Little Somerset St, Aldgate

There is very little left of old Aldgate these days – though the Still & Star, just opposite the tube station yet hidden down Little Somerset St, is a rare survivor. This tiny pub on the corner of two alleys is believed to be unique in the City of London as the sole example of what is sometimes described as a ‘slum pub’ – in other words, a licensed premises converted from a private house.

Current landlord Michael Cox explained to me that the block once contained eight butcher’s shops which were all bought up by one owner, who opened the pub in 1820. Before it was renamed Little Somerset St, the passageway leading to the pub was ‘Harrow Alley’ but colloquially known as ‘Blood Alley.’ At that time, the City of London charged a tariff for driving cattle across the square mile and, consequently, a thriving butchery trade grew up in Aldgate and Whitechapel, slaughtering cattle before the carcasses were transported over to Smithfield.

There is no other ‘Still & Star’ anywhere else – the name is unique to this establishment – and Michael Cox told me the pub originally had its own still, which was housed in the hayloft above, while ‘star’ refers to the Star of David, witnessing the Jewish population of Aldgate in the nineteenth century.

All around us, pubs are being shut down and demolished yet, as regular readers will know, I have a particular affection for these undervalued institutions which I consider an integral part of our culture and history – necessary oases of civility in the chaos of the urban environment.

Still & Star, 1951 (Courtesy Heritage Assets/The National Brewery Centre)

Still & Star, 1968 (Courtesy Heritage Assets/The National Brewery Centre)

Still & Star today

Gustave Dore’s drawing of the Still & Star from ‘London: A Pilgrimage’

Still & Star by Gustave Dore, 1880, and as it is today – montage by Adam Tuck

“Let us pass down Harrow Alley, leading to the City Clothes Exchange. Harrow Alley is Petticoat Lane over again – smaller, and, if possible, dirtier than her neighbour. Bestriding the path, like a greasy Colossus, leaning against the wall, or squatting in the mud, are men and women by the score. Beside, behind, and before them, are spread out their miscellaneous wares, to which they supplicate your notice or imperatively demand your attention.

The various public-houses in Petticoat Lane, Harrow Alley, and elsewhere, are generally crammed to excess. Through the open doorways we look into the back rooms, where some dozen men are always smoking, their faces lost in the clouds of smoke which emanate from their lips. These men are known to the initiated as Petticoat Lane fencers, or receivers of stolen goods. Patiently they sit in these filthy rooms, waiting news from their scouts, who they throw out as antennae to ‘feel the way,’ or for the appearance of the thief’s confederate, who ‘gives the office,’ and tells where the booty may be found.”

from The Wild Tribes of London by Watts Philips, 1855

Butcher’s shop at the corner of Harrow Alley (known as Blood Alley) leading through to the Still & Star

Map of 1890 shows the Still & Star with nearby butcher’s shops and slaughterhouses

Charringtons’ record of the landlords (Courtesy Heritage Assets/The National Brewery Centre)

The office block that was proposed to replace The Still & Star

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29 Responses leave one →
  1. December 17, 2016

    I’ll lift my glass to that good news! Valerie

  2. December 17, 2016

    Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah. Some good news from people in power who represent us. That makes a very welcome change,
    Thanks GA, good work. Great work even.

  3. December 17, 2016

    Wonderful news . I tried to get to this little pub last time I was in London. It is the last surviving building which would have been familiar to my grandfather in law who was born in Harrow Alley in 1872 .

  4. Shawdian permalink
    December 17, 2016

    This is wonderful news!
    It was heartfelt that I wrote my objection to the bull dozing this fine historic building which holds so much history for London – London is its past as well as its future.

  5. Michael Ayres permalink
    December 17, 2016

    Fantastic news, a victory for real people over corparate greed.

  6. Jon Cooke permalink
    December 17, 2016

    Fantastic news a very happy Christmas to all involved

  7. December 17, 2016

    Well done. All the area needs isanother stupidly large office block (like a hole in the head). Never strolled around Aldgate much, I will make a plan to do so.

  8. December 17, 2016

    Great news, photographs, montage & story.

  9. elizabeth waight permalink
    December 17, 2016

    That’s such great news!

  10. Ros permalink
    December 17, 2016

    Excellent news – I’m very pleased. Thank you for spurring us on.

  11. Pat Ashby permalink
    December 17, 2016

    Great news.

  12. Leana Pooley permalink
    December 17, 2016

    This is such good news – but it is shocking that this wonderful old building with its curious history should have been threatened in the first place (to be replaced with a typical low-grade and characterless office/retail building). The photographs of the lost pubs you have been listing alphabetically have shown that they were invariably proud, sturdy and well-decorated. Normally they were sited on a prominent corner of a neighbourhood and they imparted a flavour of good cheer and friendliness to that area. Their removal leaves those encircling streets without its heart and soul. For the Still and Star to be declared an Asset of Community Value recognises not only that its history should be preserved but that its surrounding area needs it as a meeting place for friends and neighbours. The threat to pubs is that once stripped of their A3 status they are cheap pickings to developers.

  13. Joanna Godfree permalink
    December 17, 2016

    A brilliant result, well done! And what a great montage by Adam Tuck.

  14. Carole permalink
    December 17, 2016

    Thank goodness common sense has prevailed. Love the photos & montage and many thanks to all who objected.

  15. December 17, 2016

    Cheering news at the end of a pretty bleak year. Well done GA, I doubt that it would have been saved without your help. Thanks!

  16. Helen Breen permalink
    December 17, 2016

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, well done!

    “… I consider [pubs] an integral part of our culture and history – necessary oases of civility in the chaos of the urban environment.” Well said.


  17. Anthony Wayman permalink
    December 17, 2016

    Excellent news. I take my hat off to all those who work towards saving worthwhile features from greedy developers only interested in their bank balances.

  18. Peter Holford permalink
    December 17, 2016

    That’s good news. I love the montage by Adam Tuck. I wonder why anybody thought we needed another building from the Shanghai school of architecture … ah, yes of course – money and professional vanity.

  19. John Hill permalink
    December 17, 2016

    Fantastic news for London. History like this is the reason people from all over the world visit London. Great set of photographs, a brilliant montage & story.

  20. Bill permalink
    December 17, 2016

    Thanks once again in helping to save another piece of the London we all dearly love

  21. Malcolm permalink
    December 18, 2016

    This is like an early Christmas present, wonderful news indeed. This part of our London has been torn apart and destroyed by developers and local authorities for too long, may this be the place that turns that tide of financial gain over community, history and culture. The Still and Star holds many memories, I have imbibed a nip or two here over the many years of working in the City. I imagine the Scrooges, Heeps, Chuzzlewits and Smallweeds are gnashing their rotten, villainous teeth having been thwarted by the heroes of the tale and will return with a vengeance in their never-ending plans to cover London in carbuncles and pestilence.
    Hats off to GA and all who took time to register their objections and disapproval to the destruction of the Still and Star.

  22. rosemaryHoffman permalink
    December 18, 2016

    little Somerset Street- my ancestors lived there in the 1840/50s as I found them on the census !

  23. December 18, 2016

    This is very good news indeed. Another office block is just what the city does not need. Had it been affordable housing that took notice of the pub, that might have been another story. London needs inhabiting, not asset stripping.

  24. December 19, 2016

    Great news! Well done for bringing this to light, made my day!

  25. Esther permalink
    December 19, 2016

    Woh how wonderful it was saved; I remember so much special old buildings(like the horse-harness shop in my former hometown) that got demolished without much protest at all. Especialy when you see what monstrosities were built in its place; when I first saw the new GAK-building (=unemploymentorganisation in the Netherlands) I thought it was the new prison; so ugly. They demolished the old school there just before it was put on the monumentlist.

  26. Fraser permalink
    December 20, 2016

    A fascinating read. Glad it ended on a positive note. Hate to lose another historic pub.

  27. Delia Folkard permalink
    December 20, 2016

    At last some good news at the end of this miserable year! We went to the Still and Star for the first time on the day that the Victorian Society were campainging and London Live television were also covering the story. This tiny pub is very much a local and a darts match was quietly being played whilst this was all going on. Thank you for all your efforts GA.


  28. December 20, 2016

    Congratulations to all involved.

  29. martin permalink
    December 22, 2016

    Wow…well done

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