The Still & Star Is Saved!
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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