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Last Orders At The Old Gun

December 8, 2018
by the gentle author

As a new pub named The Gun prepares to open next week in the Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange development, I look back to the last night of the former establishment.

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, even though 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.

Now it is too late for the soldier to return because The Gun was demolished three years ago as part of the redevelopment of the London Fruit & Wool Exchange. Yet 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.

My friend, the much-missed 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 that 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 to keep them safe just in case that errant soldier comes 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 © Estate of Colin O’Brien

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At The London Fruit & Wool Exchange

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Jamie S permalink
    December 8, 2018

    Still can’t get my head around the fact that planning permission was granted (by Boris) to tear the place down and put that corporate behemoth in it’s place. While the building work and design are technically well done, the soul has been destroyed. Money is all that matters in London now…

  2. Linda Granfield permalink
    December 8, 2018

    GA–do you have the name/number of the soldier as found on the medals? Perhaps, for the opening of the new Gun, members of his family could be located and invited for an historic moment? (you have my email: if you send the name I’ll do my best, as in the past.)
    Cheers from Toronto.

  3. Chris Connor permalink
    December 8, 2018

    Aah The Gun. Many a lunchtime and evening spent there. Ale, food and welcome always hearty. Shame that the money and greed ruled in the end and another soulless, characterless building was erected in its place. Some call it progress.

  4. Paul Ridgway permalink
    December 8, 2018

    Interesting story about the medals.
    Top row, from the left: the France – Germany Star issued from D-Day to VE-Day
    next Italy Star issued 1943 – 1945

    Second row, from the left: War Medal and the Defence Medal.
    Normally all of these were unnamed but some were named for forces of South Africa, Australia and some, but not all, units of Canada.

  5. kevin permalink
    December 8, 2018

    We’re from California but have family in London around the east end and in 2006 my wife and I went into The Gun and were treated fantastically by the publican. We had great drinks and food while the owner chatted with my wife and me. I recall that he said he had a restored river boat and took disabled or poor kids out on the Thames for a boat ride. Thanks for all the great stories and photos you publish! Cheers!

  6. stuart goodman permalink
    December 9, 2018

    thanks for this and all the other wonderful tales on the site. perhaps they could call their next pub the kosher horses. sorry, that’s a ronnie scott joke.

  7. Richard Smith permalink
    December 9, 2018

    Another fascinating post GA particularly about the soldier leaving his medals in lieu of payment for his beer.

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