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The Marquis Of Lansdowne Restored

February 1, 2020
by the gentle author

The restoration of the Marquis of Lansdowne nears completion

The Marquis of Lansdowne in the thirties

Five years ago, the readers of Spitalfields Life led a successful campaign to save the Marquis of Lansdowne, dating from 1838 in Geffrye St, from demolition.

Over the past year, it has been handsomely restored by the Geffrye Museum – now renamed the Museum of the Home – as the museum prepares to reopen this summer, after extensive renovation by architects Wright & Wright which enlarges the exhibition space by opening up formerly unused attics and basements.

It is my hope that five years from now I shall be able to publish a similar report about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry when it is restored to a fully working foundry again.

The Geffrye Museum was created a century ago as a museum of furniture, reflecting the furniture trade that once flourished in Haggerston. With this in mind, I interviewed George Barker who was born in the Marquis of Lansdowne in 1931 and whose family ran the pub for three generations, from before 1915 until after World War II, serving the joiners, wood turners, cabinet makers and french polishers.

George Barker in the yard at The Marquis of Lansdowne aged six in 1937

For George Barker, born in the upper room of the pub in 1931, it was his family home, spanning three generations of Barkers – his grandfather William who came from a village in East Anglia at the end of the nineteenth century, his mother Lilian who ran the pub alone through the war and opened up every day during the Blitz, and lastly himself, the one who got a grammar school education and a Masters degree in Maths and has lived for the last fifty years in a beautiful house in Chorleywood.

The Marquis of Lansdowne is the only old building left on Cremer St, and the story of the pub is that of the working people who lived in the surrounding streets, for whom it was the centre of their community and meeting place for their extended families. It was a quintessential East End pub and the history of this place cannot be told without reference to these people.

Haggerston has changed almost beyond recognition in recent decades and, all this time, the Marquis of Lansdowne has remained as the lone sentinel of a lost world. Yet when I met George Barker and he told me the story of his family and the life they led there, he brought that world alive.

“My earliest memory is of being a kid playing on the street, everybody played on the street in those days. A couple of times, I went into the Geffrye Museum and we collected caterpillars in the gardens. They used to have a playground with swings and a place to play football at the back of the museum.

I was born at The Marquis of Lansdowne in February 1931, but my family’s involvement with the pub goes back to the beginning of the century. My grandfather William George Barker told me that the Barker family came from a group of villages near Ipswich, moving to Hoxton at the end of the nineteenth century. He came to London in 1899 and worked as a barman for year in the East End before becoming a policeman for twenty years.

Frederick Daniel Barker, my grandfather’s brother, was licensee of The Marquis of Lansdowne until he died of TB in 1919, when my grandfather took it over from Frederick’s wife Mary Ann. Then, when my grandfather died in the thirties, my father George Stanley Barker took it over until he died in 1937 when my mother Lily ran it. She remarried in 1939 and, as Lilian Edith Trendall, she held the license until 1954 when her husband Frederick Trendall took over after her death. I think they all made a living but it wasn’t a terribly easy life.

We had a side bar and then another one on the corner we called the darts bar, as well as the front bar and the saloon bar. Even then, there were redundant doors which meant that at one time the pub was divided up into more bars. The saloon bar had upholstered bench seats and bar stools, but the other bars just had wooden benches with Victorian marble-topped tables. The curved bar itself was in the centre, spanning all the divisions with a tall central construction for display of spirits and optics, and the beer pumps were in the front bar. I remember, as you came in the side door from Geffrye St, the wall had a large decorative painted panel advertising Charrington’s Beer and there were mirrors at the rear. The pub windows were of etched and cut glass, and above the main door was an illuminated panel with the words ‘Toby Beer.’ It was a Charrington pub and a wagon came with dray horses to deliver once a week from the brewery in Mile End. Further down Cremer St was the Flying Scud, a Truman’s pub, and the Star & Pack, a Whitbread pub.

On the Geffrye St side of the building was a kitchen which was – in effect – where we all lived, and an office. Above the kitchen was my bedroom, with a window looking onto Geffrye St and the railway arches. On the first floor at the corner was the front room where we didn’t go very often, and the main bedroom – where I was born – was on Cremer St, divided from the front room by a construction of wooden panels, as if it once had been one big room. All the arches were coal depots in those days. It was brought by railway every morning at six thirty and all the coal men would be filling sacks, and bringing their horses and wagons to carry it away. But it never woke me up though, because I got used to it.

In those days, on one side of the pub was a terrace of houses and on the other there were three shops. I remember Mrs Lane who ran the sweet shop next door and Mrs Stanley who had a cats’ meat shop where they sold horsemeat. In the thirties, there was a couple of fellows making springs for prams in the building across the road which became a garage in the nineteen forties. I recall there was a baker’s on the other side of the street too and H.Lee, a big furniture manufacturer, on the corner of the Kingsland Rd.

My mother, Lily, ran The Marquis of Lansdowne singled-handed through World War II. It was heavily bombed in the surrounding streets and, when there were raids, she took shelter in the spirit cellar which had been reinforced with stanchions. She had grown up in the area, and most people knew her and she knew them, and they had been to school together. She was quite an outgoing woman who enjoyed a bit of banter and a lot of chat with the customers. She was the daughter of James Wilson who ran the scrap iron yard opposite across Cremer St under a couple of arches. He started the business there and he had a place in Tottenham, so he left his three sons to run it.

There was a friendly community on our doorstep, she ran the pub and her three brothers ran the scrap iron business across the road, and there was another uncle called Harmsworth who had another two arches where he ran a furniture business – one of my aunts married him. All my uncles and aunts lived within about one hundred yards of each other. They were the Barkers, the Wilsons and the Cheeks. A Barker married a Wilson and then a Wilson married a Cheek and then a Cheek married a Barker. My mother had another three children with my stepfather in the forties, and we all lived together in the Marquis of Lansdowne. There was me and my sister Eileen, plus the twins Maureen and Christine, and their younger brother Freddie.

At the age of eight, I was evacuated during the Blitz, but when I came back it was still quite dangerous so I went to stay with an aunt in Kensal Green. I never lost contact because I cycled over at weekends and moved back at the end of the war when I was thirteen.

In the fifties, the business started to drift away. People didn’t have much money and television came along, so it could be quiet on week nights but it was always busy at weekends, and for celebrations like VE Day and the Coronation we got a special licence and opened from midday until midnight. Even if people had moved away, they came back for Saturday evenings to meet with their relatives and friends. I would be serving behind the bar – probably a little younger than I should have been – and by the age of eighteen I was regularly working there. I always looked after the place when they went in holiday.

My mother died in 1954 and my stepfather took over the pub. I studied for a Masters Degree in Maths at Woolwich Polytechnic and I was away from 1954-56 doing National Service. In 1957, I left The Marquis of Lansdowne forever – I was working for Hawker Aircraft in Langley by then. I only went back occasionally after that, not too often. As people moved out, it started dwindling away and I think my stepfather sold it to a family called Freeland who had been coalmen under the arches and then he moved away too.

If it had been up to me, I probably would have become a publican but I wasn’t going to wait for everyone else to die off first and, because of the war, I went to grammar school and then to university. I haven’t been back to Haggerston since the nineteen sixties.”

George Barker

At The Marquis of Lansdowne, 1957. George Barker on right, aged twenty-five, with sister Eileen, centre back. The other three are his half-brothers and sisters from his mother Lilians second marriage to Frederick Trendall. The twin girls are Maureen on the left and Christine on right, with their brother Freddie between them.

George Stanley Barker & Lilian Edith Wilson, married at St Leonards, Shoreditch on 7th September 1929. Lilian ran the pub after the death of her husband in 1937 until she died in 1954.

Ex-policeman William George Barker who ran The Marquis of Lansdowne from 1919 – photographed in 191o, with his wife Annie Susannah Oakenfold and son George Stanley Barker, who took over from his father and ran the pub until 1937.

20th December 1911, William George Barker is reprimanded for bring caught in pubs in Shoreditch and Spitalfields while on duty as a policeman – eight years later he became landlord of The Marquis of Lansdowne and spent the rest of his life in a pub. – “Inattention to duty and wasting his time by being off his Division and being in the White Hart Public House, High St, Shoreditch, out of the City from 3:30 to 4:50pm (1 hour & 2o minutes) while on duty on 13th instant. Also, being in the King’s Stores Public House, Widegate St, from 5:05 to 5:40pm (35 minutes) while on duty, same date.”

February 22nd 1919, William George Barker applies to leave the police to take over the running of The Marquis of Lansdowne from his sister-in-law after the death of his brother Frederick Daniel Barker. “I respectfully beg to apply to the Commissioner for permission to resign my appointment as Constable in the City of London Police Force, one month from the above date. My reason for doing so is that my sister-in-law Mrs Mary Ann Barker Licensee of The Marquis of Lansdowne Public House, No 32 Cremer St, Kingsland Rd, is unable to carry on the business in consequence of a nervous breakdown and she wishes me to hold the license and conduct the business on my own responsibility.”

May 9th 1919, Charrington’s, Anchor Brewery, Mile End, seeks a reference for William George Barker from the Commissioner of Police at Snow Hill. Presumably, the incidents of Christmas 1911 were discreetly forgotten.

The concrete box was Sir David Chipperfield’s proposed replacement for The Marquis of Lansdowne

Our visualisation of the Marquis of Lansdowne as it might look restored

Tim Whittaker of Spitalfields Trust standing outside the Marquis of Lansdowne as it was in 2015

I am giving a lecture for the Friends of the Geffrye Museum about THE BETHNAL GREEN MULBERRY on 15th February. Click here for tickets

You may also like to read about

The Pub That Was Saved by Irony

The Haggerston Nobody Knows

Maurice Franklin, Wood Turner

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    February 1, 2020

    Looking good! Fantastic that it has been saved – especially when you see what was proposed to go in it’s place.

    I think we should organise a party there when it re-opens…

  2. Robert permalink
    February 1, 2020

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been seeing lots of posts about the Geffrye museum and it’s imminent reopening date. I remembered the Marquis pub and wondered how it was faring. Pleased to see that it’s back to its best state now. Looking forward to checking it out later this year.

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    February 1, 2020

    They will be serving SOME beer, one hopes?
    [ The restored pubs in the various regional hisory/living musuems do, after all …. ]

  4. Jeanette Hollick permalink
    February 1, 2020

    Lovely story – Great result! Thanks for posting.

  5. G Owen permalink
    February 1, 2020

    A part of history revived showing how there was a strong sense of community in London public houses which has not been replaced. Beautiful black and white photograph of George Stanley Barker & Lilian Edith Wilson‘s marriage on 7th September 1929 at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch.

  6. February 1, 2020

    Better than ever! Long life to the Marquis.

  7. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    February 1, 2020

    Looks absolutely beautiful and very pleasing to the eye
    Well done, what a lovely part of your legacy x

  8. February 1, 2020

    That 30s lettering on the parapet and lozenge is beautiful.

    I’m glad the building has been saved, but you would think that a museum would understand how the under-window panels should have been constructed.

  9. February 1, 2020

    Good news should always travel quickly. Thanks for spreading optimism, every day.
    The wedding photo from 1929 is stunning — as a History of Costume devotee, I enjoyed every
    detail.

    Onward and upward!

  10. Paul Williams permalink
    February 1, 2020

    Thank you so much for this. So pleased that the pub has been saved from the concrete box. Looking forward to visiting it once open. I take pleasure daily from your blogs. Thanks again. Paul

  11. Julia Meadows permalink
    February 1, 2020

    Sorry to be negative, but it looks like a facade to me – has the building really been preserved in its entirety? I agree with Colin Cohen – the panelling lacks authenticity, and where has that beautiful curve above the corner door gone?

  12. Saba permalink
    February 1, 2020

    Sorry also to be somewhat negative. The current restoration lacks the integrity of the original because the columns are missing, the curve over the doorway has been awkwardly flattened, and the windows and panels underneath look like factory-made substitutions. But, that said, the current restoration is a vast improvement over a concrete box. The museum would probably like a more authentic restoration and may well plan to upgrade the current structure when funds are available. I think that this public forum is a good thing! We can offer our hearty support for the museum while making suggestions for the future.

  13. Tanya reynolds permalink
    February 1, 2020

    This is indeed heartwarming news Gentle Author.
    Will the building still be used as a public house and will it be open to the public? If so, is there an opening date?
    Thank you

  14. February 3, 2020

    Wonderful to see a small piece of British history still standing. Well done to all who fought to save it.

  15. February 3, 2020

    It’s good to see the building saved, however, the ‘restoration’ is extremely poor. In my view it could be called ‘developers’ style!
    Best
    PCU

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