Skip to content

Rose At The Golden Heart

October 22, 2020
by the gentle author


When Sandra Esqulant, celebrated landlady of The Golden Heart in Commercial St, saw this photo taken by Phil Maxwell of Rose sitting in her barroom twenty-five years ago, she told me the story of an unforgettable character who became one of her most loved regulars.

“I loved Rose. I don’t know what happened to her, she’s got to be dead now hasn’t she?

What happened was – you know how you fall in love with some people? – this woman appeared in the pub one day and I fell in love with her. I just liked her.

She asked for a rum & lemonade, and she never had to pay for a drink in my pub.

I used to have to warn everyone when Rose was coming in because she used to pick up everyone’s cigarettes and put them in her bag.

I used to dance with her.

You might think she was dumb, but she was the most astute person I ever met. She didn’t like my husband while I was there, but when I wasn’t there it was a different story!

My husband liked her a lot.

You know I lost my husband.

When she stopped coming, I went round to the Sally Army in Old Montague St, where she lived, but they told me they didn’t know what happened to her, so I went to the Police Station and they were going to search the morgue. I kept going back to the Sally Army and this Irish woman said to me, ‘Are you looking for Rose? She moved to Commercial Rd.’ So I went round to the Commercial Rd shelter and there was Rose. She was very sad because the Sally Army had put her out after forty years. So I used to send a cab to pick her up and take her back from my pub.

The Sally Army, they should have known how fond I was of her and told me where she had gone.

One Sunday, when I was on my own, she collected all the glasses and the ashtrays and the crisp packets and emptied them over the bar. I didn’t mind, Rose could do anything in my pub.

People like Rose would go into a pub and people wouldn’t serve them, but I had everyone in here – this was the dossers’ bar!

One day, Phil Maxwell asked Rose if he could put her in one of his films and she didn’t like that, but he set his camera on the table and took these pictures. And after that, he always had her picture in his exhibitions.

She must have known I was fond of her.

She did like me.

I know she liked me.

She was lovely.

She used to talk about her daughter, but I sometimes wonder if she ever had a daughter.

At Christmas, she always asked me for a Christmas box and, of course, I always gave her one.

They moved her out after forty years, what a thing to do to someone.

If Rose was here today, I’d let her smoke in my pub – I don’t care about the law.

Very special, she was.”


Photographs copyright © Phil Maxwell

Follow Phil Maxwell’s blog Playground of an East End Photographer

See more of Phil Maxwell’s work here

Phil Maxwell’s Brick Lane

The Cat Lady of Spitalfields

Phil Maxwell’s Kids on the Street

Phil Maxwell, Photographer

Phil Maxwell & Sandra Esqulant, Photographer & Muse

Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies

More of Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies

Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies in Colour

Phil Maxwell on the Tube

Phil Maxwell at the Spitalfields Market

Phil Maxwell on Wentworth St

12 Responses leave one →
  1. October 22, 2020

    What a beautiful story, and Sandra Esqulant es a big-hearted woman. no doubt about that.

  2. Katherine permalink
    October 22, 2020

    Such a great story! Sandra you are amazing wonder how many people like rose you befriended over the years? Can you tell us more like this? Every good wish x

  3. Whim Penny permalink
    October 22, 2020

    That’s a heartbreaker. All praise to you for looking out for. The Salvation Army could take a page from your book.

  4. Valerie permalink
    October 22, 2020


    This is a sock in the jaw account – dumbfoundingly profound. It speaks of a pubs & territorial era in London which seems like a far away dream. 40 yrs at the ‘Sally Army’? Would not happen today with the numbers of homeless today….would it? A slower pace of life years ago and maybe a post-war sensibility? What a remarkable pub landlady. And how tantalising to not know Rose’s life story. Reminds me of an older lady I used to draw at St Martin’s evening classes in the 1970’s for some reason: mysteriously evocative Madeleine who was said to also serve at soup kitchens. Lives lived in the crevices & interstices of life. Haunting.,

  5. paul loften permalink
    October 22, 2020

    What a shame that Rose is not here to tell her story. It would have been riveting for all of us. We have to be grateful for what the Gentle Author, Sandra Esqulant and Phil Maxwell have brought to us. Big cities everywhere have many people like Rose who live in and out of hostels and frequent their favorite haunts that give them perhaps their only source of pleasure and comfort in life. I once drove from Brittany to Brussels to visit my wife’s sister. Our children were tired and hungry so we stopped off in Paris and looked for a hotel. for some reason, we could not find one. perhaps they were all full and it was late at night. The only place open was a McDonalds and we sat there for hours. The only people there were the homeless. One woman near us sat there writing pages and pages non stop totally and utterly immersed in her writing. The pages lay there on the table. I would have loved to have just read just a little of what she had written.

  6. Elizabeth Smith permalink
    October 22, 2020

    I love this story, partly for itself and partly because there was a woman called Rose who lodged in our house in Stratford in the 1950’s. My parents didn’t know she was a drinker, she was intelligent and interested in my two older sisters and me. She taught my eldest sister the Pythagorus theory because she hadn’t been listening in class. Rose used to talk about a child who we thought was in a home somewhere but we never knew the details. Mum had to ask her to leave when she started leaving cigarettes burning on cushions etc and was a fire hazard . Also we lived in a rented house and shouldn’t have sublet.We never heard from her again Mum use to sigh and say ‘ Poor Rose I wonder what became of her ‘ .Perhaps, perhaps, this is our Rose.

  7. M D West permalink
    October 22, 2020

    Is that last shot tinted (colourized), or were they all shot in colour?

  8. Linda Granfield permalink
    October 22, 2020

    I am so hoping one of your readers can supply more information about Rose.
    She may have ‘vanished’ but thanks to you, GA, and Sandra E. she is still among us.

    Thanks for sharing her story.

  9. Sharon permalink
    October 22, 2020

    How sad that Rose was treated so but how fortunate to find such a truly great friend. Sandra has a heart of gold, I can feel the warmth of her kindness away up here in chilly Scotland. Phil Maxwell’s photos are just perfect. Thank you GA

  10. Maureen Saunders permalink
    October 23, 2020

    Love this story … Thankyou

  11. Pamela Traves permalink
    October 23, 2020

    Rose was a Special, Lovely Lady. I’m So Happy I know Dear Rose.?????????

  12. Ian Silverton permalink
    October 23, 2020

    Nice storey that, what a nice Publican very kind heart, pubs at that time where always full of Rose,Harry, Jo, and Irene, drinking pints or jugs of Guinness, Bitter, Rum, Ale, smoking 20 woodbines as they did so, they where all part of the pub furniture, always asking for a Gin and Tonic when the local bookmaker walked in, never any trouble, always happy and a ready smile, until they came no more, we always for some unknown reason put a Black painted board outside in case the hearse should pass bye. Another life another world the old East End then. Keep safe UK, but get out and abo ut

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS