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So Long, Still & Star

December 18, 2020
by the gentle author

Still & Star, 1 Little Somerset St, Aldgate

There is very little left of old Aldgate these days but the Still & Star, just opposite the tube station yet hidden down Little Somerset St, was 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.

If it would interest you to take a look at this cosy characterful pub, which almost alone carries the history of the place, you had better do so soon because this week the City of London approved an application to demolish it to for a huge new office development.

Former 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 permanently 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

The Still & Star portrayed in ‘Harrow Alley’ by Gustave Dore, 1880

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 will replace the Still & Star

A topsy-turvy cast of the old pub in green concrete will replace it nearby

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40 Responses leave one →
  1. B Smith permalink
    December 18, 2020

    Call me skeptical, but I can’t imagine anyone waxing lyrical about that office block in 200 years’ time.

  2. December 18, 2020

    Sad that it appears that Planners won’t rest until every splinter of the old Eastend is long gone. The planned office block is hideous by the way.

  3. December 18, 2020

    Absolutely gutted. Just last week we put out a video trying to get people to make a last chance push to save it.

    What is the point of an Asset of Community Value now? It is worthless. This sets a dangerous precedent.

    Evil, evil regeneration. And when the time comes to tear down this new monstrosity, no one is going to be fighting for the reconstruction. It will be lost forever.

    Here’s our video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdOxePTvphM

  4. Jacqui Williams permalink
    December 18, 2020

    What a crying shame that developers can still feel it necessary, and right, to erase our social history like this. With the current situation wouldn’t it be a good thing to defer such decisions, as the move to working from home is likely to impact on the need for yet more office space!!

  5. December 18, 2020

    The year just keeps getting worse. Thanks City of London, you really know how to strip a city of every ounce of character and history. Disgusted.

  6. Helen permalink
    December 18, 2020

    We need to keep taking pictures of our old buildings of London. Too many developers muscling in, building office buildings – I thought everyone was working from home these days? How will they sell them? They will only lie empty for months on end. Architecture of days gone by was so pleasing to the eye, these monstrosities stand out for all the wrong reasons and do nothing to blend into the fabric of the existing landscape!

  7. December 18, 2020

    Why more office blocks in a time of covid? So many stand empty and with few plans to reopen but developers presumably can’t think straight. Farewell, old pub.

  8. Peter Holford permalink
    December 18, 2020

    Another sad piece of news that makes London less than it was.

    The pub was probably built by George Richard Pound who was a native of Ilminster in Somerset. He was active as a ‘spec’ builder in the East End up to his death in 1825. He was a bricklayer active from about 1788 when he was 22 and in 1809 he was admitted to the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers. He became very wealthy through building housing and pubs, many of which he retained ownership of. He was also inclined to name his developments ‘Somerset’. He lived and died at Somerset Place which has now been replaced by the southern end of Bevenden Street.

    His sons lost their inheritance and their social status with the collapse of the Royal Brunswick Theatre in Whitechapel in 1828.

    It’s always a joy to read your posts, GA, even if I seldom comment these days.

  9. Sharon permalink
    December 18, 2020

    Why on earth are these office developments continually being built? The world of work has been changed irrevocably if anything there is less need of these now. So many buildings that have so much cultural and historical significance being continually swept away. Although I love reading the GA’s wonderful blog and all the amazing people who contribute to it I am dismayed when I see every few weeks what seems to be a cultural and historical dismantling of such an amazing city which I had the privilege to visit although many years ago now. What will be left when I can hopefully make a return visit? Vistas of ugly sky high buildings, and why are they always so disproportionate in size to their surroundings ? Like pushing a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t fit into place. Another great loss to ‘progress’.

  10. Annie S permalink
    December 18, 2020

    Sorry to see the old pub is going but at least a nod to the past will be given, I quite like the new pub building with the trees behind, it breaks up the stark modern base of the new block and subway.

  11. Richard Burke permalink
    December 18, 2020

    In the 1970/80s when I worked in the Minories and very regularly frequented The Still and Star, daytimes and evenings. At that time it was run by Win Noonan.

    It was a very friendly pub with a clientele of business people who one got to know after a period of time. I suppose these days too much business has moved from the City and pubs like this do not have the trade.

    Sad to see it go.

  12. Leana Pooley permalink
    December 18, 2020

    Not a good way to start the day, reading this. The “before” pictures showing such an interesting piece of history which could be restored and celebrated; the “after” pictures are just a nightmare.
    Who could feel delighted to shop or live or work there?

  13. lyn permalink
    December 18, 2020

    i cannot believe that planners will be allowing this huge office block in this area. everywhere people are working from home and this will not stop even if Covid-19 goes away. the government has changed its housing policy to allow more offices to be converted to apartments so what is the point of putting this huge ugly redundant building up? and how crass to have a cast of the old pub in green concrete.

  14. Geraldine Anslow permalink
    December 18, 2020

    How very sad. I always thought there was something lovely about pubs down little alleys, cosy little secrets.

  15. December 18, 2020

    Very sad news indeed. My Uncle Will was landlord 1953-1959 and my Aunt Lil took over when he passed away. They are on Charrington’s list of landlords.
    Haven’t we got enough big ugly office blocks already?

  16. December 18, 2020

    I used to pass this almost daily when I worked in Alie Street in the late 1970’s and it was a busy working ‘boozer’. Coming back to work in the area 5 years ago and it always had people outside drinking in the summer.
    The planning dept who passed this should be hanging their heads in shame. Its almost laughable now that this has been allowed, as I think the City will be full of empty office space for years to come due to working from home becoming the norm. Other cities around the work are proud of their old buildings and heritage, doing their best to maintain them, but The City of London planners seem hell-bent on detroying ours.

  17. John Venes permalink
    December 18, 2020

    Dear G A

    I actually felt sick when I read this.
    How can such an old building be demolished?
    Is it not protected?
    But, I should not be surprised as the City of London corporation is worse than LBTH for allowing the destruction of so many old buildings.
    Every time I go to the City, it is full of building sites and flattened buildings.
    Is that what the people who run it want?

  18. December 18, 2020

    This is such a depressing story! The building that is replacing this little historical gem is so ugly – I can’t believe that it has been given planning permission.
    Thank you for alerting us to such a tragedy.

  19. December 18, 2020

    How very sad… How can such an ugly building be approved by anyone? What is the point behind such consistent destruction?

  20. John C. Miles permalink
    December 18, 2020

    And so another unique and rare piece of London’s history goes, to be replaced by a hideous monstrosity no-one will remember in 100 years’ time and which is redundant even before it’s built. Yet another damning indictment – as if one was needed – on the power of developers to destroy our cultural heritage. Truly depressing.

  21. December 18, 2020

    This is sad indeed. However looking for positives, the new design and location of the proposed replacement look surprisingly good! It’s wasn’t uncommon for pubs of the past to move location and set up new nearby. Hopefully this is just another step in its long history.

  22. Dave R permalink
    December 18, 2020

    A contemptible act of violence towards our City. All the more wretched for its inevitability. Dumb, mute but eloquent testament to the eternal shame of every single individual involved; as the populusque Londinii would have it, Defictus Est.

  23. December 18, 2020

    This is awful! Everywhere in the World People try to preserve the old Heritage, why not in this Case of the”Still & Star”? — The planned Architectural Design is dreadful and boring…

    Wouldn’t it be possible to involve the Prince of Wales to put his foot down?

    A Good Time to All and

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  24. Christopher Glen permalink
    December 18, 2020

    So sad to read about the almost certain destruction of this old pub. Cultural heritage is lamentably low on planners’ agendas it seems, and legislation seems to allow far too many loopholes for developers to wriggle and slide through…

  25. Duncan McAra permalink
    December 18, 2020

    So much for the City of London Corporation granting the Still & Star Asset of Community Value Status this month four years ago.

  26. paul loften permalink
    December 18, 2020

    My daughter, a City worker, has been working from home since March. there are no plans to return to her office, as yet. The business is doing ok and they are considering extending home working. It’s puzzling why they need more of these monstrosities

  27. December 18, 2020

    Your readers have already expressed my own views about this. I’ll just take this moment to say how valuable your blog has become to me. A voice of sanity with amazing compelling images that spark my own sense of history, tradition, and aesthetics.

    Keep at it, GA — and many thanks.
    Stay safe, all.

  28. Ann V permalink
    December 18, 2020

    This is destruction, plain and simple. The planners should be ashamed. When is this kind of appalling destruction of our heritage and social history going to stop? Will the planned ugly new building ever be fully utilised? Progress? I think not!!

  29. Peter Metaxas permalink
    December 18, 2020

    I doubt if the new office complex will last as long as the Still & Star, hopefully !
    Sad indeed to loose so much heritage and history. Here in Canada, not such an old country, we also tear down our history.

  30. Catherine Tanner permalink
    December 18, 2020

    The proposed office block is a hideous eyesore.
    Leave some of the East End pubs alone please!
    They’re unique. All my family are originally from E11.

  31. December 18, 2020

    A planned office block that nobody will occupy thanks to covid! Genius!

  32. Bill permalink
    December 18, 2020

    It looks like a great place, very pretty. A shame, inasmuch as big office blocks may well be redundant in our brave new world.

    Demolished for – what?

  33. Mark permalink
    December 18, 2020

    Interesting news.
    Deeply dippy decision.
    Office blocks are so 2019!
    Long live the public house.
    We all know the tories hate people enjoying themselves.

  34. December 18, 2020

    I took some pictures of this pub Xmas 2011 when it was painted for the festive season and in Jan 2012 when it returned to normal:
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/nYfNn12SyN6G7Dcd6

  35. Robert permalink
    December 19, 2020

    I was unprepared for the ugliness of that new building.

  36. Maura permalink
    December 19, 2020

    How sad to read this but thank you so much for your fascinating and humane writing, GA, which is constantly informing, entertaining and intriguing me.

  37. December 21, 2020

    ” 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.”

    Your quote is something I absolutely agree with – but the pubs of character – even those of the humblest type such as The Still’, were part of a people that lived and used them. The ones that survive are increasingly seized upon and made essentially a ‘theme’ pub – playing on the character of old to give credentials to the new enterprise and secure interest in those that would visit. The publicans of old are a pretty much lost breed – they gave each pub another layer of character.

  38. Vivienne permalink
    December 21, 2020

    If they need to put up a high rise office building, why isn’t it designed so that it fits with the surrounding buildings?

    What is proposed is so ugly; how can any self respecting architect propose this?

  39. olive green permalink
    December 23, 2020

    Almost as ugly as some of the buildings that they’re putting up in Manhattan.
    So sad for London.

  40. Pat Theodorou permalink
    April 26, 2021

    Sickening. Whilst researching my family history I discovered a forebear of mine, a Greenwich pensioner, died in this pub, of chronic bronchitis! It seemed odd but then I discovered his nephew lived around the corner, so he was probably staying at the pub. . I made a pilgrimage to this delightful little pub a few years ago and spoke to the landlord who was keeping an inventory of the past landlords and was delighted I furnished him with another piece of the puzzle. I mentioned the plight of the pub to Dan Cruikshank when I met him at a lunch last February and hoped he might look into it, as he lives in Spitalfields not far away. Im very sad about this. It all boils down to money, money, money.

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