Richard 1

The Tolly had always been a basic working-class boozer.. the pub has many evocative photos of old charabanc trips hanging on the walls. However, with the CAMRA revolution and the transformation of West Greenwich’s Victorian terraces into highly desirable bijou residences, it rapidly became transformed into a heaving, standing-room only mass of students, academics, media-types and others generally classified as Guardian readers. Many came for the real-ale; but others, such as myself, preferred the
large bottles of Holsten lager that were sold; well before the general availability of strong continental lagers like Stella. Soon the only trace of the old working class was the old bloke in the cloth cap who collected the Christmas Club money every Monday and the pickled-eggs which remained the only food available. The trendiness probably reached its peak when we were treated to melodies from Jules Holland on the old piano in the back on the way to the outside toilet.


When I started the landlord was a genial old Cockney geezer called ’Arry who we all thought was married to a very large lady called Hilda who spent all her time perched on a stool by the bar. ‘Arry’s assistant was a bloke called John Ling who was distinguished by his dislike of the way the pub was going and his hatred of the new clientele. His particular dislike was anybody who tried to create a group of 5 by moving a chair from one group of 4 round a table to another. ‘Don’t move the chairs’; he would scream across the room.

When ‘Arry died in 1976 John took over the licence and we thought that he had married Hilda. But census records show that 52-54 was occupied by Henry C and Rose French from 1969 to 1976. Presumably Henry was ‘Arry; but I am sure I never saw Rose. And from 1964 to 1967 52-54 was occupied not only by the Roses but also by Fredrick and Joan Lambert. The only time it has been under multi-occupation. So I’m not really sure what ws going on there.

In the late-1970s, a drivers’ strike at the brewery affected supplies to The Tolly, and Tolly Cobbold indicated to John Ling that it was not worth keeping their remote outpost in SE10 open. However, Young’s Brewery stepped in and took over the lease. A friend assures me that this happened because he was so upset at the prospect of losing his favourite pub that he wrote a personal letter to Sir John Young pointing out that The Tolly would make a great asset in the Young’s estate and this had spurred Youngs into the takeover. Whether this is true or not, we will never know.

Traditionalists were delighted that a brewer like Youngs had taken over the Tolly. However, one of things that they did was to give the place a complete refit. Obviously,the first thing to go was the Tolly sign and its replacement with a large Richard I sign together with a much more distinct sign on the street column. The off-licence was converted into what is now the public bar and the back was extended to provide the luxury of indoor toilets. A nice beer garden was also built.

The Tolly has been a Young’s house for the past 30-odd years and it has always had more of a corporate feel than the pub under ‘Arry and John. Managers have come and gone without any really establishing a personality for themselves; and the bar staff tend to be the usual crowd of itinerant antipodeans and, more lately, east Europeans. Youngs corporate food and wine is available and the usual pub gimmicks ; quiz night (Sunday nights, can be entertaining), curry nights; burger nights; poker nights come and go.

A couple of years ago we had another renovation; ubiquitous innovations like distressed sofas were introduced; and, to the horror of traditionalists, they even put down a carpet in the lounge bar. The furniture in the public bar can make the place look like a giant’s living room.

At one time I thought The Tolly was the best pub in the world; now I’m not even sure that it’s the best pub in 52-56 Royal Hill..

So much for the trip down Memory Hill. The Richard I seems to be the only establishment on Royal Hill which kept the same identity since its foundation in 1830. Ironic, since for at least 40 years it has been generally known by a completely different name.

Thanks to the staff at Greenwich Heritage Centre for their assistance.

Guest Post by BK