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A colleague recently suggested that I do a post on Cutty Sark Gardens. He had very strong views about the recent development – all quite negative. We then engaged in a long discussion about where exactly the gardens are. Admittedly we had drank a fair bit of wine by this point. I was having real difficulty trying to think where the gardens are. Having checked the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s website I now know that the gardens are within the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage site. They are the setting for the Cutty Sark Ship and are next to the Old Royal Naval College and the Discover Greenwich Visitor centre. I still think calling this area a garden takes a lot of poetic licence.
The plans for the “make-over’ of the gardens were approved back in 2010 and were completed last year in time for the Olympics. There are five beds of different shapes and sizes. The planting scheme is very curious. Within each bed the different plants are sown in rows. Reminiscent of a domestic vegetable plot rather than a much loved historic riverside. The choice of plants is equally curious with some grass and perennial plants but little to reflect the Thames marshland. Just to make things worse there are areas that are just covered with weeds. Now, I realise that there is an ongoing debate in the horticultural world about what constitutes a weed. However, I am in no doubt that Joe Public will say that these are weeds.
The challenge for development within a World Heritage site is to find the right balance between preserving the past and presenting the future. The design of the garden does little to achieve this. If you face northwards you are confronted with a relatively large space of grey stone with little to capture interest and draw you further into the garden. The edges of the beds do provide a welcome rest and place to sit for the numerous visitors to the site.
I started going to The Tolly around 1972. The CAMRA real ale revolution started by Richard Boston in The Guardian had just started and The Tolly, a basic, back-street boozer, seemed ideal. No 52 Royal Hill, the bit with the curved window, was a simple, single room bar. No 54, what is now the public bar, was an off-licence. The off-licence had hardly any stock and very few customers; although it was possible to buy bottles of Toll Light Ale which came in a very attractive Perrier-style bottle with a label featuring an art-noveau statue of a naked Bachante. Arching over the ground floor windows of the two buildings was a large sign saying ‘Tolly House’. So, like everybody else, I assumed that the pub was called The Tolly or The Tolly House. Only on close inspection could you see that ‘Richard I’ was written in the corners of the sign. The single, wood-floored bar had some simple wooden tables and chairs; the most prized being the long table and forms in the bay window. The toilet was outside at the back; and could only be reached by walking through the backyard. There was no garden.
They have probably been selling beer at 52 Royal Hill almost since the street was laid out around 1830. Contrary to popular belief, and the insistence of the residents, the street has no royal connections other than that is was developed by a Victorian builder called Robert Royal. It was previously known as the more prosaic Gang Lane. After Royal Hill had been built the current stretch of Point Hill up to Maidenstone Hill was known as Royal Hill Row. The bit of Royal Hill which now runs between Blissett Street and Greenwich South Street was still known as Green Lane.
The ravages on the working classes of London caused by gin drinking are well-known. To combat this, The Duke Of Wellington’s Tory government introduced the 1830 Beer Act designed to encourage beer drinking as an alternative; beer being much safer than water due to the heat of the brewing process destroying bacteria. The tax on beer was abolished; and anybody could apply for a licence, costing 2 guineas, which allowed them to brew and sell beer in their own houses. (Don’t ever say that a Tory government ever did anything worthwhile!) Not surprisingly this proved a very popular measure and Beer Houses, also known as Small Beer Shops or Tom& Jerry Shops sprung up everywhere. Many of these proved to be extremely dubious establishments and The 1869 Act put a brake on the opening of new shops; but those already in existence were allowed to continue.
The 1860 Greenwich Licensing Guide makes no mention of premises at 52, 54 (or 56, the current Greenwich Union) Royal Hill; the only establishments there are The Prince Albert (now The Prince Of Greenwich), The Barley Mow (now The Hill), The Globe, and The Duke Of Kent (fate unknown). But this lists only Inns, Ale Houses and Victualling Houses. In the 1896 Guide (Unfortunately, the Heritage Centre only has the1860, 89, 91 & 96 editions of these fascinating books) a new section for Licensed Beer Houses, Wine Shops and Grocers has been added and we now find The Richard I at number 52 and The Fox and Hounds at 56. Both establishments are listed as providing Beer, Wine and Billiards. I don’t know if this is ‘proper’ 3-ball billiards or Kentish bar-billiards. If is full billiards then I can only assume that the table was upstairs as there is certainly no room in the current bar.
Given that few Beer Houses were created after 1869, we can assume that The Richard I and The Fox and Hounds were in existence well before 1869. The 1885 census lists Mrs E Dorrington a Beer Retailer at number 52; Thos Tippen, a florist, at 54 and George Hulby at 56 which is actually named as The Fox and Hounds.
The situation continued for the first couple of decades of the1900s. 52 & 56 continued as Beer Houses; but 54 changed to a confectioner. In 1910 54 also opened a Telephone Call Office on the premises to enable to local residents to make and receive calls on the exciting new telephone system. The owner of 52 since 1910 was a George Honeybone and in 1923 he managed to buy 54 and to merge the two building to create his beer empire at The Richard I.
At some stage the business was taken over and the pub supplied by The Tollmache Brewery Company which later merged with the Cobbold Company to form the Tolly Cobbold brewery based in Ipswich. Hence the sign; which is where we first came in.
To be continued……
Guest Post by BK