London Pubs #1 The Yorkshire Stingo

Sadly The Yorkshire Stingo is a late pub. That does not mean it is tardy and slow to arrive at appointments, rather it is, like Monty Python’s parrot, somewhat deceased. No more. Gone. Which is a shame as it appears to have been a lovely example of the London boozer as can be seen from this illustration by Miriam MacGregor for Alan Reeve-Jones 1960’s guide to London Pubs.

It’s strange name comes from it’s location (in open countryside when it opened in mid 18th century) on the route out of London and up towards Yorkshire in the North of England. A stingo is old fashioned slang for strong beer which was brewed in the back room of the pub. The pub was a well known landmark on the outskirts of the city and would have acted like the modern day Travelodges that surround the modern Metropolis and tempt today’s travellers to a last provincial respite before hitting The Smoke.

In the 1780’s it took on a strange role as a type of dole office. Asian and African seamen who had been employed by the East India Company to serve on ships bringing goods from India, were often left stranded in London without any means of support. By 1785, there were so many left destitute, begging and dying on the streets of London, that some philanthropists organised ‘Subscribers for the relief of the distressed Blacks’ to help them. The pub was used to distribute six pennies a day “subscription” to the needy each Saturday.

By the 19th century London had built up around the pub and it found itself in Marylebone Road at Number 183 and became famous, after a fashion, for being the starting point of the very first London omnibus route in 1829.

The copy of Alan Reece-Jones book on London Pubs that I have was printed in 1963 and it describes the pub as “small. compact, homely, hot-snack producing, and most agreeable”. Within a year it was gone, gobbled up and consumed by the sprawling city as part of the development of the County Court and a swimming baths.

You can still get a glass of “Yorkshire Stingo” in London but its not brewed here but is made by Sam Smiths and comes from up North. The Chandos in Trafalgar Square serves it. Only problem is that they make it as a limited edition and its only released on August 1st to celebrate “Yorkshire Day”

Miriam MacGregor who drew the illustration of the pub was a young at Batsford’s who published the London Pubs book. She moved to The Whittingford Press in 1977 where she still works today. I found this print for sale on if you fancy it. I do.

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The world of the Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall, London at sunset Copyright 2010 ©

I really like these photos by eyebender (aka Jeffrey Bernard used to bang on that London was a collection of villages; but these photos make parts London look like small planets in orbit round the Thames, cut off from the rest of the world.

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The Gurning Gherkin

I wonder how many photographs of London have been taken since Camille Silvy* was exploring photography and the city in the 1860’s? Since those early images were created, photography has spread like a super efficient virus and every generation is captured exponentially more times than the one that came before. The facebook generation appear unable to break wind without recording the event. There must have been billions of pictures of London since Camille’s day and most of them were probably taken since the digital camera explosion of the late 1990’s.

As such, there are many wonderful images of London out there but its increasingly rare to be suprised by a new perspective on the city. I like this picture by Alex Holland because it does take me by surprise as it compares and contrasts an old and a new London icon

It not only eloquently captures one of those moments of juxtaposition that London throws at you on a regular basis but does so with a sly sense of humour. Whilst The Tower of London remains steadfast and in surprisingly good nick, the Gherkin seems to be gurning in the background like a drunk guest spoiling a wedding photo. I like it a lot.

The picture was taken by Alex Holland who like most London artists comes from somewhere else, in Alex’s place Yorkshire. He favours photographing coasts and capital cities and by the look of his website his love of capitals extends to letters as every word on the site is capitalised. You can see more of his work and buy Alex Holland artwork here

* There is an exhibition of Camille Silvy’s photographs at the National Portrait Gallery until October 24th 2010. I strongly recommend it for anybody with even a passing interest in the past, photography or people. Its fascinating to see both the photographer and the subjects coming to grips with the new medium 150 years ago.

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The Borribles – pointy eared class warfare in South London

 A couple of months ago Londonist website ran a poll to choose the best London novel of all time.  I’d heard of most of the top ten and had even read a few of them, but I was taken by surprise by the winner. The Borribles? Never heard of it/them. The author, Michael de Larrabeiti, was also unknown to me. It turned out that a bunch of Borribalista’s had rigged the vote and coerced the book to the top of the Londonist chart. I made a mental note to investigate further. A first quick look on the web and I could see they were books aimed at early to mid teenagers, written in the 1970’s and reasonably well reviewed. It turned out that they were partly set in my South London neighbourhood. I asked at my local bookshop but the shop assistant had not heard of the books and couldn’t find them in their ordering system. Similarly my local library’s children’s section drew a blank. The very nice local librarian had neither heard of the books nor could find them anywhere in the library records. I tracked the book down on the internet (of course) and ordered myself a copy. And…..well, I simply can’t work out why this series of books is not huge.

The Borribles are strange feral youths that exist in and are loyal to the old working class neighbourhoods of central(ish) London including Battersea, Wandsworth, Hoxton and Hackney in which they live. Borribles aren’t born but are made. They start out as normal children but turn into Borribles after a “bad start” in life leads to them becoming “unmanageable” in normal society. So they exist in the margins of life, squatting in the derelict buildings that were still plentiful in the 1970’s, stealing from street markets to feed themsleves and living in tribal and fiercely territorial gangs. Over time the kids sprout pointed ears – the key charcteristic of a Borrible – and whilst their ears are pointed they never grow up. If that sounds a bit twee and Peter Pan-like, their foul language and tendency to take on and kill their enemies, including the police, with steel catapults marks them down as more like characters out of a Richard Allen book such as Skinhead or Suedehead. Certainly the Borribles occupy the same sort of harsh unsentimental London that those skinheads did. If the police get hold of them they clip the Borribles’ ears ( a clip round the earhole!) and that turns them back into children who proceed to age and fade into adulthood.

De Larrabeiti wrote three Borribles adventures which achieved some critical success in the UK, US and in Germany (see the sleeve above). The first of the books was published in 1976 and describes a London that feels very different to how it is now. People have less. Anger is in the air. Punk rock is not a million miles away. Sinister rag and bone men still ride round on horses and carts. Battersea is a rough and ready neighbourhood. The first book opens with the Borribles under attack from strange creatures called the Rumbles of Rumbledon who are plummy voiced representations of the dreadful middle class intent on gentrifying the Borribles beloved Battersea and then pushing further into working class London. The Borribles respond by sending an elite task force to the home of the Rumbles to cause critical and brutal damage to their adversaries. The first book is the story of that adventure.

You might have guessed that the Rumbles are a thinly veiled reference to the Wombles of Wimbledon Common. The Rumbles can’t pronounce their “r’s” properly; they come out as “w’s”, hence Rumble sounds like Wumble; Rumbledon becomes Wumbledon. Whereas Borribles are rough and ready, Rumbles are posh and arrogant and talk using old fashioned phrases like “old bean” and “spiffing”. Clearly De Larrabeiti took extreme offense at the Wombles – and the middle classes that they represent – because the violence that he has  The Borribles inflict upon the poor Rumbles is truly blood-curdling.

I loved the books because their stories take place on the streets where I now live and I can recognise some of the pubs and churches. Even a shop or two remain from those days. The overall nature of the area however has changed beyond compare. Contrary to what happens in the books however, in truth it is the Rumbles (& not the Borribles) who won because most of the formerly working-class “cockney” areas that are described are now full of private prep schools, 4×4’s driven by yummy mummies and Starbucks coffe shops. What is interesting is how these books strip back that veneer of gentrification to show how the areas used to be and suggest something of their essential nature.

I was genuinely astonished out how bloody and exciting the tales were. The set piece battles are gory and the morality of the characters is harsh and pays no lip service to political correctness. These stories feel as though they are taking place in a real and uncompromising world despite the conceits of the Rumbles, who are like huge rats that walk on hind legs, and the Borribles’ ears. In this mix of fantasy and reality they share something with the books of Philip Pullman. I suspect Pullman has read and digested them. The Gobblers of His Dark Materials are related to the Borrible abductors Dewdrop and Ernie.


Although the first book in the trilogy received critical success it did not sell in huge quantities and from my limited research has been largely forgotten, at least in the locality in which it was created. It may well be because of the violent subject matter.  This first book was followed by two more: The Borribles Go for Broke (1981) and Across the Dark Metropolis (1986). Both books refused to tone down their contents and their continuing anti-police message jarred with the mainstream world of children’s books and were particularly out of step following the riots in Brixton and Tottenham. De Larrabeiti struggled to find a publisher for the third book after Collins, the original publisher withdrew from publication at the last moment. He never wrote about the Borribles again.

You can follow people purporting to be The Borribles on twitter. How very modern….

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Great photographs of London

I found these pictures on Flickr. They were taken by Katarina 2353 (real name Katarina Stefanović) and are stunning. I’ve tried to get in touch with her to send her a note of appreciation, but have had no luck. 

No doubt Katarina has used photshop, but she has used it well. You can see all of Katarina’s London photos here.

She also has created some wonderful countryside landscapes which have been highlighted in this Living Design blog.

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Urban Sketchers – London

Urban Sketchers is a very simple concept. People from all over the world who can draw (and you have to passed as “good enough” to become a part of Urban Sketchers) sketch their surroundings, wherever they are, and then post their pictures up onto the Urban Sketchers website, tagging their images by subject, location and by artist. The artist often writes a few words about the sketch. The drawings have a simplicty and organic informality that is usually charming and relaxed. If photography is “fast food”, Urban Sketchers is firmly part of the “slow food” movvement. Not surprisingly London is one of the most featured and tagged places. Here are a few of the London images.  

This picture of St Paul’s Cathedral from the Tate Modern is by Rene Fijten from Holland.  You can find all of Rene Fijten’s Urban sketches here and his blog with more pictures here.

This simple snapshot of an unidentified London bridge is by Barry Jackson, whose website is here.

And this final one of our namesake the London Eye is by Adebanji Alade. His Urban sketches are here. His website is here.

The site is very unpretentious. It focuses on the drawings themslves and makes a real change from photography. A great site which is worth a regular visit to catch up on the progress and whereabouts of the artists.

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Literary London: Carol Churchill’s “Serious Money”


I saw this play performed in its first run at the Royal Court Theatre in 1987. It was a reaction to the Big Bang in the City of London when the financial markets were signficantly restructured to remove many of the previous restrictive practices. It was one of the steps on the road to twenty five years of increasing affluence in the city and probably a contributing factor to the current problems in the banking sector. People flooded into London from all around the world looking to make their fortune and Serious Money tells the story of the fall out from the Big Bang and the new cultural collisons that were happening as a result.

One American character explains the attarction of London at the time.  

“Now as a place to live England’s swell.

Tokyo treats me like a slave, New York tries to kill me, Hong Kong

I have to turn a blind eye to the suffering I feel wrong.

London, I go to the theatre, I don’t get mugged, I have classy friends,

And I go to see them in the country at weekends”

I have reread the play recently and it remains a very intriguing and well written play. I’d love to see it staged again. Perhaps in 2012 to mark its 25th anniversary and a perfect part of London’s cultural Olympic offering. There can only be one song as soundtrack. The Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunities sums up the mood of the city at the time:

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In praise of the local London restaurant

Jeffrey Bernard was fond of describing London as a series of villages, each with its own charcter and its own set of characters. His favourite villages were Soho & Chelsea & Mayfair & Fitzrovia (although he would never have called it by such a pompous name). He saw these villages in terms of the pubs and the people and the different types of fun he would have in each neighbourhood. Each London village also has a secret local restaurant or two.

I don’t recall Jeffrey Bernard spending much time south of the river but that was his loss in my experience. I ventured into Tooting on Friday evening, tempted once again by the Indian restaurant Kastoori which is on Upper Tooting Road. It is a classic local gem of a restaurant and a highlight of the “village” of Tooting. The restaurant was opened in 1987 by a family of Indians who arrived in London via Uganda and their cooking is unusual in that it has something of Africa in it as well as the flavours of the sub-continent. It is also vegetarian.

The food is wonderful. I like meat as much as the next carnivore (sorry Morrissey), but I don’t miss meat when I eat at Kastoori. The flavours and textures that they produce are (the word is a cliche, I know, but in this instance, appropriate) sublime. I particularly like the Dahi Puri starter. Graham Snowdon described it perfectly as a “taste bomb” in the Guardian when he recounted his meeting with the restaurant’s chef: 

“Manoj Thanki is fixing me one of his celebrated dahi puris. In one hand he holds a round, crunchy case about the size of a golf ball, like a giant Rice Krispie with a hole in the top. With the fastidiousness of a scientist mixing volatile chemicals in a test tube, he spoons in precise measures of tamarind sauce, dates, jagaree, nuts and yogurt before carefully passing it to me. “What they would do [in India] is dip it in a pani, which means water,” he explains, “then put the whole thing in the mouth, and it just collapses with the taste.”

Not only does it taste delicious, it makes my head spin mildly. “Yes,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Some people have described it as the taste bomb.”

Here is what these delicious  taste bombs look like:

(Thanks to Simon Sharville’s Economy Custard for the image).

My mental image of Soho is packed with different memories and locations; pubs, clubs and eating holes fighting for significance. Tooting has rather fewer connections for me apart from Wolfie Smith. But in Kastoori it has a local restaurant that casts a beneficial glow across the whole of Tooting. I am happy to cross London to visit this place and I am not alone in doing so. On Friday night along with the locals, the restaurant had several visitors from North London and Surrey as well as a couple who had moved to France but always made sure that they visited Tooting at least once when they were back in England. It really is that good.

Its now Sunday afternoon. Two days after my meal at the restaurant. I have a night in planned, with a good movie. I also have a craving. Perhaps one more meal from Kastoori is needed. It will have to be a takeaway tonight but I can’t wait to get in the car and drive over to Tooting village.

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Smashing Night Club remembered 1991-1996

One of the best London night clubs that I’ve ever been to was Smashing. It used to inhabit Eve’s club on Regents Street in the early 1990’s. It opened in 1991, and by 1994 was was considered by hipster journalist Alix Sharkey, writing in The Times, to be “London’s fabbest, silliest, unlikeliest and most exhilarating Friday night”.

Smashing had its roots in the London clubland of the 1980’s (as defined by Leigh Bowery and Taboo). Smashings host was Matthew Glamorre, who in fact played with Leigh Bowery in Minty (they played occassional gigs at Smashing). Matthew remembers this time in an interview with the website, here.  Matthew was the perfect arch and funny host. For a year or two he turned the club into probably the coolest place on earth.

Smashing pre-empted one aspect of the 90’s music scene. It didn’t act as the meeting place of fans of a new type of music as many of the previous great night clubs had done, from the Hacienda in Manchester to Ronnie Scotts in Soho, but was rather a meeting place of fans of all the great music that had come before. The club was for people who were into the club experience and wanted a, well, smashing good old time. They wanted great music, not necessarily new and fashionable music. They were young, skinny, out there and wanted to have fun. They wanted to drink (etc) and to dance. By the 1990’s there was so much great music from the past to explore.

The music was pulled from all over. Alix Sharkey described it as “Bowie’s ‘Queen Bitch’; the Beastie Boys’ rap cacophony; the Barbarella theme song; the Happy Mondays’ narcoleptic white funk; or the Smiths’ ‘Panic’, dissolving into throbbing acid house. What kind of music do they play? The only kind. Indy rock? James Last? Grunge? Sammy Davis Jnr? Sixties soundtracks? Si, si, senor. Glam? Punk? New Wave? Disco? Pinky and Perky? Tick them all off, and anything else that comes to mind. Do your bowels clench at the sound of Weller’s warble? Mine, too. But don’t worry, a good record will be along faster than you can say: ‘Sham 69? Puh-leese.'”

By adding the ultra-cool London  night club mentality to this magpie plundering of the musical past, Smashing was a breeding ground and blueprint for Britpop, which itself raided the past for its look and its soundtrack. And the club became the favourite haunt of the young Suede and Blur and Pulp as they began to break through into the charts.  

Pulp filmed their Disco 2000 video at Smashing. It gives you a flavour of what the place was like. By this time, late 1995, the club had just about run its course. In 1996 the club closed, the scene was over and Britpop London split in a snowstorm of cocaine, ego and money. 1997 saw both the opening of the The Met Bar (where Gallaghers mixed with Page 3 girls) and New Labour’s Cool Britannia. The silly fun of Smashing had mutated into bloated self-importance of that is recorded in John Niven’s excellent novel Kill Your Friends.


What a great dance floor! And that handsome young man in the video? He’s my brother. He was a Smashing regular and DJ’d occassionally.

You can read all of Alix Sharkey’s The Times article on Smashing here.

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Secret Affair – 1979. 1980. 1981. 198gone.

The first record I ever heard in a proper grown up disco was Secret Affair’s Time For Action. That would be 1979. Height of the 2 Tone ska-mod revival. In those days when a record was hot they’d play it several times in an evening. We must have danced to Time For Action at least a dozen times that night. Afterwards, I came out into the cold night, dripping with sweat and with the song burnt into my humming ears, never to be forgotten. I was living oop North (north of England) at the time and the record sounded impossibly glamorous and “London” to me, then.

Secret Affair were rather naff, to be honest. They took themselves a bit too seriously and weren’t as confident about their music as they claimed to be. They were the mod revivalist’s mod revivalists and as such were more copyist than explorer. They had one other hit sized record which was called My World. The promo video was filmed on top of Primrose Hill & other locations in 1980. London looks a bit grim in 1980. I spotted Centrepoint, Regents Park Canal (one of my favourite London locations), the Natural History Museum (the Manchester United big Daddy of London museums) and the Barbican in the following video.

Here it is:

Ian Page was the lead singer. Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker may well have based part of his look on this Page suit. (Personal aside. I once danced to Time For Action at the 1990’s club Smashing. Jarvis Cocker shared the very small dancefloor with me. He may well have worn a red tie that night).  

Time For Action is here. I bet you cant help but tap your toes to this old beaut of a song:

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