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Philip Cunningham’s Pub Crawl

Shall we join Photographer Philip Cunningham for a pub crawl around the East End a generation ago? It starts at Phil’s local, The Three Crowns in Mile End Rd, very convenient for a quick pint while he was living in his grandfather’s house in Mile End Place in the seventies.

Ada & Polo, 1973

“When we moved to Mile End Place in 1973 our local pub, The Three Crowns, was just round the corner. We would go there often. Everyone used to go to the pub in those days, it was almost an extension of home. The Three Crowns was pretty rough.

It was run by a Jewish lady called Ada. Her elderly father helped behind the bar and she had a young Palestinian barman known as ‘Toffee.’ There was another barman, known as ‘Polo,’ who had a terrible stammer yet was very popular. And they all lived together above the pub.

There was a small snug in the middle of The Three Crowns which was highly sought after. It held about six people and was like being in your own private room. If it was occupied, you kept an eye out and, when it became vacant, you would run in quickly and take it.

One night, while I was drinking with my pal ‘John Boy,’ we were both potless and decided to pool our money, but found we did not have enough for another drink so we put it in the slot machine instead. To our amazement, we won the jackpot! Ada was not happy. She stormed over and unplugged the machine. She usually knew when the machine was about to give up the jackpot and would have it for herself. We spent all our winnings in her pub but, if Ada gave you a withering look, you knew you’d upset her.

There was a gambling club, The 81 Club, two doors away and people would often run in and hand Ada a bundle of notes, which she would stuff in her apron pocket. I think she was some type of banker. Ada made the best beef sandwiches I ever tasted. She was a fabulous character surrounded by other characters at The Crowns, real solid people that lived hard lives and knew who they were.

When Ada retired, The Three Crowns was taken over by Terry (known as ‘Turksie’) & Brenda Green. Terry had been a Docker and he and Brenda had a lot of work done on it, I believe out of his severance pay. I became friends with Terry’s brother, Jimmy. We would wander round the borough together and he would tell me tales of the old days, and van dragging – jumping on the back of a moving goods wagon and pulling off packages.

The Three Crowns was a successful pub but Terry & Brenda left to live in Portugal. The picture of Jimmy, the unnamed photographer and John the Fruit was taken just before they left. I cannot remember the photographer’s name but he told me I should buy a Zenza Bronica camera, which I did and have been using it ever since.

After the Greens’ departure, The Three Crowns changed entirely and the deafening music drove us away. The new tenants did not stay long and the place went down the tubes. When I returned years later, I was shocked to see that the fabulous tiled mural of the ‘field of the cloth of gold’ which adorned the entrance had been smashed up. Someone had tried to remove it from the wall but with the most destructive consequences. Only half the mural was left and the rest had been replaced by rendered cement. I doubt if they even got a single intact tile. It was the most pointless greedy vandalism.

I loved the East End, rough, tough, and mad – there was an energy about the place, but I think the East End I knew has mostly gone.” – Philip Cunningham

Jimmy, Terry & Brenda Green at The Three Crowns 1983

Jimmy Green, Unnamed Photographer & John The Fruit at The Three Crowns 1983

Interior at The Three Crowns 1983

The Three Crowns, Mile End Rd, 1983

The Queen’s Head, York Sq, Stepney, 1983 (Recently sold to property developers)

The former Lord Napier, Whitechapel -’The Lord Napier was never a pub in my time’ 1979

Formerly The Laurel Tree, Brick Lane, c.1985

‘I have never been into The Florists Arms in Globe Rd but I am determined to visit because I am told it is good fun’ c.1983

‘The Waterman’s Arms was just next to the school I was teaching in on the Isle of Dogs and I went in quite a lot. It was once owned by Daniel Farson and Shirley Bassey would come and sing there.”

Waterman’s Arms, c.1984

‘The Wentworth in Eric St was an OK pub but it always reminded me of my dealings with the District Surveyor, which was depressing’ 1980

‘I went into the Duke of York a lot as friends of mine lived in Antill Rd’ c.1980

‘The Oxford Arms in Milward St behind the London Hospital was always full of nurses and medics, very popular’ c.1984

‘The Old Globe in Globe Rd was a disaster in my time. The loud music they played could probably have been heard on the moon. There was always massive overspill onto the pavement and, in the morning, the entire area was covered in broken glass. It was a young people’s pub.’ 1979

The Bell, Middlesex St, c.1985

‘The Railway Tavern in Grove Rd was a nice pub and played a lot of jazz in my time’ c.1984

The Beehive, Commercial St, Spitalfields – seen from Christ Church yard

‘I thought The Old King’s Head was on Burdett Rd but I can’t find a trace of it, yet I do remember from my two visits that it was a nice pub’

‘The Lion in Tapp St was one of the grottiest pubs I’ve been into. If it still exists, I hope it’s changed. There were holes in the lino and the floor was sticky with beer. The beer was good but not much else.’ c.1985/6

‘The Three Suns in Aldgate had elaborate brickwork on it, but I could never understand this panel. It seemed to have something to do with a Shakespeare play.’ c.1986

‘I only went into the Forty Fives in Mile End Rd once with my friend Grahame, the window cleaner. We wanted to have a drink in every pub from The Three Crowns to the Whitechapel Art Gallery, but I don’t think we made it.’ 1985/6

‘The Albion in Bethnal Green Rd was one of my favourite pubs’

The Red Cow, Mile End Rd, 1986

Photographs copyright © Philip Cunningham

You may also like to take a look at

A Walk with Philip Cunningham

Philip Cunningham’s East End Portraits

More of Philip Cunningham’s Portraits

Yet More Philip Cunningham Portraits

A Lost Corner of Whitechapel

Philip Cunningham at Mile End Place

This post first appeared on Spitalfields Life | In The Midst Of Life I Woke To, please read the originial post: here

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Philip Cunningham’s Pub Crawl


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