… With a Royal Hand
In 1930 Mary of Teck, Queen Consort to George V, visited the Anchor pub in Somers Town, London, near Euston Station. This was a poor district and it was very unusual for a royal figure to enter its precincts. Certainly royalty had mingled earlier with the common people, and numerous examples can be cited. George III visited the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, London and lore has it he shared a meal of beans and bacon with the men.
A subset of these visits was encouraging British industry, of which the visit of King George and family to Whitbread Brewery in 1787 is a famous instance. Of the many accounts, this one by Beeretseq in our archives may be of interest.
Queen Mary herself, who lived into the 1950s and saw Britain endure two difficult wars, seemed unusually sympathetic to the people. She was known for her war work that included visits to the injured in hospitals. Perhaps this experience both prepared and encouraged her to visit what in many ways was a civilian counterpart in Depression Britain.
Her visit to the Anchor was covered internationally including by many American newspapers, this article from Ogdensburg, New York is an example. Clearly she engaged with the people and seemed genuinely interested to learn details of their work.
While the royal visits to bombed East End London in the early 1940s are well-remembered, this earlier foray by a royal figure into disfavoured London – not literally bombed but perhaps metaphorically so – is no less interesting to recall.
The pub, a rebuilt property in the Whitbread Brewery stable, was unusual in itself, in that it had a priest as a landlord, via the St Pancras Housing Improvement Society.* The Society was established in the 1920s by Father Basil Lee Jellicoe and others. This unusual man of the cloth, of Establishment background, carved a career as a reformer before his untimely death in 1935 at only 36.
The pub was preceded by two others in the Whitbread camp also placed under control of an improvement society. All were an applied example of the interwar ethos of pub reformation. Other royal figures assisted – sometimes in situ – to promote a practical yet unusual scheme. (A long history, outside our scope here, predates these initiatives including the famous Carlisle Scheme during WW I. The first half of Boak, J. and Bailey, R. (2017) 20th Century Pub. (St. Albans: The Homewood Press) provides a helpful, general introduction to a multiform topic).
Unlike some reformist schemes the three pubs served alcohol, and food, although the Anchor for its part at any rate banned spirits. Premises were updated or rebuilt to allow more space and with better decor than most inner-city pubs featured.
They sought to be uplifting, and to avoid the worst aspects of Victorian pubs such as over-serving and toleration of gambling, prostitution, “fencing”, and other unsavoury activities. The pubs were still required to operate on a profit-making basis.**
Hence, a visit to the Anchor by the Queen was no ordinary civilian visit, but symbolized empathy with the Father’s objectives and the people. One may read more about him, the pub project, and his housing initiatives in this 2018 article by Sam Volpe in Ham and High. This earlier assessment (2011) of his legacy is of good point as well, from the London-based Centre for Theology and Community.
In the latter article, the (uncredited) author wrote:
Jellicoe himself was teetotal, and yet one of his most controversial schemes was the establishment of a College for Publicans. His reasoning was pragmatic not judgmental. He wanted the drinkers of Somers Town to get good service and good beer – and to save them from the kind of pub that made its money by encouraging alcoholism and so devouring the whole of a family’s much-needed income.
Jellicoe is still remembered in the 2000s, a period very different from his, yet, in the form of the welfare state, testimony to the Father’s influence. A lively, contemporary way to remember him was highlighted in the same blog entry:
… Jellicoe – slum priest, retreat conductor, social reformer – is the only Anglican priest to have inspired an entire musical. Jellicoe: The Musical had its brief moment of glory eight years ago, treating the residents of Somers Town to such hits as ‘St Pancras House Improvement Society’ and ‘A Parson Running A Pub’. While it has yet to hit the West End or Broadway, the musical is indicative of Jellicoe’s larger-than-life character, and the affection his memory continues to inspire in his old parish.
The building that housed the high-principled Anchor Inn on Chalton (originally Stibbington) Street, no longer exists. Further development brought it down in the mid-1980s to build flats, according to this chronicle of local pub history by Somers Town Museum.***
The 1930s furnishes at least one other example of a socially prominent Briton connected somehow to public houses, Ishbel MacDonald. I wrote about her, here.
For a rare visual and aural record of Jellicoe speaking in the pub (not previously known to beer historians, to my knowledge), see Part II.
Note re image: The image above was sourced from the 2011 blog entry identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*Some accounts have it that the pub was managed for Whitbread by Magdalen College Mission, now the Magdalen College Trust. Clearly, Rev. Jellicoe was involved with both Mission and the St. Pancras Housing Improvement Society. In fact, the Society was an initiative of Magdalen Mission as represented by Jellicoe. It seems the Anchor was originally managed by Jellicoe and/or Magdalen College Mission but had a close association with the St. Pancras Housing Improvement Society. Another pub under Jellicoe improvement, the Tavistock, was visited by Prince George, another gilded connection of the Jellicoe network. These public utility societies were public benefit trusts financed by public contributions. The societies paid a fixed dividend or interest to share or debenture holders from revenue received from re-developed slum properties. Jellicoe lived above the Anchor in rooms and ran his curacy of Somers Town from the pub (and St. Mary’s Church) until transferred to St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
**The fate of the pubs will the subject of a Part III in this series.
*** However, a 2008 account of Somers Town urban renewal during the 1920s and 1930s has it that the original building still stands albeit was “clumsily” converted to flats, in the 1990s moreover. See “Housing Happenings in Somers Town”, Roland Jeffery, Twentieth Century Architecture, No. 9, Housing the Twentieth Century Nation (2008), pp. 24-36