‘A Parson Running a Pub’ (Part I)

… 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 for some reformist schemes, the three pubs served alcohol, and food, although the Anchor for its part banned spirits. Building premises were renovated or rebuilt to permit more space with better decor than most inner-city pubs featured.

These 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










12 thoughts on “‘A Parson Running a Pub’ (Part I)”

  1. Brilliant research from over the seas…
    High Church Anglican is quite ‘catholic – “smells and bell”, as a local warden says.

    By the way, the Anchor pub sign is still swinging there above the flats – I live in Somers Town which remembers him fondly.
    you contacted me – we have a local history club http://www.aspaceforus.club

    • Thanks very much Diana, and great to know the Anchor pub sign is still there. I encourage all our readers here to take note of the history club and its good work. I hope maybe next year to visit London again and visit a Somers Town Museum exhibit.

  2. At the risk of over-commenting Gary, here is a somewhat dubious coda to the excellent Rev Jellicoe’s short life, taken from the Wikipedia entry of his ‘distant cousin’ George Patrick John Rushworth Jellicoe, 2nd Earl Jellicoe, KBE, DSO, MC, PC, FRS, FRGS (4 April 1918 – 22 February 2007):

    “In May 1973 Jellicoe admitted “some casual affairs” with call girls (from Mayfair Escorts) in the wake of an accidental confusion with Lord Lambton’s prostitution scandal. The name Jellicoe seems to have emerged as a result of a connection between Lambton, the madame Norma Levy, and a tenement house or community hall in Somers Town in the London district of St. Pancras called Jellicoe Hall or House, after Basil Jellicoe (1899–1935) the housing reformer, and priest. The word Jellicoe was seen in Levy’s notebook, and a connection was assumed to the Minister rather than the building; a structure named after the earl’s distant cousin, and one that may have been opened by the Admiral himself in June 1928.”

    • Quite distant from anything connected to Rev. Jellicoe it seems, and no scandal attached to him before his death in 1935 or was suggested after, as far as I know. In terms of his well-known relations I had only heard of the Admiral, of Jutland.

      I intend, in a Part III, to write more on Basil Jellicoe, in particular the fate of the Anchor and other pubs in the improvement scheme. The scheme was facilitated by the cooperation of Sydney Nevile, a long-time director of Whitbread Brewery, who viewed the plan as a useful social experiment.


  3. Nick is absolutely spot on with his comment on Rev Jellicoe’s outfit – he is wearing a biretta on his head, and a soutane or cassock – both totally associated with Roman Catholic priests for many centuries up until the reforms of the 1960’s. I would have said at a glance he was a Roman Catholic priest, for sure. Until I heard his voice and accent.

    Interesting to see how much taller he was than the punters in the pub, probably reflecting better nutrition in childhood???

    The atmosphere seems just what you want in a local pub, doesn’t it? A bit of banter between the men and women, no smoke or piped-in music, wooden panelled walls and somewhere to sit. The beer looks v nice, too!

  4. Nice work, Gary, very interesting, indeed. Thanks for that.

    My own religious background, is ‘secular Catholic’ (I just made that up, btw, but it sort of sums me up, a committed Agnostic), so although I am not English, I feel qualified to comment on Anglo-Catholicism. In a nutshell it “comprises people, beliefs and practices within Anglicanism that emphasise the Catholic heritage”, of the Anglican church. So they are technically Anglicans but with (some) Roman Catholic tendencies in their rituals.

    I always consider the Anglo-Catholics as upper class, Oxford educated types, prone to somewhat theatrical gestures, as in the Rev Jellicoe. Famously, self-identifying members are keen on “bells and smells” i.e. elements of the Roman Catholic Mass including ringing a bell at the precise transubstantiation moment* and the use of incense, in their ritual worship.

    I used to ring the bell(s) as an altar boy back in the 70’s – not the church bell but a handheld, oddly shaped quadrant in a cloverleaf formation, making a delightful tinkling sound. In other Catholic churches a gong is employed.

    * you can look this one up – does the bread and wine actually transform during Mass into the body and blood of Jesus Christ or is it just a symbol of Him and His sacrifice??? – needless to say it is the one of the absolutely key differences between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism.


    • Thanks Ben, that’s very helpful, and explains the seemingly dual references to his faith that I found. He was an Oxford graduate in fact, Magdalen College.


  5. Nice one, Gary. Some years ago I had a pint or two at the Seven Stars in Falmouth, Cornwall, a 17th century pub whose landlord was the Rev. John Barrington Bennetts, who also served the congregation at his parish church. He was working the bar when I turned up, and I recall a pleasant conversation about Bill Bryson (I was reading one of his books at the bar). He served as landlord for 60 years until his demise, and the pub is now run by his granddaughter. I’m not aware that he had any loftier aims about making the world a better place through his pub, but I certainly felt better for my visit.

    • Thanks Nick, and for this story, most interesting, your trademark humour is in good, well, nick!

      I hope you read Part II and viewed the 5-minute Fox Movietone with Jellicoe and customers actually speaking, I couldn’t believe it.

      I wonder if Rev. Bennetts knew of this man and his efforts…


      • I did indeed read part II and watched that remarkable video. Well found. I did think that his outfit looked more Catholic than Anglican, but I was very young in 1930 and don’t really recall what the clergy wore.

        • Thanks and that’s a good point about the vestments. In my research, he was described as Anglo-Catholic – one source states he had the “theatrical streak” of many from this background (?), yet other sources refer to him as Anglican or Church of England. Some style him Reverend, others Father, and the American who titled the Movietone clip, Padre.

          My own religious background, as you know, is secular Judaism and I am not familiar with all the distinctions here – any assistance appreciated.


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