The Old Kent Road has never been one of London’s most salubrious thoroughfares, but when Waddingtons launched the London edition of Monopoly in 1936, it was of significant enough importance to have it included in the game, valued at £60.
By doing just a little bit of research online, you will quickly find out how this part of South East London has a very rich history. The Old Kent Road is part of the old “Watling Street”, a route used by the ancient Britons and paved by the Romans. It led from Wroxeter (near Shrewsbury, Shropshire) to Dover via St Albans and London.
It was both a commercial highway and a route for pilgrims heading to Canterbury in the Middle Ages. The Grade 2 listed Kentish Drovers Pub, although now, a Vietnamese restaurant still displays a 19th-century mural depicting cattle being driven to market from the Kent fields. The mural by Doultons of Lambeth was being surveyed for restoration prior to the Covid pandemic.
Over the years, many pubs and inns have come and gone, with at least 39 known establishments at some time or another being situated on this two and a half mile stretch of road.
Up until the 1990s the Old Kent Road was a popular place for a good night out amongst all age groups; this was a time when pubs were still the cornerstone of the local community.
Rising immigration levels were mainly evident from the late 1980s but skyrocketed from 1997 when Tony Blair’s Labour government took power. This mostly African influx seemed to have gained a foothold in Southwark and spread outward along the Old Kent Road, eclipsing the longer established West Indians. There were not large numbers of West Indians until you got to New Cross or into Peckham. By the Millennium, a significant African population had spread as far east as Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Thamesmead.
However, in the last few years, it seems the entire world has come to live in the Old Kent Road. Go into Lidl’s in Massinger Street, and you will be unlikely to meet an original Old Kent Roader.
No doubt this change of demographics, or should I say ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population, will make the MPs and Councillors of Southwark “Feel very proud”.
Significant in size, the ‘newly’ arrived Islamic community do not frequent public houses, and the same can be said for their African counterparts. The inhabitants can be seen in middle-eastern cafés smoking Shisha pipes, giving the place an air of downtown Beirut.
There has been a general decline in pub-going for various reasons, including in my view, the advent of home entertainment combined with cheap and easily available alcohol from the supermarkets. This decline could have been mitigated by favourable government tax policy; after all, these establishments are important for cultural and social reasons.
In 1977 there were seventeen pubs on the Old Kent Road. Setting off northwards into Bermondsey or southwards into Walworth, you would have found pubs within a stone’s throw of each other; you could literally walk from one pub to another within a few minutes.
Sadly today, there are only TWO pubs remaining on the Old Kent Road.
The building that was formerly the Duke of Kent public house (number 365) has been converted into a Mosque while the once elegant Art Deco building (number 275) that formerly housed the Wells Brother furniture shop was turned into “The Redeemed Christian Church of God Mount Zion” to cater for Southwark’s large African population; the building is very dilapidated these days.
The site of the former Frog and Nightgown Pub is now the “LVC London School of English” catering to the influx of non-English speakers in the area, and, I suspect, a few of those new arrivals are accommodated in the new flats above the school. Just across the road from the Frog and Nightgown stood The World Turned Upside Down (number 145) which probably dates from the 1850s; it was given a well-proportioned makeover sometime in the 1930s.
Long John Baldry performed his first gig here in 1958. The pub finally closed in 2009, and the building again extended upwards to accommodate more flats. The pub became a Domino Pizza takeaway.
A little further along stood The Castle which had a revamp and name change to The Gin Palace in about 1985; this made it much more popular with younger people. It was not unusual, in the 80s and 90s for a Saturday night pub crawl to start at The Swan and end at The Lord Nelson, taking in all the pubs in between.
The Gin Palace was demolished for flats with shops at ground level. The last time I passed, there was a Nail Salon on site. However, it seems that the African proprietor had her trading licence revoked by Southwark Council as she “Could not be regarded as a fit and proper person to hold such a licence”.
Perhaps the most famous of all was the Thomas a Becket, with its boxing gym above, which was used by former British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight boxing champion Sir Henry Cooper for his training during the 1960s. This grand old venue is now a Vietnamese restaurant.
The last remaining pubs on the road are an attractive Georgian pub called The Lord Nelson (number 386), which sits on the south side, on the corner of Trafalgar Avenue and The Windsor at (number 888). Both salt of the earth traditional pubs, unapologetically ungentrified with patterned carpets and their original wooden bars. How long these two will remain open is unclear.
The Dun Cow, built as a Victorian Gin Palace, is now a doctors surgery.
The former Green Man, which stood opposite, was derelict, and its frontage is now strewn with graffiti.
All the other former pubs, some of which were built and opened hundreds of years ago along this famous stretch of road, are now either foreign restaurants, foreign clubs, or have been turned into blocks of flats or have been demolished.
The Old Kent Road is, of course, not the only busy road in London to be transformed in this way, and it’s not only public houses that are disappearing. Lots of other traditional British shops and businesses have been replaced with foreign shops, foreign food outlets and all sorts of fast food takeaways. There are many other roads and streets to have suffered the same fate as our capital city is reshaped before our very eyes.
Furthermore, London is not the only British town or city to be in distress from industrial scale immigration.
Sadly, our British culture has been deliberately eroded by successive governments of both parties. There are various ways to salvage what remains of our identity and culture, but we will cover these pressing issues in a separate article in the near future. However, we must still pursue the challenge of replacing the traitors currently occupying the Westminster government and council chambers the length and breadth of the country with a party composed of true patriotic men and women.
Last but not least, even if you’re not a big drinker or if you’re even teetotal, do whatever you can to support our traditional British pubs!