When I used to live in southeast London, in a sort of no-man’s land between Greenwich and Deptford, there was an old shuttered pub that I would walk by often. It was called The Thames (and reportedly the Rose and Crown in an earlier iteration, until the 1980s). It was just over the creek bridge, on a corner. The building was three stories high, and one imagines that it must have seemed quite tall and imposing before all the new developments sprung up around it. Despite being dwarfed by newer buildings, it still drew the eye effortlessly. The beige bricks were the type that my junior school was built from; hardy and tough, and all the more beautiful for their wear and tear. I enjoyed looking at the little imperfections, the chips and stains, the black marks and discolourations. I liked to wonder about the stories of how they got there, and also imagine all the damage that the place avoided and chaos it survived, across two wars and everything before, in between, and after.
A friend who still lives in the area let me know last year that the place was gone for good, and a little bit of internet digging revealed that it has been bulldozed to make way for flats. It’s hard to process my feelings about things like this. With an ongoing housing crisis in London, there’s a huge need for (affordable) housing, and by that token, it’s inevitable that some long abandoned buildings must bite the dust. The place had been closed since the 1990s, after all. Even so, the ruthlessness with which such forgotten landmarks are sometimes removed still stings. Riverside bars in the ground floors of nearby new shiny glass developments have opened up, but simply don’t have the same charm.
The removal of these pubs – even when they are ghosts of their former glory – does more than scrub out their past. I’m not only thinking of days gone by whenever I stop to look at ‘ghost pubs’ like this one; I’m thinking about what they could be in the future, too. When I passed The Thames pub on grey and rainy days, I imagined the cold, dank interior behind the bricks being filled with warmth again. Damp patches long since repainted, walls bearing old photos and tankard displays once more. Glowing energy seeping from the doorway as a tipsy drinkers bumps into me on the path as they leave. People drinking and laughing, making new memories, leaving new marks.