It’s Easter weekend and we are down in Windsor with the bar wife’s sister and family.
On Sunday, Brother in Law has to go off to the dawn service at St Brides where he is Director of Music, and then participate in the traditional egg rolling down Fleet Street. Sister and nephew are going up for the morning service, so we offer to give them a lift.
We decide to go on from Ludgate Circus and take in one of the local attractions. Having just been through central London which looks full to bursting, we head east to the Museum of the Docklands which I know is at Canary Wharf, but not exactly where, but surely there will be signs.
Take a tip if you are repeating the visit, and do your homework, otherwise you may end up meeting the nice policemen at the security checkpoint who will pull you over and swab your car for explosives.
Still we parted good friends and after we had driven around for a while we had a cheery wave on our second visit to the checkpoint. When we did finally arrive, the museum was well worth the effort, being fabulous and free.
Amongst the many sections there was one with recordings of people who used to work or visit the docks in the past, and I was intrigued by the reference by a Barbadian sailor to ‘Charlie Browns’. What could this be?
Not a cartoon dog or the chippy opposite the Queens on London Road.
My curiosity was partly satisfied later when I saw an old photograph of a pub in Limehouse which was known as Charlie Brown’s.
Some research on the internet (equally useful for directions apparently), revealed that this was once the most famous pub in the East End, or possibly the world.
When it was built on the West India Dock Road in around 1840, it was called the Railway, but in 1893 it was taken over by ex-boxer and sailor Charlie Brown, who ran it until his death in 1932.
During this time it became the favourite haunt of sailors, due to Charlie’s hospitality.
He was also an avid collector, with many of the objects being gifts from his customers. The Milwaukee Gazette reported in 1929 that in just one small room there are ‘five Ming vases 2,500 years old, an 800 year old Chinese ebony cabinet, a magnificent Louis XIV cabinet inlaid with enamel and Ivory, Waterford and Bristol glass, Chinese and Japanese ivories and more china, silver and pictures and bronzes.’ When Charlie died in 1932, the Singapore Times reported ‘Charlie Brown is dead.
Soon the news will be told on the waterside at Rio and in the speak-easies by the quays of New York; it will reach the sailorman walking ashore at Colombo and Martinique and Fernando; on the bridge and fo’c’ale of ships on the high seas it will set the tides of memories flowing.’
His funereal attracted 16,000 mourners who came to say goodbye to the ‘Uncrowned King of Limehouse’.
Alas the pub is no more, having been demolished in 1989 for the Limehouse Link Road, though the name lives on as close by is ‘Charlie Brown’s roundabout’. The contents of the pub were argued over by his descendants, two of whom ran pubs called Charlie Brown’s but they have long ago disappeared leaving only an old photograph and a recorded memory.