...if I suggested that most of you, if not all, have never seen a pink giraffe. I may have seen the odd pink elephant in my time but this is my first encounter with a rose-coloured, long-necked, artiodactyl.
The things that Mr. Google can throw up never cease to surprise. There I was looking for some info about a pre-war test match which took place at The Oval (1938 v Australia as it happens. England 907-3 declared. That's right, 907! More runs than in all four innings of England's last test match.) when a few finger-taps and a handful of clicks threw up this pic of a pink pub looking rather the worse for wear. It's one of those photographs of a pub which I've never set eyes on, let alone set a foot inside, which just stirred my interest.
The closest that I ever came to the Giraffe was when I was on a subterranean trip – heading back on the tube from The Oval to my accommodation in Portsea Place, having watched Whispering Death destroy England's batting in that legendary hot summer of 1976. We couldn't bat then either! Yes, I know it would've been quicker and cheaper to have taken the bus, but with this being one of my first solo visits down to The Smoke I thought it'd be easier to stick with what I knew to get me between the bed provided by a friend of the inamorata of the day's father and the site of the national team's embarrassment. It was also easier to stay in Portsea Place than to get past reception in the nurses home to stay with the inamorata herself. Indeed, it would've been easier to spend the night with the Crown Jewels than to stay with the inamorata herself.
Out of interest I've just allowed Mr. Google to take me back to Portsea Place and I see that the blue plaque's still by the door informing folk that the author Olive Schreiner lived there at some point.
Olive Schreiner? Yes, I had to look her up too. Anyway, I digress. Enough of this mental meandering, let's get back to the Giraffe.
Although frequently described as being in Kennington the Giraffe Tavern was actually in neighbouring Walworth. Situated on the corner of Penton Place and Newington Crescent it must've been built around 1850.
Whilst not marked on the Ordnance Survey's 1850-51 Town Plan it is listed in the Post Office's 1848 directory which shows James Collins in residence.
So, having established that the pub appeared in the middle of the nineteenth century, where did its name come from? I can't think of too many other Giraffes. In fact I can't think of one. It seems that at the time the nearby Royal Surrey Gardens housed a zoo which held some giraffes, the first to be shown in the UK, and its name likely rose out of the giraffomania which existed at the time.
Wherever the name came from James Collins continues to run the Giraffe until at least 1884. Or at least a James Collins does, for by then it's James junior who's in charge having taken over from his father in the 1860s. After the Collinses leave there are a number of relatively short-term tenants until the arrival on the scene of the interlinked Pryor and Lear families who between them are at the Giraffe from the 1890s until at least the 1920s.
By now the more observant amongst you might've noticed that the rather sad-looking pink Giraffe at the top of the page doesn't really resemble the one from the 1880s. There's a very good reason for that – it isn't the same building. In the 1930s the original Giraffe was demolished and a new Giraffe arose from the brick dust. Built for Watney, Combe and Reid, this new Giraffe survived the ravages of World War 2 which is something which couldn't be said for much of its surroundings. Newington Crescent no longer exists.
If Newington Crescent no longer exists, sadly today neither does the Giraffe. It closed in 2001 and was flattened five years later. In its place stands a block of flats with commercial properties on the ground floor. I've been informed by a local resident that these have never been occupied in the decade that he's lived in the area. I wonder if they've ever been used at all.
The Giraffe's gone. England's cricketers ability to bat seems to have gone. Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm, however, is still available if you fancy a copy.
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