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It Started With a Swan and Pike.

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

It all started with this postcard. A old shot of a waterside pub and a bike is bound to have caught my interest and I set about a bit doing a bit of digging.

The Swan and Pike, Enfield Lock. c1906

The first thing I discovered is that there seems to be no consensus on how the River Lea, or is that the River Lee, should be spelled. Or should that be 'spelt'? Not always consensus on that either. I'm bound to upset readers on one side of the pond or the other. (Yes, they do exist. There are sad buggers over there too.) The second thing I discovered, and on this there is consensus, is the fact that the Swan and Pike is a bygone boozer.

I wasn't very far into my digging and delving when I found that the Swan and Pike, along with the Ordnance Arms, the Royal Small Arms Hotel and the Greyhound, was a member of a select foursome of pubs located around Enfield Lock. The predicted length of this post then grew somewhat. Let's start at the very beginning for, as Julie Andrews once espoused, it's a very good place to start.

It's not too difficult to believe, but Enfield Lock is the area of Enfield in north London/Middlesex around the lock on the River Lea – or Lee – Navigation. Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars a government-owned factory was built in the area to produce swords, muskets and rifles, eventually becoming known as the Royal Small Arms Factory. It's the large grey mass in the middle of this map extract, published in 1913, and conveniently not labelled as such to make it as difficult as possible for Johnny Foreigner to work out where its location was.

Housing for the workers was built alongside the navigation and initially there seems to have been a single pub there, at least I've only managed to find record of one – the Canteen.

Entry in Pigot's 1839 directory.

The census of 1841 has Thomas Martin recorded as a publican (and millwright) – the only one listed at Enfield Lock. Look in the census a decade later and his son John is the only victualler recorded at Enfield Lock and the Post Office directory of the same year shows him to be at the Canteen. Move on yet another ten years and things have changed with there now being four hostelries in the area and the Canteen wasn't one of them. We'll come back to the Canteen in a bit, but why the sudden increase? Perhaps the increased demand for weaponry brought upon by the Crimean War in the mid-1850s caused an expansion of the workforce at the arms factory.

Edit December 2021.

It seems that people do read this drivel for I've been sent an image of an oil painting of The Canteen, painted in 1855 when John Martin was the licensee.

The Canteen, Enfield Lock. Painted in 1855.

All four of our boozers are visible on the above map extract. Working from the top there is the Greyhound and then the Ordnance Arms – both named, the hotel is the Royal Small Arms Hotel and right at the bottom, the building labelled PH, is the Swan and Pike which appeared on the postcard. But what was so special about them?

During World War 1, for reasons which really don't need explaining, the arms factory came into its own but there was some concern in certain quarters that across the nation the war effort was being hampered by the general population, and munitions workers in particular, spending far too much time quaffing large quantities of stupefying liquids. In March 1915, David Lloyd George said, "We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink, and so far as I can see the greatest of these deadly foes is drink." The quote even made it onto posters. A couple of months later, a product of the Defence of the Realm Act, the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) came into being.

Amongst other things, the Central Control Board had the power to limit pub opening hours, control the strength of available alcoholic drink, prohibit the buying of rounds and nationalise breweries and pubs. It did all of these. In addition, it also increased the capacity and quality of provision of catering facilities for the munitions workers, whose number had risen significantly. Whilst the majority of nationalisations, which involved over 300 pubs in total, occurred in the Carlisle area as the city's numerous attractions were just a short trip away for the workers at Gretna's nine-mile long cordite factory, the four around Enfield Lock were also taken under state control. In fact they were the first, becoming publicly owned on the 2nd February 1916.

So they were the first nationalised pubs, but what else do we know about these four? Let's begin with the one in the postcard which started this all off, the Swan and Pike. The bike's gone in this image from which the postcard was produced. I do think it's the result of tighter cropping though, rather than having been nicked and chucked into the river.

Who's nicked my bike?

The 1855 Post Office directory informs us that Joseph Medcalf is at the Swan and Pike at Enfield Lock, but it must've been in existence before then. I can't help wondering if he's running it for his brother Benjamin for I've seen a copy of a document of "assignment of leasehold premises called the Swan and Pike at Enfield Lock" which registers the pub's transfer from Messrs. A. Blake and G.H. Clarke to Benjamin Medcalf on the 31st March 1855. At the bottom of the document are the details of a later transfer, from Benjamin to...




...Joseph on the 29th September 1870. Joseph had been there at census time in 1861 and also when the 1866 Post Office directory was being compiled but didn't stay long after the place had been assigned to him, for six months later he'd moved to Essex. What happened to Benjamin? We'll meet him again later.

The pub continued to operate for around another forty years after Joseph's departure but, with post-WW1 demand for both munitions and victuals for the workers falling, the Swan and Pike closed in 1919 and evidence from OS maps suggest it had been demolished within a couple of years. Little, if any, trace of it now remains along the bank of the navigation.

Let's move to the other side of the lock and on to the Ordnance Arms.

A Cannon Brewery house, the Ordnance Arms likely opened in the mid-1860s. It doesn't seem to be mentioned in the 1861 census but makes it into the 1866 Post Office directory with Martin Creed in charge. He'd been at Enfield's Bell Inn when the earlier census had been taken.

1866 Post Office directory entry.

Like the Swan and Pike, it continued to operate until it too was closed in 1919. Quite when it was demolished I don't know, but it's certainly gone.

Early 20th century shot of the Swan & Pike, in left-centre background, and the Ordnance Arms on the right.

Site of the Ordnance Arms in August 2020. © Google 2021

Our third boozer was the Royal Small Arms Hotel. It's first appearance is in the 1861 census, when James Knight is named as a victualler in an unnamed house. Ten years earlier he'd been running a pub in Westminster. The hotel remains in the hands of the Knights into the 1890s because when James gives it up in the 1870s it's taken on by his son, also James.

Unlike our first two bygone boozers the Royal Small Arms survived long enough to enter the twenty-first century. At some point it dropped the hotel bit becoming known as the Royal Small Arms Tavern and then, possibly in the 1970s, Rifles.

The pub closed in 2006 and suffered the usual collapse into dereliction with the almost inevitable fire following six years later, a year after planning permission had been given for conversion into 23 flats and houses. Strange that. I thought that fires in closed pubs usually happened to help obtain planning permission for change of use.

The property is now in residential use.

In August 2020 © Google 2021

Before I leave the Rifles, a small mystery remains. Do you remember that I said we'd come back to the Martin's Canteen? In my digging and delving I came across a comment from someone who used the Royal Small Arms Tavern in the late 1950s/early 1960s. He said that its nickname when he used it was the Canteen. Was it the Canteen before becoming the Royal Small Arms Hotel or, perhaps, did the Canteen previously stand on the site? In 1861 the census shows both John Martin, who ten years earlier had been at the Canteen, still as a beer retailer and James Knight who we know was at the Royal Small Arms, although neither pub is given a name. Did John Martin change location but continued to sell beer? I don't know. I just can't solve this one.

Three pubs down, that just leaves us with the Greyhound to deal with. Its likely first landlord was Robert Docking who was there in 1851 having previously been a publican in Finsbury.

The Greyhound, Enfield Lock.

It's last landlord was... Hold on! This one's still operating so as it's not a bygone boozer I won't dwell on it other than to say that our friend Benjamin who got rid of the Swan and Pike to his brother in 1870 was here from at least 1866 until he died in the place in 1871.

The Greyhound is still serving. © Google 2021

Whilst not having any need to dwell on the Greyhound I will mention it again in relation to the activities of the Central Control Board. As mentioned further up the page one of its activities was to limit the access to stronger drinks. According to a letter written by the Board on 25th January 1916 it was...

...necessary to remove spirits from Enfield as under:-

Greyhound Inn,

20 gallons of Irish

30 gallons of rum

24 bottles Martell's One Star

10 gallons of brandy

24 bottles Hollands

Royal Small Arms Hotel,

Hogshead Scotch

Hogshead rum

Hogshead Irish...

That little lot must've provided for quite a good party when it was returned at the end of the war.

The war ended in 1918 but the experiment of pub nationalisation didn't end with it. The continuation was short-lived for the Enfield Lock Four. The two pubs which remained open after 1919, the Greyhound and the Royal Small Arms Hotel, were returned to private ownership in 1922. It was a different story further north as the Carlisle & District Scheme, as it was known, continued until it was abolished in an Act of Parliament in 1971 .

The map extract is copyright and is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under this license: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. The shots from Messrs. Chadwick, Hill and Chadwick are also copyright and are reused under this one.

If you've read this far, then thank you. Like me, you must have some sort of interest in bygone boozers. If you haven't done so already you can subscribe to ensure that you don't miss any future posts. Simply click here to return to the home page (opens in a new tab), follow the 'Subscribe' link and complete the form to receive an email notification of any future post. Or you could simply follow the link at the top of this page.

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