Time for a Lament.

Post-operation and Lockdown 2.0 purdah continues. I've been looking through my collection of old images and this one popped up. Location unknown. That's what the folder said. Plenty of time on my hands at the moment, so let's find it where it is or, as you've probably already assumed, where it was.



The Flower of the Forest was shouting out that it sold Barclay Perkins which would probably narrow the search to the south London area. It's not a part of the world that I profess to know at all, although I did once go to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1977.


Barclay Perkins used to produce their wares on Park Street, just south of Southwark Bridge, but the brewery's page on breweryhistory.com failed to produce anything about the pub. Next step? Delve into some old directories.


Not a single success. I had a plural one though. The 1860 Post Office Directory lists one Joseph Kerschner at The FlowerS of the Forest, at 123 Blackfriars Road, next door to the Surrey Theatre. And what stands to the left of the left-hand door in the photo? Advertising with the name 'Surrey' atop it. And to its left? Presumably a door leading to an orchestra pit. Looks like I could've cracked it. A Frederick Coupland is also shown to be there in the 1910 edition, so that gives us confirmation and a rough date for the picture. Whilst The Flowers of the Forest is a traditional Scottish lament mourning the loss of those that fell at the Battle of Flodden the pub seems to have obtained its name from a play that an earlier landlord had seen next door.


We now know that it was under Coupland control at the start of the twentieth century, but just how far back can we go? A bit of searching for the Surrey Theatre produced this engraving from 1828 with the building to the right being the one which housed the 'Flowers'.


The same session with Mr. Google also produced this page on the theatre which has more early images of both the theatre and pub, one of which gives its name as the Surrey Coal Hole. Additionally, it shows the building to its left, part of the theatre complex, to be the Equestrian Tavern. It seems that both the theatre and the Equestrian were destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1865 which would account for its change of appearance as seen in this shot where it looks like the Equestrian is advertising Bass of Burton for sale.



So it used to be the Surrey Coal Hole. What could I find out about the Surrey Coal Hole? I wish I'd known about this name earlier as another search results in Pubwiki telling me that it may have been the Surrey Tavern as early as 1776. It also informs me of a lot of other stuff which would have saved, and did save, me some effort. You can read it all here if you want.


The name of the Coal Hole also cropped up in records of the proceedings of the Old Bailey. In 1843 Abraham Simmons, the then landlord, was indicted for 'feloniously receiving 2 1000l. bank-notes, the property of Richard Blakemore, Esq., well knowing them to be stolen.' £2000 could buy around 600 pints today. I'm not sure how drunk you could've got on £2000 in 1843. You can read about the case here later, but avert your eyes if you want to because here comes a spoiler.


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It's OK, you can look again now.


The Surrey Theatre turned to cinema use in 1920 and closed down permanently in 1924. It remained unused for a decade before being demolished, leaving the two pubs still standing on either side.


At some point in time the Flowers of the Forest must've been extended. In its later life its front façade is four windows wide as can be seen in this photograph, dated 1935, which is to be found in Collage, the London Picture Archive.




The Equestrian is still visible on the extreme left, but it too was destined to come down. This happened on 10th/11th May 1941, with a little help from the Luftwaffe. Far more tragic than the loss of a pub was the loss of seventeen firemen who were killed whilst pumping water from the flooded cellar of the former theatre to fight that night's fires.


The Flowers of the Forest survived the blitz and continued to serve its customers pints of Courage Directors (Barclay Perkins and Courage having merged in 1955) up until the 1990s when it too was flattened. The entire former theatre site is now occupied by McLaren House, providing accommodation for students of London South Bank University.


Site of former Surrey Theatre and Flower of the Forest. May 2019 © 2020 Google

The bygone boozer's name continues though, having been transferred to another pub, previously called the Oxford Arms, on Westminster Bridge Road. The firemen of 1941 haven't been forgotten either. Their memory lives on in the form of a plaque on the wall.




Before we lament the passing of a pub with the name of a lament on this Armistice Day, and with tomorrow being the eightieth anniversary of my grandfather, a grandfather I never met, coming off second best in his encounter with a German mine, perhaps a lament like, rather than for, The Flowers of the Forest is more appropriate.



The Floo’ers of the Forest, that foucht aye the foremost,

The prime o’ our land are cauld in the clay.





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