The Spotted Dog on Upton Lane, the oldest secular building in the borough, has been in a dreadful state of desolation and decrepitude ever since the night in June 2004, when the latest in a long line of landlords made his final call of "Time!" and so ended a tradition of hospitality stretching back over 500 years.
Enraged local residents and campaigners have formed a lobby group called "Save the Spotted Dog", and the powers-that-be are monitoring the situation closely. But will this be enough to preserve a unique part of our local heritage and a building of national historic significance?
In 1950 the government included the then-thriving public house in its National List of Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest - one of only three entries accorded to the pre-Newham borough of West Ham.
The earliest part of the timber-framed building, dating back to the decades between 1490 and 1510, is the central range comprising a two-bay hall, with an open crown post roof and a two-story cross wing also timber-framed to the east. The cross wing on the other side is slightly later; and the subsequent phases of the Georgian and Victorian periods (with some final additions in the 1960s) add to the interest of the building, by helping to tell a story that has lasted half a millennium.
was in the swinging sixties - on 25 September 1967 to be precise - that the Spotted Dog was recertified as a Grade
ll listed building by the Department of the Environment. The official Reasons for Designation stating in part
that it was:
|Two-bay hall with open crown post roof|
a well-surviving, if simply constructed, late 15th century or early 16th century house (with an) interesting interior ... (and) ... particularly poignancy as a rare-surviving late-medieval building in this area, evoking the rural character that could be enjoyed here (before) this part of old Essex was lost to the expanding capital.
In fact it is the only surviving medieval domestic building in the borough and the third oldest after the Norman parish churches of East and West Ham. The most authoritative source the Victoria History of the County of Essex (vol V1, p 51) - states that in the parish of West Ham: "it is likely that about 100 pre-17th century homes survived still in 1742. By 1970 only one (i.e. The Spotted Dog) was known to survive."
It is little
wonder that in his 1973 book Buildings
in Newham the borough's former Director of Architecture and Planning,
Kenneth Lund, felt it appropriate to "place on record (and) take account
of the historic building stock remaining".
The Spotted Dog was of
course included in the primary list of the ten local buildings of national
significance. These were, he said:
|1865 poster - showing extensive|
grounds and activities
The best and last examples of a long building history. Many are irreplaceable. Old buildings form part of the memory of a community, serving to remind us all of who live in that area and how customs, life-styles and work functioned in the past. They also provide an indication of the extent to which change has taken place and, in doing so, they give meaning to the present.
Back in 2004 a shift in the tastes of Newham's changing population and escalating local violence were cited as contributory factors in the closure of the pub. Hopes of a speedy re-opening and the preservation of the unique corner of Forest Gate started to appear somewhat forlorn. Local resident Bill Booth told the Forest Gate Times (April 2005) that he feared the worst when he spotted the pub's famous statute of Henry Vlll lying headless and discarded in a skip.
But is there any justification to the claim that the pub was named the Spotted Dog because Henry Vlll kept his hunting pack kennelled there? A careful review of the few available sources suggests that this traditional link is far less fanciful than might otherwise be supposed.
In his 1921 book: A New Book About London: a Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore the prolific chronicler of the capital and its buildings, Leopold Wagner, writes of a:
huge barn-like structure in the vegetable garden ... (of the pub) ... wantonly sacrificed by the new proprietors in the interest of a bottling store ... (which had) ... anciently enclosed the kennels for a pack of royal hounds.
He asserts that when Henry Vlll followed the chase in the Essex (Epping) Forest, he: "took up the hounds here at Upton" about a mile from the toll-gate which subsequently: "gave the name of Forest Gate to a new residential district."
|1903 painting by H Smart (Newham Archives)|
Some credence can be attached to this tale because having dissolved Stratford Langthorne Abbey in 1538 and seized all of its enormous land holdings in the borough Henry V111 used his own money to purchase the nearby Hamfrith Wood from its owner, Sir Anthony Hungerford - presumably to facilitate his love of hunting.
Mr Wagner provides some intriguing details in support of his account stating that what became the Spotted Dog was at the time the residence of Henry's Master of the Hounds, who was granted the privilege of taking personal profit for refreshing travellers passing that way. The author asserts that on this account up until the Great War the Spotted Dog "stood alone among the inns of the country at large in having its licence direct from the Crown," adding that:
Few historic hostelries ... have preserved their pristine freshness like Ye Olde Spotted Dog ... (its) ... picturesque, ivy-mantled wooden fabric ... appears very much today as when Daniel Defoe referred to it in his History of the Plague in London ... when ... (in 1665) ... those able to escape came to encamp in the fields round about, and again after the Great Fire the following year.
The isolated rural hamlet of Upton must suddenly have seemed like a medieval version of a giant gigantic refugee camp! In Mr Wagner's opinion: "the Spotted Dog is the most captivating 'house of call' in the environs of the Great City.
He describes a large painting (hanging on the west wall of the public bar) bearing the arms of the City Corporation and the date of 1603, and constituting a: "memorial of the meetings of merchant princes for eight years continuously while an earlier plague carried off thirty thousand souls."
|1936 photograph - in better days|
Corroboration of this part of Wagner's history is provided by Kenneth Lund, who writes:
Historically, the building is of considerable interest. A plaque used to exist, showing the Arms of the City of London and the date 1603 ... to commemorate meetings which City merchants ... held in the pub during periods of plague.
It is incredible to think that 400 years ago we hosted the Stock Exchange here in Forest Gate!
But surely greater even than its historical importance is the building's unique significance as the last example we have of an ancient building history The story of Forest Gate and its constantly changing way of life is mirrored in the character of its buildings.
In the earliest days communities were small and remote and livelihoods which were based on the land. Upton in particular took on a new identity with the arrival from the 1730s of families of entrepreneurial Quakers and East India Company people - and the already ancient Spotted Dog bore witness to their country retreats and extensive gardens.
|1832 drawing, by Richenda Cunningham|
Almost nothing was left of the fields, farms and country houses of earlier times, and since then much more has been lost, a process speeded up by the devastation of war and the consequent need to re-house in-comers and the homeless.
Newham's mayor is presiding over what is referred to as a "supernova of regeneration
exploding over the borough". With
so much that is new and such huge promises made for the future we are in
danger of completely obliterating our past. What better reason could there be
to try and Save the Spotted Dog?
of the neglect via this You Tube video: Spotted Dog
|2004 - just before last orders|
authors: Lloyd Jeans and John Walker