Spotted Dog - still under threat

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


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.
 
                              
                           Watercolour - FC Mears, 1932, courtesy Newham Archives


















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.

Two-bay hall with open crown post roof
Indeed it 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:
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."

1865 poster - showing extensive
 grounds and activities
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:
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.

Undated print

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
Of course, it was in the Victorian era that the borough saw its most dramatic change with the arrival of the railways, the docks, and all manner of other industries. To service these vast new enterprises - and make a better life for themselves - over a quarter of a million people came to live in street upon terraced street.


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.

2004 - just before last orders
Currently 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?

Dereliction, 2007
Witness some of the neglect via this You Tube video: Spotted Dog 

authors: Lloyd Jeans and John Walker

7 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for highlighting the problems that seem apparent in this corner of Forest Gate.

    It's not all doom and gloom. The Tons won their last match 4-2 to life them off bottom spot and attracted their highest gate of the season in April (81).

    Any questions regarding the club are welcome and any one interested in getting behind the team will always be welcome at the Dog.

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  2. Any update on the spotted dog, all I can find is a year or two old? Is the any progress? Cheers Robin

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  3. It is the same as it has been for years. Derelict. I live near the pub and ain't nothing happening there for now. One of the problems is that the spot has nothing around it that coild sustain a restaraunt or pub. There is a school nearby but the spot is very quiet and I can't really see people going down there for a meal or a drink. Pubs are closing for a reason and that reason is that they are reasonably expensive to go for a drink. Yes the local population has changed but that is not the main reason for its closure. If you ever visit this spot you will see that it couldn't really survive. At this time there is a campaign to save it but even if it reopens it will quickly go back to where it was. They can restore the building and use it as a community centre. At least places like that have an actual use (and it may sustain the building).

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  4. Well it could become a living heritage museum, which provided the public an introduction to the history of Inns and public houses where children and adults could view the 500 year history of this wonderful building, such as gin tax, social changes etc. However I am sure that Newham Council will allow it to deteriorate until it is classed as unsafe and only fit for demolition so a mosque can be built on the site! Woodgrange cemetery explains the mind set of the local area I am afraid.

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  5. Is there a petition to sign?

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  6. It's a pity that when the Old Spotted Dog finally crumbles to a heap, people will reflect on what could have been,where is lottery heritage funding? Maybe we have just arrived at a society fuelled by greed and a fast buck!
    Fond memories from ex Stratford grammar school pupil 1965

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  7. The site was bought in July 2015 by High Pride Properties, 18 Plumbers Row, London E1. Newham Council have been in discussions with them about making some urgent repairs, to prevent further deterioration. Prior to this, the property had been in the hands of liquidators, working on behalf of the mortgage lender of the previous owners, who had gone into liquidation.

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