The Princess Alice - gone, but not forgotten

Friday, 11 December 2015


So, the ground floor of one of Forest Gate's most recognisable buildings has finally closed as a drinking/eating establishment.  The Princess Alice, and its supping and catering heirs, is no more, as the space is now occupied by the latest national chain-store addition to Woodgrange Road area - Superdrug.


From Alice to Superdrug
Below is the briefest of histories and a photographic trip down memory lane, to mark its passing.


One of the earliest surviving photos,
 in first decade of 20th century
It is commonly thought that the pub was named after the Thames pleasure boat of the same name that crashed in the river and sunk, with the loss of 650 lives. In fact the ship went down in 1878, over a decade after the pub was opened.


Undated, but first decade of 20th century
The pub began business as Forest Gate opened up as a residential area, following the appearance in the district of the early railways. Careful research by Pubshistory.com has traced all the landlords, and those living on the premises, from when it opened in 1868 until the outbreak of World War 11.


1907

Advert - 1907
The first landlord was Charles Bansback, who had been the landlord of the Seven Stars in Brick Lane prior to moving to Forest Gate. He remained until 1874 and was succeeded by a rapid turnover of governors, until 1917, when Percy Thomas Cole took the reins. He held the job for almost the whole inter-war period. We have no details of post WW2 landlords.


Above and below, two
inter-war photos of the pub

The major event in the pub's 140 year history was the bombing it suffered on 19 April 1941. As the photo below indicates it was totally destroyed.

Surprisingly, only one man, out walking his dog, was killed by the blast.


Princess Alice as a bomb site, after April 1941

The Alice was rebuilt after World War 11, with some vaguely Art Deco features, and an overall appearance not dissimilar to that of the bow of an ocean-going liner - perhaps a mistaken reference to the ill-fated Princess Alice pleasure boat, referred to above.


Vaguely art deco, with ship's bow
 references in post-war design
The pub had its ups and downs in the post-war era, but, offering nothing special by way of attraction, it almost inevitably fell to the fierce competition from the Wetherspoon's Hudson Bay, barely a hundred yards away, when it opened. The Alice finally closed, as a pub in 2007.


In its most recent former glory
 - before closure as a pub
Since that time it's had a number of make-overs and name changes as bars, buffet restaurants and banqueting suites, without ever really seeming busy.

It finally gave up the catering ghost, at least on the ground floor, when its latest transformation saw it established as a Superdrug store.  Banqueting has been banished to the upstairs.


One of its recent manifestations,
 as a ground floor buffet restaurants

Not forgotten? 


Well Princess Alice remains the official name of the bus stop outside the premises, and it doesn't seem to be a changing to "Superdrug, Forest Gate" any time soon. 

Should it do so, it would be interesting to see whether it began to carry a rather different selection of curious passengers.


Who was the Princess Alice after whom it was named?


There have been a number of Princess Alices attached to the British royal family, over the centuries. The one whom the pub was named after, however, was Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (1843 - 1878), the third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria. She was the first of Victoria's children to have died.

Princess Alice in 1861 - seven years
 before achieving fame in Forest Gate
She married Prince Louis of Hesse and was the mother of the last Tsaritsa of Russia (Alexandra). She was also to become the grandmother of Lord Louis Mountbatten, great-great grandmother to Prince Phillip and g x 3 grandmother to Charles etc.

Alice in 1875 - eight
 years after the opening
 of the eponymous pub
Of more significance, perhaps, she was a prolific patron of women's causes - an uncharacteristically progressive position for a member of a mid nineteenth century European royal family to take. She shared an interest in nursing, particularly the work of Florence Nightingale and of field hospitals in European wars (inevitably fought in the names of members of her family).


With her husband and children at
 about pub opening time - 1867
By co-incidence, May Orchard, nanny to her children, is buried locally in Manor Park cemetery.  See here for details.

4 comments:

  1. Certainly not forgotten! I lived in Palmerston Road 1949-1963. The photo 'bomb site after 1949' is exactly as I remember it. My mother talked about 'going round to the Princess Alice' when she was going shopping in Woodgrange road. This despite the fact that she had not lived in London before the war, so never knew the original pub! I hope that future generations will ask their mothers why it is called the Princess Alice, and also getting the explanation that was the name of the pub that used to stand on the corner.

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  2. Another of the landlords of the Princess Alice was Joseph Hardy. Not sure of exact dates but he married his wife Annie Sweetlove in 1891 so it must have been in the 1890-1910 period,maybe later. He was my late husband Alan Hardy's gt.grandad and was also a waterman/ lighterman. Any more info from others welcome.

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  3. Interesting article - good to know the full story

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  4. Site of the very first Rock Against Racism gig in October 1976. Carol Grimes Boogie Band.

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