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 has traced all the landlords, and those living on the premises, from when it opened in 1868 until the outbreak of World War 11.


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.


  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.

    1. Did your Mum shop at the Maypole just up the road? We lived in The Rest Center just across the road from there.

    2. Hi I lived at palmeston rd aswell from 1971.
      I remembered princess Alice .
      Another landmark was the British Leyland showroom on the corner of palmeston rd . Do you have a photos of that . I'm trying g to get any information of this place .

  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.

  3. Interesting article - good to know the full story

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

  5. I lived in Forest Gate just after the war, in a rest center just a block or two up Woodgrange Road. Princess Alice to us was just a hole in the ground, remembered only by the bus conductors who still called out her name when they stopped at the corner of Romford Road.

  6. fond memories the Alice and the post office over the road were my playgrounds

  7. I'm curious as to whether the Princess Alice who died in 1878, (the same year as the ship went down) as pubs aren't allowed to be named after living royals or have them on their signs. I assume that would have been the same in 1868 too.

  8. First Rock Against Racism gig there in October 1976, featuring Carol Grimes😎

  9. I believe my grandfather William Dennis Murphy and possibly his brother Philip Murphy were the landlords of the Princess Alice circa 1910 or later. If anyone has any information about this, could you please let me know. Many thanks.

  10. My fathers bio...born 1924 Forest Gate...parents and grandparents fathers side history of being in that locality....states his mothers side grandparents ran Princess Alice..daughter Elizabeth married into James Bamford family living at 19 Norwich rd....producing my grandmother Elsie Jane Bamford marrying into Jarvis family
    James Bamford he describes as a dealer being tall with a haunting voice and a white beard working his dealings from the pub..

    1. My grandfather George Charles Jarvis born presume his wifes(Elsie Jane a milliner) grandparents at the Alice c 1850's-1860's????? If any one has info on Thomas George Jarvis probably nearer Hackney area grandparents Father would be most grateful....maybe also a scrap dealer...addresses we think of his widow Elizabeth nee Coke(love info here too either self employed or working in linen manufacturing recorded living Selbert Rd ...Ridley or Ripley Rd Forest Gate c 1916...

    2. Funnily enough one of my dads favourite phrases after a meal was "replete"...did he get that from the pub as evidenced by the poster above?

    3. Can confirm after posting my query and checking census pub history ancestry website etc my family did not have any ownership or licensee connection to this pub....had just used it.....connections instead are via a Digby family to The Northern Star at Colney Hatch and a previous generation Digby at Pig and Whistle Stratford also known as Lion and Lamb. Problem solved!

  11. Used to go to the Alice when I lived in Windsor road 89 great pub.

  12. I met my late husband in the pub in 1990,it was the best day of my life,how times have changed for the worst.

  13. Hi, would like to get back in contact with Louise, my name's Lee, we used to work together about 20 years ago.

  14. frequented this pub in the late 70's, always a good crowd, later became a yardys pub, I was gone by then TG!

  15. Does anyone remember,Cliff,John & Noel who used to drink here regularly, and where are they now,Thankyou

  16. I was a bouncer at the alice for a while. It was certainly an experience and taught me a lot.

    1. I lived in forest gate and drank in the princess alice when it was first opened again by princess margaret in the 50s. The publican was ken platt an ex guardsman 6 foot six tall. Jack gresham smith was the bar manager who later managed the Eagle and child pub.
      The private bar was the place to be with patrons like tug boat bill jones who lived in vale rd,reg clamtree entertainer drummer lived above goldburgs the tailors shop in upton lane. Joan the bar maid and stan her partner lived in a flat in palmerstone rd. we called stan soft shoes,they both move on to the Eagle an child .

    2. REG Clamtree was a drum tutor and I was one of his pupils in the 60s and we always met on a Saturday lunchtime in the Princess Alice the back to his place above Goldbergs for the lesson

  17. I worked across the road in the BT offices for many years. The Alice was the convenient lunchtime and post work watering hole, more than a couple of times a week in those days… early to mid 80’s. Brilliant memories of those days and all the great friends I worked with and drank with, a good handful of them still friends now. A time of seeing live bands all over London, in grimy pubs where your feet stuck to the floor. Some of my fondest memories 😁


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