There’s Gold In Them Thar Rafters

A pal of mine, who knows the way to a Phantom’s heart, gave me a rather odd little book for my birthday, a 1964 ‘guide’ to the pubs and taverns of the Thames, carefully selected, as far as I can see, by whether or not the establishments had paid to be in it. For all that, though, it’s full of some really quirky little entries, padded out with odd facts (or, possibly, factoids) about some of our classic hostelries.

Greenwich appears several times – with mentions of The Yacht (Manns) The Cutty Sark (Free House) The Trafalgar Tavern (Manns) – and the one I want to talk about today, The Pilot (Whitbread.)

Of course the Pilot is a Fullers House now, and, I have to say from the photos on its website, it looks like it might be a place to recommend to people who are looking for somewhere to stay on a visit to the O2. It’s certainly less corporate than the Holiday Inn, closer than the central Greenwich venues, and the rooms look pretty decent.

But I’m not really going to talk about the pub today in this post as my eye was drawn to something else in the entry in Riverside Taverns and Inns. It says that the original building dates back to the 1660s (that must be the bit in the middle) which explains why it survived the wholesale demolition on the peninsula – it’s automatically listed - “All buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed, as are most of those built between 1700 and 1840″ - English Heritage.  Even if Mary Mill’s reference to it actually having been built in the very early 19th century (in her sadly out-of-print Greenwich Marsh – the Three Hundred Years Before the Dome) is right, it’s still probably listed.

But back in 1964, they had just done some renovating and the book has this tantalising line:

“during recent renovations several gold coins were found lying amongst the old mahogany timbers.”

Now, I have to say I was mildly surprised to think that an inn would have been build from mahogany – but then this was dockland, and all sorts of materials ‘accidentally’ found their way into unexpected places off the ships. Bugsby’s Marsh would have been wild land where anything went. Perhaps the Pilot’s rafters are made from finest mahogany. But gold coins? Cor! That’s straight out of the Famous Five!

And it gets better.

“This discovery helps to substantiate the theory that smugglers used the house and probably hid their spoil in the loft before carrying it through the tunnels which lead from the cellar to the nearby river.”

When I read that I started dancing around with excitement. Of course, when I stopped for breath, I started asking questions – why would smugglers hide their booty in the rafters if they were only going to bring it all down again to lug it through secret underground tunnels?  And, um, surely this was Bugsby’s marsh? Underground tunnels? Why bother? The place was deserted, and the land so low anyway it would be flooded all the time.

But the romantic in me says ‘phooey’. I have written to the current landlords, asking them if they know anything about secret underground tunnels, and if they do, I’ll be packing off the guys at Subterranean Greenwichto do a reccy for me. I’ve also asked the guvnors they know anything about ancient gold coins – and what happened to them if they ever existed.

In the meanwhile. I had a quick chat with Mary, who didn’t seem as sceptical as I thought she might be. She even thinks it’s possible. Certainly she knows a guy who was brought up in a cafe in River Way. He told her there was a passageway under the shop going towards the river. And, she says, “East Lodge, which was the big house on  the riverside, is said to have old stone cellars underneath it ‘like those at the college’.” It is a bit of mystery when East Lodge actually was. In photos, Mary tells me,  it looks 1840ish but most likely dates, like the pilot, from 1802 and there are no buldings shown before that on detailed maps. But there is an account of a burglary in a riverside house earlier than that. 

Hopeful of finding a secret tunnel, Mary pushed for an archaeological dig between the Pilot and the river but despite MOLAS saying yes, it never happened and now, sadly, it appears to have been built on. However, she says there IS something in the cellars of the pub, though she told me to ask the landlord exactly what - which of course I have. I’ll let you know if I ever hear from him/her as to whether it’s a secret tunnel, a crock of gold or the Fearsome Beast of Bugsbys Marsh, entombed for the past eleven years ever since it was captured by Richard Rogers on an early hunting expedition before the birth of the Dome.

I’ll let you know if and when I do, folks. Fingers crossed all this talk of secret tunnels and gold wasn’t just a bit of blarney made up in the offices of The Constitutional Press Ltd to entrance Phantoms and sell a few more copies of Riverside Taverns and Inns

the attachments to this post:

riverside taverns low
riverside taverns low

15 Comments to “There’s Gold In Them Thar Rafters”

  1. Until a couple of years or so back, The Pilot was a free house owned by Phil Marron. Under his ownership, it was an excellent boozer, also serving decent food at reasonable prices. As he’d owned the pub for a number of years and built it up from nothing, Phil decided to sell which was fair enough since he and his wife weren’t getting any younger. Fullers obviously paid him a decent price and why not? Unfortunately, since they’ve owned it, the pub has certainly become more ‘corporate’ in its outlook and the prices have increased to match. Still a nice pub but nowhere near as good as it used to be. Worth a ‘phantom’ visit to see what you think though.

  2. stonemuse says:

    great stuff … keep us updated.

    By the way, in response to the previous comment, Phil Marron ran the Valley pub in Elliscombe Road many years ago … he was a great landlord.

  3. Peter says:

    on a similar vein, my Father was brought up in Deal (kent) where there are certainly smugglers tunnels (they used them to evacuate the kids when the school was bombed during the war). he also said there was a tunnel leading from the first floor of the house he lived in- certainly the wall was thick enough between their house and the neighbours as it contained a circular staircase up to the first floor, and there was a 3 foot disparity between the interior walls of the houses and the distance between the front doors on the outside, also the house was 3 foot wider upstairs than down. as far as I know the entrance inside the house had been sealed, but when you consider these houses were on a street running back from the seafront the tunnels must have been below the sea level.
    good luck with hunting your secret tunnels phantom.

  4. darryl says:

    I know the daughter of the Pilot’s guv’nor from the early 70s (he sadly died a year or so ago) – I’ll ask her if she knows anything.

    My parents also knew him – I was due to have my head wetted in the Pilot after I was born, although I think I was too sickly a child to go through with it (some things never change, etc).

  5. Stonemuse – yes you’re right. The Valley was an excellent boozer under Phil’s management. I think he was just one of those guys who knew how to do it properly, chose the right staff, knew how to look after the beer, etc.

  6. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adam Bienkov, darryl1974 and Summer Sessions, Dave Meynell. Dave Meynell said: fascinating RT @AdamBienkov: Secret tunnels under the Greenwich Peninsula? via @TGPhantom [...]

  7. Mary says:

    Quick note – the Pilot isn’t listed. and I am certain it isn’t 1660. The cottages were listed in 1998 because they are very early workmen’s cottages. The Pilot couldn’t be listed because of the modern extensions. The whole lot were due be demolished by the Dome landscape architects but the Council insisted they were kept.
    - and you could look at my new booklet on that area, available at local commuity outlets and all takings to charity. (£2)

  8. Anonymous says:

    Did Mr Marron have the Pilot in 1964 then when the coins were found? No wonder he could lay on free food on match days down the Valley pub!

    Legend has it that he turned down a million pound to let Sky News hire out the pub for Millennium Eve. What else did he find down these tunnels?

    Looking forward to an update.

  9. OldChina says:

    Brilliant! What kind of gold coins were they? Dubloons?! I wonder where they are now?

    The little row of houses that include the Pilot Inn are great but look a little lost in the massive empty expanse of the peninsular. Are you saying that rows of similar houses were demolished recently to make way for the Dome development? But there’s nothing there now, it’s all car parks and post-apocolyptic desolation!

  10. Robert number 16 says:

    Am I right that Daimian Hurst lived in the Pilot cottages? and there was a pop video filmed there with the cottages in the background. Can`t remember the band.

  11. Benedict says:

    Ohhh exciting stuff Phantom. I wonder whether there is another explanation for the gold coins. My two eldest brothers are both stone masons and get to work on medievil churchs and lots of other old buildings and whenever they do any major repairs they lay a coin (usually a pound)dated from the year they did the work, under where they have made a repair. They have both come across coins hundreds of years old .They never take them away, for fear of The Mason’s Curse!
    So I wonder if some Master Carpenter had left them on the mahogany beams.

  12. Mary says:

    There was a lot of housing on the Peninsula at one time but it was cleared by the LCC in the 1960s – only those cottages remained and a few bits and pieces like the Horniman Museum building.
    Don’t know about Damien Hurst – its probable – the band is Blur’s in Park Life – and endless 70s TV shows and lots of other more obscure videos

  13. Sean Hayward says:

    I think any tunnel if it ever existed (which I sincerely doubt) would have been destroyed with the building of Blackwall point power station (whenever that was) – the station spanned both side of River Way and the ground conditions there where terrible.
    Also at the back of the Pilot area of the pub were the old marsh lands used as a rubbish depository going back hundreds of years. I still have boxes of old stone and glass bottles dug up when being built on.
    I lived in River Way at the gatehouse of Redpath Brown (later Redpath Dorman Long and then British Steel)- we moved there in 1960 and stayed well passed the closure of the site, until British Steel kicked my family out in fact.
    My father worked in the factory and was the security man.
    This whole area, River Way, the river frontage and tow path, the factory lands (at the weekends) was my (and two sisters) playground from the age of 5.
    I had to take the 185 bus from the end of River Way to attend James Wolfe School on the other side of Greenwich.
    I had my first pint of beer in the PIlot about 1971-2 (Landlords name was Tony Hanlon I believe).
    I also have signed photos from various cast members of Z Cars which my father got when they were filming there.
    Also (I think) used in more recent years for Eastenders when the Mitchell Bros drove into the river.

  14. Susannah says:

    I worked in the riverside industrial estate next door to the Pilot before it was demolished to make way for a fabulous disused coachpark.
    A few years after taking the Pilot Mr Marron had the pub extended and the kitchen enlarged. His wife Maureen told me about the tunnel that was discovered when the kitchen floor was dug up.
    The kitchen has also flooded there on a few occasions.