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…
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