No one is going to believe that I actually planned today’s post ages ago after a conversation with Martyn, given the somewhat frosty relationship with our Gallic pals across la Manche just now, but I was just waiting to get a picture to go with it. Honest…
It started with an Ask the Phantom – a question that crops up from time to time:
I regularly pass the AntiGallican Hotel in Charlton and I keep wondering what the history behind it is. I can’t find anything on their website, which is spectacularly devoid of any hint of a back story, but the Antigallican League itself seems to originate in the 18th century as an anti-French commerce organisation.
England and her nearest Continental neighbour have always been a pair of squabbling siblings. We poke out our tongues at each other, call each other names, pull each other’s hair, stick two fingers up at each other, invade each other and even, occasionally, we’re friends, albeit only ever in an uneasy truce. M. Sarkozy and Mr Cameron are only continuing a tradition of centuries of tit-for-tat.
And the 18th Century was no different. If anything it was worse, when the Anti-Gallican League was formed though as with so many things, it had little to do with actually hating the French, and much to do with loving one’s own cash. It was basic protectionism.
According to a great British Museum Article sometime around 1745 various merchants, manufacturers, landowners etc. banded together in a big rush of patriotic enthusiasm to try to curb the terrible Frenchification that – quelle horreur! – seemed to be going on all around their terrified English asses. People were picking up un-British fashions, dodgy behaviour, suspect food – all manner of unpleasantnesses from France and neglecting lovely, solid, honest English stuff and, most important of all, the English goods that the bigwigs of the league were purveying.
The League offered prizes for the most patriotic English goods, which, presumably, they awarded to their mates in the club.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the areas where Antri-Gallicanism was strongest were the urban places where goods were manufactured or evil French stuff was imported – here’s an English folk song from Newcastle, The Antigallican Privateer which has all those great 18th Century elements – pirates, battles, whooping the French – and with a little pop at the Spanish while they’re about it.
There was a novel - The Anti-Gallican, or the History and Adventures of Sir Henry Cobham (1757), and my favourite, a map, by the engraver Richard Bennett, entitled A New and Accurate Map of the English Empire in North America Representing their Rightful Claim as confirm’d by Charters & the formal Surrender of their Indian Friends; Likewise the Encroachments of the French, with the several Forts they have unjustly erected therein . . .
One of the most obvious London examples of Anti-Gallicanism is also bound up with that old chestnut of Catholic/Prostestant tension. The Huguenot weavers who had fled religious persecution in France were very keen to keep their new market in England safe. From their base in Spitalfields they saw either great riches (when England was actually at war with France and no one was buying French silk) or big losses (when England and France were friends and the imports resumed) so it was in their interests to keep up the feud (or as I learned from that great French professeur, Asterix, zizanie.)
Anti-Gallicanism as a movement lasted until after the Napoleonic Wars, but faded after that. Certainly in the ‘Clubs and Club-Houses’ section of my copy of Curiosities of London by John Timbs from 1855 makes no mention of it, despite references to societies far more obscure (though the Sublime Society of Beef-Steaks sounds like a suitable replacement, if only in name…)
That didn’t mean that The Anti-Gallican wasn’t a popular name for pubs. Perhaps publicans were able to say ‘oh, it’s historical, not offensive…’ which is, presumably what the one in Charlton said when it was rebuilt. I don’t know exactly when it was rebuilt but there’s no way that building is anything less than late Victorian and I’d wager it’s Edwardian.
It is the only one left, which probably does give it some historical importance. There was one in Tooley Street, but that closed down not so long ago.
Thing is, the pub wasn’t actually named after the League itself at all, but something far more maritime. Look at that folk song again – it’s about a ship – the Antigallican – a timber-built Man O’ War. I don’t know where it was built – the song is about Newcastle – but I’ll wager it saw the insides of the shipyards at Woolwich or Deptford at some point.
Today the Antigallican is much more friendly to foreigners than its name would suggest. I discovered, on my one and only trip to see Charlton play, that the pub is the away-team’s watering hole.
Not that that stopped the 2007 Tour de France organisers this side of the channel routing the ride straight past the Antigallican…
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