Friday, 13 May 2016

The Crown

This is 'The Crown', a public house in Seven Dials.

The blue plaque on the wall says that it was there in 1833, so it would have been standing in 1859 when Back Home is set.

When it was built, 'The Crown' would have been a gin palace. Dickens, in his Sketches by Boz describes such a place in a rookery near Seven Dials.
All is light and brilliancy. The hum of many voices issues from that splendid gin-shop which forms the commencement of the two streets opposite; and the gay building with the fantastically ornamented parapet, the illuminated clock, the plate-glass windows surrounded by stucco rosettes, and its profusion of gas-lights in richly-gilt burners, is perfectly dazzling when contrasted with the darkness and dirt we have just left.
Gin palaces featured a lot of mahogany and brass-work and offered a relief from the unrelenting grimness of life outside. They were still, though, a place where people got very drunk very cheaply.

In Back Home, 'The Crown' is not a particularly alluring place. It does, after all, face directly onto the stump where a column (now replaced, but not there in 1859) used to mark the very centre of Seven Dials. As the area had descended into the hell of a rookery, I have allowed 'The Crown' to fall in the world as  well. Perhaps it gets more cheerful in the evening, but our narrator is there during the day.
The triangular shape of the building, occasioned by the peculiar arrangement of the streets, meant that the interior was well lit, despite the grime that covered the windows. Twenty or thirty people sat about the place or lay slumped over the tables, apparently sleeping. A couple of fellows were standing at the bar. They were being served not beer, but a clear liquid which, from the prevailing smell of the place, I recognised as gin.    As I watched, the men at the bar upended their glasses, downing the contents at a gulp, before making their way uncertainly to a space at one of the tables, where, regardless of the mess of crumbs and pooled liquor that stained it, they settled their heads upon the wood and promptly fell into a stuporous sleep.    Watching the scene, I paused, uncertain of whether or not to remain. The landlord, though, called across while I hesitated.    ‘What’s your pleasure, sir?’    He spoke with a distinctly Irish lilt to his voice and I stepped hesitantly forward. ‘A pint of beer?’    ‘We’ll serve you beer willingly, sir.’ He made his way to the beer pumps that lay at the farther end of the bar. ‘We serve Wood Yard’s here, sir, a fine beer and local. Do you know the brewery, sir?’    I confessed that I did not and he insisted on explaining exactly where it was. It stood, indeed, nearby and if the pervasive stench of the place was not so strong I would probably have smelt the distinctive aroma of beer being manufactured, but the brewery lay a little to the South and out of my way. ‘It’s a fine beer, sir, you must admit it,’ he said, passing over a glass of some cloudy liquid which, once I sipped at it, I had to admit tasted a great deal better than it looked.    ‘You’ll be wanting to sit with that,’ he said.    I glanced around, but the two men who had been at the bar when I arrived seemed to have taken the last convenient seats. This did not worry the landlord, though, for he stepped from behind the bar and walked to one of the nearer tables where he proceeded to shake awake the man who was slumped there. ‘It’s time you were awake, Higgins. Will you have another glass?’Higgins shook his head, gazing blearily around. He reached toward his trouser pocket and then, as if recollecting himself, shrugged. ‘No money,’ he mumbled.    ‘Then you’d best be on your way,’ the landlord said, not unkindly and, taking Higgins firmly by the arm, he escorted him to the door.    I took the place he had vacated and concentrated on my beer, trying to ignore the stentorian snoring of the men on either side of me.

'The Crown' today is rather a lovely pub. There's still a lot of polished wood and brass, though the back bar with its book lined walls probably wouldn't have been there in 1859. If you're ever in Seven Dials you could call in and have a look.

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