Friday, 2 October 2015


A sad end to an old Belvedere tradition. Large parts of the building have been destroyed along with the famous garden.

A number of stories have appeared lately regarding the fate of the Old Leather Bottle in Belvedere. Other local bloggers have mentioned it (Hugh Neal of Arthur Pewty's Maggot Sandwich and Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers to name but two). Unlike both of them however, I was very much a regular visitor for much of my adult life and am, for one, sorry to see it go. 

My earliest recollection of the Leather Bottle would have been in 1967. This was when I first started visiting the pub with a group of friends. We would drink in what was the public bar and play on the pinball machine. 

At the time, the layout of the pub was typical of the 1960's where there was what was called a "Public Bar." The entrance to the public bar was the one you can see in the photograph and was a room with a very basic layout comprising a large bar, cheap furniture and cheap beer. It was also an exclusively male preserve where the men could carry on their manly pursuits such as spitting, swearing and farting, and escape from 'her at home' for a few hours. Women did occasionally go into the public bar but usually this was only to drag their menfolk out if they had stayed too long.

At the other end of the pub was the "Saloon Bar." This was a rather better appointed room with a carpet on the floor. If there were extra cushions on the chairs, it might even be called the "Lounge Bar." The booze was more expensive too. 

It was acceptable for ladies go into the Saloon Bar but only if accompanied by a gentleman. Interestingly enough, the usual custom of permitting the lady to enter a room first was stood on it's head and the gentleman would always enter the bar first, followed by the lady. I'm not entirely sure why this was the case. I was told once that it was so the gentleman could make sure that there would be nothing inside that the lady might find offensive before letting her in. I was also told that it was to make sure that no-one thought the lady might be entering by herself. (A definite no-no almost into the 1980's in London).

It's also worth mentioning that gentlemen would be expected to wear a tie in the saloon bar, no scruffy appearance would be permitted.

In the Leather Bottle, and sandwiched between the two main bars was a small "Private Bar." Lots of pubs had them and the Leather Bottle one had an interesting bar top made from old pennies which had been varnished to make a work surface.

Ladies could sit in the private bar without being accompanied by a man, although even then, they would not usually sit alone, and would still not usually be allowed to order their own drinks. Their Husbands, drinking in the public bar, would order their drinks them for them; or sometimes, there was an arrangement where they would order drinks from their table which would be brought over to them.

There would have to be at least two, usually quite elderly ladies plus one who would be much younger. I have never watched Coronation Street but I remember in the early days there used to be a couple of old biddies sitting in the private bar of the Rover's Return. I remember the names Ena Sharples and Minnie Caldwell but I can't for the life of me remember the name of the third one. This was a typical private bar arrangement.

From 1968 onwards, I was in the RAF and didn't go back to the Leather Bottle until the late 1970's. By this time there was a couple running the place who could have grumped for England. A more miserable pair of sods you could not imagine, with a regular barmaid who was cut from the same block and could, I swear, curdle the beer from fifty paces. Not that she needed to, the whole place was filthy and run down. What you got from the beer pumps was anyone's guess and was the start of me only drinking beer that came in bottles.

The Middle bar, as it was called by then was the preserve of a group of bikers, which was of great benefit to the Landlord because, contrary to popular reputation, bikers tend to be a generally law abiding bunch and not given to starting fights when drunk. And, because of aforesaid reputation, prevented anyone else from causing any trouble because they were scared of the bikers. 

Fortunately, the pub passed into the hands of people who had grand plans for the place and this saw the old public bar being upgraded and the old saloon bar being turned into a restaurant. George and Marina (and I have forgotten their surname) had come from the King's Head in Bexley. They made the Leather Bottle a real 'place to visit.' The restaurant had a great reputation; well deserved, I might add.

In those days, the place was packed most nights so I benefited from the fact that the pub staff could see me approaching as I walked past the window in the corner of the bar and would have my pint waiting for me by the time I reached the bar. This saved me valuable drinking time as I didn't have to wait to be served like all the other peasants.

I moved to Thamesmead in the early 1990's and so started using the Cutty Sark as my regular watering hole. I did visit the Leather Bottle a few times after that but not often.

While I was taking pictures of the demolished garden, I couldn't help but worry about the incredible steep slope dug out of the hill. I assume the people doing this know their business but I wouldn't want to be the owner of the property at the top of that slope. One good few days of rain and I can see the whole thing becoming really unstable.

One other point I would like to mention concerns the "Belvedere Effect." This is where, no matter where you are in the world, you are almost certain to bump into someone who came from there. Surprising when you consider how small the place is. When I used to drink in the Leather Bottle public bar with my mates, there was another group of young people who were regular users of the pub. We didn't have anything to do with them and only recognised them from their faces. Imagine my surprise when in December 1967, I was sitting in the airman's mess at RAF Swinderby while doing my basic training, when I saw, sitting opposite me, one of the lads from the other group of Leather Bottle regulars. He had joined up on the same day and was even in the same trade. Funny old world.


Paul Nuttall trying to switch his brain on
Paul Nuttall, the UK Independence Party deputy chief fruitcake has claimed that moves to ban smoking in public parks are "nonsense." Another of their nut jobs claims that "the smoking ban in public places has damaged more communities than the pit closures did"

The UK Independence Party has pledged to repeal the smoking ban in pubs as it "damages trade." I recall a similar claim made back in 1967 when the breathalyzer was brought in to enforce new laws on drink-driving. UKIP are curiously reticent about whether they would also repeal the drink-driving laws as well.

Here are some interesting facts for you Mr Nuttall. Since your party was founded in 1991, around 2.5 million British people have died prematurely as a direct result of their smoking habit; most of them from the C1 and C2 social group you claim to be so concerned about.

Over the same period, the NHS has had to pay nearly £65 Billion on treating them. The cost to the economy in sickness pay, lost productivity and other costs is around £60 billion.

UKIP says they will spend an additional £12 billion on the NHS in England by 2020. They will need to if they want to be able to pay for treating all those nicotine addicts.

There isn't a figure available for the human cost of this carnage; probably a bit more than a few pit closures.

You may be interested to read some facts about the ban on smoking in cars containing children under 18

World wide, in the lifetime of your party, the World Health Organisation claim that 144 million people have died from smoking related illness, 14.5 million of them because they had to inhale someone else's smoke. 28% of them were children. That's over 4 million children Mr Nuttall. Dead, because there was no ban on smoking in public places.

Speaking at his party conference he also had something to say about Jeremy Corbyn. Actually he had a lot to say about him.

Mr Corbyn it seems is a "trendy lefty" rather than a working class hero and suggested that working people would not warm to a man "who says nice things about the IRA, wants to give the Falklands back to the Argentinians and, above all, won't sing the national anthem".

I am glad to see that UKIP, like the tabloid press doesn't like to get diverted by trivia from the real issues of the day. Never mind that Jeremy Corbyn wouldn't use our nuclear deterrent, never mind that he made friends with IRA terrorists or that he would hand the fate of thousands of British people living in the Falklands over to the care of a corrupt third world state .



Anyone taking a wander around the Crossness Nature Reserve can't fail to notice a number of strange messages dotted around the place. They are all written on small plastic disks and attached to posts and fences and seem to have been professionally made. I have no idea what they are or what they mean. I don't suppose I ever will.


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