London Stories and Tips

The East End: 'The Royal Oak' and 'The White Swan'

"Gor Blimey Gov'nor!", "Lord Strike a light!", "Would you Adam and eve it....?"

Are the above phrases gobbledigook or the ancient language of cockney? Or a bit of both? If you really want to get away from the Harrods bags and Hard Rock Cafe souvenirs of tourist London - then head to the famous East End. Home of cockneys, jellied eels and corner pubs you will not get a better feel for the soul of London then this area stretching from the Tower to the Essex border. This is one of the poorest parts of London, but is in no way dangerous, and the people here are more natural and down-to-earth then the showy West End.

The old East End of narrow alleys, corner pubs and music halls is going. The area was decimated in the Second World War. For ten months the entire German airforce came over every night and its dropped bombs. It was rebuilt and the small corner pubs and markets remain, but more importantly so does the soul for this is the London of Jack-the-Ripper, The Kray Twins, and of course 'Eastenders'. If you venture in, you can congratulate yourself for being so intrepid as you will probably be the only foreigner there.

The Royal Oak, 24 Colombia Road, (usual pub hours)

The 'Royal Oak' is a stereotypical East End pub. Even its location at the end of Colombia Road flower market gives it that extra-special cockney kudos. The exterior is Victorian and hasn't changed for years, it has doubled in television dramas for a 1940's pub. Inside reeks of Old London - sawdust on the floor, dartboard, mohoghany panelling, wooden tables and a wide range of ales, beers and stouts. If it wasn't for the drag act on the stage and the clientele you wouldn't know you were in a gay pub at all.

'The White Swan', Commercial Road, Stepney, (hours 10.00-02.00am)

The 'White Swan' is about fun. Hundreds of gays and their straight friends come here every week from as far afield as Kent and Essex. If you are a foreign visitor then you will be something of a novelty for these lads - as not many head out this way. It is very hard to find and is along walk from the tube (Stepney Green), so a taxi from central London is best at only £10.00.

Inside is a darkened nightclub with stage, disco and enormous bar. The music is unpretentious, usually consisting of the top-twenty, and there is a beer garden out back. But the people are friendly, and after a few drinks you will be dropping your 'aitches like the locals as well.

If you want to see the most famous pub in the East End - head for the 'Blind Beggar' on Whitechapel High Street (tube: Whitechapel). This is where the Kray Twins shot George Cornell in 1966. When the police investigated, no one in the full pub claimed to have seen anything. Hence the irony of the name 'The Blind Beggar'...

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