Thursday, March 01, 2012

Last Orders at Montague Arms?

Very sad to have to confirm reports that the legendary Montague Arms (289 Queens Road SE15) has closed - at least in its current incarnation. The pub hasn't been open since the New Year, and its future has been in doubt since the deaths of Stan and Bet Pownall (both in their 80s) who had been running the pub with owner Peter Hoyle since 1967. I'd heard that the family had decided to close it, but was waiting for an official announcement and hoping that there would be some change of plan. But last week the pub's famous stuffed animals were put up for auction at Toovey's.

Pete Hoyle (left), the late Stan (centre) and Bet (right)

The pub managed to combine being one of the last old style South London boozers with being the home for succesive waves of people looking for somewhere welcoming and quirky to put on interesting events.

In the past ten years the pub has hosted various great music and club nights including Throbb, Fear of Music , Greenwich Pirate, Wolfgang Bopp, Coronary Crumpage (where Anna Calvi played an early gig in 2008), Frog Morris, White Noise and The Ticket that Exploded. Paul McCartney popped in for a drink once in the 1980s,  and in 1989 the NME intervewiewed Nick Cave, Shane MacGowan and Mark E Smith in the pub.

Its decor was unique, combinining maritime memorabilia (diving helmet, ship model) with Victorian stuffed animals (zebra, oryx). Not to mention that scary Santa they used to bring out at Christmas with the plastic bags over its hands. The pub's fame travelled far and wide - it was selected as the best pub in the country in the Rough Pub Guide book (2008) and highlighted as 'one of our strangest, and best, boozers' in an unusually good article in The Sun only last November.


People used to sometimes joke about the 'coach parties welcome' sign outside, but for many years they did a deal with coach drivers from the continent driving up the A2 into London who would stop off (no doubt for free food and drink) at the pub with their passengers. I was in there one night when a coach load of Dutch tourists came in - they loved the place, what a great introduction to London.

Here's some of my top Montague Arms memories:

- Sunday lunch with the family being entertained by The Two Petes - the legendary house band consisted of drummer (and pub owner) Pete Hoyle and Pete London on keyboards and vocalists. They actually put out three limited release 'Live at the Montague Arms' albums in 1971/72, featuring their inimitable cover versions of songs, and were still going forty years later. In their early days comedian Jimmy Jones also joined the act. I particularly remember their version of Wonderwall - and my son getting up on stage when they were performing and singing Twinke Twinkle Little Star.
- Gang of Four (2005) - one of my favourite ever bands played their first gig for twenty years in the pub. I was there, standing next to Phil Jupitus I recall.

- Bloomsday (2008) - one of those random nights when you end up watching some Eastern European avant garde jazz band (Tudósok)  and loving it. 

- Brockley Ukulele Group - my first time on the stage was giving a short talk on New Cross history at a My Eyes, My Eyes film night, but then in 2008 I performed there a few times with the Brockley Ukulele Group, including once on the same bill as my old faves RDF (or rather their later incarnation The Faction).

- Band of Holy Joy last December - so glad I went to that, my last visit to the pub. Fitting that it should have been one of the finest bands ever to emerge from the local area playing at one of  last gigs at the Montague Arms, if not the final one.

I guess it's still possible that the pub may be resurrected in some form rather than be converted into flats. Any recent lottery winners who want to do the world a favour get in touch with the family quick.

See also: report at SE London CAMRA; Hollow Legs bids goodbye to New Cross and The Monty (like Lizzie I always think of the pub being in New Cross, some would argue it's technically Peckham on account of its SE15 postcode)


Post your Montague Arms memories and stories in the comments (if you've got any evocative photos email me).

Here's a little tribute video I have put together quickly with images found online plus a recording of the The Two Petes performing MacArthur Park:



Update: by a strange coincidence, Greg Hoyle (son of Pete) also posted a video on youtube a couple of weeks ago made up of pictures of the pub set to a Two Petes soundtrack (in this case America). I swear I didn't see this until after I'd posted my film!

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was also hoping that all the gossip relating to the Montague Arms would turn out to be unfounded. I have had many a drunken evening in the Monty over the years and am so sad that it has finally closed its doors. I am also gutted that I didn't get to try and bid on some mad looking taxidermy at auction! My favourite memories nearly always include the magnificent Two Petes, the bar staff being older than time itself and having my ears blown to pieces whilst watching Part Chimp play live a couple of years back.

Geoff @ Four to the 4 said...

Gutted. Absolutely gutted. I've so many fond memories of The Montague. A New Years Eve, playing the drums there in a band once, seeing plenty of other bands play there, and of course plenty of the legendary Sunday Roasts. The area loses something truly, truly special :(

Anonymous said...

I actually played with the Two Pete's once. Well drunkenly murdered an Elvis tune whilst they courageously carried on. They sensibly decided one tune was enough.

Jackie K said...

I remember going there for my birthday once (mid-90s), my (alleged) friends telling the barman it was my birthday and then later being serenaded by the two Petes, even being invited by one of them to 'sit on his organ'. I moved out of London several years ago, but thought the Montague Arms would go on forever. Sad news indeed. New Cross will never again rock to the sound of "Stupid Cupid" (with the lovely Patricia).

aka Clive Shaw said...

Big shame, it was an amazing place. I was always on the lookout for amazing places for our shows, but only did one My Eyes! My Eyes! film night there – and we were told never to come back!

I have no idea why, but the program I chose was way more "mature audiences only" than most, and at the most extreme moment coincided with Bet arriving from upstairs and being placed on a crate with a nice view of the screen. As she was being helped away "No, no, I don't want this!", Stan gave me one of the fiercest looks I've ever seen!

The set-up was unique too. Stan wouldn't let us do anything until his coach trip (Polish) had been fed. I went in a while later and he said we could come back anytime, because we drank so much, and he liked the "kinky films", but he'd keep Bet upstairs next time... wish I had taken him up on it.

I'll try and find the flyer for you, Clive

Anonymous said...

Lack of respect to the locals who've supported this place over the last forty years not to announce their closure or have a closing party or whatever. And then to auction off all the memorabilia on the sly. Quite angry about the whole thing. the place will be flattened for flats. Stan and Betty will be turning in their graves. RIP.

Transpontine said...

I think that's a bit unfair. I understand that a fire enforcement order was issued against the pub in December, and that they would have needed to spend a fair bit to keep it open. With its future uncertain anyway following death of Stan and Bett they obviously felt it couldn't continue as before. In the mean time if their family need to make a few bob from selling off some antiques that's their business, sad as it may be.

I agree though it would be a shame if it got replaced with flats. Within a few hundred yards we have also lost the London + Brighton and Swiss Tavern in last couple of years, as well as pubs on Pomeroy St.

Ian said...

There's also the fact that it's been a greiving process for those immediately involved. The usual situation for those who lose parents/loved ones is that they're able to grieve in peace, move, or potentially sell property, divide, dispose of or sell belongings that remind them of the deceased, etc. They're not expected to throw a huge party at their parents' old house, make announcements and ask the public about what they should do with the deceased's furniture and ornaments. And that was the great and unique thing about the Montague; it was a true family (and large extended family)-run Inn, and if you went there enough and/or got invloved enough, you were made to feel like you were a part of that extended family. Thanks for your sensitive commentary on this, Neil.

dspu said...

A legendary pub that took me far too long to visit. I distinctly remember the 'Coach Parties Welcome' sign coming home from childhood holidays to France in the 70's, only to end up living just round the corner a few year's ago. Can still hear Bet's resounding 'Y'alright love?' from behind the bar now. And even better, Pete London's misappropriation of Penny Lane lyrics to a blissfully unaware Austrian coach party dancing immaculately to 'There's a wanker in the corner taking photographs'...:o)
It was so cold in the back of the pub on the cobbles of the old A2 a couple of year's ago that I had to wear gloves on my feet.
Sad times but so many very happy memories of each and every visit.

Anonymous said...

A notice on the door of the auction date would have been a good thing. Enable people who cared to buy into some of the memories (and also upped the amount realised). I remain resentful that my husband's aunt's executors did not notify us of when her property went to auction - it would have been nice for my daughter to buy some of her grandmother's jewellery.

Anonymous said...

I held my Birthday there some years ago... It was inspired by a story Stan (the bar man told me)
According to him in his stong Northern accent 'This funny fellah wearing white gloves took to the key board and played the most amazing tunes - twas like *magic* running through his finger tips.." Who was it than none other than Mr Michael Jackson!Cheers Lord Anthony

Anonymous said...

An amazing pub! In a way I'm glad it has shut altogether rather than carrying on in a modified / modernised form. I hope the premises will host a new pub though.

Anonymous said...

Gutted
This is so sad

McQuaid. said...

This is really heartbreaking. I (along with Laurie, Leaf, Wil and Saam) ran the Fear of Music nights there, and I had far and away some of the best times of my 20s in the place. Mention should also go to the Lost Club who always put on a great party in one of the finest venues I've ever been to. Stan was a legend, very sad to hear of his passing, fingers crossed that something can be done to save the place.
Funnily, Wil and I got to DJ to one of the coach parties once, on a Saturday afternoon. It was (as with most things in the Montague) fucking surreal- 14 year old Belgian kids stage diving to Hi NRG Euro Trance, whilst grizzled locals got hammered in dark corners and Mack served up roast dinners. It really can't be replaced.

Anonymous said...

Anything that can be done to prevent this place being turned into flats? We've lost so many boozers over the years around here...

Anonymous said...

Ahh really is the end of a great pub, am really sad that it has gone alot of good times in there. Rip xxx Jake peters

Ben Frimet said...

Has anyone got any connections to the current owners? Want to get in touch to ask if I can use the space for a project and hopefully keep the bulldozers or developers away

Transpontine said...

The owner's address is given here: http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/notice_detail.asp?id=86354

However, in thinking about plans for the future of the site please be sensitive to the fact that the family has experienced two recent bereavements, and also bear in mind that after putting 40+ years of work into the pub the future of the building is their decision (within the constraints of planning regulations).

paultheotherone said...

truly sad, I was shocked when I heard the news...I remember Elwell's way out gigs, with Digep from Hungary making great noise with an angle grinder and an oil drum...then there was the Japanese psych rock band (forget the name off hand) which made such immense music that my throat was bleeding the next day from the roaring of appreciation...the Sunday lunches were an occasional treat, with the free apple pie and cream dessert! My only hope is that another venue comes along to take the baton, the area is losing the places that give it character...

Hugo Burnham said...

What a place...we played a "secret" (ha ha) pre-reunion-tour show there in January 2005. Embarrassed to say...after growing up in Kent and driving past it 1,000 times with my Dad in my youth, then on my own, and then living just up the Old Kent Road from there for a number of years (and my brother just around the corner), I'd never been there before we played. The atmosphere was magical and mad that night; 49 feeling like I was 24 again - a sea of punters old and young. Bloody great.

A brilliant place, and a brilliant show. So sad it's gone. I live in Septic Land now; and really mmiss South London.

Thanks for the great time.

Hugo B.
(Gang of Four)

Transpontine said...

Good to hear from you Hugo, your gig at the Montague was amazing.

Didn't realize that you lived in the Old Kent Rd for a while, so we can claim Gang of Four as partly a South London band! Was that when you were recording Entertainment at Workshouse? (now site of the Old Kent Rd Asda)

lcole said...

OH NO!!! My worst fears confirmed. How terribly sad. I live down the road from The Monty. I cant believe the taxidermy has been sold !!!! I understand the family may not be able or want to keep the pub on. But goodness it cant go to someone who would change it. it should be listed! its such a uniqiue place. Surely something could 've been done maybe the many locals who love the place could have helped? This is terribly sad for the family and for everyone who ever spent time at the Monty.

simon perry said...

Really gutted to here the sad news about stan and bet. I used to co run the Wolfgang bopp club nights there and have many many happy memories of the place. I'm really glad we had the opportunity to get some really great bands down to the montague, metronomy, carribou, wombats, tom vek. I remember seeing death from above 1979 there around 2005, absolutely insane.
Stan bet and martin always made us welcome.
I remember one drunken conversation with martin, in which he told us what was filmed there in the 70s. I won't share here as I'm not sure about the legality of what I was told!!

I would like to wish the family well and thank all involved for some of the best nights of my 20s.

As for what next . . The place would never have been the same without stan and bet. It should be left to legend and the family should be able to do as they please with the place without people putting their noses in with stupid comments.

All the best,

Wolfgang bopp xxx

Ceri James said...

Very sad RIP Stan & Bet. Its a massive loss to the area. I had many great nights gigging and watching the bands here at club night like The Ticket That Exploded. always enjoyed the atmosphere there and the company of the quirky clientele and bar staff. I hope the venue can reinvent itself in someway.

Paul Andrews said...

Had some of the most memorable nights ever playing or watching some of the other weird and wonderful acts at this pub and the staff were awesome, it's very sad. Hope once a little time has passed that the place can open up again.

Mike said...

I remember 'The Mont' from the early 1970s. Used to go there to see the comedian Jimmy Jones, who seemed to be on stage nearly every day - I doubt that much of his material would be allowed nowadays!The audience in those days seemed to be boosted by numbers of visiting lorry drivers. There were also strippers on Monday nights.

Pete Um said...

Sad news. A really unique place.

Scott Mullins said...

This is a complete travesty. Sign my petition calling for the pub to be restored to its former glory and reopened:

http://chn.ge/AeA8g9

We can't let this historic pub be buried under more flats.

Anonymous said...

It belongs to the family. What if they don't want to reopen it?

This place stinks of entitlement.

Transpontine said...

@Anonymous

Not sure what you mean by 'This place', but if you mean this website or even the people commenting on this post you will see that most people are simply expressing their appreciation of the pub and treasuring their memories.

Many of the people commenting have not been 'entitled'-feeling consumers (or sideline snipers), but part of the life of the pub, putting energy into it as performers, promoters, etc.

And quite a few people (including me) have made the same point as you - that we should respect the family's wishes about what they want to do.

I think the petition is well-meaning - we would all like the pub to continue as it was - but I don't think there's a lot to be gained by demanding that the pub owners try and rewind the clock. The people who ran the pub for years have died, sadly we have to accept that era is over.

Moonbow John said...

One of the first pubs I ever drank in as a teenager and the one to have our final Moonbow get together before Brockley closed, I have only great memories of the pub and everyone there. In the girlfriend desert that befitted my mates and me in our early 20s we had a phase of going a lot in hope of a young female coach party stepping through the door - and magically, American movie style, 50 odd young Scandinavian beauties walked in one evening off a coach. Unfortunately we were all like Dumber and Dumber and they left happily bemused and us all blaming one another for 'messing up our chance'. Thank you for being part of my life. John

arnold lane said...

Brilliant tribute, much appreciated. The Bloomsday gig was a goodun! Lots of other great ones. RIP Bet, Stan and The Monty, greatly missed. The thank you cards The Silo got after sending flowers to Bet's funeral were absolutely amazing.

Anonymous said...

I started using the mont in 1966 when it had a snug and private bar with just a bar billiards table in the corner it was great then when Pete took it over what a change that man brought to the pub music live band and jimmy Jones and lets not forget those exotic dancers on Sundays....truly a great pub

LyndsayMcCartney said...

Me and my boyfriend had our first date in there in December 2010 on a ladies night!
I have lived around Peckham for 3 years and am so sad to here of the owners deaths and the pubs closing.
It was a wonderful place!
Lyndsay

Wendy said...

Spent my coming of age in the Monty as well as too many lunchtimes and evening! It has always been special. Remember "Mum" who used to sit on a stool next to the biggest whisky optic and gradually get sozzled throughout the evening. Very sorry to hear Stan and Bett have gone - what happened? Although it is a shame, maybe it is the end of an era. This very hard working family created a unique space and it would be hard to maintain the atmosphere without the main players. I would like to thank them for their warmth, kindness and for the absolutely fantastic times me and my friends had there, most nights, once upon a time.

Anonymous said...

So very sorry to hear the Montague Arms is now closed. I used to be a regular visitor and singer there and found the atmosphere always very welcoming. Singing with the two Peters was so relaxing, enjoyable and easy compared with many bands up and down the country. I knew Stan and his wife very well and was therefore very sorry to learn of their loss. (Derek)

PC said...

Sad, very very sad.

First taken 32 years ago as an 8 year old boy by my dad. Amongst other curios I never forget the coffin complete with Vampire that was then positioned outside the ladies.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the coffin! As an 18 year old boy in the early 1970s I used to get the bus from Eltham with a few friends every Monday evening for the fabulous cabaret. Music from Rit' and Ron, comedy from Mike Reid or Jimmy Jones, and of course the exotic dancer. Give her a hand on her opening, as Mike Reid used to introduce her. A few pints, a few laughs, the Wimpy Bar after closing and the bus home. Happy Days!