Why my pub won’t be closing its doors….

Why my pub won’t be closing its doors

On a Friday night, eight years ago, I was home drinking wine, sitting on the sofa ‘chatting’ to friends via Facebook. Someone, it might have been me, it might not, said ‘this is like a virtual pub’. This tickled my imagination and that of my friend, Liz Steer, so we set up the Sofa Arms. As a Facebook group with multiple admins people could invite their own friends down the pub and chat amongst themselves or the other regulars. It was those regulars that really made the pub work. They didn’t all know each other but many were connected by being disconnected. Isolation and social distance aren’t new. Many people become isolated at different points in their lives, parents of new babies and young children, people with long term illness or disability, or those temporarily disabled by injury or disease. One of our most ebullient regulars is an archaeologist who spends nearly every summer on digs in remote parts of Turkey, for her the Sofa Arms was a little taste of home and a place to unwind and be silly.

I’m not sure how I ended up by being landlady (how Liz got away with not) but I never thought the Sofa Arms would still be going strong. Recently we’ve been very busy. In fact we haven’t been this busy since the London Riots in 2011. This is not surprising, suddenly everyone is feeling isolated, disconnected and also in need of a bit of silliness. Our current isolation and social-distance comes with a big hint of ‘death’ and I think that is driving people to find distractions. On Friday we experimented with our first live Happy Hour via Zoom. Not without its technical glitches but patrons are keen to give it another ago and are already talking about pub quizzes and play readings, a poetry night is currently scheduled for Monday. But it is about more than social interaction.

The popularity of the pub is down to the regulars and their collective imagination and creativity. They have created the pub and all its fabulous features. They have made for themselves and for others the comfort of a perfect place – a pub-topia – where the loos are always clean and stocked with loo roll, where every kind of food and drink is available. Long running imaginative threads have woven the pub into a kind of shared reality. There are rogue camels that sometimes, ineffectively, serve behind the bar, there is a Colin Firth look-a-like waiter, a Pimms fountain, the heating for the Winter Bar is provided by mulled wine running behind the wainscoting which can be sampled from small brass taps set into the panelling. The games room is big enough for jousting and has also hosted Zumba. Mrs Thinge the cleaner has had much written about her and has emerged as a character somewhere between Mata Hari and Flash Harry.

Dropping into the Arms is about dropping into a nicer world, one that is fun and easy, away from all crises. Although it does provide a place for social connection I think it is that shared vision of a good place to be that will keep it open for the duration. I work for the charity Magic Me, our director recently wrote a blog about ‘Where we are today’ her final lines really resonate with me and I’m planning to have them painted above the door to the Ladies’ Snug:

“Solutions will be found, creativity will flourish, people will connect”

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I had for some time considered the parallels and similarities between Emily Bronte’s creation ‘Heathcliffe’ and Mary Shelley’s ‘Creature’ and how ideas of revenge drive forward the plots of both Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein. Modern interpretations of both often try and force a romantic plot line onto these works, rather than a Romantic one. In both cases an abandoned child grows up alone, any love or comfort is fleeting and often quickly taken away by fate. Each character grows embittered and determines to take revenge, unlike the Count of Monte Cristo (fairly contemporary to Wuthering Heights) who takes very specific revenge on each of the people who wrong him, these characters take revenge that although directed at one person is a revenge on the whole world – it is savage, raw, visceral.

It made me wonder about the authors, whether these characters were outlets for their own feelings of abandonment (both had mother’s who died young and father’s more concerned with philosophy and theology), the pain of their own loss of children, siblings, loved ones.

In my one off book I imagine a narrative for Frankenstein that tells the story from the Creature’s perspective and pulls out the similarities with Heathcliffe on one side and on the other is a series of visual thoughts about the relationship between Emily and Mary, between Mary and Percy and Byron and about women repressing their raw emotions and putting them into their art.  The design of the book was inspired by a facsimile of a German children’s book that has cut outs through the middle of the pages and a zig-zag fold out page formation that allows you to rearrange it so you can create different through views. This seemed to me the perfect vehicle for interpreting a classic novel – one that has gathered many different viewpoints and interpretations over the years.

The book was exhibited at the Liverpool Book Art Fair in 2018. The exhibtion was themed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein.

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Creative projects update

Taking stock as the seasons turn I’ve updated various pages on this site and added lots of pictures and media!


26 first draft

You can catch up with my Artist in Residence in My Own Street project here

Find out about my Cheer Up Love! project here


And watch this space for my 365DaysofMum project.


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Posted as part of Inktober – October 2018 – part of my Pick and Choose History of Courtenay Street, Kennington and Lambeth:


Spooky Lambeth for Halloween. Featuring two of Cheryl Newey’s favourite south london ghosts – the ghost of the Kennington Loop and the ghost of the Old Vic! The ghost of the Kennington Loop is well known as a story for South Londoners, but only those who fail to get off the terminating train will have experienced it. As it goes into the loop sounds of footsteps are heard moving through the carriages opening and closing the interconnecting doors – so remember when they say ‘all change’ – get off the train! I discovered a fascinating story about the entertainer Roy Hudd – he had a recurrent dream in which he walked up to and then into the same house over and over – he could describe the place in detail, but it wasn’t until he visited some friends living in Ackerman Road in Brixton that he discovered that the house was real and had once been the home of fellow performer, music hall legend, Dan Leno. So precise had been his dreams that Roy could describe each room before he entered it. There is a Lambeth legend that if you run twelve times round the Tradescant tomb (now in the Garden Museum’s garden – once the parish churchyard) whilst Big Ben strikes midnight, a ghost will appear. Sadly I only found this out after Big Ben was silenced for maintenance. Working the occasional late shift for weddings I would have had opportunity to try this out. Ah well, just 5 years to wait! The Imperial War Museum is housed in what used to be Bedlam (the main London insane asylum) and it is said that security guards report the sounds of screams and rattling chains. The Old Vic has, appropriately, a female ghost. She is seen clutching blood stained hands to her breast – whether this is the means of her demise or just a reprise of her best performance as Lady M has yet to be determined – perhaps a job for the Most Haunted team and Dennis Acora? This is just a small selection of the many fun ghosts and hauntings of Lambeth! (I’ve even had my own poltergheist but now exorcised).

Cheryl added the following comment to the original post:

“Spooktastic!! There’s also Lilian Bayliss and Emma Conns at the Old Vic. Apparently, the aroma of frying sausages can sometimes be smelled in the auditorium during a performance, and it’s said that it’s Ms Bayliss enjoying the show and cooking her favourite supper!”


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Players and Performers

Posted as part of Inktober in October 2018 – part of my Pick and Choose History of Courtenay Street, Kennington and Lambeth


Players & Performers. There may be a second part to this! There are many players and performers from Lambeth but here are a small selection: Charlie Chaplin famously lived at many different addresses in Kennington, including the workhouse – the building is now the Cinema Museum which is threatened with closure – do please sign the petition here to help keep it open! Here

Back in 1831 American actress Ada Isaac Menken caused a storm in the production ‘Mazeppa’ dressed only in a short tunic and flesh coloured tights she was tied to a galloping horse! Daisy Dormer was a music hall artiste married into a large family of performers based in Kennington – her big hit was the song ‘After the Ball is Over’ which went on to sell 5 million sheet music copies in the 1890s! (there is a block of flats named after her in Brixton).

You can here it here

Raffaele Chefalo was one of the great musicians of the early 20th century and a friend of Houdini. On the 1911 census he was living with his wife and child in Loughborough Road, Brixton.

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Maypoles, Mummers and Morris dancers

Posted for Inktober, October 2018, part of my Pick and Choose History of Courtenay Street, Kennington and Lambeth


Maypoles, mummers and Morris dancers. The longest standing maypole in London once stood in Black Prince Road opposite the Black Prince pub. It was still in use in 1795. In 1377 the Common Council of England sent 130 men to salute Richard II. They went ‘a mumming’ to Kennington Palace riding in pairs with torches, dressed in red with their faces covered with ‘vizards’ (masks). They presented gifts, drank and danced before returning to the city. Morris dancing still thrives in South London there are at least 9 Morris sides including an all women side (New Esperance) in Borough

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Theatre and Other Entertainments

From Inktober posts Oct 2018 – part of my Pick and Choose History of Courtenay Street, Kennington and Lambeth:


Theatre and Other Entertainments. We all know that the South Bank is full of glorious possibilities for entertainment, but I’ve lived in Kennington for 20 years and didn’t know that the first Elizabethan playhouse was sited on what is now the road junction between the Elephant & Castle shopping centre and the Strata building! In 1594 Henslowe brought the players here from the Rose (which was closed) and notes in his papers that they performed Titus, Hamlet and Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare was almost certainly among their number (I do hope they make this into an episode of Upstart Crow!). Down by Westminster Bridge (where St Thomas’ hospital now stands) was Astley’s Amphitheatre – begun by Astley a soldier with extraordinary skill with horses it originally showed only equestrian shows but expanded (to keep up with the competition) to include other circus acts. One of their most famous performers was Pablo Fanque a black equestrian – he even gets a mention in a Beatle’s song! On a huge site between the Walworth Road and Kennington Park Road, with entrances on Penton Place and Manor Park Place was the Surrey Music Hall and Zoological gardens. A 300 ft conservatory, large boating lake and various animals – including 3 giraffes and a rhino occupied a site which is now mostly small streets, the Peacock yards and several blocks of flats – I walk across the boating lake everytime I go to Abacus Arts in Browning Street! We still have the White Bear Theatre on Kennington Park Road (recently refurbished but running since 1988) but it cannot compete in splendour with the Princess of Wales / Kennington Theatre which once stood on the corner of Kennington Park Road and Park Place – a huge edifice with luxurious bars and salons – knocked down in 1949 the site is now occupied by a block of flats.

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Rebel Rebel

From Inktober posts in October 2018 – part of my Pick and Choose History of Courtenay Street, Kennington and Lambeth:


Rebel Rebel – in fact so many I went for a double page spread! Kennington and North Lambeth have a long history of protest and free thinking, maybe it’s having the Thames safely between us and the establishment that makes us a little more radical? We have here the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381- they sacked Lambeth Palace – mainly destroying documents and ledgers that could be used to identifyand locate people

for tax / military service purposes. The Jacobites of 1745 captured at Culloden were shipped to London and then most were executed at Kennington Common. Guy Fawkes and his crew stored their gunpowder at his house on Fore Street in Lambeth – handy for transportation by river to Westminster. In 1848 the Chartists rallied at Kennington Common, their leader and main speaker for the rally was Feargal O’Connor – all they wanted was for everyone to have a vote! In 1990 the poll tax protesters mustered at Kennington Park before marching on Westminster – it didn’t end well. William Blake, visionary and poet, lived at Hercules Road.

Muriel Matters an Australian suffragette lived in Kennington and is famous, whilst in London, for using a hot air balloon to deliver suffrage leaflets to/on the people of London. Rather more effectively Emma Cons was a social campaigner who worked in Lambeth for better housing and conditions for the poor, she also set up Morley College and rescued the Old Vic from dereliction beginning a programme of Shakespeare, classical music and penny lectures (which they are now still doing at Morely College). Her work at the Old Vic was taken over by her niece Lillian Baylis and her legacy there of creating an acting company who could put on classics and new plays led eventually to the setting up of the National Theatre. Oh and me and the women from WEP Lambeth – we’re here too! I haven’t covered here all the other bits of Lambeth – such as Brixton and Norwood – maybe another page for them and I’m still working on the research!

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Lost Palaces

From Inktober posts in October 2018 – part of my Pick and Choose History of Courtenay Street, Kennington and Lambeth:


The Lost Palaces of Kennington. I’m pretty much living in the paddock of Kennington Palace (now replaced by the hideous Edinburgh House) there is no image of the earlier medieval palace except of the Long Barn which was once part of its stables. My drawing is based on a floor plan derived from archaeological digs of the 1960s and extant examples of medieval manor houses such as Baddesley Clinton and Ightham Mote. The manor was replaced with another grand house for which there is an engraving from the 18th century and a picture of the gate house from the 19th. Norfolk House was gone of Agnes dowager Duchess of Norfolk and Catherine Howard spent her youth there. (It is now replaced by a Novotel). Fawkes Hall (the corrupted name of which gives its name to Vauxhall) lasted long enough that an engraving of it exists. It was the prison of Arabella Stuart whose only crime was to be a Stuart but not Guy Fawkes – sadly as that would be ironic given the site is occupied now by MI6!

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Pubs & Ghost Pubs

From Inktober posts October 2018 – Part of my Pick and Choose History of Courtenay Street, Kennington and Lambeth



Pubs and ghost pubs. Courtenay Street is still well served by pubs and bars with the Duchy Arms at the corner of the street, the Dog House, Tommyfield, Cock (previously Tiki bar), Ship on the main Kennington Road, the Pilgrim, Royal Oak and Royal Vauxhall Tavern on Kennington Lane and the Dog House tucked away on the far side of Spring Gardens. But there used to be so many more! Looking at how overcrowded people were in their homes it is clear that the pub was the drawing (and dining) room of the poor – a place to meet and entertain.

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