Readers will be more than aware that The Pineapple is an iconic Kentish Town pub. But how many of you know about its escape from developers back in 2002, a campaign which demonstrates Kentishtowners at their most tenacious?
The pub opened way back in 1868 as a watering hole for the influx of workers on the railways. It had three entrances, an outside gents’ and an exterior sporting pineapples above every window and doorway. Its decorative glass area behind the bar was and still is exquisite: note the mahogany panels advertising wines, brandies and whiskies in gold leaf and painted glass, and two large mirrors etched with pineapples. Oh, and below, a barman who looks like he’s about to jack it all in. Noooooo!
But locals were not, repeat not, to be defeated. On Dec 7 2001 eleven of them met to set up a committee – The Pineapple Rescue Campaign. They managed to rope in stars and celebrities including Jon Snow, Rufus Sewell and Ken Livingstone, who were all ready and eager with their quotes in both the local and national press: ‘The Pineapple is my favourite pub in London,’ said Sewell, to anyone who’d listen. ‘It is the sort of pub me and my brother had to wait outside in the 1970s and be passed the occasional blackcurrant and lemonade and packet of crisps to keep us quiet.’
A public meeting was held on Dec 12: 62 attended included local councillors, writers, lawyers and more. They sent out a succession of press releases to national and local media to raise further awareness – and, accordingly, stories ran in the New Journal, Evening Standard, Sunday Times (in a brilliant piece by Al Murray) and the Daily Telegraph, which again quoted Sewell: ‘If it goes,’ he said, presumably with a sigh, ‘we’ll all end with up places called Pub-U-Like. There are enough middle-class like myself around here already.’
It took just eight – count ’em – days for English Heritage to Grade II list the building, both inside and outside, on Dec 18 2001. The listing stopped the developer in his tracks; his architects had to withdraw and the publicity about the listing also lost the developer his finance too. Yay!The Pineapple was sold in March 2002 to Francis Powell and his daughter Chloe, who planned to continue running it as a pub. It remained closed for 155 days in total and reopened later that year. Campaigners Gill Scott and Jonty Boyce said in the Camden New Journal: ‘We are absolutely thrilled – this is a victory for the common man, for the community, and for keeping this little part of Kentish Town alive.’
Ten years later, as we all know, the pub is one of NW5’s treasures, tucked away in its semi-secret location. Always rammed, with great ales from Adnams, Redemption and of course Camden Town Brewery, it also boasts its own brand of quirky themed nights – cheese, Spanish, quizzes to name three – for the genuinely mixed bag of K-Town locals. Its bohemian, inclusive atmosphere and approach has also inspired a whole new generation of ‘craft’ and artisan-y type London boozers, including more recent NW5 institution, the wonderful Southampton Arms. Our preferred spot? Bar-left, at the counter; or if the fire’s on, gazing at the wonderful Pineapple-by-Sea etching which adorns the wall to its right. ‘The only improvement would be if there was the sea and palm trees on the other side of the road.’If you enjoyed our outline of this story, read the real thing. Pineapple Rescued is a new coffee table book with captivating black & white images of landladies, regulars, trivia, backstory, paintings and all the press cuttings the campaign attracted ten years ago, neatly and brilliantly compiled by campaigner Gill Scott. Check out this excellent snap of Flo and Edi in the Easter bonnet competition, 1964 (Flo, left won. Yikes!)
Says Gill now: ‘We produced the book ten years after a successful campaign to save the Pineapple – which at that time was still a great community pub. 533 people wrote letters to the council; we are not in touch with all of them. The book will have really only a local appeal, although it might give heart to others setting out to save a community institution – that it can be done.’
We would add that its cultural relevance and impact is far greater than that.
Photography: Tom Storr