A description of a heritage place should be more than a Yelp review. “The building had nice bricks and the price of admission was reasonable. Four stars.” And there needs to be much more than a standard heritage assessment. “The place was designed in 1848 by Arthur Brickhausen and has had a number of uses since. Worth not demolishing.”
Neither of these conveys the most important aspect of anywhere: a sense of place, what it feels like to be there. A description of a heritage place should be more like a piece of travel writing, partly wanting to make you visit, partly making you feel like you already have. And if done particularly well, you should get a sense of what it might have felt like to be there in the past.
All of these are far too lofty ambitions for today’s focus, but I’ll try and do a little better than just the facts ma’am. Welcome to the Fox & Goose, my temporary residence for the next few days. For those who like their beer, and who doesn’t?, there are enough taps to keep you happy for weeks. And for those who really like their beer, London Pride on tap is the only way to go. So I went there, despite the jet lag trying to nudge me into bed rather than the bar.
Getting a firm date on the Fox & Goose, a traditional pub located in West London, proves somewhat tricky. Their own marketing dates it to the ‘1800s’, which is either specific to a decade, or vague to a century. A local history of the suburb of Ealing implies it may have been there by the late 18th century, but doesn’t say so explicitly, and fails to have footnotes to check anyway. (Mind you, this blog post has no footnotes either, so you’ll just have to trust me.)
There was certainly a Fox & Goose well-established on this spot by the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, so it’s at least 200 years old, and maybe a bit more. As you might expect from a pub that old, there are traces of it in the records and, one amazing account of a visit here in 1855. There was a fashion in the mid-19th for essays which were half travel and half nature writing, in which our author (almost always male and alone) would take a long walk and describe what they saw. Old buildings, birds and flowers mostly. But in this case, also the Fox & Goose:
“As I passed, I peeped in at Twyford Abbey and its beautifully sequestered grounds. A good-natured, arch-looking face had seen me enter, and smiled at me as I came out again. It seemed to say — ‘You are a traveller; tired, but heartily welcome.’ I felt, somehow, that I was; and followed that face. The face led me into a snug little apartment in a snug little hostelry, called the ‘Fox & Goose’, and placed before me such a delicious glass of sparkling ale, that I drank it and the pretty face’s ‘health’ at the same time. Honi soit qui mal y pense!”
Leaving to one side the slightly creepy elements of this (it is a bit creepy isn’t it?), and the weird marketing technique of sending pretty faces out into the surrounding area to look for tired travellers, we do learn that in 1855 the pub was snug. It isn’t now. Not big by Australian standards of beer barns, but larger than anything that could be described as snug. Although the 19th century practice of breaking up hostelries into a series of small spaces, rather than something the size of the Camfield, could have given that illusion to our writer.
Also, he had a glass of sparkling ale, I had London Pride which is not sparkling and served at cellar temperature. Yes, this is the second time I’ve mentioned my tipple of choice but it’s too good not to. Also you don’t seem to be able to get it at Dan Murphy’s anymore, which is sad.
And walking to the Fox & Goose seems to have been a thing. After escaping from Heathrow Airport last night, it was easier to transfer to Park Royal tube station than the closest one to the pub. This involved a walk, dragging a suitcase across uneven pavements, next to a dual carriageway, listening the sound of horns continuously blaring in rush-hour traffic. Apparently, though, in 1862 the Fox & Goose was advertised a “pleasant half-hours walk from the Great Western Railway Station at Ealing”. Which sounds quieter and less road-y than my walk. But does demonstrate the place was something of a destination. Take the train, enjoy the walk through semi-rural suburbs and find yourself at a delightful pub to have lunch. Not a drinker’s bar, then, but a weekender’s delight.
A different crowd was attracted to the Fox & Goose in the late 1950s and early 1960s: those seeking jazz and the novelty of rock music. The pub was a centre for new music coming out of the London scene, and one regular band who played here was the Detours. If you’ve heard of them, you are obviously an obsessive fan of of their next iteration after Keith Moon joined them as drummer and they rebranded as The Who. (If you haven’t heard of The Who, go ask a grown-up.) Moon grew up in a house not far from where I’m typing this right now, so even as only a casual fan of The Who, it still feels like I’m not far from rock history.
The exterior of the Fox & Goose has hardly changed in more than a century, and possibly longer than that. Any good marketing person will boast that their pub offers traditional hospitality, which is nonsense, since the quality of food and service in most English pubs is vastly better than when I started drinking in them all those years ago (which was definitely only after the age of 18, in case my mum is reading this). Literally no one would want traditional English pub hospitality in 2022. That said, the service last night was amazing, the food good and the beer… Did I mention the London Pride yet? Definitely getting towards opening time, or there must be a bottle shop near here somewhere.