I originally wrote this piece in June 2012.
I now dedicate it to my Grandfather, Michael Lordan who passed away on the 21st February 2013; the day of his 79th birthday.
This is The Crown pub on Cricklewood Broadway, one of the capital’s largest drinking establishments and a well-known, North-West London landmark.
There has been an inn on this site since the 18th century- the first mention appearing in 1751 when the original establishment was described as being “an ivy-clad house with pretty tea-gardens…”
Despite this quaint description, the nearby surrounding fields were still a popular venue for that good old-fashioned pursuit; bare knuckle boxing!
The first pub here also acted as a coaching tavern, lying on a fairly local route which accommodated carriages passing between London, Elstree, Watford and St Albans.
In the 1880s, the London General Omnibus Company selected The Crown as a terminus for their horse-drawn double-deckers operating between Marble Arch and North London.
The current Crown pub was built in 1900; the previous one having been sold in 1898.
Planning permission for the new boozer cost £86,000; a staggering amount for the time.
The developers were encouraged to fork out this huge sum because, although Cricklewood was a rapidly developing industrial district, magistrates had imposed a strict limit on licencing in the area. Consequently, The Crown was the only public house in Cricklewood at the time which was permitted to serve alcohol- it didn’t take a genius to realise that there were great profits to be made from such an arrangement!
The grand pub, which still looks impressive today, was crafted by Henry Rising; an architect who specialised in inns… and churches! Built from red sandstone, The Crown comprises of three levels, each of which boast elegant carvings.
For much of the 20th century, The Crown was famous for being at the heart of London’s Irish community which flourished around Cricklewood and Kilburn.
Early each morning, groups of Irish tradesmen and labourers would gather in the forecourt of The Crown for the ‘call on’; the process in which local building contractors would turn up with trucks and vans to recruit a number of men out of the crowd for a day’s casual labour.
The call on (which my own Grandfather- having arrived from County Cork in the 1950s- frequently participated in) was a process fraught with uncertainty- not being picked obviously resulting in not being able to earn a day’s wage.
In the early 1960s Irish songwriter, Dominic Behan wrote a ballad entitled ‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers’ (McAlpine being a major building employer for whom many Irish immigrants worked) which referenced The Crown. Recorded by The Dubliners part of the song went thus:
“Oh, the craic was good in Cricklewood and they wouldn’t leave the Crown,
With glasses flying and Biddy’s crying ‘cause Paddy was going to town
Oh mother dear, I’m over here and I’m never coming back
What keeps me here is the reek o’beer, the ladies and the craic…”
The days of The Crown being a spit and sawdust pub where local workers were drafted have now long faded.
Today, the pub has been ‘gentrified’, the only nod to its working-class roots being a painted mural on one wall depicting a group of builders.
A four-star, 116 room hotel has now been incorporated into the pub, part of which includes a large, glass atrium which has been built and linked to The Crown’s existing building.
The hotel includes a gym, swimming pool, sauna and Jacuzzi- luxuries which the Irish lads who once began their hard days toiling here could only have dreamt of.
The updated North London landmark is now owned by Moran Hotels; an Irish company who also own hotels in Dublin and Cork, so it’s nice to know that The Crown still maintains a strong link with the Emerald Isle.
In 1982 pop-group, Dexys Midnight Runners released their single, The Celtic Soul Brothers and much of the accompanying video was filmed in and around Cricklewood and The Crown.
The beginning of the promo depicts the ‘call on’ outside the pub, something which still took place every morning in those days, and towards the end of the video the band can be seen giving a spirited performance inside The Crown itself, followed by a melancholy fadeout as the camera slowly and silently rises over a twinkling Cricklewood Broadway.
In memory of my Grandfather, Michael Lordan.