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From men’s clubs to punk bands – the history of Stoke Newington pub The Rochester Castle

PUBLISHED: 18:08 19 December 2016 | UPDATED: 14:17 24 January 2018

The Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington High Street. Picture: Dieter Perry

The Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington High Street. Picture: Dieter Perry

Dieter Perry

The Rochester Castle has been a popular Stoke Newington boozer for centuries. We delved into its past (and discovered its nickname among regulars)

Dave Robson has been drinking in The Rochester Castle since 1975Dave Robson has been drinking in The Rochester Castle since 1975

It’s been a pillar of the Stoke Newington community for more than 200 years, quenching the thirst of millions of people. Now, The Rochester Castle is being celebrated by Wetherspoon’s.

The Stoke Newington High Street boozer is the oldest standing Spoons’ establishment, having being taken over by the chain in 1982, three years after it formed.

But before the music was turned off, the Rochester was seen as the place to be if you wanted to catch one of the up-and-coming bands.

The Jam definitely played there in 1976. The Stranglers and Ian Dury did too. Adam and the Ants and The Police might have done.

Duty manager Bradley Ludlow pulls a pint at the Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington High Street. Picture: Dieter PerryDuty manager Bradley Ludlow pulls a pint at the Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington High Street. Picture: Dieter Perry

Talk of a Sex Pistols gig has also been doing the rounds for years, but quite appropriately no one can remember for sure.

“I saw loads of bands here,” says regular Dave Robson, who’s been drinking there since 1975. “I can’t remember who they were though – they were all s**t.

“It wasn’t really just punk, it was pretty eclectic. Same as the Three Crowns down the road. The gigs were at the back. It used to get a bit lively at times, sometimes too lively. It was a quite rough.”

The pub was built in 1801 by Richard Payne, from Rochester. It replaced an earlier pub on the same site called The Green Dragon, the earliest mention of which is from 1702.

Paul Weller, pictured in 1980, headlined the Rochester Castle with The Jam (left). Right, an advert for Riff Raff at the pub. Main picture: PA ArchivePaul Weller, pictured in 1980, headlined the Rochester Castle with The Jam (left). Right, an advert for Riff Raff at the pub. Main picture: PA Archive

It was flattened and rebuilt in the late 19th century and also underwent a short-lived name change during the ’80s, when it was known as Tanner’s Hall.

The British History website records that a social club met at the Rochester Castle in 1839, and from 1840 to 1866 it was the meeting place of the True Brothers of Stoke Newington and Hackney Improved Birmingham benefit society.

From 1852 to 1868 the Ancient Order of Foresters used it as their base, and so, in 1861, did the Combined Friends of Stoke Newington Improved Working Man’s Friend benefit society.

Nowadays the pub’s walls are filled with artwork referencing the pub and the area’s history. As for the clientele, well, that hasn’t changed in years.

“Do you know what the nickname for this place is?” asks Dave. “God’s waiting room. We’re all getting on a bit. If I go away for a couple of weeks and come back I’ll say ‘who’s missing?’. There’s always someone who’s kicked it.”

Dave starts looking around when asked how it’s changed in the 41 years he’s been coming here.

“For the most part it hasn’t,” he says. “It looks the same. They’ve tarted up the booths a bit,

that just used to be tables. And the bar has changed. But other than that...”

And that, along with the other perks that come with a Wetherspoon’s pub, is why they’ve enjoyed something of a renaissance in the age of gastropubs and the demise of the traditional British boozer.

“We all drink here because we can’t afford the prices anywhere else, especially around here,” Dave continues. “There’s only a couple of places left.”

Did you see any famous bands in The Rochester Castle? Have you got some good stories of nights out at the pub? Contact the Gazette on 020 7433 0104 or email sam.gelder@archant.co.uk.

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