IT is a familiar landmark to East Enders driving back from Essex, and anyone taking the M11 up to Stansted will have passed over it. But where did the Charlie Brown’s roundabout, one of London’s busiest intersections, get its unusual name?
The roundabout was
certainly not christened after the hero of the Peanuts
cartoon, but after a larger-than-life Limehouse man, who was just as famous in the 19th century as Snoopy’s master was 100 years later. Yet how did the bland and featureless junction come to be connected with one of the East End’s most colourful characters?
The story begins in the 1890s when Charlie Brown, a former boxer, took over the ownership of the Railway Tavern.
The Limehouse pub stood on the corner of Garford Street and the East India Dock Road and it was a popular watering hole for the sailors and dockers who made up most of Limehouse’s
population at the time.
Even among his noisy and outspoken clientele – many of whom were colourful characters with tales to tell – Charlie managed to stand out.
In fact, he was such a loud and extrovert landlord that he managed to stamp his
personality on the pub itself.
As Charlie’s reputation grew, so did the contents of the pub. Sailors would return from their travels with mementoes from every corner of the globe and bring them back to a delighted guv’nor, who would hang them on the wall of the tavern.
And as the collection grew, its fame spread throughout the capital. People would make the trip down to infamous Limehouse, which in the early 1900s was synonymous with Chinatown, white slaving and opium dens, just to view his map of the world.
In June 1932 Charlie Brown died and the ‘uncrowned king of Limehouse’ was laid in state in the pub that had been his palace.
His funeral procession was fit for a king too as 16,000
people went to Bow Cemetery to say goodbye to Charlie.
Charlie Brown’s legacy was a lucrative one, and both his children ran pubs. His
daughter Esther kept the
existing hostelry, while Charlie Brown Jr was the landlord of the Blue Posts, directly
opposite the Railway Hotel.
Both of them erected signs saying that their pubs were the genuine Charlie Brown’s.
In 1938 Charlie Jr gave up on the East End to move to leafier Woodford, taking the name with him of course. The new Charlie Brown’s lay at the end of the Southend to London road which was to become the A127.
But in 1972 the road that had given the pub its reason for being also became the cause of its demise, when the road
intersection was extended and the pub was demolished.
Young Charlie had salvaged many of the famous
mementoes from his dad’s pub, and legend has it they passed on to the Greyhound pub in Harlow, though there is no trace of them today.
By a weird coincidence, it was transport that created and destroyed the original Charlie Brown’s too. The Railway Hotel had been built to serve the old London and Blackwall Railway in the 1800s.
Despite the rebirth of the line, when the Docklands Light Railway was built in 1989,
the Railway Tavern stood
in the way of the Commercial Road extension and so was demolished.
Today, all that remains of the world-famous character, three pubs and a confusion of names is a traffic blackspot on the fringes of London.