Sep 06

Pub Science Experiment #1 Pub 8: The Railway Telegraph, Stanstead Road, London SE23

FT + Pumpkin Publog3 comments • 920 views

Category: Nearly-Railway
They had been long, dry months, but after a lengthy break from Railwaying, it was time to kick off the project once again. Keeping it local seemed the right way to start, and The Railway Telegraph is the nearest Railway to home, though not so near that I’d visited before.

Funnily enough, the pub it reminded me of was the last I’d visited as part of this project, way up there in Mill Hill. Big boozers, long bars, high ceilings, lots of space. Probably Edwardian gin palaces done dirt cheap, subjected to a refit every fifteen years or so, with variable success. 

The Railway Telegraph has sanded wooden floors but it’s not all sofas and speciality olives. Clearly drinking here is more vertical than sedentary. Though there’s no big football ground nearby, it’s almost like a football pub: a place whose business arrives for brief, outrageously busy periods but which struggles to find a comfortable identity inbetweentimes. It can’t fill itself up with tons of furniture, because that’ll get in the way when the place is rammed.

My guess is that it’s absoultely raging in here on Friday and Saturday nights. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I got the feeling that the building itself was hung over, breathing deeply, waiting for the onslaught to return. Nobody was going to thank anyone for making too much noise.

At the same time, it’s actually a fine spot to cradle a mild hangover with a palliative pint, maybe a newspaper, maybe a similarly-afflicted friend, or two. The smattering of souls cooling it on the decking out at the back seemed to be admirably relaxed. The individual choice of wall hangings, oriented more to repro Art Noveau advertising than to standard issue vintage booze ads, makes you feel like someone actually cares about the place. For pubs which live in the cycle of refitting, that counts for a lot.

Overall mark: 6/10


  1. 1
    marc on 13 Sep 2006 #

    Funny, I passed The Railway Telegraph twice, only last evening; I’ve been in there before, a couple of summers ago. The (paved) garden in the back (beyond the decking) is a lot more pleasant than it has any right to be, given its situation on the South Circular.

    Anyway, I wondered if you have yet ventured down to Sydenham, to what must be your nearest “proper” Railway pub if the above is local for you.

    On the face of it, the Sydenham Railway has little to recommend the casual visitor. It’s an unreconstructed proletarian boozer, without pretensions of any kind – but not as scary as it sometimes appears. I really can’t recommend the beer, although they do a good pint of Guinness.

    One thing about the Railway that appeals to me is its semi-invisibility. The local online forum did an overview of Sydenham’s pubs a few years ago, and the place just wasn’t mentioned at all – which pleased me enormously. It’s almost as if the bottled lager crowd find the place so forbidding at a deep psychic level that they barely see it.

    The place has a latent magic though, and every now and then, without warning, the magic peeps out for a few hours…

  2. 2
    Tim Hopkins on 14 Sep 2006 #

    That one’s up next!

    It’s fair to say that the magic eluded me on my visit, but I’m delighted to hear it exists.

  3. 3

    […] (Note: an FT correspondent speaks up for this place here. Maybe I caught it on a bad day at the bookies… […]

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